Good freelance writers have choices. When they feel they’re treated unfairly or without respect, they might just wrap up their obligations and move on to new projects with new clients. Don't let that happen.
Stop for a moment and recall your brand’s top writer. They meet their deadlines. Their copy is polished. You know they’re just an email away when you have a last-minute favor to ask.
Now envision them gone. Poof!
Can your company afford to lose a cornerstone creative? Well, if you’re doing any of these things, you might be irritating them enough to leave them second-guessing your relationship.
When collaborating, especially with remote workers, transparency is critical. An open flow of communication, mutual access to writing and project guidelines and the ability to reach out for clarification is vital to the success of the marketing campaign and writer-brand relationship. Don’t drive away your best freelance writers by committing these no-nos.
1. Changing guidelines mid-project
When launching a new strategy or campaign, it’s common to make tweaks to the approach along the way. Writers don’t mind the occasional email with minor updates and changes. It’s all part of ironing out project guidelines as the campaign begins to gain momentum and initial feedback rolls in.
However, it’s not cool to make sweeping guideline overhauls when your writer is in the thick of creating content. One of my past clients sent a cheery email with a link to a new five-page Google Doc outlining an “editorial shift” for the current project. I was already two rough drafts deep with two more blog posts lingering with copy editors. All four pieces had to be completely rewritten to meet the new style.
Make it work
Don’t launch until the project guidelines are solid. If you need to make some progress, assign a few pieces of content with a disclaimer that writers should only start brainstorming ideas, outlines and sources. Keep the writers updated by sharing when the guidelines will be ready, so writing may begin.
2. Asking for a new article with no pay
Editing is part of the content creation process. Writers completely understand that revisions are necessary, and some may be lengthy. It’s all part of the gig.
Once I received a revision request that advised me to replace all of the items in a listicle because the company wanted ideas that have never been published on the web. It was a tall order, but I managed to morph the ideas into pretty uncommon approaches to activities for parents to tackle with their kids. (There may have been a mention of letting your child dress in a homemade spacesuit while helping with chores. Yes, that unique.)
After speaking with the editors, and making them realize that all I could salvage was a sentence or two from the introduction and a bit of the conclusion, they realized they were asking for a completely new article. Thankfully they understood and offered to pay for a new article.
Make it work
Sometimes you will receive articles that are completely off the mark, poorly written or just not what you need. Decide if it can be saved with a reasonable about of editing. If not, talk with the writer. Do they need some direction and guidance, like I did? Or, do they need to go back to high school English class? You can reject articles. Just be sure your writer contract explains the process, including kill fees, and in extreme cases, the process for terminating the writer-company relationship or contract.
3. Updating deadlines without notification
Maintaining open lines of communication and being transparent about the content creation process with all members of the team (including those of us working on contract or via remote offices) makes you less likely to forget to relay time-sensitive messages, such as deadline changes.
Things happen, and sometimes it’s necessary to bump up projects and get them published faster than initially anticipated. One morning when I was going over my schedule for the day, I noticed a due date had changed for a specific blog post. I looked at my notes and writing blocks on Google Calendar, and sure enough, I hadn’t written down the date incorrectly. The deadline was bumped up by two days without any notification. Thankfully, I had a draft in process and was able to meet the fast turnaround without much trouble.
Make it work
Communicate deadline changes to everyone at once, whether it’s through a mass email, a note added to a cloud-based document or the messaging system in your content marketing platform. Get in the habit of communicating changes in the same format every time, too. This trains writers to know where to look — and to expect updates.
4. Rewriting a piece with no feedback
We understand that you also work on deadlines, and sometimes you need to edit, publish and move on quickly to meet your goals. If you don’t have a system in place to give feedback to writers just before publishing, it might be time to add this step to your workflow.
There’s nothing more confusing to a new writer than having the first article or two accepted, then published with major portions of the pieces completely rewritten with no feedback from the editor. We wonder if that’s a routine part of your process, or if our direction was simply way out in left field. If you do heavy editing, please let a writer know why, good or bad, so they can learn.
Make it work
It’s best to have a dialogue flowing through the entire content creation process, from crafting the assignment to watching the piece gain visibility across the web. This open communication makes it easy for the writer to ask questions and for the editorial team to give feedback.
5. Making post-contract changes
I’m a very go-with-the-flow person, until you start making major changes to a contract that’s been renewed multiple times.
At the start of the year I was reading the fine print on a contract with a company I’ve partnered with for more than three years. I noticed my pay rate was slashed in half. Thankfully, it was an error due to a shift in staffing. My new contact was unaware of my rate and promptly made the change. All is well.
Don’t make contractual changes without notifying the writer first. These might include specific details like pay rate, number of articles per month or even word count requirements. Or, the changes might be more broad, such as an updated address for the business or contact person for invoicing. All changes need to be communicated at the time they are implemented.
Make it work
Keep this housekeeping work simple. Update, then renew contracts with your writers annually, so you always have current documents on file. If you need to make changes before the following annual renewal, do it in writing, and have both your company and the writer sign the revised document.
6. Ignoring project communications
We’re all in the business of communicating. Your interactions with writers should be timely, professional and a priority. After all, we are a link in the content creation chain. If you fail to respond to our questions in a reasonable amount of time, the whole process gets bogged down, because we can’t move forward and your ROI may take a nosedive.
Over the years I’ve worked with incredibly attentive teams — and some people who, I think, only existed as names on a list. Once when I reached out for clarification and didn’t receive a reply, I decided to move on with my best guess so I could meet the deadline. About a week after the article published, the entry-level copy editor replied to my email. I thanked him for his insight and let him know the piece was already approved and live on the company blog. Don’t be that guy!
Make it work
We understand you sift through hundreds of emails each day. Please take a moment to see what a writer needs from you. If you find that someone is emailing you multiple times each day with questions, ask that they wait and bundle all of their questions into one message per day to streamline things for both of you.
Detail-oriented, attentive writers who meet deadlines and catch on quickly are valuable. How do you nurture your relationships with these writers? Let us know in the comments.