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From Onboarding to Ousting: How to Manage Freelance Writers

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Fully 35% of the American workforce consists of freelancers. Among them are a lot of writers, most of them talented, hard-working people who treat freelancing as a business and are always looking to grow.

Hiring Freelancers

If you are considering hiring freelance writers, you need to be prepared to seek them out. To start, take the following six steps.

1. Define your voice

If you don't have a style guide, take the time to document your company's writing style and tone before approaching writers:

  • What's your tone of voice?
  • Who is your typical audience?
  • Do specific words or phrases embody your brand?

2. Pre-screen them

Before you reach out to freelancers, develop a process to evaluate them. Decide what kind of writer you need. Create standard interview questions and determine who will assess their work and with what criteria.

A resume can tell you the basics about a writer's experience, but to know whether they'll be a good fit you need to ask for samples. (Don't worry if those samples have nothing to do with your industry.) Evaluate their writing style. Someone who wrote a hilarious review for dog treats may be a better fit for your off-beat tech gadget website than the person who painstakingly documented every specification of the latest processor launch.

A good way to find and pre-screen your freelancer is to use an online tool or service that does it for you.

3. Introduce them to your team

Your internal employees go through new-hire training during which they learn all about your company. Creating a similar onboarding process for freelancers can be highly beneficial. The more they understand your company, the better they can represent it.

4. Start with a trial

Once you think you've found the right candidate, ask her to join your team on a trial basis. Assign a story you plan on using and make sure you pay for the work; this is their livelihood, after all. If you haven't already done so, provide your writer's guidelines, style guide, and samples of past projects. A good writer will study those before writing a single word.

5. Provide feedback

Once you receive a draft, give it a quick read to check how well the writer has captured your voice. It probably won't match your company's voice exactly, but there should be a clear effort to do so. If it's obvious the writer ignored your style guide, don't bother with the next step: Pay for the article, and send her on her way.

If you like what you see, give the article a second read-through, this time looking for any major style or organization issues. When you send your first revision letter, point these out at the same time as you point out those areas where the voice sounds off. Voice, style, and organization work together, so it's best to provide critical feedback at the same time.

And don't worry about the minor details just yet. Save any missing commas or small typos until after the writer has the voice down. It may take more than one round to get that where you need it. That's fine. The important thing is that the writer be open to your suggestions, and get closer with each draft.

6. Embrace the writer's voice

Adopting your brand doesn't mean the freelance writer has to give up her voice entirely. Each freelancer is going to bring something unique to your team, and that can be a positive. Embrace her unique spin on your brand.

Signs to Part Ways

If you follow the above steps, you will enjoy a mutually prosperous relationship with your freelancers. However, there are things you should watch for that indicate it may be time to part ways:

  • Submitting unoriginal content. If at any point your freelancer turns in work that is not her own, break the deal. A good writer, especially one whose career is built on crafting words, wouldn't be caught dead passing someone else's words off as her own.
  • Ignoring feedback. Freelancers will probably ignore some of your suggestions. Writing is what they do, and they're probably right. But if the writer is consistently ignoring your suggestions, or ignoring big suggestions, that's a problem. You need writers who will accept feedback and become better writers for it.
  • Not showing improvement. If you find yourself repeating the same feedback, you may be wasting your time. Some writers are unwilling to meet your needs.
  • Inadequate or unprofessional communication. If you can't get a hold of your freelance writer, or you don't want to because of her unprofessional responses, this isn't a relationship worth continuing. Cut your losses and find someone else. There are plenty of writers out there, so don't feel like you need to stick with someone who isn't helping you.

Just because freelancers aren't traditional employees doesn't mean they aren't part of your team. And just as you would with a full-time employee, you should be providing continual feedback so that they can grow.

Feedback goes both ways. Freelancers can offer valuable insight, so don't be afraid to invite them to meetings or ask for their feedback on your next project. The more involved your freelancer, the more vested in your success.


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Joe Griffin is the CEO and a co-founder of ClearVoice, a content marketing technology company for high-quality blogs and other content destinations.

Twitter: @joegriffin

LinkedIn: Joe Griffin

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  • by Peter Altschuler Fri Jun 30, 2017 via web

    You forgot to include one facet on this gem -- how to avoid behavior that will cause your freelancer to quit. I've walked away from several clients over the years because they
    ignored research about their buyers and markets
    focused on what pleased the executives, instead of the prospects and customers
    refused to provide or share essential information
    allowed staff members to do re-writes (rather than provide comments and suggestions)
    expected me, despite the terms of the signed agreement, to pay for outside research, stock photography, etc.
    didn't pay within the agreed-upon time.

    Each characteristic (except the last two) can lead to inaccurate and ineffective results, and freelancers are obliged to point that out... in writing. If their cautions are ignored, however, it won't be the in-house employees who shoulder the blame -- even if they've been advised of the probable outcome. In those situations, it's vital to have an ally at a senior level (and it's even better to make sure they're in the loop from the start). Otherwise, a freelancer's vulnerable to having their reputation as well as their bank account be adversely affected.

  • by Laura Becker Thu Aug 10, 2017 via mobile

    This is a great article. I hope it gets a ton of traffic!

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