You have a big idea and you want to tell a lot of people about it. You’re great at public speaking—if you could get all the people you want to reach into one room you’d wow them with your wit—but your audience is everywhere. You can’t speak to them. The only way you can reach them is to write to them. Problem is, when it comes to writing, your big idea becomes more than a little convoluted. What can you do?
Hire a freelance writer.
Quality freelance writers are experts at their craft, able to tackle a variety of topics, and slip easily into your brand voice. Their services aren’t only useful for anyone who finds writing a challenge, there’s a good chance they're critical to your long-term marketing strategy.
Content marketing works, but only if you have great content. And for most businesses, the model of keeping a stable of talented, reliable freelance writers at hand is more sustainable and attuned to business needs than having a full-time writing staff.
Yet the process of managing input/output, communication, and billing for freelance writers can be overwhelming since it may fall to someone in sales or marketing versus your HR team. If you’re interested taking advantage of the talented freelancer market out there, here are a few essential tips for finding and managing your freelance team.
Where to find great freelance writers
1. From someone you know
The best way to find a great freelance writer is the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. Writing is a skill a lot of people tout, but far fewer actually have. Check with your business contacts to see if they’ve worked with someone great. Or, if you read an industry article you enjoy, reach out to the author to find out if they’re available.
2. Where the writers go
If you’re craving pizza, you wouldn’t go to a burger joint. To find talented freelancers, you have to post positions on the sites they frequent. Try Mediabistro, Remote, Upwork, CloudPeeps, or CreativeCircle. These sites require freelancers to make in-depth profiles, which helps weed out some of the posers more likely to throw an ad up on Craigslist. And because many quality jobs are posted to these sites, you can bet the quality competition is there too.
3. Through an agency
Sometimes referred to by the less flattering term, content mill, writing agencies take the hiring and managing of writers off your plate. While that may sound tempting, not all agencies are created equal. Many have gained a reputation for paying their writers next to nothing, which sends the best writers hightailing it for the hills. If you’re tempted by the ease-of-use, try BlogMutt or Speedlancer but be sure to read online reviews from both the client and writer side. You may get a higher quality and more cost effective product by growing straight to the source.
4. On social media
It’s a bit more legwork on your end, but searching for writer profiles on LinkedIn or Twitter allows you to social media stalk a potential hire before you commit. Check out their writing samples in LinkedIn posts or 140 characters, and see what industries they’re interested or experienced in.
No matter what approach you take to hiring freelance writers, be sure to ask for a portfolio, samples, and referrals. Getting a great content submission from a writer is like opening a present that’s better than you expected. Getting a piece of junk submitted from a writer is like opening a present to find … well.
How to manage freelance writers
Working with freelancers is far different than working with in-house staff. Your freelance writers will typically commit on a piece-by-piece basis, so your first contact may not be available for an assignment. You also have to manage communication about deadlines and edits with someone you may never meet in person, or even see over the computer. And you have to ensure timely invoicing and billing. Your accounting team will thank you, and top writers will be more likely to work with you when you make payment fast and easy.
Sound like an intimidating list of tasks? Without the right tools, it could be. Luckily, the following software and applications make managing freelance writers a breeze.
1. Editorial guidelines
You can store these on your website or in a Cloud-based document, but they are necessary. Editorial guidelines lay out your basic expectations for content related to your company. They should cover audience, tone, rules for linking to/citing sources, expected length, formatting guidelines, and maybe links to a few examples of excellent, standards-aligned content. Having guidelines in place gives you something to compare submissions to and an easy way to ask for changes if the writer isn’t up to snuff.
2. Communications tools
Your freelance writers could be based all over the country or even internationally. It’s critical to find easy ways to stay in touch. You’ll want to figure out what works best for your company but might want to consider tools that allow you to share screens and see faces, like GoToMeeting and Skype, or apps that make on-the-go communication a cinch. Slack, for example, is being adopted by many teams and you can add external users without giving them access to your team chats.
3. A CRM
A lot of people think of CRM software as being only lead-facing, but it’s an excellent tool for managing a remote workforce. Why? First of all, you might already be using it so adoption is a breeze. But even if you’re not yet a user, it’s by far the simplest way to house contact information, view contact history (Did you assign that piece? Did the writer respond?), track invoicing, and make personal notes you know no one else will see (This writer is great at high-level concepts, but not so great with esoteric topics).
Many articles on working with a stable of freelancers will also suggest setting up a separate email account to manage the back-and-forth of editing and assigning without cluttering your main inbox. CRM gets to that efficient outcome, without the email workaround. Simply manage all communications in your CRM so you never miss an email, lose editing notes, or misplace critical assigning or billing info.
4. Marketing analytics
You may love a writer’s work, but is it converting? Marketing analytics tools, whether based in that CRM or elsewhere, are crucial for tracking the effectiveness of your freelancer program. You can find out which writers are the most successful at pushing your audience towards your goals and determine best practices to add to your editorial guidelines (Email subject lines that include a number work best or readers abandon content longer than 500 words, for example).
5. Editorial calendar
It can be easy to lose track of submissions when you’re working with multiple freelance writers. An editorial calendar helps you forward plan assignments while keeping track of deadlines. An editorial calendar could be done very simply in Google Sheets, deeper in a collaborative tool like Trello, or in a more connected way by using your existing project management software. To decide which route to go, you’ll also need to determine how much access (if any) you want your freelancers to have to the calendar.
Finding a great freelance writer is like finding a translator when you’re lost in a foreign country. They can take what you want to say, and put it in words everyone can understand. Once you have that relationship, you don’t want to lose it. With the right tools, you’ll build a communicative, collaborative relationship from which you, your writers, and your brand will benefit.
Taylor Burke is a contributor for TechnologyAdvice.com. She's a marketer, storyteller, and techie who loves to learn about and cover relationship management, employee engagement, and other industry topics. When she's not in front of her screen, you can find Taylor reading, cooking, running, or hanging with her dog—but rarely all four at once. Connect with her on LinkedIn.