In the article I wrote on April 16th, “How We Addressed our Main Content Marketing Pain by Outsourcing to Freelancers”, I explained the process of selecting and using a freelance writer. We did not take the decision to outsource lightly but were facing a difficult situation where we needed to create content and in-house writing was not an option because of a lack of time. As a way of hedging our strategy, we sponsored a sort of ‘freelance off’ to figure out whether a domain expert or a writing expert would better meet our specific content needs.
At the end of the day, the domain expert came out on top in terms of turnaround time and content quality, and the freelance arrangement was a success all around. Kelly was that domain expert. However there are two sides to every story, and this one was no exception.
While our selection process was extremely thorough, there were a few additional things that made the overall arrangement a success in the trial period and beyond. Such a success that Kelly and I kept in touch and when she read my article, she wanted to share her side of the story and give her recommendations on how to augment your content strategy when bringing in a freelance writer.
Here are the aforesaid recommendations Kelly is sharing with us today in order to create more than a relationship but a a real partnership with your freelance writer.
Make an Investment Up Front
Both Kelly and I knew to expect a ramp up time while we learned how to work together. There are some relatively simple (but incredibly important) things we sorted out early and it made all the difference in the long run. Kelly knew there were two primary reasons she was brought in to help with our content. One was making sure the content was accurate and the other was making sure it was communicated in the right tone for the audience.
That is much harder than just speeding up the creation or revision of content. We took the time early on to make sure she understood their ideal tone and that she was able to capture it in her writing. Subtle differences can be difficult to pick up on, especially when the people sorting them out aren’t working face to face. There may not be a lot of time to spend on this ramping up process, but fortunately it benefits from multiple iterations.
Make sure that there are lots of checkpoints in a short window of time early on – maybe even daily. Getting the initial working dynamics right was something that paid off later as the workload increased and the pace picked up. It allowed her to work more quickly and independently while still meeting our expectations.
Know When to Stop Writing and Start Talking
Writers are all about the getting to the next draft so we can send it off for review. With the convenience of MS Word and email, it is easy to go down a draft and revision rabbit hole. This is compounded by the fact that freelancers are not exactly regular 9 to 5 workers.
Kelly is sort of an afternoon / evening writer that likes to make use of her weekends. Our team worked a more standard day. We were on the West coast while she was on the East coast. Email was definitely the easiest way to exchange content. But sometimes we would reach a point when it made more sense to jump on the phone and talk through an issue or clarify a need. These calls were not scheduled long in advance and they certainly weren’t booked for an hour or even a half hour. They were impromptu and often lasted less than 15 minutes. Knowing when to switch modes, from email to phone, made a great deal of difference in the working dynamic and the end product.
Stop going to v5.4 with shared documents
Being able to pick up the phone when you don’t understand something on the document is great, especially when you know the person on the other side will most likely pick up the phone or call you back as soon as they see your voicemail.
Leveraging the phone and shared documents at the same time is the 100% success rate solution. How many times did I call Kelly because I wasn’t sure about a few things in a document and we both jumped on the shared document to make the changes on the fly, allowing her to re-write something as I was commenting it or vice versa.
This gave us complete visibility on the content that was being created, thus leaving little or no room for misunderstandings or errors.
As soon as we were able to master this process, we saved a lot of time and many back and forth emails with v1.1, v2.5, v3.2 and so on.
Keep the Door Open and the Dialogue Honest
The other thing we managed to do right was probably helped along by the fact that we had a healthy pre-established working relationship, but I think you could duplicate it pretty easily even without that.
We maintained an open and honest dialogue at all times. Kelly made it clear right up front that she wanted feedback and she meant it.
This seems like a no-brainer expectation for someone who writes for others, but it takes practice not to be defensive. As a freelancer, you often have to invest more than writing effort to complete an assignment. It takes creativity, attention to detail, and investment in abstract wants or needs. When you think you’ve delivered the perfect content and you get critical feedback, it’s pretty natural to be frustrated.
Not only will a good freelancer understand this feedback is part of the process, he or she will see it as a way to avoid to wasted time and energy guessing or playing a game to get the final product right.
Freelance writers can be a cost effective, efficient way to meet your content needs. If you find one that you mesh with in terms of skills and working dynamic, hold on to them. And remember, as we learned, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to finding a freelancer. There are a number of roles, regardless of sector or industry, that qualify someone to fill this need for you, and it may even lead to positive results beyond content.
Image by Diego Sevilla Ruiz