What Every Freelance Writer Wants You to Know About Working with Freelancers
Your freelance writers aren’t being entirely honest with you.
No, not about the originality of their work or anything like that (I hope!). But they still aren’t telling you the whole truth. There’s a lot they wish they could say, but they don’t.
Why not? I’m not entirely sure, and I’ve done it myself. You’re a friendly marketing manager/content marketer/client. You’re not unkind or evil. But your writers still have this nagging fear that if they’re brutally honest, they might lose you as a client. So we writers tend to keep our frustrations to ourselves.
I think most marketing managers and others who hire freelance writers would want to know what successful freelance writers really think about working with their writing clients, though. So here it is. I’m going to lay it out there for you.
Here’s what your freelance writers want you to know about working with freelancers.
Before we dive in, let me clarify two points. First, today’s post isn’t about finding and hiring freelance writers. (Though it should help you keep them!) Finding the right writers is a process in itself, one that we’ve covered in other posts like this one and this one.
This post is for marketing managers and content strategists who have already found writers with the skills, style, and tone needed to produce pitch-perfect content for their brand. We’re going to look at some helpful advice for effectively working with these writers to produce the best content possible.
Are these issues familiar?
If you’ve been working with freelance writers for any length of time, you’ve probably had some great encounters and built some solid relationships. But you’ve likely also run into one of several issues.
- Good writers walk away/stop picking up your orders/stop taking your calls.
- A given writer’s quality isn’t as consistent as you’d hoped: some posts are amazing, and others are just OK.
- You pick up on undeserved frustration/hostility/passive-aggressiveness from your writers.
The list could go on, but I figure you’re already nodding your head. Names are coming to mind, right?
So, what’s going on here? Are the really great content writers all just fickle, inconsistent, sensitive people? Well, we are human, and even great freelance writers have an occasional off day. But no, we’re not all your stereotypical neurotic writer. There’s more to this story.
A Two-Way Street
I’m going to let you in on an uncomfortable secret: writers tend to feel the same way about clients as you feel about us! I’ll use the same basic issues, reworded slightly:
- Good clients vanish overnight with no explanation of what went wrong.
- A given client’s order quality isn’t as consistent as we’d hoped: some orders have clear instructions, but others are inscrutable.
- We pick up on undeserved frustration/hostility/passive-aggressiveness from our clients.
If we all take a couple of steps back, we can all see that the problem isn’t a range of character flaws in the other party. No, the problem here is something else.
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
Finding Mutual Understanding, Not Assigning Blame
Now, here’s my second clarification. I’m not talking about any of this in an “us writers versus you clients” sort of mentality. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, and I don’t think you all (clients) are wrong and we all (writers) are right.
But I’ve experienced enough to know that at least sometimes, we’re speaking slightly different languages and we’re looking for different things.
If you’re looking for insights into what your writers likely want from you but are afraid to ask you for, this is for you. If you’re sensing frustration from a writer and you don’t know why (but you want to keep the writer), these insights might help.
This is certainly a two-way street. There’s probably room for a “What every marketing manager/content strategist wants their freelance writers to know about working with them” article, too. And if you write it, I hope you’ll share it with me! But here I’ll focus on what I know, and that’s the writer’s side of the equation.
To that end, let’s get started with some insights into what success looks like to freelance writers.
How Freelance Writers See Success
If you want to cultivate consistent, healthy relationships with a successful freelance writer, it might help to step into their shoes for a moment. Understanding what a successful freelance writing career does and doesn’t look like can make a world of difference in your interactions with that writer. And while we are not an entirely monolithic group, I can offer some insights that should be pretty accurate across the board.
What Success Is Not
Fame and Glory: Most of us are ghostwriting for a decent chunk of our income. If we were after fame and glory, we’d be pitching very different types of content to magazines and other publishers. That’s not what we’re here for.
Being the Best: I’m not the best tech writer on the planet. In fact, I’m not the best … anything … writer on the planet. And I’m completely OK with this. (Don’t worry if this is unsettling. I’ll elaborate in the next section.)
Crafting a Magnum Opus: In just about all our freelance writing work, we don’t get paid for revisions. Enduring endless rounds of back and forth massaging content is not what success looks like to us. It actually borders on failure.
What Freelance Writers View as the Most Important Aspects of Our Work
For me, success as a freelance writer looks like this. Have I delighted my client by delivering content that does what they need it to do, and have I made enough money in the process?
It doesn’t get a lot more complicated than that for me. There are secondary considerations that might inform whether I choose to work with a particular client. But those don’t define success, and we’ll discuss some of those later on.
Let’s dive into my two main criteria for success.
Delighting My Client: I don’t care about being the best. But I do care deeply about delivering what my clients want. Or, even better, delivering above and beyond what they want. Clients’ needs vary widely. They want different types of content with differing objectives, and their brand voices vary. Success for me is meeting every client where they want to be on all these fronts, not forcing my “best” voice on all of them.
Making Enough Money: If I were in the freelance writing game solely for the love of wordsmithing, I’d be doing it differently. For most freelance writers, our objectives are considerably more mercenary than artistic. I have targets set for what I want to make per hour of work. If I make or beat those targets, I call that success.
On this point, it’s important to note that I don’t write at the same speed for all types of content, so a flat, across-the-board per-word rate doesn’t work for me. On the WriterAccess platform, there’s plenty of work that I’m happy to take at the 6-star rate. But if work is going to take me longer, I’m going to seek higher rates.
What Writers Look for In a Freelance Writing Client
First off, freelancers are looking for clients that will net them success. While success does vary from writer to writer, we all share the two biggies listed above, so let’s start there.
I’m looking for clients that I can delight with content that performs well. So right off the bat, I have to exclude a considerable number of clients because there’s a ton of content I simply cannotwrite well. I don’t know much of anything about accounting or psychiatry, for example. If I don’t think I stand a chance of pleasing a client, then I’ll pass on a freelance job.
I’m also looking for clients who are willing to pay the rates I need to hit my income targets. For me, those targets eliminate “bargain-hunting” clients altogether.
So if you’re looking for content I can write well and we’re in the same neighborhood as far as rates, you’ve got my attention. If I’m looking for additional work, I’ll be applying for your writing gigs or Casting Calls.
Now, beggars can’t be choosers. There are times when I don’t have the luxury to be any pickier than what I just described. But there are certainly other attributes I’m looking for in a client. I’m looking for clients who communicate well and quickly, who don’t request multiple rounds of revisions, and who offer consistent chunks of work with reasonable deadlines. But all these traits tend to show up over time, not right at first. (More on that later…)
What Freelance Writers Look for in a Project
Have you ever posted a job or a Casting Call that didn’t get any attention at all? If writers aren’t picking up your work or applying for your ads at the per-word or hourly rate you’re expecting, then this is the section for you.
It’s easy to think about the process of finding a writer in terms of a conventional employer-employee relationship: you’re the employer, you find a suitable employee, and they do the work you assign.
The problem? That isn’t how the working relationship actually works in the land of freelancing.
The client-freelance writer relationship is much more of a two-way street. Yes, we writers must impress you with our applications and our quality of work. But you also have to impress us with job postings that we’re interested in taking.
Whether you’re working with a part-time or full-time freelancer, they’ve chosen to do this type of work because they enjoy the self-employed life of being their own boss and picking and choosing the work they do. Freelancing offers flexibility that standard employment cannot.
You’re also enjoying that flexibility by outsourcing freelance writing instead of hiring writers in-house. You can choose which freelancers you work with and assign as much or as little work as you want.
That’s the nature of the freelance-client relationship: either party can walk away or say no at any point.
Remember, the best writers aren’t hurting for work. If you want to attract the true top tier freelance career professionals, you need to put in some effort at looking and staying attractive as a client.
Factors Contributing to a Writer’s Decision to Pick Up a Project
Numerous factors contribute to a writer’s decision to pick up a project or to pass on it:
- Writer’s current workload
- History with a client
- Due date
- Pay commensurate with expectations
- Clear instructions
- Signs of stability/instability
- Likelihood of unmentioned expectations
Some of these, like a writer’s current workload, are outside your control. But most of these are things you can control.
If you find that writers aren’t taking on your projects or deciding to work with your company, it may be one of the things above that you can control like clear expectations, fair pay, and reasonable due dates.
How to Make Your Projects More Appealing to Freelance Writers
If you’re looking to attract more or better writers, here are some tips for making your projects more appealing.
1. Pay fair rates that align with writer experience.
First, be realistic about pay. I get that budgets are tight, but “you get what you pay for” is undeniably true. Can you eventually find someone who will write for two cents a word? Perhaps. But will you get the quality you want? Unlikely.
If you’re looking for fluffy content and you aren’t too concerned with grammar and style, you may well be satisfied with material from writers who are willing to work for low rates. But if you’re looking for credentialed, quality writers with industry experience to write technical or complex material, you won’t have any takers at those rates. Writers are people too, and we’re seeking to earn real salaries doing this work.
2. Set clear expectations.
Second, be as clear as you possibly can when creating freelance writing job posts and order briefs. We are trying to wow you in as short a timeframe as possible. Any time we have to spend puzzling over what exactly you want is essentially time we aren’t getting paid.
3. Assign realistic and reasonable due dates.
Third, set reasonable due dates. The writers you want to work with are most likely the ones who are in demand, and they already have work on their calendars. If you’re a new client, your writer will need to work you into that calendar. So while of course, it doesn’t take five or seven days to write the order, good writers may have a completely full writing calendar for five or seven days.
Here’s an example. I have an ongoing client who usually sends me long-form 6-star orders on this platform with at least a five-day lead. Some of the time, I have to negotiate more time before I can accept an order, while other times I pick them up with the five-day timer. The other day, this client posted a new type of order: shorter, 5-star rate, and due the next day.
The rate was not unfair for the content requested. I’m sure there’s a writer out there who would happily write the piece for that rate. But between the lower rate and the shortened due date, I decided I couldn’t take it myself. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the order. But it’s not appealing enough to entice me to disrupt my schedule to take on the work.
What Freelance Writers Dislike Most
OK, here we go: if you’re looking for the dirt your writers are too afraid to share, here it is. (Remember all my disclaimers at the beginning, and please don’t shoot the messenger!)
Here are some of the top client issues that we face as freelance writers. These are the things that really bug us and that might lead to us “breaking up” with a client.
If we can’t tell what you want, we run a much higher risk of failing to deliver what you want. And we writers have seen plenty of this. “500 words on apples please” is all we see in the brief, but then it turns out we were actually supposed to plug a specific variety of apple being sold at one particular farmer’s market next Saturday.
That’s a silly example, but I hope the point is clear enough: Writers will often fail to give you what you want if we don’t know what that is. If you know what you want, make sure to tell us. When creating a content brief or set of instructions, be specific in what you are looking for, including what the content should discuss or include.
I can speak for most freelance writers when I say this: if I fail to deliver what you asked for, that’s on me, and I want to make it right. I’m more than happy to revise an order where I messed up. Success for me is delighting my clients, and leaving my clients with work that didn’t do what they wanted is a big no-no.
But most of the revision requests I get aren’t for that kind of problem. Instead, clients request revisions because they failed to mention something they needed the first time around. Now, I’m rewriting content for free because of the client’s mistake. If this becomes a pattern, it’s infuriating, and it’s the quickest path to me dumping a client.
Sometimes clients mark many small stylistic changes and send something back for revision, asking the writer to make those changes. The client spends more time marking the issues than they would’ve spent just making the fixes themselves.
Another frustration is revision requests that vaguely reference “tone” or “style” without giving specifics. If you can point out specific tone problems, I can fix them. Otherwise, I’m just guessing. That’s why it’s important for clients to be clear in their revision instructions to increase the chances of a successful revision that meets their needs.
Another problem with revisions like these is that they delay writer pay. On the WriterAccess platform, requesting a revision resets the due date, which frequently pushes pay for the order into the next pay period. I recently had about $300 get kicked two weeks down the road for one of these situations, and that’s certainly something I’d like to avoid.
Another massive frustration we writers encounter is broken orders. There’s a lot of pressure to accept orders quickly on WriterAccess, especially crowd, team, and love list orders. We don’t have time to inspect every detail of an order before accepting those, or someone else will nab them first. But sometimes this means we end up taking an order that’s broken in some way. It doesn’t have all the information we need to succeed, or it’s set up in a way that doesn’t work (like asking for 1000 words but setting a max word count of 200).
An order with conflicting instructions (naming two different apartment complexes in two different states because the client forgot to update the entire order, for example) is frustrating. But worse is an order so broken that I can’t even take a stab at completing it without getting more information from the client.
Clients who frequently post broken or confusing orders earn themselves a reputation, and the writers (the good ones, anyway) will start to stay away.
Speaking of getting more information:
Another perennial problem writers encounter is not getting responses from clients in a timely fashion. If the clock is ticking down and I run into a showstopper sort of problem, my only option is to contact you, the client. I can’t tell you how many forum threads and social media threads in the freelance community have gone like this:
“Help! I have a problem with my order, and I reached out to the client yesterday but still haven’t heard back. It’s due in 2 hours, and I can’t complete it without hearing from the client. What do I do?!”
On WriterAccess, our only real option is to guess and complete the order, then revise as needed. We can also work with the customer success reps to try and contact the client and encourage them to reply quickly. But sometimes, the client still doesn’t reply, and the writer ends up having to complete the order based on what they think might be the answer to their question.
While guessing works sometimes, there are orders where guessing isn’t possible. I’ve had “turn this detailed interview into a blog post” orders where the interview link won’t load. I was totally stuck. (Thankfully, in that case, my client responded within about 2 minutes, which was awesome!)
What Freelance Writers Need to Get Work Done
Enough with the pet peeves and frustrations. Let’s take a positive look now instead. Here’s what your freelance copywriters need to get work done well.
If you know what you want, ask for it. We aren’t mind-readers. If you want a CTA, tell us what it is. If you don’t, tell us you don’t. If your site needs a particular heading configuration beyond the default, we can do that- but we have to know what you want.
If you’re not exactly sure what you want, that’s OK, too. But be upfront about that. Your writer may even be able to guide you to what you ought to want, to some degree, based on their previous experience with writing clients.
Detailed Project Instructions
While it’s possible to overwhelm with too many instructions, the more common issue is not giving enough instructions. Good writers can write exactly what you want, but they’re limited by the instructions they receive.
Whatever you want to see in the end product, tell us about it in the project instructions. If you’re looking for a positive or negative slant on a topic, tell us. If specific products must (or must not) be mentioned, share that detail.
The more details you can provide, the more likely your writer will be able to execute successful content.
Reasonable pay is a big part of getting good work out of your writers. We’re doing this to earn a living, after all. While it may be tempting to find the least expensive writer out there to work on your project, this will often not result in you getting the type of content you’re looking for.
Fair pay usually means paying a per-word, per-hour, or per-project rate that aligns with the writer’s experience and knowledge. Remember, you aren’t always paying for the time it takes for a writer to complete a project. You’re paying for their experience and skill set.
Clear, Timely Communication
If your writers have a question, respond in a reasonable timeframe. Recognize that your writers are dealing with a ticking timer, and they need your help to proceed. If you can’t get the answer quickly, at least let the writer know you’re waiting on a response from elsewhere.
If you need extra time to respond, extending the deadline is a great gesture as it gives the writer more time to process your response and provide a final product you can be happy with.
Freelance writers aren’t particularly mysterious creatures. Sure, we approach the work and the industry differently than you do, but that’s not a bad thing. With a little understanding and good communication, you and your freelance writers can have strong, mutually beneficial working relationships.
Looking to expand your pool of freelance writers? WriterAccess has your back. With thousands of writers available to you, we’ve got your industry covered, no matter how obscure.
Want to see how it works? Schedule a demo today.
Joseph H. has been getting paid to work with words since 2011, both as a freelancer and as a full-time employee at a publishing house. With over 800 projects in on WriterAccess, Joseph specializes in content areas such as consumer technology, digital software and services, B2B technology, digital marketing (inbound marketing, SEO, content marketing), real estate, home maintenance and repair, education, and music (including content for musical instrument stores and music studios). In all these areas and more, Joseph creates SEO and content marketing friendly content with a warm, approachable tone.