By Neil Patel published January 23, 2015

How to Manage Your Freelance Content Providers

Freelance_Content_Providers

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.

Set deadlines

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.

Conclusion

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?

Want more insight on how to improve your content creation? Check out the fantastic CMW 2014 sessions that are available through our Video on Demand portal and register today for CMW 2015.

Cover image by Reynermedia, Flickr Commons, via pixabay.com

Author: Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he has created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. You can connect with him on Twitter @neilpatel.

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  • SJP

    In addition to the telephone call back it with an email going over key points. I make this a point with clients because what is agreed to in writing can be proven and is an easy reference to go back to in case either party forgets. Some clients and freelancers will forget agreeing to something verbally and it ends up being a “he said/she said” situation. Copying the follow-up email into Google Drive makes for easy reference of communication as well.

    For the clients who have no idea what they want, expect your freelancer to draw up a work contract to be signed. This will help both parties to have a clear sense of what is to be expected from both sides. Also, a business needs to be clear about what rights they are purchasing. Are you purchasing full rights to the content (just because you hire a freelancer to work with you does not guarantee full rights)? If this is not made clear, the freelancer could repurpose the work done for you and resell it elsewhere.

    Also let the freelancer know if his/her name will be listed as the author of the content. If not, then advise the freelancer whether or not he/she can include the work done for in his/her resume and portfolio. Personally I feel a freelancer should ask about rights and such. Sometimes, it can slip someone’s mind and some freelancers just do not know to ask the question.

    • http://www.jennifergregorywriter.com/blog Jennifer Goforth Gregory

      Great points. I totally agree about the contract as well as the byline. Also, some freelancers will ask for an upfront deposit for new clients so be prepared for that request as well.

      • SJP

        Yes, the deposit is a must with some freelancers I know.

        • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

          It’s definitely something that is required due to the nature of the work.

      • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

        Jennifer, glad you found them helpful.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      SJP, thanks for the great additional points. I try to be transparent as possible so there isn’t any miscommunication.

  • http://www.jennifergregorywriter.com/blog Jennifer Goforth Gregory

    This is a fantastic article. I’m a freelance content marketing writer and I am able to do a much better job when my clients follow this advice. I think that talking on the phone with your writer is really important because it creates a relationship and also gives your writer a much better feel for what you are looking for in terms of style and tone. It also gives your freelancer a chance to ask questions. The advice to give your writer a sample of content that you like (and I would add is similar to your brands voice) is spot on. This will tremendously increase the odds that the writer will hit the tone and style you are after. Even the best freelancer doesn’t have ESP and figuring out the write tone without guidance is really hard.

    I would also add that taking the time to get the writer up to speed on your brand and your company is a worthy investment as well. Some ways to do this is to give the writer a demo of the product, set up a conversation with one of the your sales team, and let the writer look at presentations given to potential customers.

    Most importantly, put the writer in touch with someone on your team who really understands the target audience and can give the writer a very clear picture of who they are writing for. You can create much more effective content if you really understand the person whose problems your content will hopefully be solving.

    It also helps if you treat them like a member of the team and invite them to meetings where their particular project will be discussed. We don’t want to sit in on every staff meeting, but ones that are relevant to our specific project can really save both your time and our time.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Jennifer, Great points. I think at the end of the day it’s all about providing a blueprint to a client on what the next steps are. Creation of content is great but without the right distribution and execution strategies everything can fall by the wayside.

  • Hello Watchword

    Well said, Neil! Not surprised such thoughtful, concise advice is coming from you. Thank you for taking the time to compile these guidelines.

    • http://neilpatel.com Neil Patel

      Glad you found the article helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or additional feedback.

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  • http://www.barbarakrasner.com Barbara Krasner

    I’ve spent a couple of decades heading up marcom and web content teams at large corporations. Now as a freelance content producer, I can certainly agree with Neil’s tips. While it’s great that one client treats me like I’m staff, they forget I don’t have access to their proprietary systems, I don’t know all their acronyms, and that having writers lead conference calls with 20 clients on the line at once can be a bit bizarre. Only my corporate experience allows me to roll with this.

  • Clark Marin

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