In my last blog post, I described the important role that freelancers can play in executing a content marketing strategy and provided some tips for building a freelance team. Of course, assembling a team of great freelance talent is just the first step. You then need to figure out the best way to use that talent to get the results you need. While there’s no single right answer, following these rules of the road will help:
1) Put them to the test, onboard the best
Any time you’re working with new freelancers — no matter how impressive their credentials or how highly they’ve been recommended — always start off with a test assignment. The idea is to start them off with a small project that either isn’t a high priority or that you have the time to redo if necessary.
This approach may seem a little counter-intuitive at first — after all, if you’re paying for their time, you want to get something out of it. Even so, you’re much better off testing the waters, rather than finding out that the very important content you’ve entrusted a new freelancer to write needs to be completely redone at the last minute. Your strongest freelancers will quickly prove their worth, and from there it’s easy to start engaging them on meatier projects.
2) Go broad, then get organized
Always try to have a variety of freelancers in your network with different backgrounds, skills, and expertise. Doing so will make the team much more valuable and allow you to create a broader range of content.
Use a spreadsheet to help not only keep track of important logistical details, such as your freelancers’ rates and availability, but also to catalog the types of projects they are best used for and any specific strengths or weaknesses they may have. This is also the place to keep tabs on their performance. I assign a grade to every freelancer I work with, so I know who to send my most important projects to (the A-listers), who are best suited to handling the low-hanging fruit (the B-listers), and who I probably won’t use again (everyone else). Unlike in school, when it comes to creating great content, a C isn’t a passing grade.
3) Provide Structure and Guidance
Freelancers aren’t mind readers or magicians. If you want them to create good content, you have to position them to do so. Set clear expectations, ensure that they have access to the right tools and resources (such as your company’s editorial style guidelines), and make yourself available to talk through ideas and answer questions. While you don’t want to micro-manage, any time you engage a freelancer, be collaborative and invest the time necessary to ensure that you are both on the same page from the start.
4) Use Flat Fees if Possible
Negotiating flat fees for specific projects often makes the most sense. Doing so, rather than simply letting your freelancers bill you for however many hours they work, encourages them to manage their time more effectively and keeps everyone’s expectations in check. That said, there can always be unexpected hiccups that significantly increase the time it takes to complete a project, so offer to adjust fees accordingly. Trying to nickel and dime your freelancers, even when budgets are tight, is rarely a winning strategy.
5) You’re the Boss, Act Like It
It’s up to you to enforce deadlines and standards, provide honest and constructive feedback, and to take action when a freelancer isn’t performing. It’s important to build great relationships with your freelancers, and one of the best of ways to do so is by always providing leadership and direction.
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