Like many of you, I’ve operated on both sides of the content “fence” in that I’ve worked as an editor in the position of hiring a writer,and as a writer myself. For those of you who are in the hiring seat currently, how do you know you’ve chosen the right writer for a given assignment?
Whether your product is a brochure, speech, video script, commercial script, article, or book, you ultimately need a writer who will accomplish the goals of your project and make you look good. So how do you know when a candidate is the “right one?” Here are some tips to consider in identifying the right writer for the job, and for working with him or her productively in pursuit of your content goals.
1. Hire What You Like.Â You’ve just read an article in a relevant trade magazine that not only piqued your interest but also held it long enough for you to read the entire article. Aside from clipping the piece and perhaps saving it for reference, what’s next? Track down the author. Even regular columnists may be interested in additional assignments, so make no assumptions that a writer will not be interested in a corporate assignment. If you like a writer’s style, expertise and grasp of a given subject, reach out and see if you can’t make a deal. On the flip side, while professionals do tend to charge more than writers with little or no experience, it’s almost always worth it. Don’t try to cut corners by using college interns or someone’s nephew who “likes to write.”
2. Show Me the Samples. Always ask for samples. A professional won’t balk at this request, but rather, will likely be delighted to show off a recently published piece. If a writer hesitates, or takes more than a week or two to get you the stuff, move on. However, samples are critical in gauging how well a writer can address a subject fluently and effectively, and, how well she or he can write for a given medium.
3. You Get What You Pay For. Pay the prevailing rate, or better, if you can. Why? A writer is more likely to deliver his best if he’s treated as if he’s valued and appreciated, much like other humans do. If you don’t know what the going rate is for a given project, don’t panic–it’s a common bind for many content managers, and one that can be solved. Contact your local chapter of either IABC or another communications industry trade organization, and ask for help. Many organizations are more than happy to assist their members, or at least, aid in furtherance of the profession.
4. Play a Role in the Writer’s Success. You wouldn’t ask your roofer to slap some shingles on the roof “in a hurry,” or tell him/her, “I need this done yesterday.” Why, oh why, then, do corporate managers do the equivalent of this when hiring freelance writers? I’m not correlating the writing profession with roof repairs; I’m asking why something as important as your work product and reputation deserve less attention and care.
Give a writer a reasonable amount of lead time, if possible. If you truly need the draft in 24 hours, then pay accordingly, and provide the highest level of direction and guidance to enable him/her to write something cohesive in that timeframe. Provide the writer with samples of the style, approach and format you need in the end result. Offer to be available for a “check-in” call at some point in the short term, so you can answer questions or even scan a partial draft. Working at the front end will absolutely save you trouble and grief at the back end, I promise you.
5. Stay In Touch. When operating on a more realistic timeframe, stay in touch with your writer. Don’t be so hard to reach that she or he cannot possibly get critical feedback when needed. I’m not suggesting you install a red “hotline” phone and have it glued to your hip; I’m suggesting that you at least make a good-faith effort to be available for a 5-minute call to gauge progress and answer questions. Scheduling this call might be a good idea. Otherwise, use email. And never, ever be afraid to call on a writer mid-assignment to ask how things are going. Silence is never “golden” when a project is in progress, unless you’ve worked with the writer several times before and have faith in a demonstrated track record of solid deliverables.
When the project is finally delivered, try to assess it objectively. Did you set realistic goals? Did you communicate them clearly? Did you provide meaningful and timely revisions and/or feedback in the draft stage? Did you find it easy to work with this writer? All of these questions can help you determine your own style of management and detect areas that you can controlÂ and therefore,Â improve upon.
All of that said, if you have stories of what to do/not to do when hiring freelance writer, please feel free to share. Nothing is more compelling than experience…and yours matters. Thanks in advance.