There is nothing more exciting than working with people who help you accomplish your strategic goals. If you manage areas of your business or organization that are responsible for copy development, then you’re likely familiar with hiring freelance writers. 

Most people either love working with contractors or don’t. I find many times those who don’t have had a series of bad experiences that have colored their perspective on hiring outside talent. That’s really unfortunate because there are a lot of great writers available to brands, businesses, and causes. And that talent is easier to find, validate, and contract today that ever in history.

But communicating with freelance writers (especially for non-writers) can be frustrating. It’s rare to find a freelance writer than knows what it’s like to sit in your shoes. Likewise, it’s rare to find a hiring manager who understands what it’s like to be a freelance or contract writer. 

It’s so easy for good intentions to get lost in translation.

Make these nine things clear to be sure you don’t end up disappointed on the other end of the assignment:

  1. Word count. This may not matter to you as a non-writer, but it is absolutely critical to any assignment. This determines the approach the writer will take to the assignment. There is a different strategy for a 500 word direct mail letter than a 10,000 word feature story.
  2. Deadline. State clearly and explicitly when you need the copy completed and turned in. This sets appropriate expectations, forces the writer to say yes or no, and ensures your production schedule doesn’t get thrown off at the very beginning.
  3. Target audience. You know you’re audience better than anyone. Offer a few bullet points to give context.
  4. Publication form. Will it appear as a blog post, eNewsletter article, print article, separate mail piece, etc.? Knowing the final form helps the writer navigate the “casualness” or formal nature of the medium or channel. It also helps define the “reader experience” which ensures the piece is effective at getting people to take some pre-defined, measurable action.
  5. Specialized vocabulary. If there are unique words specific to your target audience that are important to incorporate into the piece, then list those out with a short description of meaning, use, and significance.
  6. Details and nuances. If the piece is an extension of a corporate initiative or recent newsworthy event, include that information for the writer when you send the initial information. The same is true for statements that shouldn’t be made or conclusions suggested. Sometimes potholes are only seen after you fall into them.
  7. File format. Tell the writer what format you need to receive the copy in . There are some standard ones, but I can think of at least a half-dozen different formats I’ve used. Receiving the copy in the correct format, saves you time and the hassle of conversion.
  8. Approval process. Nothing is more frustrating for a writer than having no idea who will be involved in the copy review process or how long it will take get feedback, how quickly the changes need to be made, etc. Take the time to outline this in the beginning.
  9. Payment. A freelance writer is a contractor, not an employee. That means he or she is dependent on cash flow. Making the invoicing and payment process clear on the front end helps avoid awkward conversations later. It also builds trust.

If you’ll nail down these nine things in the beginning, I promise you’re much more likely to have a positive experience.

Without these nine things, you’re not ready to hire outside talent. Don’t put the blame for your lack of preparation or attention to project details on outside talent. I see this happen a lot, and it’s unfair. A freelance writer can’t fix or overcome your internal dysfunction.

Hiring a writer should be a helpful, capacity-building experience. If you’ll spend a little time on the front end gathering important details, setting appropriate expectations, and clearly communicating the details of the assignment, you’re more likely to get exactly what you want when the deadline arrives.

What’s been your experience hiring and working with freelance writers?

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