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From the Trenches

Garbage In, Garbage Out: How to Get Great Content from Freelance Writers

Yvonne Lyons | May 23, 2013

You’ve decided to hire a freelance writer to help get your content marketing plan off the ground. Good work. Can’t market the content if you haven’t created content, right? And pushing that arduous and very time-consuming task off your plate and onto someone else’s will leave you lots more time for other things.

You can just buzz up that freelance writer your marketing pal recommended, tell them you need a blog post about running shoes, or big data, or apple sauce recipes, and 500 words of genius will appear next week for you to post. Or you’ll get … garbage.

Because if you put garbage into the process, that is precisely what you will get back—garbage.

Ok, maybe it’s not quite that black and white (maybe you won’t get total trash back), but working with freelance writers to create really good, valuable content to feed your content marketing strategy takes work on your end. For each … piece … of … content. Sorry. But it’s true.

One of the best things you can do is to establish a solid relationship with a freelance writer who you can count on to be your go-to guy or gal. You may want more than one freelance writer for your company, but have one you can count on to consistently deliver. They will come to understand you, your style and preferences, and you will get comfortable working with them. Things will get increasingly easier and writing assignments will, in fact, become less work for you.

Here are some tips for getting really good content from freelance writers (as well as in-house writers) that will hopefully make the job a little easier on you, as well.

If it is the writer’s first time working with you (or writing this type of piece):

Identify the audience. Offer any industry or demographic information you might have about the reader. Is he or she sophisticated? Knowledgeable about the subject matter? Does your content need to educate on the basics before diving into the detail or should it speak to a mid-career professional as if it’s understood that she has all the basic knowledge under her belt? Although you may use one writer consistently, for some companies the audience may change with different publications, so this could be a frequent conversation. Along with this, let the writer know how the piece will be used, marketed or distributed. The big picture is often helpful.

Describe the style of writing. Is it casual or formal? Is the writer ghostwriting for someone? If so, encourage a conversation with that person so your writer gets a real-time feel for how your bylined author truly expresses himself or herself.

Offer background on your company. Company history, recent developments, target verticals, press kit, bios of key executives (especially those who may be ghostwritten for or function as subject matter experts) and any recent publications are helpful.

Provide source material. Do you curate content from other sites? If you do and have a list of sites you use and find valuable, offer it to your writer. A good writer will appreciate industry background and will create better content for you with reliable research and sources to work from.

Provide links to the competition. Offer the writer a look at what the competition is doing and provide comments on what you feel is done well and the types of things you’d like to stay away from.

Describe what you like. If there is work from any other sources that you feel is well crafted or that you’d like to emulate, send it to the writer to review. It’s always easier when he or she knows what is a big winner with you or what will be sure to make you come back for revisions.

For every piece of content you assign to your writer:

Define what type of content you need. Seems simple but to a writer, it’s critical. A blog post is very different from a white paper, and they may very well not be suitable for the same writer. Some writers thrive on the short form; some only do well over 2,000 words.

Provide the angle for the piece. What is the goal of this piece of content? What is the problem you are trying to solve, story you are trying to tell, or point you are trying to make? Some pieces will have one point (like a blog post) and some will have more (like an eBook), but you MUST define this for every piece you do or you will end up with a roaming page of words that has no purpose. Make sure you and the writer are on the same page with this before you set him or her free to write. If you think there is a gray area that is ill defined, there probably is. This is where your highest likelihood exists for a return of garbage if you don’t provide detail and definition.

Be clear about the length. I always offer a range of words, but “not more than XX” also works. Generally, I’m ok if a writer goes a little over, but I’d rather not be left short. Cutting is easier than adding.

Describe what should be covered. Provide either notes (good), bullets for points that should be covered (better), or an outline for how you want the piece to be ordered and flow and what you hope to cover (best). If there are any “must cover” points, be sure to let your writer know that those can’t be left out. A good writer may tell you afterward that it didn’t make sense to include one point or another because it no longer fit with the angle or the piece shifted after the discussion with the subject matter expert. That’s ok. As long as you still have a good angle (close to your original goal) and most of your target points were covered, you should have a good piece.

Include target keywords. If you are creating web-based copy, provide these up front when you send all the other detail for your piece so that the writer can incorporate them as he or she is writing rather than having to figure out how to shove them in after the fact.

When you assign your content, remember, the writer doesn’t instinctively know everything about your project, especially if you’re using a freelancer. He or she doesn’t know if you forgot to mention something or to include an important point in your outline. Take the time to think through what you really want in your next piece of content and lay the groundwork for your writer. He or she will thank you, and you will get a sweet-smelling piece of thought-provoking content back instead of garbage.

Have any other tips for working with freelance writers? Leave us a comment. Learn how to use your new content to feed your content marketing strategy. Download our eBook, “How to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing.”


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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.