The approval process is one of the most time-consuming processes in almost any organization. However, most companies still have not set up a consistent approval process.
No matter whether you need to optimize your marketing initiatives, presentations, or legal documents, you will be astonished at how much time you can save, while producing better results.
In order to bridge this gap, we are going to show you how to set up a custom approval process.
What is an approval process?
An approval process is a structured approach to getting work reviewed and approved by multiple stakeholders. After the submission of the first draft, reviewers give feedback, and request changes or approve the file. Then the content creator picks up the feedback and edits the content. Usually, content needs to go through a few review and revision rounds, before all stakeholders are satisfied.
Why do you need an approval process?
An organization’s internal processes need to be structured from start to finish, to cope with tight deadlines and to create high-quality outputs. The following section describes why your organization, no matter what industry or size, needs an approval process.
Meet quality standards and regulations
How can you make sure your creative project meets the highest expectations or your contract does not contain critical mistakes? This is where a structured review and approval process comes into play. If topic experts review your files, you can be sure to decrease mistakes of any kind.
A structured approval process becomes even more important if you have to adhere to certain regulations, like for food packages or medical devices.
Ensure brand compliance and consistency
Brand compliance is especially difficult if your organization is spread across different markets, countries, and teams.
Depending on your brand strategy and organizational structure, the overall message and core design usually remain the same across all regions, including brand logo, slogans, and product or service descriptions.
Companies that have efficient custom approval processes in place are much more likely to follow their brand guidelines and, as a result, enjoy a much higher brand recognition among their target groups.
Finish projects faster
If your company does not have a structured approval process, this stage can become a huge bottleneck. Approval requests have to be sent out via email, which usually does not prevent you from needing to chase after reviewers. This can take days, or even weeks, for every single project.
A cloud-based approval process supports you with due dates and automatic reminders, to cut project turnaround time and reduce the effort of all team members involved.
How many steps are in an approval process?
Even though every project is different, the steps in the content approval process are consistent, throughout all projects. The following sections outline all the steps involved in a standard approval process.
1. Share content with reviewers
The first approval step includes sharing the first draft with the review team. You can upload the draft to your review and approval system, or you can share it via email.
A cloud-based solution has the advantage that all reviewers will receive an automated approval request after you have uploaded the file. Otherwise, you might need to send emails and manually ask every reviewer to leave feedback.
2. Collect and discuss feedback
When you use an online approval tool, reviewers can open the file in their browser, leave comments, and discuss feedback with each other. No matter whether it is a simple PDF, audio, or even a video file, reviewers can highlight, annotate and leave remarks directly on the file. Other advantages include collaboration features, which allow you to easily track all discussions of reviewers and content creators.
If you have chosen the email channel, you will receive the feedback separately, in multiple threads, and discussion can easily become messy and untraceable. Also, you need to consolidate the comments, before editors can make any changes.
3. Make changes
After reviewers have submitted their feedback and all questions have been clarified, editors can implement the suggested changes.
A review and approval tool makes this step very easy for the editors since they can see all the comments, structured and organized in one place. Some tools even offer an automatic to-do list, so editors can go through and tick off resolved comments.
When calculating deadlines, make sure to calculate some extra time for revisions and additional feedback loops.
4. More feedback (if needed)
Now it’s time to share the second version of your content, for another feedback round. Approval step four is a repetition of approval steps two and three. That means you share the second version of the file and reviewers have the chance to leave more feedback. If there are more change requests, editors complete another revision round.
5. Final approval
After at least one round of feedback and revisions, the reviewers give their final approvals, if they are happy with the results, or in some cases, final rejection actions. Proofing software solutions make use of approval timestamps, adding more traceability to the approval status of each file and project. After this final step, the approved content can be published.
How do you create an approval process?
Now that you have a good idea of all the approval steps, it is time to create your own custom approval processes. Therefore, this section will help you structure your content approval process, from start to finish.
Define your reviewers
Each business process has important stakeholders, who need to be involved. Before you create an approval process, you need to know who will need to review and approve the content.
Depending on the project, you might consider using a cross-functional approach. For instance, creative assets, such as TV ads, require feedback not only from marketing, but also from the brand manager, and higher management.
Create approval steps
Depending on the size and scope, you might consider defining further review steps within each project. A simple content review process usually starts with the marketing team.
In the next stage, the brand manager might take a look, to see whether all branding guidelines have been fulfilled. In the end, the legal department might also take a look at whether all compliance regulations have been met. Often, higher management or department leaders need to give the final approval.
Project managers or content managers are usually responsible for setting up the entire review and approval process. This includes asking the graphic designer, writer or other content creators to be on board and setting up the review team.
In most cases, the original submitter is also responsible for making the changes in the following revisions. But depending on how your team is structured, you may need to add more than one content creator to a specific project.
In order to save time and streamline all your approval processes, it is important that you decide on these points before you start the process. Otherwise, things might become messy, if responsibilities are not clear from the beginning.
Define next steps
The review and approval stage ensures that your content is produced at the least possible time and adheres to the highest possible quality standards. However, it does not determine how you will use and distribute your content.
This may include your distribution channels (such as social media) and the publishing schedule. You might also share your content with local subsidiaries.
As you can see by now, review and approval processes are an integral part of your content production and should be optimized accordingly. Now you should have an idea of how to structure your review and approval process, as a part of a larger project.
The following section gives you a good insight as to how these processes might look like in practice.
Examples of different types of approval processes
It is crucial to distinguish internal from external processes, as communication structures may vary. Keep in mind that external stakeholders are not familiar with your approval processes and may need some time to get used to them. Software-based approval processes can make things easier because they are intuitive, so reviewers immediately know what they need to do.
Internal approval process
Internal approval processes take place only inside your organization. Therefore, they can be standardized more easily.
In most cases, you can repeat processes and assign fixed review teams, which will help you further streamline your workflows.
A typical example would be social media content approvals, in which the social media manager works closely with content creators, like copywriters, designers, and video editors.
This is what the process can look like:
- After the initial briefing, the content is created and shared for review.
- The first reviewer is the social media manager, to check if the content meets the requirements.
- Now the creators make the suggested changes.
- For final review, the content is shared with the product manager, who makes sure the representation and claims about the product are correct.
- After the final approval actions, the content can be published.
External approval process
External approval processes include people outside the organization, like marketing agencies or external partners and stakeholders. In most cases, the external party produces content for the organization and therefore needs feedback from the internal team. It’s also possible that the content is produced internally, but needs to be signed off by an external stakeholder.
In both cases, it’s very likely that the first review round will be internal, before sharing the content with clients or external stakeholders. If there are multiple reviewer groups, it makes sense to separate and prioritize them. That means collecting feedback and approvals from the first reviewer group, before sharing the content with the second group.
Example approval process based on content types
Besides internal and external processes, it is worthwhile to take a look at different approval processes, based on the content type that is being reviewed.
Document approval process
Documents come in different shapes and forms. In the case of a product catalog, in PDF format, you can set up an internal process with the marketing and creative team or you can outsource the creation part to an external agency.
The document review and approval process can be structured as follows:
- Who is involved: copywriter, designer, product team, marketing team, brand manager
- Jobs to be done: Share the first draft of the catalog with the product team, to make sure all copies and product images are correct. Copywriters and designers make changes. Share the catalog with the brand manager, to ensure brand consistency. Marketing needs to give the final approval.
- What’s important: Use a software platform that allows reviewers to give in-context feedback, by highlighting parts of the text, drawing on images, or adding annotations for reference.
Video approval process
Video review and approval can be very nerve-wracking and time-consuming if you don’t have a solid process and tool in place. Manually writing down timecodes and feedback, and sharing them via email or chat, is the opposite of efficient.
Let’s see how this process can be simplified:
- Who is involved: video editor/content creator, marketing team
- Jobs to be done: Set up your approval steps in advance. Use automated notifications to keep all involved people up to date.
- What’s important: Use a review and approval software platform to enable reviewers to leave timestamped comments directly on the video file. Give creators the opportunity to collaborate and discuss changes with reviewers.
Design approval process
Design review and approval processes are needed for any online banners, animations, product photos, designs, or other creative content that needs to be produced.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Who is involved: Graphic designer, copywriter, marketing team, brand manager
- Jobs to be done: Share the first drafts with the marketing team, the designer makes edits, share the approved version with the brand manager for final approval.
- What’s important: Reviewers need to focus on objective factors, rather than subjective opinions. Reviewers should be able to add drawings and annotations to their feedback.
Best practices to improve your approval process
Now that you know how to structure and manage approval processes, let’s take a closer look at the best practices you can use for all your creative projects.
Set a due date
You need to set appropriate due dates for every file in the review process. This gives reviewers a clear deadline by which they need to submit their feedback and therefore helps them to prioritize their work. By ensuring that every piece of content is approved on time, you can meet your project deadlines with less stress. Also, take into consideration the time that is needed to make suggested changes to the content and ask for more feedback or final approvals.
Have automatic notifications
Automatic email notifications take a lot of work from your shoulders. As a rule of thumb, the more automation features you use, the more you can streamline your processes.
With approval software, all reviewers in the process are automatically notified, once the content manager uploads the first draft to the interface. If reviewers still fail to leave comments, the system automatically reminds them.
Further, the system offers a dashboard, which shows you the progress of each file and project.
Use version control
If you work together in a large team, one simple click may delete days of work. To avoid this, capable online solutions use version control features, so all your progress is saved in the cloud.
You can further use version control features to compare newer and older versions with each other. Automatic version control further prevents reviewers from giving feedback on outdated versions.
Software to optimize your approval process
There are multiple approval software solutions on the market.
In the following section, we are going to present you with three different solutions, which can streamline and automate your approval process to the core.
Filestage helps you take your work to new heights, with a consistent approval process.
The review and approval software is very easy and intuitive to use, which allows you to set up custom processes, in just two minutes. Then you can relax, knowing that all your files will be signed off by the right people.
Plus, the main dashboard gives you a bird’s eye view of the progress of all your projects.
Asana helps you stay organized, with timelines, boards or lists.
You can set up complex workflows and automate multiple steps along the way. The project management software can be perfectly integrated with Filestage.
For additional functionality, you can easily set up your approval process in Filestage and update review tasks and due dates in Asana.
Tallyfy is a capable all-rounder software, with the focus on automating all your processes in the most efficient way. You can even set up automated approval processes and create custom fields, as simple as “if this – then that”.
Therefore, Tallyfy offers the most automation features for all your processes. This ensures that you can create fully-customizable and streamlined approval processes.
As of the date of the review, Tallyfy still has limited integration options, which means you may not be able to integrate the software into your own ecosystem.
Approval processes are among the most underestimated business workflows.
Once you have set up and automated your review and approval process, it saves your team valuable time, reduces errors, and produces high-quality output, which ultimately contributes to the bottom line of your business.
Therefore, no matter whether you are a startup, SMU, or large corporation, you should start creating your review and approval process right now.
The benefits outweigh the costs by far. Most companies have a positive ROI within a couple of weeks, when subscribing to cloud-based solutions.