In 2020, there were 59 million freelancers working in the United States alone, and that number is likely to grow with the onset of the Great Resignation. Here’s the good news: freelancers can help supercharge your content operations by offering an opportunity to create content at scale while minimizing the expense of hiring a full-time worker.
A good freelancer is worth their weight in gold. They can help you quickly scale up massive projects and are invaluable for creating quality content that lasts. But there’s definitely a learning curve to adding freelancers into your editorial workflow, so remember these six rules for working with freelancers in the most streamlined and efficient way possible:
1. Get clear on your needs
First, make sure you understand what kind of content you’re trying to make, and assess your current abilities to create that content in-house. Where are the gaps? The more precise you are on your own priorities and boundaries, the better you’ll be able to find the freelancer you need and explain to them how they can best help you.
“Be thorough,” says Anna Schults Held, an experienced freelance writer, editor, and consultant. “Establish expectations and ways of working upfront. Freelancers should not need to make strategic decisions unless that’s what they’re explicitly hired to do, so be as clear on scope as you can. ”
Many content managers find success in creating detailed project briefs that guide the freelancer. Thorough project briefs prevent too much back-and-forth, shorten the process, and save money for both parties. Most importantly, everyone can refer back to it during the editing process if there are any questions or disputes. Also clearly outline (in writing) the deadline, flat rate fee, and word count as you bring the freelancer on board.
2. Streamline Your Processes
Hire a freelancer once, and chances are, you’ll hire another. So do yourself a favor and establish your onboarding and off-boarding process. When using Contently, that could be as simple as informing new writers about your audience, brand voice, and content strategy.
If you’re not using the platform, you’ll likely need to create a to-do list for the forms, information, and key insights you need from new freelancers. You’ll also need to handle sending out a contract, negotiating payment, and clarifying assignment details. And after the freelancer completes the assignment, remember that you’ll need to make time for edits. You’ll also want to pay the freelancer on time. And if you intend to give feedback, add that to your standard operating procedures as well. You’ll thank yourself later for the time saved.
3. Stay Flexible with Timelines
Most freelancers work for several clients. Unless they’re fully on board for a project with your team, they are likely juggling other deadlines that you know nothing about. So when you’re planning freelancer-created content, make room in your editorial calendar for a slightly longer editorial timeline than you’d require for a staff writer.
“Legally, I cannot tell a freelancer when or how to work,” says Melanie Padgett Powers, a freelance writer and managing editor for membership association magazines. “But beyond that, it’s about respect. I recognize that freelancers are running their own businesses. The best relationships are when both sides see each other as partners.”
Communicate with the freelancer upfront about deadlines to ensure that your turnaround time works for them. If you need to rush the assignment, consider offering a rush fee to account for the other work they may have to put aside to prioritize your project.
4. Look for Consistent and Communicative Freelancers
A good freelancer will provide consistently good copy that meets the assignment details or content brief criteria. In addition, they will communicate when they have questions, turn assignments in on time, and address edits in a timely and straightforward manner. In two words, a good freelancer is low drama.
“Of course, I want a freelancer who has the expertise we need, but beyond that, I want freelancers who make my life easy,” says Padgett Powers. Hold onto the freelancers who meet your standards by offering them regular work each month or providing feedback that shows how much you value their expertise and ways of working.
5. Provide Actionable Feedback
Always remember that a freelancer is not a full-time staff member, and they do not have the benefits of being on staff. With that in mind, you should not automatically expect them to attend staff meetings or work on the turnaround times required of staffers unless previously discussed. Feedback should still somehow remain part of your system in managing freelancers, however.
Generally, it makes sense to offer freelancers information about their performance and how they can improve, especially if you plan to work with them again in the future. If you find a freelancer you love, make sure to include good feedback so they know that they are valued and appreciated. Communicate this feedback in a direct manner during the editing process after the freelancer completes their assignment. If you choose to invest in a freelancer because you see them working with your team long-term, teach them how to succeed within your world.
6. Lean Into Strengths
Just like you would with a full-time staffer, take time to notice a communicative, low-drama freelancer’s strengths. Many freelancers come to the table with deep expertise in certain types of writing or design. Use that to your team’s advantage by tailoring assignments to their strengths and asking for (paid) memos that explain how you might integrate their expertise into your team’s workflow, even absent the freelancer’s presence.
The bottom line:
Keeping good freelancers in your arsenal can pay huge dividends, but it’s as much about setting yourself up for success as it is about expecting them to do their best work. When you find a good freelancer, keep them close by offering actionable feedback and deadline flexibility. Offer mutual respect by acknowledging that they have other assignments they’re likely working on. Watch for their strengths and lean into them. Set up streamlined processes, and bring clear communication and direct requirements to the table. All of this will set you up for a win-win.
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