“Don’t relay the client’s feedback” – and other important advice when dealing with freelance content writers

Beware of advice—even this.” – Carl Sandburg

Delayed submissions, below-par work, shoddy construction, clear lack of understanding of the topic, inadequate word count, improper research sources (even worse—quotes from competitors!) – I am sure all of us have encountered these in our daily job as a content marketer in charge of a content calendar, and a team of freelance writers.

For companies who face the content calendar nightmare every month (aka – how the heck do I get this content created and delivered on time?), dealing with freelance writers can sometimes be cumbersome, and sometimes smooth.


As chief editor for Content Crossroads and as Chief Content Officer for Suyati, I have been creating content, and editing it, for over five years. During this time, I have worked with some amazing freelance writers who have created some of the best content I have had the privilege of editing. And we continue to create content calendars, churn out good quality work and post some great content. On time and budget. For both our internal brands and for our clients.

But here’s some proof first.

We started using Voraka, our in-house proprietary software for content/writer management, in August of 2011. In the 42 months since then, we have been creating an average of 150 pieces of content every month. As of February 1, 2015, our dashboard looks like the following:

PS: When I say client, I refer to both the actual client who pays for the content and the in-house marketing team that approves the content for publishing for our internal brands

Total content created: 6233

Content that was client accepted/published: 5838

Content in submitted status: 13

Content declined by our editorial team: 323

Content declined by our clients: 59

Our client acceptance rate? 93.5%. (5838 out of 6233)

Our client rejection rate? Less than 1% (59 out of 6233) 

Nurturing a team of fab freelance writers

Is there a sure-shot way of ensuring only the best content comes to you, consistently and regularly, from your freelance team? Yup!

Here are FIVE key areas that we pay attention to when dealing with our freelance content team:

  1. Remove all uncertainty

I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.” —Tom Clancy

A typical content production process is actually quite simple. You have to communicate the requirements, and email additional information. Test the writer to see if they can do that particular project/topic. Edit the content. Test it for plagiarism. Add your editorial expertise. Send it out for production. And pay the writer. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Now for the real world! At Suyati, we use Voraka to iron out most of the issues that are lost in “translation”. Using Voraka, we generate tasks, set the billing amount, word count, deadlines, and generate invoices for writers based on client acceptance. Of course, the team exchanges some amount of emails and phone calls with the writer—to send topics particularly requested by the clients, answer queries etc.—but mostly, Voraka does the email notifications on the back end. Both the client and the editor can send feedback on the content to the writer.

Using a tool like Voraka minimizes most of the communication, reduces uncertainty, and ensures everyone follows the process. While a tool is a tool is a tool, at Suyati, we owe a significant part of our success to Voraka. And whether it is content for our internal brands or for our clients, every writer/editor/accepter follows this process.

  1. Pay them on time

The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” —Robert Benchley

This is an implied promise we stick to, no matter what. We usually pay our writers by the 7th of every month, for all content accepted by the client for the previous month. We send emails to our editors and clients starting from the 1st of the month, reminding them about the pending blogs, and ensuring that they accept (or send back for rework) before the writers generate their bill.

While this may not seem like a big deal, to our writers it means a lot. They deal with businesses that take their time paying the bills, and when they know that we take writer payment very seriously, it increases their commitment.

Of course there are times when Voraka messes up, or the writer does not generate a bill properly, or our Finance team is tied up with paperwork, but we stick to the deadline as if it is a critical piece of content that needs to get to the client.

  1. Respect their point of view

To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.” – William Zinsser

Most of the time writers defer to what we want. They go by our topics, checklists, deadlines and payment schedules. But we do listen to them and their way of looking at things. I have gone back numerous times to clients recommending that we approach the topic the way recommended by the writer. After all, they are putting in the time to research and read up too–and have access to ideas that we are unaware of, or have not thought through. It may even contradict what the client or the marketing manager wants. But we listen, and wherever possible, follow it.

Again, this may not be a big deal, but we know that our writers have researched and written for multiple clients and industries, and they have the necessary experience in how to approach a particular subject. We respect that.

  1. Don’t relay the client’s feedback. At least not verbatim

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” – Harper Lee

My first assignment as a writer at Suyati was to blog for an American client who dealt with medical billing systems. I enjoyed writing for him, and I believe I perfected the art of business blogging during the nine months I worked with him. I took his feedback in stride, and though some of it were unjustified (do writers ever admit otherwise!), I believe it did make the content better. But I ended that assignment abruptly. He had sent me feedback (word for word) to my latest blog sent to him from his investor. Now while the feedback was certainly relevant, the language used was not.

Words have a strange way of revealing the inner you. And when you offer feedback/criticism/point of view (whatever you call it), it needs to be respectful. And professional. And if the client or the marketing manager has sent feedback, it is your duty to send it to the writer – but I would recommend that you do not send it verbatim. I usually edit out the stronger sentiments (the negative ones, that is!) and try to cushion it with a softer statement. The writer does get the message (and most good writers acknowledge the truth behind a feedback), but the message is sent in such a way that he is now open to more feedback in the future.

  1. Have a great editorial team

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

The editor stands between the client and the writer. He understands precisely what the client wants, and knows what the writer is capable of creating. It is up to him to ensure the content flows smoothly from the writer to the client.

As editors, we have our good days and bad days! At Suyati, the general rule of thumb is that if the edits take less than 10 minutes of your time (all other things being equal–relevant content, great references, good research and use of statistics and facts) go ahead and do it and send it to the client–no need to force the writer to cross the t’s and dot the I’s. But if the writer has been deliberately avoiding a particular trick (American spelling, not linking to sources within the blogs, etc.) go ahead and send it back–just to make the point.

The more you cover for your writer, the more they would love you for it. And will work harder the next time to make it perfect. But do send them the feedback—“I had to trim it by 100 words”, “Next time don’t forget to proof-read”. Every communication with your writer only helps to enhance the relationship.

It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
—Ernest Hemingway

Sure, there are great writers and bad writers out there. Just as there are great content marketers and lousy ones. But I still remember this writer who has been working with me for five years now. His first blog was a total washout! However, since I was against a real tough deadline, I rewrote most of his blog and it was accepted by the client. I then sent him the word document with the track changes on, that showed every piece of my editing, including my comments. (Boy, was it brutal!)

Today he is my star, my go-to writer in a crisis. The writer I compare every new writer with.

I believe writers are born. They need to have that innate spark of creation. But with patience, feedback and some flexibility, most of them can be nurtured into absolute great freelance writers.

And remember, I have proof!

Image Credit: Sarah Browning on Flickr

This post was first published on Content Crossroads.

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