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5 Key Steps To Keeping Editor – Freelance Writer Relationships Stable

writer cartoon

Most brands approach hiring a freelance writer somewhat haphazardly. They decide they want to produce additional content, realize they should have started a month ago, rush through the process of hiring a writer, hastily throw together a work order, and make up the guidelines as they go. Unsurprisingly, this is a recipe for disaster. Effectively working with a freelance writer requires planning and foresight, but can result in major benefits for your brand.

When working with a freelance writer it’s critical to follow these five key steps in order to maximize your return on investment and guarantee the quality of the work you receive!

1. Establish a Clear Brand Identity

Before hiring a freelancer of any kind, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What does my brand do?

2. Why do we do it?

In order to produce effective content, a brand has to understand its place in both the unique business ecosystem that they inhabit and the broader context of their customers’ lives. Effective content is based on a deep understanding of who you are, what your brand stands for, and the unique advantages you hold over your direct competitors. Speaking to your customers in a way that’s consistent with that larger identity will increase the credibility of your voice and maximize brand loyalty.


Understanding the elements of your brand identity is key to creating great content

It’s extremely important for brands to develop a consistent style and voice that is adhered to in most of their work. This style needs to be set by the brand before a freelancer can be expected to replicate it, and providing your freelancers with every opportunity to grasp your core brand identity is a central part of the process.

Before hiring a freelancer, consider building a central style guide for your brand. This guide should provide the freelancer with an overview of your brand, the core messaging and ideals your brand relies on, suggested voice and tone for content, any general requirements of your content, and examples of formatting and layout. This will keep you on the same page with the freelancer and establish a set of central expectations for them to adhere to.

A style guide should also include the core client persona that your brand is targeting, which gets us to the next step.


2. Develop a Likely Client Persona

In order to be successful, brands must understand the general demographics of their customer base. Knowing who you’re writing for is a critical step towards producing high-quality content that really speaks to your audience. Many companies commission demographic research or do their own internal research that ends up looking something like this when it’s put into a visually appealing format:



This kind of general information is incredibly powerful, as it allows brands to build effective content and an overall philosophy about their product mix. But it is also extremely impersonal, and makes it difficult to relate to the target customer on a one-to-one level. Perhaps the single most distinguishing thing a business can do is come off as being profoundly honest and authentic, and this requires identifying with your customer base on a more personal, less broad-stroke level.

It can be extremely effective for brands to develop a likely client persona, which is an accurate picture of their most likely client or customer based on the data they have of their overall brand demographics. So rather than targeting “freelancers,” your brand is now targeting (for example) Jen. Jen is a 36 year old Caucasian woman with four years of freelancing experience. She started freelancing because she enjoyed the flexibility it provided her with, and is looking for opportunities to increase her hourly rate and reduce her overall workload. She’s educated and intelligent, and prefers to cut right to the heart of a given subject rather than floating around worrying about minutiae.


It’s a lot easier to relate to Jen than it is to relate to the diagram above

This kind of clear client persona increases the likelihood of empathizing with your target customer and developing great content that truly meets their needs. In addition to being wonderful market research that will allow your brand to more effectively target its products and content, the client persona is necessary for any freelance writer to write to the audience you have in mind. By understanding your core demographics and the profile of your most likely customer, they’ll be able to make choices of style and narrative that will maximize your odds of success.


3. Lay Down Guidelines

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it certainly wasn’t built without some carefully considered blueprints. Before starting with your freelancer, take the time to develop a clear sense of what success looks like for a given project or piece of content. Outline what you’re looking for, and understand internally when each piece of the project needs to be delivered to give you enough time to make necessary edits and turn around work.

Writing is a large time investment, and it’s done on a schedule. Create guidelines early in the process and provide your freelancer with them so they have a clear understanding of your expectations and the requirements of each project. This will cut down significantly on the necessity for substantial revisions and minimize the chances of missed deadlines. It’s important to keep in mind that freelancers are people too, and it’s quite likely that they have other projects that are absorbing some of their time.


Smart schedules can solve these kinds of problems!

Keep an open mind and be respectful of their scheduling needs when possible, but hold your ground and be clear about the delivery schedule you need in order to be successful. It’s extremely beneficial to lay out specific terms early in the process in order to limit future disputes.


4. Negotiate Rates

Once you’ve decided on a core brand identity, built the profile of your target audience, and designed clear guidelines for the project, it’s normally a good idea to create a budget for the piece in question and understand what the upper limits are of what you’re willing to pay for quality. Having this budget ahead of time will allow you to frame the negotiation with your freelancer and increase the likelihood that the piece will have a positive return on investment.

Freelance writers often have a form of payment that they prefer – whether hourly, by the project, or by the word. Different freelancers are of course different, but it’s often possible to translate what they’re doing to conventions similar to this. For the sake of efficiency and clarity (and your sanity), it’s normally best for a company to keep their payment processes relatively uniform across their freelancers. So if you decide it’s best to work on a project basis, then use that payment methodology with all the writers you work with if possible. This keeps negotiations clear on your end and allows you to create a uniform process that can also clarify who your top writers are.

If you do choose to do this and the freelancer is used to working using a different methodology, say being paid by the word, they will absolutely appreciate receiving an estimate in the payment language that they’re familiar with. Keeping lines of communication open is essential to effectively working with freelancers, and your freelancers will appreciate your sensitivity and reward you with superior work.

As part of the negotiation process, be sure to establish a clear kill fee in the event that the project is canceled.


5. Create a Process for Revisions

The revision process is often the bane of the company/freelancer relationship, and it’s important to create a clear process for revisions and expectations of quality well in advance of the project’s deadline. Many brands and freelancers alike make the simple mental mistake of assuming that once they receive a project from a freelancer, the job is completed and they won’t have to worry about anything anymore.

The unfortunate reality of the situation is that work is rarely completed perfectly the first time, and it’s often best for the freelancer to do a second pass once they’ve had the opportunity to receive some feedback from the brand. The natural distance between the brand and the freelancer makes it somewhat unreasonable to expect them to perfectly interpret directions the first time, so a revisions process is imperative for overall project success.


Clear expectations for revisions will keep your freelancer from looking like this guy

To create a clear process for revisions, be sure to establish the following:

  • Overall quality expectations for the piece, and circumstances under which revisions should be expected. What level of quality is desired, and why might the brand ask for revisions?
  • The number of iterations of a piece the brand can request from the freelancer. How many rounds of revisions are reasonable?
  • Timelines for expected responses to revisions. When the brand ask for revisions, how much time does the freelancer have to complete them?
  • A payment process if revisions are requested. Is the freelancer paid before or after the revisions process is completed?

With regards to payment, revisions can be done after payment if a freelance writer is a trusted source the brand has worked with in the past. In the case of particularly problematic articles it is acceptable to ask for revisions before payment. When establishing your revisions process, it’s best to provide the freelancer with examples of great content when possible to keep expectations clearly in mind.

Working with a freelance writer can be an important step for any brand interested in improving their content marketing program, and has shown valuable results for many organizations over the years. The freelance writer provides a fresh outside perspective on the brand’s content, and increasing the number of voices a brand has access to can improve variety and give a more well-rounded feel to their content offerings. It’s important to understand that your relationship with the freelancer that you choose to work with is based on trust, and requires clear, open lines of communication in order to be truly effective. By understanding your brand identity, developing a likely client persona, laying down clear guidelines, negotiating rates, and creating a process for revisions you’ll maximize your chances of a successful relationship!