5 Tips to Getting Content You Love from Freelancers
content manager who needs tips on hiring and onboarding freelancers
Do You Make These 3 Onboarding Mistakes with Freelancers?
February 24, 2018

5 Tips to Getting Content You Love from Freelancers

content strategist who likes the content by a freelance writer

The assignment is due. You cross your fingers. But when you read the first draft of a critical piece of content from your new freelancer– you hate it.

Now you’re scrambling. Do you spend precious time working with the writer to get it right? Do you throw it out and call your favorite, more expensive copywriter to take it on? Or — say it isn’t so — write it yourself?

Getting freelancers to write content that doesn’t suck can be a challenge.

A content strategist I talked to, Nicole Pereira of Chief Martech Officer, recently said the No. 1 challenge for her agency is finding good writers.

Ouch! How can this be?

As a writer, I’ll admit I’ve had hits and misses. There are plenty of reasons an assignment can go south. However, for the focus of this post, I want to offer a few suggestions for content managers, strategists and even more traditional editors that might help you get your freelancers to produce content you love.

1. Provide core messaging

If you have a core messaging document for your product or service, share it with your freelancer.

One of my clients recently developed a messaging platform that explains the brand voice and brand pillars/differentiators. It also offers examples of how these are used in content. I refer to this document every time I write for them. It helps me cross-check my work, to make sure I’m doing everything I can to get it right.

Don’t have a messaging framework? Here’s a blog post from Pardot on How to Create Brand Messaging that Really Resonates.

Messaging Framework

A brand messaging framework from Pardot.

I view a core messaging document as a sign of professionalism. It demonstrates that marketing has thought deeply about the messaging and what it conveys to the audience in every piece of content. Sharing such a document with a freelancer will only help the writer give you what you want.

Concerned that the document will fall into the wrong hands? Have the freelancer sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Style guides come in handy, too. These usually go over industry-specific terminology, phrases and even grammatical preferences (such as Oxford commas). One style guide used by a print publication I wrote for had a rather snarky tone. Here’s an example:

“Do not use ‘Fast forward to …’ to make a transition. If you can’t find a better alternative than that, you aren’t trying hard enough.”

It may be a snarky way to get a point across, but you can bet it’ll stop freelancers from submitting copy with such a tired old phrase.

2. Explain what you want the piece to achieve

This may seem like a no-brainer. But it’s not unusual for me to have to ask the client what they hope to get from investing in a piece of content. I think clients may forget to tell me what a win looks like, because they’re just happy to get that assignment off their desk.

But remember: freelancers, especially new hires, work remotely. We’re not in your office and privy to daily conversations about strategy. So you need to tell us what you want…or we’ll ask you.

The goal might be to demonstrate thought leadership through a ghost-written blog post or an article in a magazine that lands on a CEO’s desk. Or it might be leads by way of premium content  where interested parties provide contact information to download a white paper or a case study.

Whatever the goal is — tell us. According to Nicole Pereira, too many writers write to enthrall, rather than focusing on writing to convert.

“These people should write for entertainment, not for business.”

That made me chuckle, but she couldn’t have said it better. A writer who’s trying too hard to be clever rather than delivering what the content strategist really wants is not going to hand in swoon-worthy copy.

3. Tell the freelancer who the audience is

This goes hand in hand with ROI. Knowing who the target audience is, based on the buyer persona, informs the writer on so many levels:

  • It affects the title, the first paragraph, and everything in between.
  • It impacts the tone and the expressions or terminology used.
  • It influences what needs to be explained, what information should be included, and what examples to provide.

Recently, I wrote a sales sheet for a client. The client explained that the sales sheet would be provided by contractors to potential customers who had particular objections and knew nothing about the client or the service the client provided. Each one of those data points informed my writing on that piece.

And it’s not just who’s reading the content and where they are in terms of the buyer’s journey.

Biuyer's Journey Example from Hubspot

Buyer’s journey example from Hubspot

It’s also how they’re getting the content.

An article, for example, could appear on a website, in a print publication, as a handout at a tradeshow, or all three. It might be promoted in an email blast and on specific social platforms. Therefore, when you assign the article, tell the freelancer how it will be used. That will often prompt discussion and questions about the content. And it will provide better direction.

So don’t hold back on sharing vital information like audience and context with your freelancer. Especially if you want to get content you’ll love.

4. Share your process and be accessible

Chances are, you’re super busy. You’re planning content strategy, spending time in meetings, answering emails, dealing with full-time writers, coordinating a website launch, you name it. Freelancers also have their own world, managing different clients with different personalities and processes.

None of us can assume the other knows exactly what a typical day holds. So the best thing to do is be honest about your process and availability.

In terms of content process and deliverables, do you want:

  • An outline before the writer dives into a blog post?
  • Pull quotes and sidebars in that white paper?
  • The freelancer to use preferred sources?
  • Suggested Tweets and Facebook posts as part of the deliverable?

Offering guidance on the deliverable takes the guesswork out of the project.

Being accessible is also important. Most likely, the freelancer will have questions from time to time.

Again, be honest. Let the freelancer know how you like to be contacted, such as email, text, phone or Skype. Or if you expect the freelancer to be resourceful with minimal input from you, then say so. The last thing you want is to feel pestered by a freelancer when you’ve got a million things to do.

Ultimately, setting expectations will help you get what you want.

5.     Give the freelancer specific feedback

As a freelancer, I want to knock that first assignment — and every assignment — out of the park. But working with a new client means I still have a few things to learn, especially if it’s a new subject matter. The better the feedback I receive, the better I can make that piece into something you love.

Good feedback is specific, like this:

  • “Adjust the tone so it’s less casual.”
  • “Use a different example here that would appeal to a financial advisor just opening a business.”
  • “Use shorter sentences.”
  • “Add keywords to these two paragraphs.”

Bad feedback, such as “I don’t like this,” isn’t helpful.

Last thoughts

Sometimes it makes sense to try the freelancer out on a smaller, less critical project. You both get to find out if you work well together and want to continue the relationship with bigger projects.

If it’s not a good fit, there’s less to lose and it won’t hurt your reputation with your boss, who might ask, “Who hired that freelancer?”

Of course, you may not have a choice. There’s an important project, your full-time writer is slammed, you’re overwhelmed, and your only option is to outsource it.

If that’s the case, then give the freelancer everything he or she needs — starting with the suggestions above — to succeed and create content you’ll love. You can’t get a much better Valentine than that.

Bonnie Nicholls on Linkedin
Bonnie Nicholls
Bonnie Nicholls is a freelance writer specializing in thought leadership content: case studies, articles, white papers/ebooks and blog posts. She supports industries such as Agile/Scrum, defense, cybersecurity, and business services.