How to Manage Freelance Writers More Effectively

How to Manage Freelance Writers More Effectively

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Sending out writing assignments. Keeping track of deadlines. Getting edits back in time. Ensuring that all content is aligned with strategy.

Wait.

“Does that article meet SEO needs? I need to double-check.”

Content management is no joke.

When I started adding writers to my team three years ago, this was what was going through my mind: How do I manage people while also managing the content marketing process?

Adding people to the marketing team did two things:

  • It allowed me to grow. The limitations that were placed on my time were now gone!
  • It forced me to refine my systems. I found that the system that had worked fine when it was just me didn’t work so well with a new team; I needed a solid, organized process if we were going to be successful.

Here’s how I got everything back on track.

Provide Clear Direction When Assigning Work

Alexis Zgud’s comment on this post about managing freelance writers cites the No. 1 rule of managing freelance writers: BE CLEAR.

“As a writer, I prefer clients who understand the audience and the intent and provide clear instructions via a creative brief. But I also like to be treated like a professional, not just a workhorse, and be compensated appropriately. Sure, there are a lot of writers out there, but not a lot of great writers,” she wrote.

Treat your freelance writers as strategic partners. For my own writers, I developed a template (which you can download here) that I use to deliver any new writing project. It includes the topic, subtopics, keywords we’re targeting, required word count, links I want to include, helpful resources and the action I want the reader to take at the end of the piece.

By providing clear direction for writers, they should have fewer rewrites and you should have fewer edits. A little upfront work becomes a win for both sides. From my experience as someone who manages multiple digital marketing projects with a long list of freelancers and contractors, having a clear creative brief will always save you money.

Lay Out Expectations from the Beginning

When hiring freelance writers, be upfront about what you need from the first discovery call. When I interview writers, I make four things clear from the beginning:

  • My budget.
  • My assignment process.
  • The assignment’s requirements (topics, audience, word count, SEO expectations).
  • My revision expectations.

By the time I interview a writer, I’ve already read their work. I know that their writing style meets my needs. The purpose of the interview on my part is to gauge their personality and inform the writer so THEY can make the best decision for them, and WE can decide if it’s a good fit. My projects might not always be a great fit for them, and before we begin is the best time to find out. Even if the current project may not be right, I may have something perfect for them in the future.

(By the way, don’t have anyone write a five-paragraph essay about why they’re interested in working with you or something else equally demeaning. Be informed — read what they’ve already written for others.)

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios and Cathy McPhillips of Content Marketing Institute have a whole other set of expectations. They say that on the occasions when they use freelance writers, they only hire top subject-matter experts.

“I'd be open to [using freelancers], but the quality would have to be there,” Crestodina says. “It’s hard to find people who can write this stuff.”

McPhillips says she recently worked with a particularly good freelancer. “It really came down to trust,” she says. “An angle she took on a project was a little bit off from what I initially thought, and then she ran with it and made it 100 times better. The good news: She understands our product/service, is a customer/community member, and it's great to have a fresh perspective, vs. me who is in the weeds every day. She also has learned my/our voice, and while it was a little different, it was a great complement to the voice of our blog.”

Build a Reliable Marketing Tech Stack

Freelance writers and contractors have it hard. They can have a new manager every day of the week. It’s hard enough having one! Make it easier on them (and yourself) by having a system in place.

Here are some of the tools I use to help:

  • Trello lets me manage an award-winning blog with multiple freelance writers. You can assign projects, provide details and assign due dates. Also, it syncs with Google Suite, so writers can submit their content via Google Docs.
  • SEMRush has an add-on with Google Docs that enables you to check SEO just like Yoast works in WordPress.
  • HubSpot has a project tool, and I use it to manage my writers. I can add my creative brief, editorial guide and due date in the project tool. Articles can be written directly into the HubSpot blog, which has a built-in SEO checker.
  • CoSchedule has an abundance of tools to manage and organize your marketing activities, but two of its products stand out for content management: Work Organizer and Content Organizer. These tools help you organize and systemize your processes and make collaboration much easier.

Build in Time to Communicate Regularly

As someone who both manages writers and occasionally takes jobs as a freelance writer, I can tell you that communication is the key to a successful relationship.

I have had both clients and contractors drop away without a trace like a bad Tinder date. We’re left thinking “What happened?”

Continuous communication is not only a professional courtesy, but it communicates respect. The client-contractor relationship is a professional one. Transparency is the key to success. Once that trust is broken, you can’t go back. It’s back to square one with a new writer or a new client.

How can you communicate effectively?

  • Set a weekly, biweekly or monthly call to discuss past projects, upcoming projects and future plans.
  • Be clear about the project workload. Is there ongoing work or is this a one-time project?
  • Communicate the payment process and stick to it.

Cultivate Loyalty Through Commitment

Content managers need to be someone that a writer wants to keep working with or they will always be sourcing new writers. Do this through coaching, appropriate budget and respect.

Understand that the first time you work with a writer, there will be some growing pains. Coach your writers and provide the edits for them to do themselves so they understand what you want. By editing the content yourself, you’re doing a disservice to your writer. They’ll never meet your expectations without clarity and coaching.

Pay writers appropriately. Offering less than $100 an article is a good way to lose great writers. Set a budget that’s fair to both of you. Freelance writers usually charge between 10 cents and $1 per word, depending on experience.

Last, treat your writers with respect. Their income relies on business owners like you. Help manage expectations with your writers so they can plan accordingly. Respect their time. Don’t contact them late at night or constantly request quick-turnaround projects. Writers need to be able to manage their time.

A Worthwhile Investment

Content marketing is effective, which is why B2B marketers are investing in it. Fifty-five percent of marketers say blogging is their top inbound marketing priority. B2B blogs are no longer a “nice to have”; they’re a necessity. And bringing freelance writers onboard is the fastest way for marketers to expand their content creation. Do this effectively. By managing freelance writers well, you can get your best return on investment: more content, better quality and less turnover.

Sarah Noel Block

Sarah Noel Block has been working with tiny marketing departments for over 10 years to streamline, systemize, automate, outsource and expand their bandwidth. Learn more at sarahnoelblock.com.

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