Managing in-house employees can be stressful enough, but when it comes to freelancers, the job may turn into an utter nightmare. The statement is especially true for the most creative of the freelancing bunch — the writers. On the upside, there are plenty of perks to outsourcing, and lower budget is the obvious one. As of today, almost 70% of all businesses outsource their content, and even though the management might occasionally become challenging, there are certain tips that will help you make the most of this process.
If you do not know what it is you are looking for, how will the writer? More than that, understanding your content needs and your end writing results will help you find the most qualified person for the job. The preparation stage is not directly related to the actual management, but if you get it right, you’ll be able to team up with the best freelance professionals out there, saving yourself a lot of management trouble in the future. In a nutshell, the prep-stage can be divided into a) determining your content goals; and b) screening the right candidate for the job. Let’s go through them in a greater detail.
Just like you shouldn’t be buying a car before you learn how to drive, you shouldn’t be hiring (or even looking for, for that matter) a content writer before you determine your short-term and long-term content strategy. Yes, sure, you probably want to boost conversion, generate new leads, and raise awareness about your brand. Those are all examples of long-term goals. Now, try to think how you are going to achieve all of those. Here, it would be a good idea to focus on the following:
Sure, there are plenty of other tricks that will help you determine your content strategy, but this is a matter for an entirely different article, so let’s get back to managing freelance writers for now.
Now that you know which content you are looking for (corporate site content, promoting guest posts, Facebook/LinkedIn posts, etc.) and, most importantly, which topics you will be targeting, you can start looking for the right candidate. And here are some tips that will help you get started:
Always start with the budget
Determine your budget before you even start asking freelancers about their rates. Set the highest bar you can afford, and only then start inquiring about current market supply. Why so? Most importantly, because freelancers’ rates can vary enormously. Also, note that even though one of the main reasons behind outsourcing is minimizing the budget, it will not be as small as you may hope. Don’t be surprised — professional reliable freelancers ARE EXPENSIVE. Yes, they are not as expensive as hiring a full-time in-house employee, but still.
Choose a search platform
There are plenty of freelance sites, Upwork included, that might seem an obvious choice when looking for a freelance writer. Still, you should be prepared that the number of unprofessional downshifters on Upwork, Freelancer, etc. is enormous. So, finding the right person can (and probably will) take a while.
Another idea would be to contact an established company that can provide quality writing and proofreading services. This solution is likely to be a little more expensive than hiring an independent freelancer, but it comes with a huge perk — internal management. To put it simply, the chore of managing a freelancer will be on the company in question, not on you.
Finally, do not neglect LinkedIn, even though most of us still have trouble adjusting to this platform, one thing is for sure — it has turned into a leading site connecting professional interests.
Know which questions to ask
If you have chosen to go for an independent freelance writer, make a note of these simple questions that should help you find the perfect candidate:
Now that you have chosen a writer (or even a team of writers) that can cope with your project, the key to successful collaboration is clear communication. Here are the main areas you should focus on here:
Any writer will do much better if they know what you are planning to achieve with the content. Here is the simplest example: a single blog post can be informative, promotional, entertaining — not to mention the fifty shades of same in each of the above categories. Normally, if a writer has experience, they will brainstorm you about your content goals. But just in case they don’t, make sure to inform your employee about each post goal.
Then, of course, there is the form. This is especially so for SEO content. Even though practically all copywriters out there understand SEO basics, do not expect them to conduct a thorough Adwords research for you. All in all, despite being a part of the ‘creative’ team, most writers work best with very specific instructions. More than that, about 98% employees work best with very specific instructions. So, when assigning an article, mention your expected word count, target audience, the platform you are writing for, keywords (if any), etc.
There goes — the main reason why many employees do not like working with freelancers — missed deadlines. Fortunately, there is a simple cure for that — be very specific about your timelines. ‘As soon as you can is not a specific date/time. A lot of in-house employees flounder when they hear ‘asap’, so why expect anything different from a freelancer?
Another word of advice for those working on their own schedule is to leave yourself plenty of time in advance. Want to post an article in two weeks? Give a freelancer a week tops. Sure, it gets trickier while working with tighter deadlines, but the logic is the same. Remember that only the most professional (truly exceptional, really) freelancers are usually good with schedules — and even they occasionally get sick.
As a manager, you are responsible not only for achieving certain goals but also for establishing functional professional environment. Think it only goes for the in-house staff? Not quite so. There are plenty of useful tricks that should help you make the most of your working process, even when collaborating with remote employees. Here are just some of the most critical points to consider:
For starters, ask the freelancer if they need anything from you. If, for example, you need quality brochures edited till they are ready for publishing, chances are, your freelancer may lack some Adobe licenses to edit astonishing PDF-files. Do not forget that most freelance writers work in simple text editors; some of them are also quite comfortable with markdown tools, but the number is not as high as you may think.
Google tools, on the other hand, are very widespread, and even if your freelancer lacks the experience with Google suite, a Microsoft-Wordy design of the Google tools will unlikely scare your freelancer away. On the whole, Google has made remote collaboration really simple, and you should make the most of it. For example, you can use a shared Google spreadsheet to track down ideas, post updates about articles confirmed for writing, articles that are still being written, posts that need a fix, etc. — the exact workflow is entirely up to you.
While managing a large team of writers with different access levels to different projects, Google suite will not always be enough. So, you might want to consider setting up a separate tracker for your writing team or, if you already use a tracking tool in-house, invite your freelancers in as well.
If you are new to tracking tools, note that the whole setting up process might take a while. All in all, Asana is considered a very good system for tracking task progress on an executive level. Redmine offers even more options when it comes to setting up custom functionality, which makes it a perfect fit both for high-level executives and regular employees.
All in all, the biggest perk of setting up a tracker is that you can create different projects for different writers — say, one project for your corporate site, the other for your social media posts, one more for guest blog posts, etc. Typical tracker functionality will also allow you a greater degree of confidentiality, which can be especially useful for deadlines. If, for example, you want to publish an article in two weeks, you can have a ‘due date’ column for the management only, and an earlier, ‘deadline’ column for the writer. In other words, trackers give you a chance to play with user permissions and overall info visibility, which is always a plus when managing a large team.
Extra tips on setting up a tracker:
Do not even get started with the tracker before figuring out your workflow — the admin panel in most tracking tools is far from intuitive. When it comes to managing writers, the best approach would be to keep it simple. For example, article status transitions can go like this: new — in process — written — in proofreading — accepted/rejected — posted — closed, etc. But, once again, the exact status transitions will depend on the workflow you have in mind. You can add or omit certain statuses; you can even start with suggestions, for example: idea — approved for writing/rejected — new article, etc.
No doubt, taking care of the technical stuff is very important because it offers you a chance to automate many of the internal processes, thus, saving a bunch of time. Still, the cornerstone of successful management is one’s ability to work directly with people. Ideally, you should be looking for writers to work with long-term — this is the surest way to establish a long, mutually profitable relationship that WILL result in quality content and stable lead generation. This, however, can only happen if writers feel a part of your team, and here is WHY:
And here are some tips on how you can invite a remote employee in:
Another tricky issue that gets very individual with each new team member. The best way to manage freelancers is to understand why they chose a freelancing career. First and foremost, they like working independently and — if you hire a professional team — they like managing their own time. So, it would be wise to find a balanced ratio of control that would be suitable both for you and your writer. Once again, the whole issue is very individual. Still, here are some suggestions that may point you in the right direction:
Everyone – absolutely everyone – loves praise. Even if your budget is tight, a compliment now and then is always free. After all, there is not a person on this planet who doesn’t love job fulfillment. If you think that your writer did a great job, tell him about it. Even better, tell them specifically what you loved most about the post. This simple technique is so much better than pointing out blemishes and inconsistencies in someone’s work. The person will definitely make a note of the things you love and will try to make all of the following posts up to this standard.
When it comes to the monetary compensation, here are some ideas that may prove useful:
Consistency is the key to success in any relationship. In a nutshell, you always have to keep your end of the deal. If a freelancer is reliable with writing/publishing schedule, the least you can do is ensure timely payments. If you are responsible for providing a list of weekly/monthly topics, make sure there are no delays. Bottom line, be reliable and consistent – any employee appreciates that. Create a functional working environment, and you will be rewarded for the effort.
So, as you can see, managing freelance writers can be challenging; at the same time, if you stick to these essential tips, you will most likely build a successful, long-term relationship with each of your remote writers.
Christina Battons is a blogger and freelance writer. I’m interested in topics about education, writing, motivation, etc. And I also like to share my knowledge with people. Currently, I write for various blog like ThrivingWriter or similar. My free time I spend with my family, friends, or riding my bicycle. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.