Strategy

5 Smart Ways Brands Can Get More Value From Freelancers

Outside of my full-time job as Contently’s outreach manager, I do some work in my spare time copyediting book manuscripts. While the projects are straightforward and keeps me productive on weekends, working remotely with some of my clients can be a little rocky.

With one former client, those rocks became full-on boulders. I was stuck in a pool of editors bidding for assignments at sub-standard rates, and I hadn’t seen any consistency from the client. One week, I was offered three projects, all of which were delivered on time. But the next three months were silent. When work did come, I jousted (read: politely disagreed) with the staff over my edits.

The value just wasn’t there. While it was nice to have the occasional freelance project, it wasn’t worth the expense of a one-sided relationship with my client. So I walked away.

In the traditional workplace, relationships form naturally through team projects, weekly meetings, happy hours, and company outings. Over time, coworkers get the chance to establish trust and loyalty. But what happens when a company outsources a substantial amount of its responsibilities?

Like any part of your company, a team of creative freelancers is a long-term investment that needs to be nurtured. Putting in the work on your brand voice, content calendar, and format mix won’t matter if you don’t have a reliable roster of contributors who can translate that into the right assets. If your freelancers don’t stick around, you’re in trouble. Every time you bring in a new person, you have to spend time vetting their work, introducing them to your content strategy, and getting through the inevitable ramp-up until they’re adjusted to your program.

Because freelancers don’t receive the same benefits as full-time employees, their sense of value comes from a few key factors. Right now, we’re moving toward a world where more freelancers can consistently find high-paying work. To keep pace, you have to show that you respect their commitment to your company.

Reach into your wallet

This may seem like an obvious point, but I know firsthand that it’s not. Brands have to know market rates for their industries and pay accordingly.

There are enough resources out there for freelancers to know what qualifies as good pay. If another opportunity comes up that competes against the fee you’re offering, you can expect some turnover. In fact, nearly half of the brand editors I’ve spoken to have reported low rates as a reason for writers leaving their publications.

Consider what you’re paying for: topical expertise, good storytelling, and a few revisions. When a project calls for an interview or original research, then you’re getting even more for your buck. So while it’s tempting to offer budget-friendly rates, you’ll end up sacrificing more than you save in the long run.

Transparency is ultimately a timesaver.

If you aren’t sure where to start, talk to your content marketers or editors. They should be able to give you a sense of the going rate in your industry, as well as how prices change depending on the format. A blog post about technology won’t cost as much as an infographic on small business financing.

Also don’t be afraid to talk directly with your freelancers about what previous clients paid. Find out what they consider to be “competitive.” Then set a rate that meets the expectations of freelancers who produce the caliber of content you need—not the bare minimum. This will keep creatives from ditching the team to work whenever something that pays a little more comes along.

Give them room to be creative

Once a freelancer gets comfortable with your content strategy and finishes a few projects, they’ll start to envision pitches and assets on their own. When this happens, content programs really start to take off because brands don’t have to spend all their time trying to brainstorm everything in-house.

A global software company, for example, received a pitch for an original white paper that has evolved into a series of executive reports. After some finessing, the client’s calendar is now flush with content that incorporates internal leaders, even though those employees didn’t have to use up their time on ideation and research. Thus far in 2018, our clients have used 25 percent of their content budgets on stories that started as freelance pitches.

Give your experienced writers the opportunity to pitch their own ideas. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you get. And even if something happens to be off, you can always provide feedback and reset expectations before they sink in too many hours on an a project that’s already been approved.

Find networking opportunities

Freelance isolation is well documented. So it’s important to find ways for your contributors to communicate with the rest of your organization whenever possible—for interviews, features, and profiles. This practice encourages them to become intimately familiar with the personalities and nuances that make up your brand, something they won’t totally capture behind a computer screen.

Event coverage also presents an organic way for freelancers to network while creating content for your brand. A note of caution, though: It can be awkward for a freelancer to reject an assignment based on travel costs. When you’re sending a freelancer to a trade show or conference, try to absorb the expense of their travel and—when essential—lodging. In return, you’ll get a reporter who can focus on finding the right angles, interviewing interesting sources, and delivering the results you need.

Watch for burnout

By nature, freelancers are accustomed to some workweek chaos, often varying between falling under or well over the 40-hour threshold. When you click with a creative who checks all your brand’s boxes, your first instinct will be to give them as much work as possible.

Give your experienced writers the opportunity to pitch their own ideas.

Instead, try to set them up gradually. Ask contributors about their upcoming schedules and map out a plan over the next few months. Discovering someone who fits your brand is great, but remember that the ultimate goal should be to build a team (even if that team is small.) Establishing a level of balance protects your company in case one freelancer makes an unexpected exit.

Don’t just demand revisions

After all the pitching, revisions, and legal reviews, content production can feel like an exhausting process. That process drastically improves, however, when brands bring freelancers into the conversation as soon as possible.

Don’t just prescribe changes. Help them understand why an idea is off or a description is incorrect. The more they comprehend now, the closer they’ll get to perfection on the next assignment. Transparency is ultimately a timesaver.

Brands and freelancers have the same end goal: to produce high-quality content. Investing in your creative team should be more than just paying them on time (though, trust me, that’s essential too). It’s about creating an environment where people feel valued as professionals, regardless of whether they’re in the office or working remotely a thousand miles away.

Image by Duncan Kyhl / Unsplash
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