If you’re going to include written content such as blog posts, articles, white papers and e-books in your company’s content marketing efforts, you’re going to need some skilled writers on your team. In many cases, this will include freelance writers who aren’t on staff, but still play an important role in getting the job done.
Managing freelance writers and copy editors is part of my job here at Rep Cap and has been part of my work in the past, so I know how it works, but it’s always good to see what other people are doing. With that in mind, I recently connected with Victoria Garment, content editor for Software Advice, an online resource for marketing software, who has worked with dozens of freelancers and oversees a small team of freelance writers who regularly create content for the online resource for marketing software’s
Read on to find out what she has to say about managing freelance writers for content marketing.
What type of writing do your freelancers do?
They mainly write in-depth research articles for our blogs. A few have also written case studies and one did a series of research reports for us that involved analyzing data collected in-house.
Where have you found your best freelancers?
The best one’s I’ve worked with have been those I found on LinkedIn or that have approached us about being hired for a position, but wanted to work remotely/part time, rather than full time. A lot of writers go to our blogs, read our articles and are really impressed by the quality of our articles, so they want to work with us. This desire to be part of a high-quality, high-performing team is always a good sign that the writer will put in the extra effort that, say, someone you just found online may not put in for you.
How do you evaluate prospective freelancers? Do you test them in any way?
I never hire a freelancer without reviewing several of their writing samples to get a sense of their research and writing abilities, and to make sure they have relevant experience writing about business or technology. In the past I’ve also assigned short writing assignments as tests (around 500 words or so on a topic that falls in the same area as the article I plan to assign them).
What have you found you need to do differently in managing freelancers compared to managing staff writers?
When it comes to managing freelancers, the biggest challenge is that you’re likely not their only client, which means they’re not only reliant on you for income. So they’re probably juggling several things at once, which means you’re not their number one priority. As a result, many will be slower to communicate their progress, which means you really need to establish clear guidelines for how responsive you expect them to be, setting hard and fast deadlines for drafts, etc.
I’ve had several freelancers drop off the map for a week or more at a time, then resurface to tell me they’re backing out of the assignment. If you’re relying on a piece of content from them for your editorial calendar, this can put you in a bind. As such, we always give freelance projects three to four weeks, start to finish, to be completed so that if we need to give an assignment to another writer, we can do so and still get it published by the original completion date.
How do you keep freelancers engaged during times where you don’t have as much work for them, so that they’ll still be there when work picks up?
If a project with a freelancer ends and I’m interested in working with them a second time, I always let them know exactly when I expect to have another assignment. We hold a weekly editorial meeting every Tuesday, for example, so if I do have upcoming assignments, they’ll usually be ready by Wednesday or Thursday. If I don’t know when the next assignment will be, I’ll be honest and tell them that.
It’s very important to be as forthcoming and communicative as possible with your writers if you expect them to show you that in return when they work on a project. As a result, I’ve gone back to freelancers I haven’t worked with in months and they’re just as eager to start on a new project.
What types of technology do you use to manage your freelancers, accept their work, pay them, etc.?
I use Google docs spreadsheets to manage my list of freelancers and the current projects they’re working on. I ask them to turn in drafts in either Google docs or Word docs, which I’ll then paste in a Google doc. This allows me to leave detailed feedback and comments on specific paragraphs, words, even characters so the writer can see exactly what I’m talking about and understand what edits I’m asking them to make in the next draft. All invoices are submitted to me in PDF form, which I then forward on to accounting.
What’s your best advice for content marketers who need to hire and manage freelance writers?
Create a “pitch” or outline for the assignment that explains it in as much detail as possible. Every single freelancer I’ve ever worked with has always commented on how much they love how detailed, precise and thorough our article pitches are — we include proposed titles, the topic/context, key points to cover, sources to contact, possible questions to add, even visual elements they might include.
While this may seem like a lot of legwork, if you have an editorial department like ours, where every piece of content has a very specific “job” to do, it’s critical that it be done correctly the first time around. If you’re vague, unclear or ambiguous about what it is you want from your freelancers, you’re going to confuse and frustrate them, the project will drag on and no one will be happy.
Don’t assign any projects to writers unless you know exactly what you want. Once the assignment is in their hands, make sure you communicate regularly with them to make sure things are going smoothly. Make yourself very available if they have questions or concerns. Finally, pay them fairly — don’t nickel and dime them. If you want them to work hard for you, they need to feel like you value and respect their time by paying them appropriately. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my time managing freelancers is that low pay results in low-quality work — there’s no incentive for the writer to go above and beyond.