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As an editor, you want to distribute assignments, receive quality work on schedule, and keep your content stream flowing. To stay on track, you’ll want to find freelancers who can provide exactly what you need. While this may not appear challenging on the surface, there are a few best practices that can help you build the strongest editor-freelancer relationship possible.

Now that most assignments are doled out via email, deadlines are tighter, and there is an increasingly competitive pool of writing talent, expectations for quality are higher than ever. So how can an editor and a writer, two people who sometimes never meet face-to-face, create compelling content together? The answer is good communication.

To help you narrow down the most effective ways to interact with freelancers, we’ve asked two content experts to offer some insider tips.Editor Holly Rodriguez has juggled a staff of 11 writers and photographers for several magazine publications. Anne McAuley is a freelance writer who recently hired several writers to ease her workload. With their help, we’ve created a list of seven things every editor should tell freelancers to get quality content.

Anne McAuley

Anne McAuley says outlining your editorial process helps avoid setting your freelancers up to fail.

1. Explain your expectations

You know what you want out of a piece of content, but you can’t assume that a freelancer is aware of those expectations. If you’re not clear about what you’re looking for, there’s a good chance that you’ll be disappointed in the finished product.

McAuley says this very problem happened to her. She asked a freelancer to do some research for a project. She gave the freelancer the topic and some background about the client and expected solid information in return. What she got was a list of links from less than reputable sources.

“I had to take a deep breath and rethink how I was explaining assignments,” she says.

The next time she worked with this freelancer she gave the following instructions:

  • Feedback from the last assignment including successes and areas of improvement.
  • A spreadsheet where she could enter her research findings, including sample entries.
  • A list of reliable resources and a list of resources not to use.
  • Guidance on researching the primary source. For example, if a research study is mentioned in an article, find the original study. While the article may be a good source, the research study results are an even better resource.

With these instructions, McAuley got exactly what she wanted the next time around. It was a tough lesson to learn, but one she says every editor should know.

“Initially if freelancers didn’t meet my expectations for an assignment, I would get angry and frustrated. Then I would go back and read my email instructions. More often than not, they had done exactly as I had written. The problem was mine; I had to learn to effectively communicate the assignment and expectations,” she says.

“Otherwise, I am setting them up to fail and ultimately for me to not serve my clients in the way they need and expect to be served.”

2. Outline your process

Everyone works a little differently, so be sure to explain your workflow to your freelancers. For example, do you assign titles or does the freelancer come up with ideas for approval? Once a freelancer turns in the first draft of an assignment, when should he or she anticipate feedback? If revisions are needed, what kind of turnaround time do you expect?

When you first start working with a freelancer, “spell it all out,” McAuley says.

Here’s an example of the process you might send to a freelancer:

Each month I’ll assign four articles via email. Each article is due by the end of business on the date assigned. I’d like you to attach the article in an email to me with the title of the article in the subject line. I will read your work within 24 hours and request revisions if necessary. If revisions are needed, I’ll explain what I’m looking for through Microsoft Word’s track changes. I’ll expect to receive a revised copy with 24 hours. The article will be scheduled to appear in about 3-4 weeks from final delivery.

3. Make payment terms clear

Payment terms should always be discussed before an assignment is taken on. Be clear about how much you’ll pay for each piece of content and when you’ll pay.

“If your terms are Net 30, say so. You need to be up front about that. You don’t want a freelancer expecting faster payment than you are delivering,” McAuley says.

Setting freelance rates can be tricky. Remember, if you want high quality content from a writer who is creative, efficient and easy to work with, you’re going to pay more than minimum wage.

4. Go beyond email

You want to create an open door policy with your freelancers. If a question comes up, encourage them to reach out. Email is easy, but chatting on the phone or over Skype is sometimes an easier way to communicate, especially if your freelancer has multiple questions.

Of course, a video chat is a good “check in” tool too. Seeing someone face-to-face (at least digitally) tends to encourage a more in-depth conversation, McAuley says.

“In a face-to-face meeting you are afforded the opportunity to read body language and social signals,” she explains. “This may lead to asking or answering questions, clearing any confusion before work begins. When email is the sole communication you no longer have these visual cues to guide the conversation.”


Holly Rodriguez says you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if your freelancer misses the mark.

5. Give praise

Sometimes in our truncated email world we forget to offer praise. Telling a freelancer that he or she did well can go a long way. Try to be specific when you’re doling out kudos. Tell your freelancers exactly what sent you over the moon for that particular piece of content. Did you love the examples that were sprinkled through the article, or the in-depth responses of the freelancer’s source? By offering this kind of feedback, your freelancer can learn from it and give you more of it in the future.

Rodriguez says you don’t have to stop with a “good job” email; you can go one step further.

“After a successful assignment or two, if possible, take your new writer out to lunch, and talk about future assignments,” she suggests. “A good, solid, reliable writer is like gold. Nurturing the relationship is a wise investment that can save you time and money.”

6. Provide critiques

Just as you should hand out praise, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if your freelancer missed the mark. This sometimes happens because of lack of direction on your part, but if you feel as though you’ve communicated clearly and the content isn’t what you want, say so.

Send an email with a bulleted list of things to revise, or pick up the phone and talk it through.

“It’s one of the hardest things to tell a freelancer,” Rodriguez says. “You can be direct, but you should also offer to work together to turn the piece into something you’re both happy with.”

Start the conversation off with what you like. Again, be specific and then transition into areas that need improvement. Refrain from negative words or harsh tones and keep it professional.

7. Share the final draft

Before you post the content online, send it to your writer so he or she can look it over. If you’re using track changes in Word or another similar program, they’ll be able to see all of the changes you made.

“It will help the writer understand the style you are looking for and help them grow as a writer,” Rodriguez says.

Hopefully, your freelancer will pick up on repeat mistakes and start to self-correct them in the future. This step might take you a bit more time, but it can pay off down the road as your freelancer dials in on the content you’re looking for.

The overall goal here is to create a lasting relationship with a writer who will eventually anticipate your needs and turn in amazing content on time, every time. Like any relationship, it will take work, but with the tips listed above you won’t leave anything unsaid and should receive the kind of quality content you expect.