Hiring a Freelance Writer: 3 Painless Tips for a Successful Project
- Not all, but many freelancers I worked with seemed to have been cut from the same cloth, personality-wise: Generally friendly and funny, but also a little bit more biting and egotistical than most vendors, which could make the feedback process difficult.
- I had a lot of trouble getting them to write with personality without them resorting to marketing speak. “Relax, we’ve got you covered,” etc.
But mostly this:
- I found myself spending more time managing/rewriting their work than I would have writing it myself.
This last problem, as I learned, could be solved in part by putting in the effort to find the best freelance writer for the project, rather than just assuming that any good writer would do.
The more effectively you manage your freelance writer up front, the better the process and final product.
But an equally important part of the solution was accepting that I would have to put time into managing her up front if I wanted to save time down the road. I couldn’t just add water and receive a perfectly crafted final draft the next day. Things got easier once I accepted that, like any employee, a freelancer would need a one-part investment of my time and energy in order to save me two parts time and energy overall.
I can boil my freelance hiring experiences down to three key lessons:
1. Choose a responsive point person.
No matter how good the writer is, she will need a designated editor at your company. It doesn’t have to be someone with formal writing experience (although that doesn’t hurt); it might be a subject matter expert or project manager. The point is that there needs to be a single person responsible for determining, collecting, and conveying changes (factual, tonal, and brand-related) to the writer on behalf of your team.
Make sure you choose someone who will “own” the project and be responsive so the writer can move forward as quickly as possible.
2. Provide a creative brief.
On some occasions, part of the work you’re outsourcing is strategic. The freelancer is therefore responsible for helping you determine the scope and direction of your project before executing it, and freelancers with marketing backgrounds (like me) are generally willing to help you do that. But in many cases, it’s up to you.
When you are ready to work with a writer, it’s helpful if you can provide her with a creative brief that includes:
- Goals for the project
- Scope of the project
- Due dates
- Target audience
- Source material or your notes on the topic (or some available times for the writer to interview you to collect notes verbally)
- Any research/reference links you’ve gathered on the subject
- Any good examples of similar projects from competitors or your company
- Any dos and don’ts, in terms of keywords or topics to include or avoid
- Tonal guidance (conversational, formal, etc.)
- Style guide preference
The more information you can provide, the better the freelancer will be able to quote a project price, and the better the first draft you’ll receive.
3. Build second drafts into the timeline.
One of the most important things you can do to build a successful relationship with a freelancer is to set and manage your own expectations. Sometimes I forgot that my freelancer was not an employee and didn’t have the insider knowledge we did—in fact, sometimes she didn’t know what she didn’t know, so she couldn’t even ask me the right questions up front. The first draft was good for bringing light to any disconnects or communication errors.
Clients who come into the project with a clear direction and creative brief consistently save money compared to clients who don’t.
as collaborative ideas evolve and become easier to dissect once they’ve been brought to life on paper. Expecting a second draft to be part of the process from the get-go is a good way to keep your own expectations in check and help the writer provide an accurate budget for the project.
What You’ll Get in Return
Now that I’m a freelance writer, do I expect this from all of my clients? Absolutely not. I understand that sometimes a project is too last-minute or disjointed for me to make any demands other than, “Bear with me, we’ll figure this out together.” But it’s a consistent fact that clients who come into the project with a clear direction and creative brief (or clients who come in knowing they need me to handle the strategy for them) save money compared to clients who don’t.
And, as any good freelancer would, I provide a few professional courtesies in return:
- Communication about the process/timeline up front
- Honesty about my experience and abilities
- Willingness to help you do research and determine topics if you’re unsure
- A concerted effort to learn about your company and products
- Willingness to make changes gracefully and dispassionately, but also speak up when I have concerns with the changes being requested
When the stars align and you’re able to find a writer who seems to really “get it,” hang onto her, appreciate her, and work on keeping that relationship solid. And if you’re skittish at the prospect of trying a freelancer again (after being burned, annoyed, or otherwise disappointed), take a step back and ask yourself whether you’re truly doing enough to set your projects up for success.
*Feminine pronoun used for simplicity, not because I’m sexist.