Skip to content

How to Build the Best Relationship With Freelance Content Creators [New Research]

How’s your relationship with freelance creators? Given the hot market, you better make sure they’re excellent.

Recent Skyword research found that 73% of brand marketers expect to rely more on freelance creators in the next one to two years. As a result, “[t]he ability to find and activate top freelance talent will separate great brands from the rest,” writes Skyword CEO Andrew Wheeler in the introduction of the 2021 report Scaling Your Brand Marketing with Freelance Creators (registration required).

Recent @Skyword #research found that 73% of brand marketers expect to rely more on freelance creators in the next one to two years, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent @Skyword. Click To Tweet

That separation between great and good (or not so good) brands requires marketers to take their freelance creator relationships more seriously. Though 81% of marketers say they’re generally satisfied with their freelance creators, not everything is perfectly rosy.

Almost one-fourth (23%) of brand marketers in the Skyword survey say they feel weighed down by owning the final revisions. In a separate question, 23% cited freelance creators’ knowledge of the brand (or lack thereof) as a top challenge.

In the @Skyword survey, 23% cited freelance creators’ knowledge of the brand (or lack thereof) as a top challenge, says @AnnGynn via CMIContent. #Research Click To Tweet

Freelance content creators also consider the relationship good, but they view it less positively than brand marketers do. This chart shows the differences between how brands rate themselves and how freelancers rate brands in each of these categories:

  • Feedback
  • Creative freedom
  • Access to background resources and guidelines
  • Deadlines
  • Clear assignments
  • Timely payment
  • Compensation

The chart shows that brand marketers and freelance creators aren’t on the same page (though they’re in the same chapter) on these elements of their relationship. Though both sides rate each element as “good,” brands rate themselves higher than their freelancers do in every category.

That’s nothing a little relationship therapy can’t fix. Here’s how to get started.

Identify what your brand needs and wants from freelance partners

Before you try to understand what freelance partners want, make sure you’re clear about what your brand wants and needs from the relationship. To do so, answer two questions:

1. Why do you want to contract with freelance creators?

You may have multiple reasons. In the Skyword survey, 61% of brand marketers cited internal headcount/hiring restrictions, while 26% listed a need for flexibility, and 11% wanted to tap into diverse and versatile talent.

In a separate response, 17% said using freelance creators was easier than hiring/training new employees, and 13% said it saved the organization money.

2. What does a successful partnership with a freelance creator look like?

Detail everything from the initial connection through the content’s publishing and promotion. What do you want freelancers to learn about your brand and your content? How do they fit into your work processes? How frequently do you want to communicate with them? How much revising do you consider reasonable after the content is submitted?

Then, write a description of what a successful relationship might look like for a brand marketer. Here’s an example:

We work with freelance content creators to supplement our content marketing team’s production. We want to partner with freelance creators who understand our brand, create content in our voice and the requested format, and deliver content that requires minimal revisions. We expect these freelance creators to submit their content by the deadlines we set without needing reminders.

 The top challenges cited by the brand marketers in the survey:

  • Time to manage freelance creators (34%)
  • Brand knowledge (23%)
  • Scheduling and managing deadlines (20%)
  • Quality management (14%)

Consider your freelance partners’ ideal relationship

You could ask freelance creators for their input. But remember that they’re not leading the partnership. They rely on their brand contact to guide them and to compensate them for their work.

Freelance creators rely on their brand contact to guide them and to compensate them for their work, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent @Skyword. #Research Click To Tweet

That means a freelance creator is less likely to open up with you about what they envision as the ideal brand-freelancer relationship. But you can infer what freelancers as a group prioritize by studying their answers in the Skyword research.

The freelancers surveyed say they’d opt to raise their rates based on:

While that question asked about the rates freelancers would charge, many of these factors also affect the success of their relationships with brand marketers.

Take the two most frequently cited: short deadlines and significant revision requests. Now, see how they manifest themselves in the top challenges response:

  • Establishing expectations (33%)
  • Clear and consistent communication (30%)
  • Contracts and payments (17%)
  • Revision requests and scope changes (14%)

Based on the survey, here’s a good description of what a successful relationship looks like from a freelance creator’s point of view:

The brand marketing team respects my time and talent as a freelance creator. They invest time at the beginning of the assignment to communicate their brand voice, general content guidelines, and their work processes. In return, I create content that delivers what they seek with minimal revisions and submit it on time.

How to foster an excellent relationship

Now you know what you want from your freelance creators, and you’ve begun to identify what they want from you. All that’s left is to change your behavior to overcome the challenges in your relationship.

Fortunately, the medicine for your big headaches and your freelance creators’ big headaches is the same.

Invest the time onboard freelance creators

It’s easy to add a bunch of file attachments to the first assignment email with the instruction: “Read through our brand voice and style guidelines to help your content creation fit what we need.” But let’s face it, unless those guidelines are only a few pages, the freelance creator is unlikely to digest everything.

Instead, schedule a 30-minute call or invite them to your office to talk through the highlights of your brand, voice, and content guidelines. Hearing what you emphasize and having the opportunity to ask follow-up questions will help them create content that delivers what you need.

Schedule a 30-minute call with your freelance creator to talk through the highlights of your brand, voice, and #content guidelines, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent @Skyword. #Research Click To Tweet

Modernize your compensation

Brand marketers and freelance creators think similarly about compensation, according to the research –both agree it’s less than excellent. While that may not seem like a barrier to a successful relationship, I expect compensation will grow in importance as the demand for top-notch freelance creators grows.

For writers – who make up the most commonly hired talent pool for brands – the pay structure often relies on the antiquated word count fee. And that trivializes what freelance writers do by treating their work as a commodity. They get paid based on the number of metaphorical “widgets” produced, not their time or the quality of their work.

A modern compensation structure should address all the factors involved in creating quality content that delivers on the brand’s expectations. Pay separately for their time to participate in the onboarding process and study your brand guidelines and other related documents.

When assigning a project, detail all the components expected to complete it, and pay accordingly. For example, if you provide the outline and interview sources, you can pay less than if you expect the freelance creator to do that work. (And don’t forget to factor in their time to read your creative brief.)

Paying freelancers by word count is an antiquated model. Set a project fee that encompasses all the components needed to complete the work, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Reward those freelance creators who consistently deliver quality content that requires minimal revisions. Give them a bonus, a higher rate on future assignments, or (if additional compensation isn’t possible) a gift card or other small gesture with a personal note.

Write a creative brief and ask for input

Instead of shooting off an email briefly encapsulating the assignment, take 15 minutes to write a more detailed creative brief.

In his article on how to create a good content brief, Daniel Hatch shares the nine things every brief should have:

  • Title: What are we calling this thing? (A working title is fine.)
  • Client: Who is it for and what do they do?
  • Deadline: When is the final content due?
  • The brief itself: What’s the angle, the message, the editorial purpose of the content being created? Who is the audience?
  • Specifications: What is the word count, format, aspect ratio, or run time?
  • Submission: How and where should the content be filed? To whom?
  • Contact information: Who is the commissioning editor, the client (if appropriate), and the talent?
  • Resources: What blogging template, style guide, key messaging, access to image libraries, and other elements are required to create and deliver the content?
  • Fee: What’s the agreed price/rate? (Include if appropriate.)
Creating a thorough but concise #content brief is an investment in efficiency and sanity, says #DanielHatch via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

When you send the brief, ask the freelance creator to review it and let you know what additional information they need to complete the assignment. Two-way communication is essential in every successful relationship.

Go for excellence

Brand marketers and freelance creators generally say their relationship is satisfactory. Making a little more effort can lead to a relationship both you and your freelance creators consider excellent.

And that can mean the difference between having long-term relationships with freelance creators and having a revolving door of freelance talent. Forty-two percent of freelance creators say they’ve had at least one of the same clients for a year or longer, while 31% report client relationships that end in less than six months.

A great relationship with freelance partners also can help you find other quality freelance creators. If a creator has a great experience with you, they’re far more likely to talk positively about your brand and even make some direct referrals.

On the other hand, a less-than-great working relationship with freelance partners can hurt your ability to hire others. About half (48%) of freelance creators say they’d discourage others from working with a brand based on their experience.

48% of #freelance creators say they’d discourage others from working with a brand based on their experience, according to a @Skyword #survey via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Yes, it takes time to get freelance content creators up to speed and develop a great relationship with them. But once you do, you’ll likely find the investment is worth it.

For more tips and insights into how to operating a successful content marketing program, subscribe for workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute