Best Tips to Get the Content You Need from Freelance Writers

When you have too much content marketing work to do yourself, hiring a freelance writer (or several) is a great way to get –and keep– several projects going at a time. I’ve managed six figure projects for clients. There’s no way I could have done that without hiring a number of freelance content writers.

Still, entrusting your content creation to a freelance writer involves exactly that–trust. You’re counting on them to provide quality content that meets your needs.

Find a writer.

If you’ve researched a writer’s background on LinkedIn or her own website and/or received a referral from a trusted colleague and reviewed writing samples, you’ve taken the first step toward making sure you get what you need.

PRO TIP: Review unedited writing samples to get a true picture of what you’re getting. A good editor may have made major improvements to the copy a writer originally submitted, but you won’t know that if you only see the edited version.

I have the unique perspective of being a freelance writer who has hired many other freelance writers. As you might expect, I learned a lot about working with them. Here’s what I learned that can help you.

When you have a project available, send an email (with “assignment available” as the subject) to your list of approved freelancers. We used a form for this, so all I had to do was fill in the blanks with details.

Details can include: a short description of the project, the deadline, the type of content (web copy, blog posts, social media posts), pay rate and number of words. You can also supply other details, such as “sources are provided” or “must be able to upload content into WordPress.”

There are two great advantages to sending an email like this.

1. You give contractors a brief, but clear understanding of what you need so they can quickly decide whether to apply.

2. You save time by reaching out to multiple people at once and hearing back from only the ones who are interested and available at that time.

Be clear about what you need.

When starting a project, have a contract or at least an email that constitutes a written agreement of the work that will be done, as well as fees and deadlines. Clear communication matters. When expectations are explained up front, it cuts down on confusion during the project.

Once you’ve hired someone to write your content, give them as much information about the project as you can. Your goal is to provide all the guidance and background they need to start and to anticipate questions they might ask. This will help you later! Instead of answering questions, you’ll be humming along on your next project.

If you’ve prepped the writer well, there shouldn’t be too many questions along the way. But sometimes unexpected situations happen—like a subject matter expert not returning a writer’s phone calls. Be responsive to the writer’s questions to keep the project moving. If a writer doesn’t hear from you within a short span of time, she’s going to work on a project for someone else while waiting for you to answer her question. You didn’t think yours was her only project, did you?

PRO TIP: Plan secret wiggle room in deadlines. Whenever possible, I gave writers deadlines that were two or three days earlier than the date when I actually needed the content. This gives you more time to review the copy and get questions answered. It also allows you to grant the writer a deadline extension if he or she needs it.

Do the necessary paperwork.

Ask the freelancer to complete a W-9 form. You shouldn’t have any trouble getting this from the writer, because he can’t get paid without it. This simple form provides the tax ID number you’ll need when you make payments to freelancers and send 1099 forms to freelancers and the IRS.

Since taxes are not withheld from payments to contractors, I assume IRS computers compare 1099 forms with the contractors’ taxes to make sure they paid their self-employment tax on their earnings as an independent contractor.

Ask for an invoice (or invoices) that you can give to your accounts payable department. Depending on the size of the project, you may have agreed to pay a third of the fee at the start of the project and then the other two thirds in separate payments at certain intervals. If it’s recurring work, you’ll most likely want monthly invoices.

Review and give feedback.

When you receive the completed project, check the length and format. Give it a quick read to see if it has the right tone, the right kind of information or the right sources. If there are any problems, you’ll want to let the writer know right away so there’s time to address any issues.

If you expect to hire the same freelance content writer again, it’s helpful to give feedback. That way, the writer can get a sense of what you’ll need next time.

Image by Steve DiMatteo from Pixabay

5 Tips: How to Get Information for Your Company Blog

Since you’ve been put in charge of marketing for your company, the blog on the website is now part of your job. You have some great ideas for blog posts, but you need cooperation from co-workers who can provide the information for the posts.

The problem: Everyone is busy doing their jobs. How will you get information from subject matter experts? You need to think like a journalist.

Do your research.

Learn what you can about the topic in question. Read information your company has written about it. See what people are saying on social media, other media or Reddit about the topic. This will help you understand the topic and create good questions to ask.

Write questions for your expert in advance.

It may be easier for your co-worker to think about the questions a few days before you interview him or her. Or it may be necessary for the person to answer via email because of travel limitations, a different time zone or a busy schedule. Bonus: When someone emails answers to your questions, it’s simple to copy and paste their exact words into the blog as a quote.

Talk to other people who will brag about the person who is too modest to brag about himself.

I once had to write a story about a school district employee being promoted to superintendent. He was so modest, he didn’t want to say much about himself. I needed more than that for a story, so I started talking to his co-workers who knew him and could talk about his accomplishments. This approach can be helpful if you’re writing about a co-worker who received a promotion or award but is too modest to talk about it.

Be patient.

Sometimes, you might need to wait to talk to someone when it’s more convenient for them. I once waited to talk to an official after he examined a body that had been found in Lake Erie. When he came up from the beach, we did an interview and I got my questions answered. Even if you have set up a time to talk, your co-worker may have to take care of something more urgent first. Bring your laptop or something else you can work on in case your interviewee keeps you waiting.

Ghostwrite and get approval.

This tip comes from the content marketing side when we needed to get information from a busy doctor. Instead of doing the interview he didn’t have time to do, we did research and wrote a blog post for him to review, edit and approve. You can do the same for a busy executive at your company if an interview isn’t possible.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you when you’re working on your company blog or company newsletter. I’ve used all of these methods. They worked for me and they can work for you, too.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

How to Write When You Don’t Know Where to Start

Here’s your dilemma: Your boss needs a summary of what you found in your market research for a potential new product, but you don’t know where to start.

Try this:

Sum it up. Think about what you would tell a friend about a movie you just saw. You wouldn’t run through the whole plot or give excessive details. You’d give a synopsis. Write a couple sentences about the heart of what you want to say. Then you can build from there, adding in details where necessary.

Do a quick outline. This doesn’t have to be a long, complex outline. You just need to get a few highlights on the blank screen so you can have a starting point. What are the main points you want to mention? List the most important ones first. You can always rearrange them later if you decide that one is more important than you initially thought.

Start in the middle or at the end. A blank screen can be intimidating, and the pressure of having a great introduction can make you discard every thought you start to type. Maybe you have a great conclusion in mind that makes a recommendation based on your findings. Start with that and put it at the bottom of the page. Then build your case from the middle by writing about the market research you did. You could focus on demographics for a paragraph or two, for example. Explain what you found and how your company’s potential new product could serve that demographic. Do this for the other essential aspects of your research. Then go back to the top and write the introduction, which will be easy to write because you already know what’s coming next.

Think about the purpose of what you’re trying to write. Are you trying to present data in an objective way or are you trying to persuade the reader to agree with your recommendation? Spelling out your goal — even if you delete that sentence later — can help focus your mind on what should follow.

Start small. Even if you only have 15 minutes to spend before your next meeting, that’s enough to capture a few thoughts. Once you’ve got a few sentences down, that blank screen won’t look so scary the next time you look at it. Go back to it later and spend another chunk of time when you can. Repeat. Repeat. You may be able to prevent writer’s block by working on several things at a time. When you get stuck on one project, switch to another.

Now, get started!

How to Proofread Like a Pro

No one wants to lose a lot of money because of a misplaced or missing punctuation mark, but it happens. And it’s embarrassing to have a typo in a document, especially if that typo is in someone’s name.

Catching these kinds of mistakes is not hard if you follow my method.

The best way I’ve found to catch mistakes is by reading or skimming through an article multiple times, checking for different things each time. For example, after you’ve checked the spelling of Jane Levesque’s name, skim through the entire article or document to check multiple mentions. When your brain is focused on this singular task, it’s easy to notice the “s” was missing in one of the mentions, for example.

Check and double check proper names against a trusted source to be sure they are correct. This is a lesson ingrained from my years in newspapers. That quickly written note on a piece of paper used during a phone call might not be right. Confirm that the “a” is actually an “a” and not an “e.” Check the person’s LinkedIn profile or company website profile.

Skim through again to look only at your company’s name. Aaargh! There’s a letter missing from your company’s name in one of the 12 mentions, but you caught it. If there’s a brand name that needs a trademark symbol next to it, check for the symbol, too, or you’ll be hearing from corporate counsel.

After you’ve checked proper names, you can continue skimming over a document several more times to look for other things, such as punctuation or subject/verb agreement (Does the singular noun have a singular verb? “He streamlines…” instead of “He streamline…”) You can get as specific as you like because you’re just focusing on one aspect of the article or document.

It can be tempting to try to save time by checking for multiple things in one read-through. Don’t do it! Focusing on one thing at a time is the key to successful proofreading. If it helps, you can even make a checklist of the most important items to review. Just go through them one at a time and don’t start on the next one until the one you’re working on is finished. Trust me. It will save you frustration in the end.

If you’re not sure how to spell a word or how to use a punctuation mark, look it up. With online resources, it’s easy to check these kinds of things.

Oh, and one more thing. The spell check function in your software is not all-knowing, so don’t do everything it tells you to do. Look at the suggestions and decide for yourself whether it makes sense to make the recommended changes. My name comes up as “Lovesick” in spell check, which is good for a giggle but not for a final draft.  

Happy proofing!