Working with a freelance copywriter

Some managers and business owners tell me that while they like the idea of hiring freelance copywriters, they are often intimidated by the thought of managing them. Some believe that freelance writers are more difficult to manage as they are free agents and not employees of the company, while others get into unpleasant situations, such as miscommunication and disputes, with them.

The truth is, working with freelancers does not have to be such a complicated affair and it is often easier than you think. In fact, most professional freelancers do provide high quality of work and strive to maintain a good relationship with their clients. After all, repeated business is always good business, and a lot of us freelancers do get new clients through recommendations from existing ones.

So, before you say, “No” or “I’m done working with freelance writers!”, do take a few minutes to consider the few tips below.

Developing the Relationship

If you develop a professional, amicable relationship with your freelance writers, they are likely to produce better work for you. I mean, why not? Think of it this way – if you like your boss, chances are you’ll work harder for him, isn’t it? Well, it’s the same for us. Of course, that doesn’t mean we will produce lousy work for nasty clients (heaven forbids!). It’s just simple psychology: If you are in a happy relationship, you will feel trusted and will create better results.

Therefore, it is imperative that when you choose a freelancer, consider not just his fee, but also whether you are able to work with the person on a long-term basis. Observe also if the freelancer is able to fit in to your company’s culture and values. Although the person is not going to be a staff, he should be comfortable with what the company represents and with the various people he would be working with in your organisation.

Once a friendly relationship is established, I would say half the battle is won.

Discussing the Terms

Unless you have been working with the freelance writer for a long time, you should ensure that all contractual issues, such as the scope of the project, fees, payment terms, deliverables and deadlines are agreed upon before the project begins. Most professional freelance writers do provide you with a quotation clearly stating his terms and conditions. If the freelance writer you’re planning to engage doesn’t, you should lay these terms out clearly in writing.

While it seems trivial or even silly at this point, such contractual issues are, in fact, the primary causes of contention between freelancers and their clients. In their eagerness to get the job, some freelancers choose not to bring up these issues for fear of aggravating the client. You can avoid a lot of unnecessary disputes by initiating such discussions.

Giving the Brief

Give as clear a brief as possible. The freelance writer needs to know what the piece is for, who will be reading it, what’s essential, what’s not, what to emphasize, how much to write, what’s your preferred style, etc. In order for him to do so, he must be given as much background information about the project as possible. Leave nothing to guesswork, and do your homework before giving the brief.

Of course, giving a clear and detailed brief does not mean dictating the way the freelance writer works and writes. That would only smother his creativity and destroy the good relationship you’d carefully established. You should always give him creative space, but the more material you provide, the more he’ll have to work on.

Giving a Deadline

You should always discuss the deadline and get the freelance writer to agree to it before work commences. Instead of saying, “Show me something sometime next week”, state a specific date and the expected delivery, like “I’d like to see the first draft latest by 15 June” or “The final draft with all amendments done by next Wednesday before noon”. Ambiguity breeds procrastination and a whole lot of varying interpretations. While you meant to get the first draft on Tuesday when you said “sometime next week”, the writer might have interpreted that as Friday.

You also want to give sufficient time for the freelance writer to produce a good piece of work for you. Rush work is always never perfect. It is also unfair to judge the quality of the writer’s work if inadequate time is given.

“It shouldn’t take too long for a writer to come up with 1,500 words. How difficult is that?” you may say. The fact is, you should consider also the time it takes for the writer to do research, make several drafts and edit. What many people do not understand is that it is essential for writers to take time away from their copy before returning to edit it from a fresh perspective. Some things just cannot be done in a rush.

Making Changes

This is another huge possible point of dispute. As a client, you have the right to make amendments to the work. Of course! And there are many reasons to do so; wrong facts, inaccuracy, your boss not satisfied with the work, the “feel” is not right, etc. But these amendments must be fair and must be within the agreed scope of work. If, for example, your boss suddenly decided to add 1,000 more words to the new brochure, I think it is reasonable for the freelance writer to ask for additional fees to complete the job.

While most writers accept that changes are necessary, they do appreciate their clients explaining to them what the changes are and why they are needed so that these mistakes can be avoided in the future. Most professional writers are willing to make changes to their work if they are reasonable. If the writer appears too defensive or offended when asked to make even minor changes, the best way to deal with him is to politely explain why these amendments are fair and highlight that they are by no means a bad reflection of his work.

Whether you are currently facing problems with your freelancers or are simply afraid of employing one because of the stories you’ve heard, I hope that by reflecting on these simple pointers, they could help you resolve whatever issues on hand and pave the way to a better working relationship with your freelancers.

About the Writer:

Judy Tham is a writer and founder of One Elephant, a copywriting firm in Singapore. She co-authored Are You Brand Dead?, one of the few books on branding in Asia that focuses on SMEs.