Certain things in life should never be sent to a freelance writer: marriage vows, last words, birthday cards and certain types of text messages to significant others. That’s about it. Everything else is fair game—including your brand’s content. Yet despite the fact that more and more companies are using freelance writers, many still struggle to answer an all-too-common question:
“How can somebody who is not part of my business write for me – and write for me efficiently?”
If you can answer this question with confidence, it means you have the ability to scale content creation. It means your content marketing succeeds because of a process, not because of specific people. It means that content can become a competitive advantage to attract more attention, establish more trust and close more deals than that of your rivals.
If you cannot, well, it’s just the opposite. It means that the success of your content will forever be tied to certain individuals. If they pack up and leave (and they will someday), then you must start all over again. If they take a vacation, so does your content. Perhaps most important of all, it means that you’ll always be spending time on the tactical task of writing—a huge opportunity cost—while your competitors think and act more strategically.
It’s incredibly easy to find freelance writers. The challenge is finding freelance writers who get your brand, know your industry and who are fun to work with. If you want some help getting there, here are a few lessons we’ve learned in hiring freelancers over the years:
Be VERY Selective
Don’t ever settle. The perfect writers are out there. You just have to know what you’re looking for. This is especially true in the realm of B2B, where a premium is placed on industry expertise. Before starting your search, compile a writer wish list; things you would want to see before making the decision to hire them. This should include desired characteristics and qualifications like:
- Relevant experience: Have they worked in your industry before? Do they know the industry lingo? Have they written for clients like you in the past?
- Relevant samples: Writing samples are great. Just make sure they align with your needs. If you need blog posts and white papers, make sure you evaluate those and not another content type.
- Rates per deliverable: Know your budget before falling in love with a freelancer, and be skeptical if a writer charges too little, because they’ll likely ditch for the first client who offers them more.
- Availability: Do they have the bandwidth to help you meet demand? There’s nothing worse than finding a great writer and not being able to rely on them in a crunch.
With a little bit of criteria, you can start to narrow down your search accordingly. Once you’ve found the right people, the next step is enabling them to deliver great content.
Share Your Content Guidelines and Objectives
You wanted thought leadership, but they delivered a promotional piece. You wanted a casual tone, but they wrote like an academic. If you don’t share your brand’s content guidelines and objectives, there’s a good chance the writer will miss the mark. As I explained recently on the Marketo blog, there are five key guidelines you should share with your freelance writers:
- Content Goals: Thought leadership? SEO? Leads? Let them know how you measure success.
- Audience Personas: Who are they writing for? Be as specific as possible.
- Editorial Calendars: Clue them in on what content you’re planning to publish, even if they won’t necessarily be the person writing it. This will give them context and perspective.
- Technical Specifications: How long is a blog post? How should you cite sources in a white paper? These are just a few questions you need to answer via a brand style guide.
- Top Performing Content: Show them what’s worked well in the past and have them try to replicate that success.
The bottom line here is that freelance writers should be onboarded the same way you would onboard a new full-time employee.
Ask Them for Input
Most companies treat freelance writers like a release valve; they send them work only when there’s not enough internal bandwidth. By doing so, they are missing out on a key source for new content ideas, new strategies and new perspectives. If you’re able to involve the freelance writer in this process, you get them more engaged, which leads to better work over time.
Develop a Relationship
You wouldn’t go weeks or months without talking to your in-house employees (at least we hope not). The same goes for your freelance writers. While their workload will vary, the communication should not. Establish regular check-ins to discuss current assignments and new content ideas. Keep them up-to-date on the latest news from your company. The more you can make them feel like a member of the team, the better they will perform.
Aim for a Consistent Workload
In our experience, the success a brand has with a freelance writer is highly correlated to the amount of work given to them on a consistent basis. If you send them one assignment per quarter, the odds of them “getting it” are greatly diminished. While the workload cannot be too consistent (if it were, they’d probably just get hired full-time) try to establish some type of weekly or monthly cadence.
Freelance writers are easy scapegoats. And for companies that have no established process for recruiting, onboarding and engaging them, that’s almost always what they become. The truth is, the success or failure of a freelance writer is usually dependent on the company.
Ultimately, the battle for marketshare begins with content. And if your company has a game plan for freelance writers, it’s a battle you are far more likely to win.
For more advice on learning how to structure an outsourced marketing or freelancing engagement, check out The Essential Handbook on Outsourced Marketing: Growing Your Business with an Agency Partner.