During a recent conversation with a content marketing professional I work with often, she mentioned she’s always wondered what freelance writers expect to happen during their collaboration. Are writer guidelines enough? How much feedback do we expect? Is it OK to send articles back for revisions?
After navigating this crazy creative career path full time for seven-plus years, I’ve partnered with dozens of content marketers and teams of copy editors to work on hundreds of projects and marketing campaigns. I’ve got insight.
Bottom line: We want to be treated as professionals and enjoy an open line of communication throughout the content creation process. Here’s how.
When onboarding a new writer, cover the basics, even if it’s common knowledge for you. It’s handy to have everything available in an online reference document that can be browsed easily, such as Google Docs. Earn bonus points if it includes screenshots, pictures and the occasional funny GIF.
At the end of the document, include a contract that outlines the responsibilities of both the company and the writer. Collect signatures and move forward.
Can we chat?
On day one, discuss preferred methods of contact including email, platform messengers, text messaging or social media. Which is the best way to reach you during the workday? Do you respond to weekend messages? Lots of freelance writers hunker down at their laptops on Saturdays and Sundays.
Do you want writers to check in with you during the content creation process if they have questions, or should this be directed to a copy editing team? Outline a list of the team members on the project to cut down on misdirected messages.
Git ‘er done
Next, explain how assignments will be completed. Answer such questions as:
- Do you require pitches?
- Do you create assignments to be claimed?
- Do you assign specific topics to individual writers?
- Or, do you offer a mix of all three approaches?
We want to know for a few reasons, the major one being that it makes a huge difference in planning our financial goals. Pitches are seen as potential income (no guarantees), while assignments are more likely to create a stable paycheck.
Over the years I’ve worked on articles by sending revisions back and forth over email (too messy, in my opinion), sharing docs in Google Drive, working via an agency platform and using a content marketing platform. If your company offers a platform, include a tutorial or offer to do a quick walk-through using a shared screen. You don’t want your writer to feel lost before they’ve even started.
Map it out
Next, give them an overview of the content creation process to put the project into perspective. Let them know if they are writing something as part of a campaign, a new product launch, for a static web page or a blog. Give them a timeline and show where their contribution fits in. Knowing deadlines as early as possible and how much time has been allotted for revisions makes scheduling so much easier for a freelance writer.
Remember, your project probably isn’t the only one the writer is working on at the moment. Successful freelancers juggle multiple clients daily. Make your interaction with them helpful and detailed — it means a more efficient workflow for both of you.
Show me the money
Finally, the introduction should include details about payments. If your company has a separate accounting firm that issues payments, let the writer know which one and the name of the contact person. Then go over what information the company requires. If payments are handled internally, simply share a name and email.
Let your writer know:
- If you require an invoice
- If you need a PO number or special wording (dates, campaign names, titles of articles) on each invoice
- How often is the pay cycle (monthly? weekly? On receipt of an assignment?)
Make it a priority to plan a well-organized start with a freelancer. From my experience, this makes the collaborative effort more enjoyable and on-target with fewer revisions and confusion mid-project.
Next up, give the writer the resources they need to create the right content.
Provide the writer with
- Contributor guidelines and the company style guide. These documents give basic information about style choice (AP, Chicago), voice, tone, use of sources, photography/imagery guidelines, etc.
- Buyer personas. These character sketches are helpful for writers, because they give personality traits and demographic information on the people they’re trying to reach.
- The site where the content they’re producing will be published. If it’s a new site that hasn’t launched yet, say that and include a proposed launch date.
- Links to sample articles that rock. Some can be from the site where the content will be published, and others can just be pieces your company likes. These help a writer get to know the style and tone that’s preferred.
Get the party started
Finally, assign the work to the writer. This should be in writing and clearly define due dates for initial drafts and how long the writer will have to do revisions. If you know the proposed publish date, include that too.
After the writer turns in their copy, communicate with them. If it will take you a few weeks to complete edits and get approvals from the client’s legal team, tell them. Writers crave feedback and communication. Keeping us in the loop means fewer “just checking in” emails clogging up your inbox.
Some of my clients send out weekly updates to keep writers abreast of where they were with editing, what they thought of the articles and when new assignments would be available. Include constructive feedback on how we could improve moving forward.
So, you’ve helped the writer get rolling, they’ve submitted copy, worked through revisions and the higher-ups gave you the green light. The process is wrapping up and everybody is (hopefully) pleased. Don’t forget to update the writer.
Please, do tell
Again, we love feedback. Please feed our curious souls. Let us know what you liked or didn’t like. If you did the editing, explain how you polished the piece so we can contribute tighter copy on the next round. Writers are listening.
After the article goes live, share the URL with the writer and encourage them to share it. Some brands I’ve worked with have offered small monetary incentives for sharing content and boosting page views.
If the first assignment is a success, it’s time to start over again. Let the writer know when payments will be issued and what the plan is moving forward. If possible, share a monthly content calendar with upcoming assignments and due dates. Then, ask the writer if they’d like to work on another project. If they didn’t meet your expectations, thank them for their time and wish them well.
If you’re wondering what a freelance writer expects from you, just ask. We might be hidden behind a computer monitor or only known as our avatars, but we don’t bite.