There are a lot of benefits to working with external, freelance writers. The three most important might be:
- You get to tap into their expertise
- You get a fresh viewpoint
- You can scale up your company’s content team and programs without committing to the overhead of a full-time employee
But like any project, you need to apply polished management skills to finding and working with freelancer writers to get the best results. To get the most out of this opportunity, you need proper planning, clear communication, and a means to evaluate your results.
Begin by knowing the deliverable you want (topic, length, audience, objective) and when you want it. Make a creative brief that spells these factors out. Next, identify a few possible writers and find out if they have the topical expertise to create what you want. Get examples of other work they have done, and get references.
Once you’ve picked a writer, you’re ready to get started managing this project. Here are five tips to build your game plan, which will work for creating professional white papers, eBooks, how-to guides, reports, blog posts, newsletters (and much more) for your company.
1. Create an Outline
Habit #2 in Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is: Begin with the End in Mind. If you want your writers to create expert content, you must be 100% clear on what you want written. The easiest way to fail with a freelance writer is to jump into the relationship with vague instructions, no goals, and zero expectations. The best way to get started is to create an outline that clearly articulates what you want covered. The outline will help you map out expectations with your writer, and allow you to modularize the content and provide explicit guidance on what you want written.
2. The Devil is in the Details: Voice and Tone
Creating a project outline allows you to convey to your writer WHAT you want written. Next you need to compile a set of instructions for your writer and provide details about HOW you want the article written. Here are some of the important topics you should cover when communicating the HOW:
- Share Your Voice with Your Writer
- Provide Examples of Content
- Have a Style Guide
Voice: Do you like your article written in the first or third person? Do you want the writer to mention your competitors? Is it okay to use contractions? Share your voice with your writer and you’ll get back the content you want.
Examples: Find examples of articles that you like and provide them to your writer. This will give them an idea of what you’re looking for in terms of style, references, word count, structure, and much more.
Style guide: If you don’t already have a style guide, create one. Make decisions about how common words and phrases are spelled and used. (“White paper” or “whitepaper”?) Many organizations rely on the Associated Press (AP) stylebook, which is the style bible for newspapers. Then go further: roll up your voice and content examples into an overall writing style guide. It will take work the first time you create it, but you can leverage your style guide for in-house consistency and future assignments. If you need help putting together a style guide, here is a resource of things you need to know.
3. Monitor Progress
Establish a timeline with your freelance writer so you can assess progress throughout the project. Looking to create a 3,000 word report? Chunk it down into 1,000 word sections and set a deadline with your writer to turn in the first 1/3 of the assignment so you can quickly get a handle on their prose, style, overall effectiveness – and ability to meet a deadline.
When you check in make sure to provide a detailed list of the updates and revisions that you want. Be clear with your feedback, highlight a sentence you think needs work and show them what you want changed. Refrain from making vague and broad sweeping comments; many writers won’t respond well to that type of general feedback as it can be demoralizing and unhelpful.
4. Build a Content Calendar
If you plan to significantly expand your company’s content marketing program, take the time to construct a content calendar. A content calendar will allow you to plan out your deliverables for the months ahead and assign writers to individual projects. It will also quickly tell you whether you have gaps in coverage with your internal team and need to seek help from freelance writers. Need some assistance building your first content calendar? Check out this post.
5. A Heavy Dose of Empathy Will go a Long Way
When communicating with freelance writers, try to put yourself in their shoes as much as possible. Be direct with your feedback, but be kind with your criticism. If you treat your writers as human beings, you will be amazed at what they can accomplish. Don’t edit with too heavy a hand; your writer may not say something the way you would have, but that’s okay. They might be saying it better.
Set firm timelines and hold your writers accountable, but also be understanding if a deadline slips a bit. If a writer is habitually missing milestones it’s probably time to move on from them, but early on give them the benefit of the doubt. And, don’t set faux deadlines. Make them real, so they’re taken seriously.
Pay your freelance writers on time. No one likes to work hard and get paid 45 days later for what they accomplished. Also if a writer goes above and beyond on a project, give them a small bonus. It doesn’t have to be a huge dollar amount, but the thoughtfulness you put into it will go a long way.
Working with freelance writers is a great way to jumpstart your content marketing. They can help you turn your blog and site into a vibrant destination for your potential customers, and create content that converts.
It takes effort on your part to create the relationships, put the structure in place and to monitor progress, but if you create a system that works for your company, you will wonder why you didn’t start sooner!
For more information about how to create the perfect team that delivers results, take a look at Act-On’s free guide – The High-Performance Marketing Department. In this guide you will learn, the traits of a high-performing department and how to staff for maximum impact.