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Elena Terenteva

10 Simple Rules: How to Work with a Writer

Elena Terenteva
10 Simple Rules: How to Work with a Writer

A few weeks ago Amanda Clark wrote a great post, "When is it Time to Hire a Content Writer?," which inspired me to write this one.

Writing can be very personal. But sooner or later, it will become too difficult to manage all of your content on your own. Perhaps your company has grown. Or maybe creating new content requires skills you don’t have. The only solution might be to hire someone to help.

You might need a content manager, PR manager, translator, technical writer, copywriter, editor, proofreader, etc.

Handing over the keys to your company’s content to someone else is always a big decision. It’s hard to trust such a personal project with a stranger; it’s also hard to find someone who will meet your expectations. After all, will that person be able to understand your audience’s needs and deliver? Will they realize what you’re trying to achieve and buy into it? What about their dedication? How can you ultimately make this relationship work?

If you have never worked with a content person before, it's really easy to screw it up.

From my experience as a freelance writer and PR manager, I wrote down 10 simple things that will help you prepare yourself before hiring writers and while working with them. These tips can be helpful when dealing with both in-house and freelance specialists.

10 Tips for Hiring Content Help

  1. Prioritize your expectations

When we were looking for a technical writer, we noticed one interesting thing: we received dozens of resumes from applicants who had more “technical” skills than “writing” skills.

I don’t know why, but it worked that way – job positions that require writing skills attract a lot of applicants who don’t actually have a great amount of writing experience. And we spent a lot of time looking for someone with both a writing and technical background.

Well, some business topics can be so complicated that you definitely need someone with an expert level of knowledge. Some positions require multitasking specialists. So the “technical” part is becoming essential. But we are still looking for the actual writer, right? While we were looking for a technical writer we made a list that looked like this:

  • Expertise in a certain subject;
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • Fluent in at least two foreign languages; and
  • 2+ years’ experience in journalism or blogging.

Do you see where we were going with this? We were looking for the perfect resume, but not for the person who could solve our problem. Of course you can find someone who meets all your criteria, but this kind of specialist will be very expensive.

Prioritize your expectations. You need someone with excellent writing skills? Don’t even bother to list some strict education or experience criteria — just point out that resumes without portfolios will not be considered.

Looking for someone with very specific knowledge? Don’t immediately reject applicants lacking a writing background without first asking them to complete a writing test.

I once worked for a broadcasting company as a radio journalist. Our best sports commentators didn’t have journalism educations. None of them. And they were great! They were so passionate about sports and knew so much about the subject that you could listen to them forever. And this is what matters.

Yes, we found a technical writer. We hired a wonderful specialist who had great experience in managing development teams, and now writes excellent articles and tutorials for our service and great posts for our blog.

  1. Prepare your team

Some companies need to prepare their team to work with a tech writer, PR manager or any other person who’s going to tell their story to the world. There is no way to tell your story if you don’t know it; and there is no way to explain what kind of product or service your company is providing if you don’t try it or use it.

Your new hire won’t know your business, how you work or what got you to where you are now. Writers may have thousands of questions and be a real pain in the neck for someone who isn’t used to explaining “obvious” things to beginners.

Tech writers, PR managers, content managers — they are all team players who need both your time and answers to their questions. So prepare your team. Because after bringing a writer on board, they will be “bothered” more often.

  1. Set some goals

You need to clearly define what you expect your writer to achieve. Naturally they can't single-handedly accomplish all your goals. There are, however, certain goals they can reach. And you shouldn't leave those for a new person to work out by themselves.

Hiring someone and giving them generic responsibilities in hopes that they will do a good job is a really bad way to scale a business. Instead, you should document all critical aspects of your company’s operations and hire people who can execute them. If you can’t see goals yourself, how can you expect someone else to make them out? Focus on them before you make the first hire.

Not letting writers know your expectations might result in a serious conflict. They may think they are doing a great job when, in actuality, you are disappointed because you expected a different outcome.

  1. Be specific when explaining a task

Your employee will need some guidance to know what tasks he or she is supposed to complete. Leaving them to figure things out on their own can lead to serious conflicts. “Write an article about link-building,” “Make a nice post about social media for beginners,” “Let’s make an infographic about content ROI” — these seemingly simple tasks can turn into a nightmare!

Writers, like designers, always face the same problem. They are often hired to create something without knowing exactly what their supervisors want.

Explain what you want. No detail is insignificant when it comes to assigning a task. If you fail to properly explain your vision, a writer may hear: Oh, this is easy or It’s not a big deal. Don’t ever say these things to a writer! Freelancers often hear these common phrases because project managers don’t want to pay a lot and think that, if the task seems too difficult, the price will increase. Well, a low price and a poor explanation of what you want will give you poor results.

  1. Develop a form of reporting

Even though reporting might seem like a tedious task, it’s crucial for any business. Reporting will allow you to monitor your writers’ progress and spot any potential problems before they get out of hand.

If you are accustomed to working by yourself, chances are you haven’t created many reports and are not used to doing so. But when another person joins in, they will have to report to you on their progress somehow. And ideally, you should have a system in place before they start.

It’s crucial to develop reporting standards, especially if you have never worked with a writer (although it’s a must even if you did). You’ll be surprised by how tough it can be to measure some writers’ efforts.

Your reporting system doesn't have to be complex. A simple Google Spreadsheet you both update regularly should be enough to start.

  1. Notify your writer about important legal or ethical issues

Depending on your industry, there might be legal or ethical issues that your writer should know about. Needless to say, stuff like this might cause problems if overlooked. Anticipate such issues and carefully explain them to your writer. Also, don’t assume they are spying for your competitors if they ask you for detailed information about your business.

  1. Make the text-approval process easy

The text approval process can turn into a communication nightmare if it’s not setup properly. If the person works in the office and you want the whole management process to rest on their shoulders, decide what kinds of text should be approved by other team members and make a list of participants.

Don't involve too many people. Sometimes companies like to send text to everybody in the office, which makes the approval process longer than the writing process.

Setting deadlines for team members will help your writer manage their work. There is nothing more disappointing than missing an editorial deadline. It’s important to send press releases announcing an urgent event right away.

If you work with a freelancer, it’s always best to send all remarks from inside the company in one letter. If five people are involved in the process of approval, don’t send five letters to the writer. You and your colleagues may have different visions of the text; and sometimes this can cause controversy. Keep it simple for the writer and avoid jostling.

  1. Communicate effectively

It’s easy to communicate with your writer when you are both in the same office. But what if you are not? You still need to communicate; and working remotely can pose certain managerial challenges. Time zone differences, distance and even culture can significantly impact how you will interact with the other person.

Decide early-on the best way to keep in touch. It could be a weekly Skype call or even an old fashioned report emailed at the end of the week.

This simple checklist will help you manage your writer’s work and communicate quite successfully, even if you are in the same office:

  • Skype

Everybody knows it; everybody uses it. It’s simple, free and a must-have for remote work.

  • Slack

Great tool for messaging. Has integration with Google docs and Dropbox, and dozens of other services; keep all documents and pictures together. If you use Skype for sharing files — forget about it and switch to Slack.

  • Google Docs

Very helpful for text reviewing and approval. Indispensable for reporting. Very helpful when text need to be revised by several team members.

  • Dropbox

Texts, images, editorial guidelines, regulations, PDF files — everything can be in one place.

  • Trello

Helpful task manager. No doubt Trello should be used if your writer is getting tasks from several team members — all members will be able to understand approximate deadlines for every project.

  1. Let a freelancer become part of your team

Your goal is to build a strong brand. And your writer will have to become a part of it.

It’s much more difficult to do when dealing with freelancers, but they should also maintain every value your brand stands for. Don’t simply give your writer tasks; talk about the value of the message he or she is creating.

Build a creative dialogue. Writers might have their own vision; and if it’s different from yours, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you have a strong creative concept and think that a new vision might harm your reputation or make devoted clients turn away, consider creating specific brand guidelines that will make it easier for a freelancer to blend in.

  1. Pay your freelancers on time

It might sound obvious. But ask any freelance writer, translator or proofreader, and they will confirm that they have all faced payment delays.

Sometimes, prompt payment can be crucial for writers. First of all, payment delays can cause them financial difficulties. Secondly, with every withheld payment, you force your writer to reduce the priority of your tasks. Freelancers usually prioritize according to who pays them first.

If you know in advance that you cannot pay your writer on time, you should notify them. Banking mistakes, vacations, holidays ... nope; it’s always your fault if a payment isn't made on time. Be responsible!

Bottom Line

I hope some of your fears and doubts have disappeared! If you are a writer, share your experiences with us, and feel free to give advice in the comment section.

Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush.

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