Freelancers, contractors, hired guns. Whatever you want to call them, independent workers are a growing part of the digital economy – particularly in marketing departments.
The term “freelance” originated in the 1800s, referring to medieval mercenaries who would fight on behalf of the nation or person who paid them the most. Merriam-Webster identifies the first written evidence of the term in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe:
“I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them – I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.”
Likewise, in today’s bustling times of too much work to do and limited budgets to hire permanent employees, women and men of action (i.e., those with specialized skills and relevant marketing experience) will always find work.
Let’s look at some of the evidence:
- 85% of marketers who responded to our survey at the Adobe Digital Summit say content production moves too slowly to keep up with demand. (With lack of resources cited as the primary reason for the slowdown, freelancers would be a great help.)
- Over 40% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers, contractors, or temporary employees by 2020, according to Intuit.
- Harvard Business Review called out The Rise of the Supertemp in 2012.
It’s safe to say that content marketing freelancers are here to stay. If you want to attract the good ones, you have to treat them right.
I say this from experience thanks to my double life as a content marketing manager who works with freelancers by day and a freelance content creator by night. No matter which hat I’m wearing, two things are certain:
- When things work well, content marketing managers and freelancers can create beautiful work.
- When things don’t work well, it’s usually the content manager’s fault.
When freelancer relationships don’t work, it’s usually the content manager’s fault, says @MarcusWorkfront
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Here are six ways marketing managers screw up collaboration with freelance content creators and how to avoid them.
1. Failing to think about availability
See if this sounds familiar. A rush need for a piece of content comes up. You scramble to find a freelancer available for a tight turnaround. But each person in the freelancer pool already is juggling multiple projects for multiple clients. It takes a day or two to get someone to commit, which eats into the already tight deadline.
Solution: Commit to a certain number of hours or projects per week or month with each freelancer. Keep a log of their work so you know who has time when you need someone to pitch in.
2. Failing to understand or communicate requirements
Have you ever sent an email like this: “Hey, we need a thought leadership piece about productivity by Friday. Are you available?”
On the surface, this might sound like enough information to get a writer going. You shared the topic, type of article, and deadline. But look at what’s missing:
- Is this piece being published on an owned channel or another publication? If so, which one?
- Are there any length guidelines or other expectations by the publisher?
- Whose byline should be used?
- Will the article be based on an interview or the freelancer’s experience and research?
- Should this new piece follow the model of previous articles?
- Is there an angle around productivity to consider (e.g., individual vs. team productivity)? Or are there angles to avoid that have been overused?
A good freelancer will ask questions like these. But if the writer doesn’t and you don’t volunteer the information, you could easily end up with a piece twice as long as you want that veers in an unwelcome direction, requiring a rewrite that wastes everyone’s time.
Solution: Provide a creative brief or a similar depth of documentation at the start of every project. Just the act of filling out a series of standardized fields will help you see if you need to clarify with other stakeholders before getting a contractor involved.
Freelancer tip: Provide a creative brief at the start of every project, says @MarcusWorkfront
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3. Expecting too-tight turnaround time
Even if you know your contractor is available and you’ve given thorough details about the job requirements, your project can still fail if you don’t allow adequate time for freelancers to do their best work. A same-day turnaround might work for email copy or a banner ad design but not for writing or designing a 32-page white paper.
Brent Attaway, president of TENX Marketing, says that for bigger, multimedia projects and videos, he provides a screen-share walk-through of what he wants. “I provide examples of what I want to model and give at least three weeks even when I’m in a rush (eight weeks is ideal). This requires an actual marketing calendar planned ahead, which I find very few people doing these days.”
Consider having a screen-share with your freelancer to walk her through what you want, suggests @attabr
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Solution: Keep your content calendar or project management tool up to date and share it with your freelancers. Make high-level assignments at the beginning of each month or quarter. Even if you don’t have all the details, your freelancers can be made aware and carve out the time. Fill in the requirements as you get the details.
4. Throwing freelancers to the wolves
In this case, “wolves” mean “stakeholders.” I’ve seen situations where the project parameters were clear at the outset, but by the time the freelancer finishes the job, the project owners have changed their minds about the angle, look and feel, maybe even the topic itself – and the freelancer wasn’t informed.
The stakeholders likely won’t remember when and how their expectations have shifted from the time the assignment was made (and they probably never saw the actual assignment since that’s the content marketing manager’s job). All they know is how they feel and what they want right now – and that the asset delivered by the freelancer doesn’t fit the bill. They may look at it as a failure on the part of the freelancer versus a failure of communication or process.
Solution: Always act as the go-between, inserting yourself in the middle of conversations between stakeholders/reviewers and freelancers. Consider using digital-proofing software where everybody can log into a shared space and collaborate about comments and questions. Having an audit trail to refer to at any point along the way is a plus as well.
How to Hire Freelancers Who Make Your Content Better
5. Going silent
Too often, while a whirlwind of communication is happening within the office about active projects, you neglect to keep freelancers in the loop. (This is usually the root cause of the unmet expectations problem outlined above.)
By the time someone remembers to notify the contractor, it consists of an awkward, “Oh, did we forget to tell you? This project has been cancelled,” email. And by then, the department is stuck paying the freelancer for the work done even if it’s never used.
Communicating feedback to freelancers also is important. Accepting their work with a “thanks” isn’t going to help them improve and evolve to better meet your expectations.
Anneke van Asewgen, online marketing strategist at PromoteCoach, used to track her edits and send them back to the writer. “I published the content my way before giving them the chance to improve the piece because of deadlines,” she says. “Luckily for me, they were open enough to tell me that what I was doing deprived them of the chance to learn and improve their writing. How awesome is that? I am now doing my best to plan better and give my team the freedom to learn.”
Don’t deprive your freelancers of a chance to improve. Give them the freedom to learn says @anneke_aswegen
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Solution: Bring freelancers into your work process so they see and can react to the same communication you’re seeing. Let them fix their own work based on your feedback so eventually you’ll have little to fix.
6. Devoting insufficient time to orientation
Training is just for employees, right? Wrong. A thorough orientation that includes relevant guidelines and materials may be even more important for freelancers because they won’t be in the office gaining organic exposure to the brand day in and day out.
I once worked six months before discovering that my client had established voice and messaging guidelines. I had modeled my work after their published work so I picked up many of the guidelines intuitively, but seeing them typed out clearly made a big difference in my ability to meet and exceed their expectations.
Solution: Equip freelancers with brand guidelines, messaging, examples of similar work, and more. If possible, invite them into the office to meet the people they’ll be associating with. At the very least, schedule a kick-off call. (With trusted freelancers, consider giving them access to view your living and evolving documents around your guidelines, etc.)
Be good to your freelancers, and they’ll be good to you
Each side has responsibilities in the freelancer-content marketing manager relationship. Contractors should proactively ask for answers, brand guidelines, creative briefs, and more if they’re not offered. Managers need to be mindful about keeping freelancers trained and well-equipped with the tools, access, and information they need to succeed.
After all, most hired guns aren’t looking only for the organization that will pay the most. They want to care about the work they’re doing; they want to be trusted; they want adequate turnaround times; they want their work to be valued; and they want clients who are organized and easy to work with. These are the same things we’re all looking for in a workplace.
Editor’s note: We appreciate Workfront’s support of Content Marketing Institute as a paid benefactor. This article was reviewed and edited independently to ensure that it adheres to the same editorial guidelines as all non-sponsored blog posts.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
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