One of the most-outsourced tasks in the digital marketing world is content creation. If you ever posted a job on Craigslist, you know exactly about which I speak. Within two minutes of clicking the “post” button, you have 300 applicants all claiming to be the best writer in the business.
But once you’ve identified the best writers who can contribute to your organization’s success, the biggest challenge is managing them. They’re not employees, which creates a unique angle to management. They’re usually remote, leaving you without the insight of face-to-face interaction. All this contributes to a fuzzy vision for proper management.
And that’s a problem. If you don’t know how to manage your freelance content providers, then you most likely will receive subpar work. They don’t know your expectations, aren’t sure how to communicate with you, and can’t deliver the kind of results you want.
These tips will give you some insight into the world of freelance content providers – what they want, how they work, how they think – and how you can better manage them.
Talk to them on the phone
This article doesn’t cover how to hire or interview a freelancer, except to say one thing: Talk to them on the phone.
Don’t quit talking to them once you’ve hired them. Give them more phone time. Call them every month, if not every week. If content creation is important to you, you’ll have stuff to discuss. Your content provider is an important member of your business.
Be clear with them
Startups sometimes don’t have a clue about what they’re doing. Every successful startup guesses at some things, fakes some things, and learns some things on the fly. Your relationship with a freelance content provider is akin to a startup. How will your freelancers deal with the change and uncertainty?
As the manager, you must be clear about what you want from them. I’m talking about details. Tell them the number of articles, word counts, tone, images, links, readership level, and audience – everything they’ll need to know to execute successful content.
What if you don’t know all of those things? Then tell the freelance provider what you don’t know and what they should do about it. You can be up front. Just tell the writer, “Hey, we’re not even sure what topics we want to cover, so I’m going to give you full liberty to come up with the topics yourself.” Admitting you’re not sure how to proceed gives the freelancers the ability to unleash their own creative talent to help you, which is what you hired them to do anyway.
You’ll find that some freelancers are comfortable with the we-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing approach while others prefer the give-me-detailed-instructions approach. Whatever approach you take, be clear about it.
Freelancers work best when they have deadlines. “Just get it to me as soon as you can” is not a deadline, and the freelancers will flounder.
In an ideal situation, you’ll be able to spend time with the freelancers, developing an editorial calendar. If you can’t do this with them, ask them to create the editorial calendar for you. In this way, they can set their own deadlines.
Listen to them
Freelance writers are creative workers. They have creative ideas and fresh insights. You would be wise to listen. Creating content is mind-stretching work. As freelancers research and dive into topics, they will come up with things about which you may never have thought. Take the time to listen to these ideas, not just about content, but about the business in general.
Use collaborative tools
I highly recommend using collaborative tools with your freelancer – a virtual workspace where you both can keep an inventory of documents, look at calendars, and share things.
Trying to email Word documents back and forth gets messy. The simplest, easiest, and cheapest solution is Google Drive (including documents, calendar, etc.) Most freelancers are familiar and comfortable with Google’s suite of tools.
Stay in close contact
Everyone responds differently to management styles. Your freelancer may do just fine without ever hearing from you. But your freelancer will do an even better job if you do check on them every so often.
I recommend reaching out at least every other week, if not more often. (At least let them know you’re alive.) Give them feedback. Pay them a compliment. Keep the communication lines open.
Ask them what they need from you
The best question you can ever ask your freelancers is this: What do you need from me? With this single question, you can dramatically improve the quality of work that your freelancers will provide. Believe it or not, just asking the question will create an improvement.
Most of the time, they’ll say “nothing” (even if they don’t mean it). You can do a little digging to find out if there really is anything that they want or need.
Here are some of the things that freelancers often need:
- More communication, including feedback
- Clearer instructions
- More compensation
- More ideas
If they ask for nothing, pick something from this list, and give it to them anyway.
Give examples of work you like
It would really help your freelancers if you can tell them, “Hey, I really like this article, this blog, or this style.” When you do that, the freelancer knows what direction to go with your content. Find something you like, share it with your freelancers, and explain why you like it. You’re doing them and yourself a favor.
Don’t tell them how to do their job
If you constantly have to tell your content provider how to do their job, then you’ve hired the wrong person. Quality freelancers are able to deliver great work without your explaining how to do it. Only tell them how to do their job if they ask for it.
Let’s be clear, though. If the freelancers have a knowledge deficit about an aspect of your business or related issues, you’ll need to inform them. For example, the writer needs to know your specific approach to SEO, and how that affects their deliverables.
Otherwise, let the leash out. They can do this.
Pay them well
Don’t give freelancers short shrift on compensation. Demonstrate how much you value them by how much you pay them. Really good freelancers are expensive, but usually not as expensive as hiring an in-house replacement employee. You can still save money by not hiring a staff writer and give your freelancer more compensation.
If your employees get holiday bonuses, then give your freelancers a holiday bonus. If they do a particularly knockout job on a project, give them a bonus. If they’ve been with you for a year or so, give them a raise.
Be up front with them
Freelancers crave job security. If you’re compensating a freelancer at the rate of a regular employment opportunity, I recommend a few things:
- Give them verbal assurance of how long you’ll need them.
- Explain what the at-will relationship means and that they (or you) can terminate it as needed.
- Suggest that they maintain other work and opportunities alongside your contract with them.
- Create a written contract to outline the details of your working agreement.
- Consider putting them on a monthly retainer.
- Include a two-week or 30-day notice to end the relationship.
- Give them plenty of warning if you see their workload reducing in the near or distant future.
Give them more work to do
I’ve been a freelancer. I’ve worked with a lot of freelancers. Here’s a little secret about freelancers: They usually want to do more work and better work.
If you’re a great client, then they’ll want to do more work for you. Go ahead and take it up a notch.
If you can manage your freelance content provider skillfully, then you’ll be rewarded with excellent work. What I’ve discovered is that most of the complaints about freelancers don’t really have to do with the freelancers themselves. They have to do with the client’s management ability (or lack thereof). It’s about you.
If you can apply these tips to your management, you’ll start to see a remarkable improvement in the quality of work from your freelance content provider.
What tips do you have for managing freelance content providers?
Cover image by Reynermedia, Flickr Commons, via pixabay.com