As a former freelancer who now hires freelancers, I have a unique perspective on the topic of working with people who write. I’ve ridden a rollercoaster of freelancer rates and experiences. And now, the market has finally realized what great freelancers (and editors) knew all along: Freelance writers may be a dime a dozen, but a good one -- who can not only write, but is also reliable -- is one in a million. And absolutely worth the money.
So where do you find these freelancers? And once you find them, how do you lead them to create amazing, scalable content? Here are seven tried-and-true methods for finding and managing freelancers. Using these methods, I've landed great writers who've written truly remarkable content for my company.
1) Ask other editors and marketers for recommendations.
Many of my freelancers came through personal recommendations. One time, for instance, I hired someone who I'd worked on our college newspaper. I simply shot her an email to see if she’d be interested. We'd worked together before and I knew she was reliable, responsible, and a great writer. She’s not a marketer, but she’s smart and can easily digest new concepts.
You wouldn’t hire just anyone to walk your dog or babysit your kids, and the same should be said for your blog content. Ask around to people in your industry or people who work with content creators regularly. Chances are, they know a freelancer or two whom they’ve had great experiences with who could take on more projects.
2) Look to writers and publications you love.
Since most freelancers can handle more than one opportunity at a time, there's nothing wrong with reaching out to ones who are writing for other publications. Hey, that's free market capitalism.
If you're creating content, part of your day-to-day should be reading great content. Keep seeing one name pop up regularly or find one publication that consistently puts out great content? Contact their freelancers through Twitter or LinkedIn. Almost every freelancer I know can almost always use more work -- why shouldn’t it be for you?
3) Seek out writers on traditional networking and hiring channels.
This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but the channels you'd traditionally go through to hire anyone also works for freelancers. LinkedIn, MediaBistro, and even Craigslist work just fine. You can also browse freelancers based on their areas of interest on places like Behance, Elance, and HubSpot's partner directory.
If you have the budget, the simplest solution is to leverage third party platforms like NewsCred, where freelancers come vetted and curated for your brand’s specific needs. NewsCred has worked especially well for us -- I now find myself being pitched by freelancers who want to be part of what we’re doing. If you're managing your freelancers well and they're creating amazing stuff, other talented people will flock to it.
4) Make a point to communicate clearly.
I can’t stress this enough. Always err on the side of over communicating, or risk receiving a piece that is not exactly what was pitched.
Want them to use a specific source? Did you have a specific inspiration for this blog post? Include it in your directions from the get-go. It will save everyone a lot of time and grief down the line. Always share as much brand or industry knowledge and information as soon as possible. Want your freelancers to steer clear of certain topics or competitors? Make that clear from day one as well.
I recommend making a Google Doc to keep all this knowledge organized and easily sharable. The sooner you and your freelancers are in sync, the faster you’ll have a seamless content creation process.
5) Create a style guide and brand filter checklists.
Aligning with my previous thoughts on communication, a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page is to outline clear brand objectives. I recommend creating a style guide and brand filter checklists.
Your style guide should cover everything from brand voice and tone to content strategy and editorial idiosyncrasies. For example, does your brand use + or & to signify "and"? I’ve found it’s also helpful to include text samples from actual existing content of “good” brand voice, and not great brand voice. (Want to see an example? This is what HubSpot's style guide looks like.)
Once you’ve created your style guide, you can distill it into three to five points that make up your “brand filter checklist" that freelancers can check before sending in their content. What are on these checklists? They should cover content objectives and what makes a piece sound and feel on-brand.
6) Stay organized.
Create documents to organize assignments, beats, invoices, pricing models, and upcoming projects that need content. With a solid infrastructure in place, you'll save yourself a ton of time by simply filling in as you go.
If it’s in your budget, a robust content management software (like HubSpot's) can help you manage your content calendar, workflows, and freelancers. Sharing this information will make them feel like part of the team and help everyone stay on the same wavelength. (Don't have the budget for a content management software? Here's a free template for a blog editorial calendar to get you started.)
7) Make your freelancers feel valued.
I’ve instituted an annual freelancer on-site where we go through our brand vision, style guide, what content succeeded, and what content could have used a few more re-drafts. In exchange for their time and attention, we took them out to lunch and then to dinner and drinks. Gestures like these create real-life bonds with the people who do so much for you virtually -- and on whom a big portion of your success depends.
I've gamified traffic by creating a system where the freelancer with the highest performing piece of content for each month gets a bonus. This incentivizes my writers to care as much about the performance and promotion of their content as I do. We also write recommendations for our freelancers on LinkedIn, recommend them for other jobs, and praise their work consistently. For example, we tag them in social media posts and freely giving bylines where they can link to their social media pages or portfolios. They also have an open door invitation to our office and any events we have.
Great freelancers are hot commodities. Make them want to work for you more than anyone else.
For anyone new to building a brand newsroom, you will soon find that a good freelancer is worth their weight in gold. Treat them like a part of your team, pay them well and on time, and you may just seem some referrals for your business come in from the people who write about it every day.