Posted on

How to work with and get the most out of a freelance writer

So, you’ve decided your business will be better off if you hire a freelance writer to produce your content. And you’ve learned how to choose a freelance writer that will suit your business. But how do you make the most of the freelance writer or writers that you hire? How do you get the best return on investment? That’s what this blog post is all about.

How to work with and get the most out of a freelance writer - this heading is overlaid over an image of a wooden desk laid out with a laptop, photos, sunnies, not book and coffee

The 13 things you need to know and do to get the most out of your freelance writer

Each writer has their own quirks and once you start working with one, you’ll soon get to learn their preferences. But the following 13 things are common to most, if not all, freelance writers. If you get these things right, you’ll save everyone time, avoid frustration, get the best work from your freelancer and make them happy (which in turn will result in you getting better work from them and them wanting to do more work for you in the future). Of course, if you constantly get these things wrong, you’re likely to have a rough time, your investment won’t be as effective and your freelancer may not want to work for you again in the future.

So, without further ado, here are the 13 things you need to know and do to get the most out of your freelance writer:

1. Know your goals and tell your freelancer what these are

2. Have brand writing guidelines

3. Have a content strategy

4. Know what content you already have

5. Know your ideal customers and target audiences

6. Be clear about your processes and workflow

7. Brief your writer

8. Provide useful feedback

9. Leverage your freelancer’s skills and experience

10. Recognise that the freelance writer you hire is not your employee

11. Give your freelancer what they need, when they need it

12. Pay promptly

13. Invest in research

1. Know your goals and tell your freelancer what these are

If you want your freelancer to write content and/or copy that brings you a return (whether that’s a direct increase in sales, more website traffic, greater customer satisfaction or some other return) you absolutely must know what return you’re aiming for. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t measure the return you’re getting.

Worse, if you don’t tell your freelancer what you’re trying to achieve, how can your writer hope to produce content that contributes to achieving that goal? Your writer can only work with what you give them so be forthcoming. And if you’re new to content marketing, consider paying for advice on your goals. If you hire a writer with marketing experience they may be in a position to help you clarify your aims and turn any of your more nebulous ideas into actionable and measurable goals that your writer can better work to achieve.

2. Have brand writing guidelines

Every brand that wants to make use of content marketing will benefit from having brand writing guidelines that cover style and grammar, formatting, and voice and tone. These guidelines will help ensure that all your written materials are consistent across platforms regardless of how many writers produce them.

Clear guidelines also make it easier to work with a freelance writer. They’ll produce a final product more quickly and there can’t be any arguments about whether a revision request is covered by a freelancer’s policies as both parties will be able to clearly see whether the freelancer has adhered to your guidelines or not.

If you don’t have a grammar and style guide, you could consider using or adapting a popular and freely available one like The Guardian’s style guide. I’d also recommend selecting a dictionary to use so spellings are always consistent. The Oxford English online dictionary is a good choice.

If you want help developing brand tone of voice guidelines, fill in this short form and I’ll send you a free guide and template. I’ll also pop you on my mailing list so you can receive additional information and resources that might be useful to you.

3. Have a content strategy

I can’t emphasis enough how vital it is to have a content strategy. It will stop you wasting time on the wrong kinds of content or promotion channels and help ensure your writers and other content producers know what to produce and when. Having a good quality integrated content strategy will also help your freelance writer hit the ground running. If you’d like to know more about how a content strategy can help your business, read my article about why you need an integrated content strategy and what it should cover.

If you don’t have a content strategy or your current one is out of date, consider hiring an expert to produce a content strategy that will get results for your business. Better yet, if you hire a writer that also specialises in producing content strategies, you’ll save time and money and when the time comes for your writer to start producing content, your freelancer will be able to hit the ground running even faster because they’ll be intimately familiar with your strategy.

4. Know what content you already have

Have you ever asked someone to produce a piece of work only to discover part way through the work, or even once it’d been completed, that you already had a perfectly serviceable version? It’s a common occurrence and it wastes countless hours of valuable business time.

I know you don’t want to waste time and money getting a freelance writer to produce content or copy that you’ve already got and the only way I know of to prevent this is to make sure you know what content you already have. Once you’ve done that, you can figure out what content you need to produce and give your freelance writer appropriate instructions about what to write.

Want help? If you fill in this short form I’ll send you a free content gap analysis template to help you document what content you need to produce. Once completed, you can include that in your writer’s briefing pack.

5. Know your ideal customers and target audiences

If you want your writer to produce high-impact content that makes your business far more money than what you paid for the content, your writer needs to know as much as possible about your ideal customers and target audiences.

Customer personas may be a useful tool for your brand. If so, prepare some detailed ones and include them in your freelance writer’s briefing pack.

If customer personas aren’t really relevant for your brand, that’s ok. You still need to define who your writer should be talking to. If your writer doesn’t have this information, they will have no choice but to either:

  • make an educated guess – this is never ideal and you’ll have to pay for any research the writer does to inform that guess
  • or write generic content – this will produce a mediocre result at best

Let me give you an example. A chef opens up a new restaurant. She’s not sure what kind of people live in her area so she decides to serve food that will appeal to all kinds of people. On the one hand she makes greasy burgers, kebabs and chips for those who need something fatty to absorb all the alcohol from a night out on the town. On the other hand, she cooks gourmet five course meals for the more well-to-do residents of her area. She also decides to serve a range of meals based on meat alternatives for vegan customers. Do you think her restaurant is going to do well? Will all three kinds of customers be happy to chow down next to each other? I suspect this chef is going to go out of business pretty quickly.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t have more than one target audience. Our chef would probably be fine if she opened three restaurants and had each one specialise in one of the three types of customers. Provided she can actually cook food that each type of customer will love.

The message here is that itt’s ok to have multiple targets. Just be prepared to invest in content for each target audience. And either make sure your writer has the skills to write for all the targets or hire multiple writers.

6. Be clear about your processes and workflow

You and your writer need to know who they should communicate with on a day-to-day basis and for each part of the project. For instance, who will approve and pay your freelancer’s invoices? And everyone needs to know who will have input on projects including who will provide feedback and who will sign off on the final deliverables. Does your writer need to communicate with your graphic designer, marketing director, sales team or other team members and freelancers?

Everyone also needs to be clear on what happens when your freelance writer pitches an idea (if relevant), submits a draft and submits the final deliverable. Everyone also needs to know the process for revisions.

If you provide all this info in an easy to digest format upfront, you’ll find it much easier to work with your freelancer.

7. Brief your writer

Everything I’ve mentioned above should be included in a general brief for every writer you hire. In addition, you’ll need to produce a project brief for your writer’s immediate project. This document should include everything your writer needs to know to write your deliverables.

This might include:

  • the specific purpose of the project
  • the SEO keywords
  • the title
  • subheadings
  • the topic
  • the length
  • key references to refer to
  • any topics or words that should be avoided

Want help? If you fill in this short form I’ll send you a great briefing template that you can use when briefing your writer.

8. Provide useful feedback

The process of writing quality content will almost always be iterative, especially when you’ve never worked with your writer before. The better your feedback on each draft, the sooner your writer will produce the kind of quality you’re after and the better the content will serve your purposes. If you work with your writer over a prolonged period of time, providing the best feedback will train a good writer to produce content that is closer to spot on. First time round.

When providing feedback, always bare in mind the needs of your audience. Your comments should describe how changes can better serve your audience. Feedback also needs to relate to your goals for the project and your business.

Most writers prefer to receive written feedback in a digital format. That means sending an email, adding comments to a document using the software’s comment feature or making edits with the track changes feature turned on. You’ll make your writer cranky if you don’t track your changes. Worse, if you introduce an error, make a less than ideal change or make changes that your writer then needs to replicate through the rest of the piece, your writer may not notice the change and your content will suffer for it.

Don’t handwrite, scan and email your feedback to your writer. This makes the revision process that much harder and you’ll be hit with a fee increase in the future.

And don’t feel you need to directly change your writer’s work in order to provide feedback. For best results, be as specific as possible when providing feedback but do this by telling your writer what isn’t working and why. By identifying areas that aren’t as effective as they could be, you’re providing input according to your area of expertise and allowing your writer to make changes using their expertise. If you directly dictate the wording of specific sections of content by directly editing the text, you’re telling your writer that you don’t value their opinion on that section of text.

My final piece of advice on providing feedback is to ask questions. This might sound incongruent but if you don’t know why something has been done a certain way, ask. Doing so during the revision process means you have the chance to request further, fully informed changes. Don’t wait until months down the track to ask questions though.

9. Leverage your freelancer’s skills and experience

I’ve touched on aspects of this already. For instance, if your writer is also a content strategist, pay for those services in a package as you’ll save money and get better results if you get your content and strategy from the same person. But these sorts of obvious services aren’t the only things you can leverage.

Internal processes

Chances are, if you don’t have things like a brand style guide or formatting templates, your freelance writer will use or create some to help them produce quality and consistent content for your brand. They’ll probably also optimise them specifically to your brand’s requirements if they write for you over a decent period of time. Don’t let that kind of internal process knowledge go out the door when you stop working with your freelancer. Pay them to document that knowledge as part of their handover so that you can continue to produce or procure consistent, quality content for your brand even after that freelance writer has moved on.

Content platform knowledge

Do you have a WordPress, Shopify, Klaviyo, Hubspot [insert relevant platform] expert on your team? If not and your writer has the expertise, get them to upload the content or document the process for you. The option you choose will depend on whether it’s more cost effective to train in-house staff or outsource for your specific situation. But either way make an informed decision.

If you choose to pay your freelancer to do it for you, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do when you eventually stop working with that writer. It may be more cost effective initially to have your freelancer upload and manage your content but in the long run, you might benefit from getting them to document the process if you’re eventually going to need that to be done as part of the handover process anyway.

Data analysis

Objectively measuring the effectiveness of your content is crucial if you want to maximise your return on investment. This means you need to collect and analyse content performance data. If you don’t have the skills to do this in-house, there’s a lot to be said for getting your freelance writer to analyse the performance of the content they write. Doing so will likely result in increasingly effective content because the writer will get to see exactly how well each piece of content is performing.

Project management

If you hire a freelance writer with project management experience for a large project, consider getting that freelancer to oversee the whole project as well. Many businesses underestimate the value of having a project manager onboard.

Even if you’re not completing a big project, you can still benefit from a freelancer’s project management skills, especially if you formally give your freelancer permission to remind you and your team about actions you each need to take. Many freelancers don’t follow up on things until they’re overdue or very nearly overdue because they don’t feel they have the authority to given they’re not even part of the team. If you make it clear that a freelancer with project management expertise does have authority to give reminders etc. you’ll be gaining a great asset.

If you’ve had problems in the past with freelancers that couldn’t stick to deadlines, consider specifically looking for a freelance writer that has demonstrated project manage skills (look for a testimonial or reference that specifically mentions this, or find someone who has completed a project management certification).

SEO and keyword research

Some content writers specialise in crafting amazing written work and have little or no appreciation for the importance of SEO. If you feel SEO is important for your project then you can save money by hiring a freelancer writer with SEO experience as it’s usually cheaper to purchase SEO-friendly content than it is to have an SEO expert modify existing content.

Advice

Freelancers need to budget their time carefully. As such, if you don’t pay your freelancer for advice, you’re unlikely to get any for free except that which is directly vital to producing great content for your brand. Under these circumstances, if your freelance writer has a lot of experience in any area of relevance to your brand they’ll be a vastly under-utilised resource.

As a solution, I highly recommend organising for your freelancer to provide at least a couple of hours of advice per month (in a retainer type arrangement). Alternatively, make sure your freelancer knows you would appreciate their input when relevant and that you’ll pay up to a given amount for pertinent advice.

Remember, when you’re hiring a freelancer, you’re entering into a fee-for-service arrangement. If you don’t tell your writer you’re open to receiving advice, they may feel it’s not their place to say anything if they notice a way you could improve your business’s marketing and content marketing practices. Similarly, at the end of the day, you’re the one paying for the freelancer’s services. If you’re adamant that you want something written a certain way, your freelancer will likely write it that way even if it goes against their better judgement. This is especially true if you’re very prescriptive when providing feedback. Hence why it’s so important to provide effective advice.

Some freelancers will provide relevant advice without an invitation but if you want to be sure you’re going to benefit from your writer’s expertise and experience, give them an invitation or set up a payment structure to encourage it.

10. Recognise that the freelance writer you hire is not your employee

I’ve alluded to this a little in the previous point but I feel it’s really important to explicitly address this aspect of your working relationship. A freelancer is not an employee and should not give the impression that they are. But it goes further than that.

You hire a freelancer to complete a specific project. You and your freelancer should thus agree on a clearly-defined scope for your project. If you want them to do something outside of that scope, you will have to pay an additional fee for that work. That means you can’t just call up your freelancer to ask for their advice or input on a piece of work and expect them to give up that time for free. If you decide you want to split test the headings of your blog posts or the subject lines of your emails, expect to pay your freelancer for that extra work if it wasn’t in your agreement. Don’t email your freelancer and ask them to ‘just’ tweak a bit of text that your in-house staff member wrote unless you follow that with ‘I’ll pay you at our agreed rate for out of scope work’. These are some common examples of out of scope work requests that often crop up for freelance writers so always refer to your agreement before asking your freelancer to do something. You wouldn’t ask an in-house employee to stay back 3 hours after the end of the work day without paying them overtime or giving them time off in lieu so don’t expect a freelancer to do the equivalent.

And by the same token, remember that your agreement is there to protect you as well. If your freelancer does one lot of revisions to a piece and it’s still not quite what you requested, don’t hesitate to ask for another round of revisions if your agreement says two rounds are included in your project fees. If the writer hasn’t followed the project brief or your style guide, point that out. If your agreement says each piece is to be professionally proofread and you’re constantly finding spelling and grammatical errors, raise it with your writer.

You have the right to demand quality work and your freelancer is obligated to provide it. Your freelancer is human so will make the occasional mistake but if you’re constantly being given subpar work consider looking for a new freelancer. Just remember you get what you pay for. If you’re paying your freelancer the equivalent of minimum wage (read this article on freelance pay rates for context) expect the kind of quality that would be produced by a very junior entry-level writer. And if you negotiate a significant discount on a freelancer’s usual rates, don’t expect them to pull out all the stops.

Don’t micromanage

I’ve seen a number of businesses face this issue recently so I want to address it in a separate point. You’re paying for your freelancer’s expertise so give them the space to use it. If you micromanage them you’ll limit the quality of their output.

11. Give your freelancer what they need, when they need it

A colleague was in a bit of a pickle recently when her client complained that she was running late submitting the first draft of her first project deliverable. The problem was, the client was supposed to pay a 50% deposit and supply their brand style guide, customer personas and some proprietary reference research at the beginning of the month. Despite numerous reminders, the client didn’t supply any of these until 2 days before the first draft was due. And their agreement clearly stated that the due date was only relevant if those terms were met on time.

A good freelancer will do their best to provide the agreed deliverables at the highest quality within the agreed timeline. But the moral of this story is that their work will not meet your expectations if they can’t start work on a project because they’re waiting on something from you. What’s worse, your freelancer may only have a certain window of opportunity within which to complete your project. If you delay providing necessary materials, it may be months before they have space in their calendar for your project.

So when you’re negotiating an agreement with a freelancer, think about when you want the deliverables by but don’t forget to consider when you’ll be able to provide any supporting information.

12. Pay promptly

This one’s pretty self explanatory. Many freelancers rely on a steady cashflow. If your agreed payment terms are 30 days and you instead choose to pay 30 days after the end of the month in which an invoice was submitted, your freelancer may not be able to afford to pay their bills. This won’t affect the quality of the work they deliver but it may mean they’re not willing to work with you on any future projects. They may also charge you late payment fees (check your agreement to see if this is relevant to you).

If you pay promptly, however, you’ll shine like a brilliant star in the eyes of that freelancer and chances are, they’ll put in extra effort on any work they complete for you in the future.

And while I’m on the subject of payment, be careful if you want to negotiate fees. Some freelancers may be willing to negotiate but others have set fees that they won’t budge on. Either way, most freelancers have experienced rude negotiation tactics from at least one prospect in the past and they don’t tend to respond well when they’re constantly bombarded with them. Don’t be like the people in this video and you should be ok:

13. Invest in research

The best writing is built on a strong foundation of detailed research. That might be research into a given topic, a specific target audience or your competitors. If you’re not willing to pay the fees your freelancer asks for that research, you’ll still get well-written text but if it does an excellent job of achieving your goals it will be a bit of a fluke.

Investing in the necessary background research may seem expensive initially but you’ll be much more likely to make the fees back and achieve your content marketing goals once you’ve started using the content. If you were selling your house and you’d heard a fresh coat of paint could significantly increase the sale price, would you spend the money, time and effort it takes to paint a house without spending a couple of hours researching which colours are most popular and effective? A fresh coat of paint might increase the sale price by a couple of thousand dollars but if you could make an extra $10,000 just by choosing a specific colour scheme, wouldn’t it be worth it to do that preliminary research? It’s the same deal with written content.

If you don’t want to pay your freelancer to do the research, you can of course do the research yourself. If you choose to go down this path, doing a thorough job is the best way to get a great result from your freelance writer. And don’t forget to provide any of this research in your writer’s brief.

Get your free guide and template

If you’d like to receive a copy of my free business writing resources, please provide your details below. If you don’t tick any of the boxes, you will only receive emails containing these freebies and any related information and resources I send out from time to time. All details you provide will be handled in accordance with my privacy policy and if at any time you want to stop receiving updates, you can unsubscribe via the link that is included in every email I send.

If you are also interested in some of my other content, please feel free to select your interests using the tick boxes. Doing so means you’ll get occasional emails with other useful information. All details you provide will still be handled in accordance with my privacy policy and if at any time you want to stop receiving emails from me, you can still unsubscribe via the link that is included in every email I send.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Which of these are you interested in?
Email Format

Click here to go back to section 2

Click here to go back to section 4

Click here to go back to section 7

Let me know what you think of this post