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.
#1 The prep stage: your content goals and your perfect candidate
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.
Determining your content goals
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:
- your target audience and the information they are looking for
- the best form of content that would work for your target client
- social media platforms you are targeting
- the main message behind your corporate site/brand.
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.
Screening the right candidate
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:
- Niches and experience: first thing to focus on is your candidate’s experience. Normally, writers who have been in the business for some time, already have a set of specific niches they work in. Obviously, you should focus on writers with relevant experience. Still, do not neglect beginning talents — give them a chance, too. After all, we’ve all been beginners some time ago.
- Samples: probably, the most important thing to focus on. If a writer cannot provide any writing samples, chances are, they exaggerate their experience.
- Full-time or part-time: there are plenty of writers who have full or part-time jobs and occasionally try to earn an extra penny by writing. While the choice here is totally up to you, remember that part-time freelancers are usually even less reliable than full-time ones.
#2 Communication: set clear objectives
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.
#3 Workspace: provide the right tools
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:
Ask if the freelancer needs anything
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.
Make the most of Google suite
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.
Implement more complex trackers for larger teams
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.
# 4 Involvement: make writers a part of your team
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:
- Freelance writers are looking for job security: yes, they are the free birds, but still they are looking for long term projects and financial security. Understanding your content goals and the scope of the project already gives some info on how long the project will last. Stable, fixed workload (even if it’s one-two posts a week) is already job security of a kind.
- Teams work better towards a common goal: a successful company is like a Swiss clock, where each part works for the benefit of the whole. If all of your team members understand your company values, know how the service/product you are promoting can make this world a better place, they will work together towards a common goal.
- Team members come up with great ideas: most importantly, people who are a part of the team have more insider information about your internal operations, and, believe it or not, can often come up with useful suggestions on how to make the company run even better. In case with content writers, they definitely have lots of experience on how to promote stuff, and a wise manager will always listen to this kind of input.
And here are some tips on how you can invite a remote employee in:
- Encourage questions/ suggestions: first and foremost, be open about your company and give people a chance to express their ideas. You never know — they might be incredibly useful for your business.
- Remember we’re all human: remember that your employees have a life, and do not expect anything unrealistic from your freelance writers. They are not here to serve you; this is a mutually beneficial collaboration. Do not set unrealistic timeframes or overly difficult tasks. Stay reasonable.
- Allow some degree of creativity/flexibility: even though most writers work best with fixed instructions, some of them would appreciate a certain degree of flexibility. Let your writers know that you value their input and ideas. Sometimes, the easiest way to do that is to introduce an ‘up to you’ topic now and then.
- Allow access to internal tools: if you are lucky enough to have established a stable, long-term relationship with one of your writers, allow them even more access to your internal operations. Regular blog writers, for example, can have access to your content management system. Sure, sharing passwords with the new people is definitely not the best idea; here, an internal tracking tool will do the job just fine – for now.
#5 Control: find the perfect ratio
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:
- Establish a fixed meeting schedule: it’s always a wise idea to talk to your team members personally; fortunately, Skype allows it free of charge – regardless of your writer’s location. Set up of a regular meeting time will help to discuss any of your writing goals, ideas, suggestions, etc. The exact schedule will depend on your publishing calendar, but usually, a weekly meeting is perfect to keep your hand on the pulse without being too pushy.
- Determine appropriate communication hours: it’s obvious that you have to be aware of your freelancer’s time zone and respect time difference, if any. It’s business ethics 101 – no contact on weekends, unless absolutely necessary. Even though a freelancer may not have a fixed working schedule and may often work on weekends, too, it’s not for the employer to stress the need to do so. Also, note that even though e-mail is not a phone call, you should still apologize for writing late/on a day off.
- Don’t be too pushy: bottom line, don’t be too pushy. Understand that a freelancer has a private life, just like you, and respect it.
#6 Encouragement: make it a win-win partnership
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:
- Holiday bonuses: the very least you can do is to send your writer a little extra money on a birthday, New Year, etc. Sure, it might be a little hard to figure out the exact (which is too much, which is too stingy?) amount. Perhaps, the best, the most budget-friendly suggestion would be to stick to the same sum as the writer’s average payment per article. The solution is affordable, everyone knows it. Still, it offers a chance to show that you care.
- Royalties and sales bonuses: this approach works only in certain cases; in particular, when dealing with promotional content. If, for example, a new client is redirected to your website after reading an article/social media post and this same customer buys something from your online store, you can send a complimentary bonus to your writer after the sale is closed. Another perk of this approach is that it will motivate your freelancers to write even better sales copies. Win-win!
- Annual raise: finally, if a freelancer spent a year in your company already, it might be the right time to renegotiate rates or give them a raise. Even though as a business owner you would like to keep your expenses to a minimum, remember that in the ideal world, employee salary is more of an investment. You would probably give your staff member a raise in this situation, so why treat remote employees any different?
#7 Consistency: keep your end of the deal
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.