Hiring Freelance Writers: The Keys to Successful Writing Assignments (Advice From Scripted Writers)
Here at Scripted we bring together business owners and individuals in need of quality content with professional freelance writers. Unfortunately, many people have little or no experience hiring freelance writers.
So we asked our writers to tell us what they think is the most important factor for a successful assignment and what clients should and should not do to help facilitate success. We also asked them what they wished clients knew about freelancers before hiring one and to describe their perfect assignment.
We got a lot of great answers. Let's take a look at some of our favorite responses and common themes.
Question 1: What is the most important factor for a successful writing assignment?
Overwhelmingly, our writers answered "a detailed job description" as the most important factor in the success of an assignment. This was followed by "a clearly defined goal for the assignment." If you can tell your writer exactly what you want and what you hope to accomplish with your content, your chances of success will skyrocket.
Open and honest communication is a theme you will notice in our writers' responses. The keys to a successful assignment are not dissimilar from the keys to a successful marriage: you have to communicate.
Take it from me, I've been married for over 1 year and am a licensed...driver.
Question 2: What is the best thing a client can do for a successful writing assignment?
"Be precise when it comes to explaining specific needs/desires, and willing to give the write freedom to craft the rest of the piece." - Kenneth Gainor
"Be very specific about the content, format and style of writing desired." - Joanne Thomas
"Clearly outline their desired voice, tone, and piece layout. " - Alexis R.
"Provide ample details about the assignment, including the audience, brand voice, and any specific formatting or style requirements" - Barbie Carpenter
Over and over we heard about clear and detailed job descriptions and style guides as the #1 thing writers need to be successful. If you don't have those things right now, create them. They will save you time and headaches in the future and help your writer deliver exactly what you want.
"Give me an idea of what they are looking for; is the article more lifestyle, more educational, etc. It is also helpful for the client to send examples of what they have loved or are looking for in terms of 'feel' and style. Clear communication is always fantastic. " - Sudie Crouch
Providing sample content with a writer is a huge help. Whether it is your own site's copy or leading blogs in your industry you would like to emulate, it's always a good idea to give your writer published resources to read.
"They need to be clear about what they want. They need to have like a short list of things like "use keyword 2x, have h2 headers, link to x outside sources and x internal sources, don't mention x, no paragraphs longer than 150 words." etc. Very specific details are great!" - Dayva C Segal
That is very specific, Dayva. Very specific, indeed. Not every client will come with full SEO details like keywords, keyword frequency, H2 headers, and linking instructions, but it is always nice when they do. Having those details figured out often means you know exactly what you want to accomplish with your content.
"An outline of key points always makes things easier, along with some sense of where the content will live and whom it's meant to attract." - Catherine Lovering
Open communication! And never go to bed angry. Wait, that's the other thing. The marriage analogy doesn't always work. It's still good advice.
"Know what they want to accomplish with their assignment, their audience, and be realistic about the goals they have." - Jennifer L Berry
"Be clear about what the piece will be used for: marketing, stand alone content, etc. " - Bette Miles-Holleman
Writer & Client Relationship Goals: Have goals.
The overwhelming trend here was again to be detailed and specific in your job description and set goals for your content. You should be able to explain to the writer the style and tone of the assignment as well as the target audience and your ultimate goals for the content.
Besides, how can an assignment be successful without first defining what success is?
Question 3: What is the worst thing a client can do during a writing assignment?
"Start out with one concept, then change their mind in the editing stage and ask the writer to rewrite large blocks of the work." - Michele Goudie
"Being obfuscatory and not understanding the importance of allowing the writer the ability to write." - Ben Baker
"Not having a clear idea themselves of what they're looking for. I've written thorough articles and blog posts based on job descriptions, only to get a rewrite request asking for all new information. I'm more than willing to match the tone and voice of the company's brand, but they need to have a clear idea of what that is first." - Jennifer Maxwell
Freelance writers have to be adaptive to the differing voices and preferred styles of their ever-changing employers. It's the nature of the game. However, if goals are clearly defined and communication remains open, adaptation can be a fun process.
Just like the Charlie Kaufman movie Adaptation with Nic Cage. A lot of fun.
"Providing vague instructions may seem like it's making things easier on the writer, but the resulting content is usually unsatisfactory for the client. We are writing content in their voice, so it helps to know exactly what they want to say or the message they want to convey. " - Catherine Lovering
"Give vague instructions, such as 'something trendy and viral.'" - Bobbie R. Byrd
This is a common problem in the content marketing world. It's one thing to research trends and use data to produce relevant content for your audience, but to promise or request "viral content" is a dangerous game. No one with a plan asks for viral content. It's like a football team just going for the Hail Mary every play. It sounds fun, but you're better off having a game plan.
"Point writer to a sample website without detailing why that website/content is relevant." - Nancy Beth Goren
"Not include all information. I've had clients come back with revision requests saying they'd like information from a specific article included. Unfortunately, they had not mentioned this in the job description. This adds extra work for the writer and often takes away the client's opportunity to request additional revisions." - Curtis Fease
"To be vague about the assignment, then ask for revisions, then return the job for another round of revisions that weren't mentioned the first time! (This has happened to me more than once.)" - Carla Jean McKinney
I'm sure it has happened to every freelance worker in the world, Carla. It's a common problem that can be solved by communicating early and explicitly. When working with a freelance writer it can be difficult sometimes to know what you want before you see where the writer takes it, but if you know what your goals are, you can mitigate potential pitfalls.
"Generic things like "Write in the tone of our website." Having a strong preference about the emotional impact of the piece usually works out to be a nightmare because those types of desires are very subjective and can mean a lot of things to different people. Finally, a personal pet peeve of mine is when they say things in the assignment like "This needs to be well written." - Dayva C Segal
Well written, Dayva. And yes, writing in the voice of another person or business can be difficult without a well defined style guide. Many companies have one, and here at Scripted we require all our members to fill one out. Here' what it looks like:
Question 4: What should clients know before hiring a freelance writer?
"We are human and appreciate being treated politely even though there's no physical contact or communication." - Michele Goudie
"Not all writers are created equal. Quality costs more." - Ben Baker
Just like everything else in the world, with ordering content, you get what you pay for. Do some research on pricing before trusting the lowest bidder.
"The more forthcoming and detailed you are at the start, the better the entire the experience will be for all." - Kenneth Gainor
"Clients should know that they're choosing a writer to carry out their request, not read their mind - and help the writer as much as possible with specific information about what they want and don't want." - Carla Jean McKinney
"We juggle the demands from multiple clients on a regular basis - giving us enough time to both research and write the piece will ensure a better product the first time." - Pam Sornson
"Requesting a complete rewrite or substantial changes after the writer has submitted an assignment is very frustrating for everyone involved, so be as clear, specific and thorough as possible with the initial job description and guidelines." - Joanne Thomas
"Freelance writers are skilled professionals. As a result, we require a responsive client, open communication, detailed project descriptions, and fair pay in order to succeed." - Barbie Carpenter
"That we're professionals and our recommendations are based on our considerable experience and are designed to give them the best possible outcome." Marcia Layton Turner
All Scripted writers are professionals who want to deliver the best possible content to their clients. If you trust them and communicate with them clearly, you will be happy with your final product.
"I am putting your voice into my words and helping convey your message. I love working with clients so I can do that and feel like I am partnering with you to do so. " - Sudie Crouch
"It's a great investment for your business, especially if you are not a wordsmith. " - Alexis R.
"We are willing to work with you to get the content right. Ideally, we want to offer a perfect first draft, but that isn't always possible. It's usually no problem to hop on the phone or chat over messaging about revisions." - Catherine Lovering
So you did, Jennifer! The Scripted Blog is filled with great advice from our excellent writers and you should check it out. You're reading it right now, actually. Whoa. Very meta.
Question 5: If you had to design the perfect assignment, what it would look like?
"Bullet point what's most important to make it easier for the writer to refer back to while creating content. Note the tone the piece should take (upbeat, informative, amusing, serious, etc). Mention things to avoid writing about or give the OK to put in some opinions as long as they reflect the client's tone." - Michele Goudie
"There is no such thing as a "perfect assignment." There will always be gray areas, miscommunication, and hurdles. But a "good" assignment us clearly outlined at the start, comes from a client that is willing to provide an accessible email address they check frequently, and has potential to grow into a series/additional work. Communication leads to a better relationship between client and writer, which in turn improves the quality of work produced. You write higher quality pieces when you know the client better." - Kenneth Gainor
"It would be for a client for whom I've written before, so I know their tone, voice, etc. It would come with the proprietary resources needed to provide the info they want included. Revisions would ask for rewording or clarification, not new information/additional work for no additional pay." - Pam Sornson
Your goal when choosing a freelance writer should be to find someone you would like to work with on multiple projects. Over time you can build a relationship that will lead to consistent and reliable work without the work of getting to know each other.
"Target audience, key points, and any referral links, especially if it is a very niche industry, such as aviation. Ideally, it should be possible to communicate with clients via email, since we are more hands-on with our emails." - Vaibhav B.
"One of my clients does a great job by sending me a style guide complete with reader profiles, a detailed job description and an attached blog post outline. Not only is it extremely thorough, but I know exactly what keywords I should use to reach that particular reader that they're trying to target." - Jennifer Maxwell
"My perfect assignments were laid out in full detail of what the clients required, with specific, realistic deadlines, and with payment price agreed to and paid within an agreed deadline. Everything above board and legitimate." - Bette Miles-Holleman
"The perfect assignment should have crisp instructions, offer freedom to writers to tweak in their ideas and follow a style guide. It would be helpful if clients respond through messages promptly." - Anitha Aravind
"Client would provide bullet points on what they want to cover, an article or two of background information, the client's website and what they are selling/promoting. Communication via email before and after the draft is submitted is helpful." - Jennifer L Berry
"The Scripted messenger system is the best way to communicate. Unless a call is absolutely necessary for an interview or to touch base about a difficult request, calls only serve to take up too much time. The perfect assignment would be one with the most desired keywords fully listed and all information fully completed in the job description." - Curtis Fease
Thanks for the shout out, Curtis! The Scripted messenger system is the best way for a writer and client to communicate. However, if you feel a call would be better, you can always set that up as well.
Hopefully this post helps you on your next project working with a freelance writer. Just remember that working with freelancers is exactly like your marriage. I forget how exactly, but just try to remember that it is and you should be okay.