Building a successful content marketing program often requires hiring communicative, efficient freelance writers. But it can be tough to find dedicated freelancers who produce high-quality work and want to spend time investing in your brand. So how can you tell up-front if someone is a good fit? What information is required to ensure you don’t dump time into training a new writer, only to find that they don’t meet your standards?
Here are five questions managing editors can ask themselves before and during that initial conversation with a new writer:
1. Does the freelancer have a portfolio and quality work samples?
Before you speak with a potential freelancer, don’t forget to verify they have a website or portfolio of work samples. You’ll also want to see if they’ve done similar work in the past. Reading a few of their previous stories or getting a sense of their style can help you determine whether or not they’ll be a good fit for your brand. Often, freelance writers can also provide you with references or a list of previous clients to help you get a sense of their expertise.
Jennifer Dienst, a writer and editor with over a decade of experience, has hired dozens of freelancers. She always looks at their social media channels to get to know them better before scheduling an initial conversation.
2. Is the freelancer open to a clear and concise conversation up-front about expectations?
After reviewing the writer’s portfolio, an up-front discussion with a freelancer can reveal what it’s like to work with them and how they’ll respond to boundaries and feedback. Emily Wolfe, a journalist and brand consultant who has managed several publications, says the best freelancers she’s managed have asked questions in advance to clarify what she wanted. “[They] weren’t afraid to talk on the phone to make sure we’re on the same page,” she says. The initial communication boded well for the rest of the relationship—she found the freelancers who initially accepted feedback were much easier to work with during the drafting and editing processes.
However, as the managing editor, you must come to the table with clarity on the work the freelancer will be doing. That might mean pulling together a project summary, word count, due date, and payment information before that initial conversation.
3. Does this freelancer have ideas that align with my brand’s needs?
If you need a freelancer to pitch ideas, consider whether their initial submissions are a good match. Is the voice right? Does the expertise land? Again, this initial information can save you time and effort down the road.
“[When looking for freelancers, I] considered whether their pitches were a fit for our publication and whether they were willing to be flexible with tailoring [the idea] or working with the idea I had in mind or that the organization needed to prioritize,” Wolfe recalls. “There’s a push and pull of big picture and getting the nuance right.”
Hiring a freelancer who understands your brand’s voice, guidelines, and needs can simplify your job and save precious editing time.
4. Does this freelancer understand my audience?
Discovering the answer to this question can be a delicate balancing act: It’s essential to hire writers who have expertise that can help your brand, but you also want to work with people who bring new voices to the table. However, to keep with your organization’s high-level strategy, a freelancer should be able to understand a brand’s audience and orient content toward the needs of that group easily.
5. Does this freelancer have the bandwidth to work with my brand?
Even the most perfect freelancer can fall short if they’re working at overcapacity. Dienst suggests asking about availability before making any final hiring decisions.
“I understand that juggling multiple projects and clients can be challenging,” she says. “Depending on the scope and length of the project, I think it’s fair to ask these questions [about time, availability, and schedule] to make sure the freelancer has enough bandwidth to take it on.”
Make sure the freelancer can accommodate your internal deadlines on an initial project with time to spare, and consider asking about long-term availability as well.
The bottom line
Hopefully, working through these questions will lead you to a freelance writer who creates quality work, hits deadlines, and communicates efficiently. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every project will go perfectly. Dienst says you need a communicative freelancer, especially when things don’t go according to plan. When they need clarification or extra leeway on a deadline, a good freelancer isn’t afraid to ask. “I’d rather a freelancer keep me up-to-date if they hit a roadblock that is going to impact the deadline or end result,” she says. “I am almost always happy to accommodate.”
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