Working solo is easy. But, when you’re a content marketer or freelance writer, you often have to partner with a team of creative professionals to get the job done.
This week we’re diving into Part 2 of a three part series that addresses how content marketers and freelance writers can better work together. This is the second question-and-answer session with Barb Dittert, a Content Marketing Specialist and Team Lead at Volume Nine, a Digital Marketing Agency based in Denver. Barb’s asking more insightful questions and I’m sharing my opinion from the freelance writer perspective.
If you missed last week’s Q&A, you can read it here: Improving Communication Between Marketers and Freelance Writers Part 1: Feedback, Instructions and Rewrites
This week we’re figuring out how to communicate with writers when their work starts to decline or becomes inconsistent.
Barb: I have noticed a trend with some (not all!!) of the writers we have used. They will start off great, and then I start to notice a decline in the quality of the writing. It’s usually a slow decline, and I don’t notice it’s happening until one day I get a really bad piece of writing back. What do you think is going on?
Angela: My initial reaction to this question is that the writer is bored or stuck in autopilot mode.
Sometimes when we write about the same topics over and over again, the sizzle begins to fizzle. I also notice a rise in apathy toward assignments when I never hear feedback or things have become so automated that there’s very little human interaction during the content creation process. I wonder if I’m just a link in the chain and my ideas, voice and talents have fallen on deaf ears?
I think the best way to clear this up is simply to communicate more with the writer. For example, they might submit solid copy over and over again and you don’t feel like there’s any constructive criticism to offer. Instead, reach out to the writer and tell them how much you appreciate their well-researched, easy to read drafts. Let them know how it makes your part of the job easier.
Barb: Some of the freelancers are very inconsistent in their quality of work. One piece will be highly thought out and well written, and the next is full of errors and very poorly written. What is your advice on encouraging consistent, quality work?
Angela: I’m always surprised when a freelancer doesn’t put their best foot forward. Since we work on contract, you don’t have to hire us to work on the next project if we’re not reliable. We are really only as good as our most recent contribution!
Unlike an employer-employee relationship, most content marketing agencies don’t have a disciplinary system or annual review process in place for freelancers. Maybe this is something agencies should consider?
At any traditional job, consistently poor quality work triggers additional training or supervision until the work improves. Maybe offer some constructive criticism and feedback, and if not followed, the writer is put on probation. During that time, offer fewer assignments and integrate them heavily into the editing process so they can learn where their weaknesses fall and ultimately improve their writing.
Large agencies might be able to put a bi-annual training in place to serve as a brush-up on guidelines and basic writing tips to encourage consistent output from their team of freelance writers. Smaller agencies could get by with making a fun video for freelancers to review. Some outreach is better than nothing!
Barb: Do you have any advice on what to do when a writer turns in a piece of content that has clearly just been slapped together at the last minute?
Angela: Sometimes I can be a little bold, but I’d call them out on it. Be nice and explain that they usually do much better work and how you’re surprised at the lack of research, poor sentence structure or whatever is obviously out of character for the writer.
Offer an extra day or two (if possible) for them to polish the content. If they decline, or the revision isn’t up to your standards, it’s time to go over your expectations and the project guidelines with the writer.
Barb: I have had experiences where a writer submitted a piece that was very poorly written and did not follow the instructions provided and charged us a premium price for the work. Do you have any advice on how to handle that kind of situation?
Angela: This is one of those instances where having a contract is critical. If the agreement outlines what the writer will do for the price quoted, hold them to each aspect. If they promised five sources, original quotes and three revisions, remind them of those details.
If the contract doesn’t outline the parameters of a specific article, rely on the guidelines issued to the writer prior to starting the project. Did the document mention following the AP Stylebook, an attention to grammar and use of spellcheck?
Although some of those reminders seem remedial, having them in black and white gives you leverage. Point out what they didn’t follow and explain that these guidelines must be followed to meet the client’s needs. If they aren’t followed, the writer no longer meets the criteria required by the client, and their writing services are no longer needed.
Next week we’ll be tackling the final series of questions from Barb that address guidelines, tools and cutting ties.
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