I love freelancing. I’ve been doing it for almost 10 years now. I love getting to know a new client, learning their style, and using that knowledge to create something that’s a perfect fit for their brand.
There’s nothing like that feeling of submitting a piece and a client replying with “I love this!” or “Yes, you’ve said this perfectly.” I’m thrilled that my job is to get people’s ideas out into the world, and I want to make that happen more often.
But doing so isn't always easy. I believe the key to that kind of perfect-match content is understanding—my understanding of what the client wants, and the client’s understanding of what I need to do my best work.
Both sides are equally important to creating great content, though sometimes, one (or both) may be lacking. As a freelancer, here's what I'd like every client to know about working with freelance writers.
The Challenges of Freelancing
The freelance life is wonderful. I can work from anywhere, set my own schedule (deadlines permitting), and even choose what projects I work on. But every gift has its price, and that includes freelancing.
Freelancing is not always forgiving.
For the most part, we freelance writers aren’t sitting on beaches in Bali with miraculously glare-free laptops. We’re hunched over our computers at 10 pm on a Sunday night because we have a Monday deadline. We’re answering emails at midnight because the client is on the other side of the world.
Yes, we set our own work hours, but most of us are more likely to set hours that are much longer than they should be.
Output is everything.
We freelance writers work long hours because we only get paid for the work we produce. We don’t get paid vacations or even built-in downtime during the day as office workers do. Some of us don’t even get paid by the hour—we get paid by the word.
Most of the time, that’s to everyone’s advantage. Clients know that they’re getting their money’s worth. I know that the more familiar I am with a client and a topic, the more efficiently I can work, and the more I’ll be compensated for my expertise.
I can run into problems, though, when I’m being paid per word and I have to spend hours puzzling out what the client wants.
Instructions aren't always clear.
Sometimes I get great, crystal-clear instructions for a project. Other times… Well, let’s just say that there’s a lot of guesswork involved.
For example, I might get a set of instructions like:
Please write 1,000 words about social media marketing for widget retailers.
At first glance, this seems like a great project. I can write about social media marketing, no problem. A thousand words are totally doable.
But wait a minute. What do they want me to say about social media marketing? Do they want me to talk about why it’s important, or do they want a how-to article? Should the focus be on the current state of things, or is this the kind of article that should be just as relevant whether someone reads it a month, three months, or a year down the line?
Depending on the answers to these questions, the article could go in several different directions, and I’m not sure exactly what this client expects. I want to provide top-quality content, but what does the client expect to see?
It’s hard for me to do my best work if I don’t know what the expectations are. It’s like if I asked someone to draw my mother—they might get it right, but we’ll both be a lot happier if I describe her first.
4 Tips for Getting Better Content from Freelancers
So, what can you do to set clear expectations for freelance writers? Here are what I believe to be the four keys to success. These are my answers to the question, “What would you tell all your clients if you could sit down with them before you start writing?”
I hope they help you.
1. Be specific with project instructions.
Being a freelance writer is a lot like being a chef in a restaurant. The more you tell me about your tastes and preferences, the easier it will be to give me what you want.
If you want the chef to know that you have an onion allergy or you want your steak well-done, you tell them. Even if they’re the best chef in the world, they won’t know if you don’t say something.
It’s the same with writers. I know how to research a topic. I know how to put paragraphs and sentences together. What I don’t know is whether there are specific points you want me to make or specific examples you want me to use.
Do you want quotes? A call-to-action at the end? What does your perfect article look like? Let me know and I’ll make it happen.
2. Provide an outline.
I love outlines. Outlines tell me exactly what someone envisions for the article, including the points they want me to make and how the piece should flow. I can get straight to the work of researching and writing, knowing where I’m going and how to get there.
Writing an outline in advance may add a few minutes to your prep time, but it will save you time in the end. Instead of having to make in-depth notes on a first draft and then wait for revisions, you get something you can use right away.
3. Include resources.
When I receive a writing assignment, the client already has some background knowledge on the topic. When the client shares a bit of that understanding, things go much better, and the content I write is much stronger. All it takes is a few links—two or three is fine—so I know that I’m starting with the right information.
I’m going to go on to do my own research, of course. I always do. But when I start with information that I know you as the client approve of, I can align myself much more closely with your point of view.
4. Show me what you like (and what you don’t).
If I go to the hair salon to get a new look, I’m going to bring pictures of styles that I like. It’s a faster and more effective way of showing what I think looks good, than if I try to describe the perfect style. The stylist appreciates it, too, because she knows the kind of result I want.
Writing is the same. I appreciate when clients send me links to competitor articles that they like, especially when they’re specific about why they like it. The same goes for articles they don't like. In that case, I know what to avoid.
If you as a client send me an article with a comment like “I really like the format of this article” or “Let's stay away from something this formal,” I have more direction to work from. I can realize your vision because I know what it is.
This shouldn't be surprising coming from a writer, but I believe strongly in the power of communication. The more you tell a writer about what you want, the more likely you are to get it.
The next time you order content, ask yourself what you would want to know if you were the writer. The writer will be grateful and you'll get stronger content in return.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Laura DeCesare.