Freelance writers help organizations tell their stories.
Whether it’s through:
- managing the release of well-written, regularly scheduled blog posts,
- sprucing up website copy to pack in more punch with SEO,
- ensuring consistent upkeep of social media messaging, or
- preparing other marketing materials…
…in this gig economy, more and more freelancers are coming to the aid of large and mid-sized corporations, small startups, and nonprofits of every stripe.
But often, freelance writing services—and consultants, generally—are sought only after the in-house team has tried every which way possible to accomplish all those tasks themselves. Which is where their problems begin.
Managers have meetings to run. Partners are busy generating sales leads. CFOs monitor investments while CEOs build capital. Someone on the team crunches numbers while another takes care of payroll and schedules; still another is covering compliance, or fielding calls, or pitching to investors.
And when that team is small, it might be just one single person doing all of that, alone. Add branding into the mix, and you can see how easy it is for a company to get overwhelmed if they don’t already have their own marketing team.
How are they supposed to run multiple social media platforms successfully, and write blog posts, and create compelling direct mailers, and send newsletters, while managing to run a thriving business?
Some heavy lifters will attempt to make this work—and a couple of them actually succeed, somehow. Most entrepreneurs will at least try, especially while budgets are strained.
I’ve been freelancing for four years, and one thing I see over and over is that my services are called in when the organization’s leaders are at their wits’ end. They’ve tried telling their story themselves--it sounds like it should be an easy-enough thing to do, after all—but somewhere along the way, things went south.
Their verbiage missed the mark so no one clicked on their articles. Writing content was time consuming. Writing isn’t what they were trained for so they saw the act of doing it as a real drag. They couldn’t come up with enough ideas they thought were worth sharing, and once putting pen to paper, they didn’t know where to begin or where to end. In other words, their objectivity was gone.
They’re running a company, and their expertise lies elsewhere—often, in many realms. It’s just that they don’t spend their free time studying brand messaging.
Freelance writers do. We live and breathe it. At least, we’re supposed to.
Good leaders recognize this limitation most apparently when, suddenly, out of the blue, a national publication asks them to submit a white paper or contribute an article that could lead to widespread name recognition and possible new leads.
But what CEO has time to scrape together a well-written, compelling narrative when they’re out there leading a successful company?
Or, the team decides to go after a big grant, but it dawns on them that they’ve put branding on the back burner for the past year. If they’re savvy, they’ll know that once they put that proposal out there, then they’ll get Google-searched and LinkedIn-hunted by funders. That means it’s crunch time to get the company profile and every partner’s professional profile perfectly polished—but time’s a-wasting.
Or, a manager gets asked to deliver the keynote address at an upcoming conference, but because they’re crushing it in their field, they don’t have time to organize their thoughts—let alone put together pretty slides with concise bullet points and interesting images—into a cohesive, entertaining presentation.
For a whole bunch of other reasons, companies find themselves in dire need of a clear message but aren’t able to articulate it.
At that point, time has passed and their needs are urgent.
What they want is for someone to swoop in and save the day. Take the pressure off so they can breathe a sigh of relief. Come in with a plan and start executing to make things better so that they don’t have to deal with it anymore.
(Not every time, but I see this scenario play out more often than not.)
If we’re lucky enough to get hired, the last thing our client wants is to have to manage us. We should be prepared to go in there and lead.
Think of that old TV show, Nanny 911. Jo, who was the queen child-rearer of all child-rearers, would enter a scene of chaos, she would observe the goings-on for all of ten minutes, and immediately begin spotting the flaws. She marked everything down on her clip board and checked off the boxes: this, this, this, and this are all going wrong, she’d whisper on the B roll.
And for each flaw she detected, she already had a plan in place for how to start fixing it. Because she’d seen it all before. Each episode, she may have been helping a different family, but the problems they faced were transferable and translatable to any other.
It’s the same with companies and brand messages. We can apply what we’ve learned before to each new project, spotting similarities and using the tools we’ve worked so hard to gather to solve their problems.
When great leaders hire us as freelance writers, we need to rise to the task of delivering what they want: calm, confident, strategic problem-solving. Capable skill. Ease of execution.
Listen. Internalize their vision. Grasp their end-goals for the project at hand. Reiterate that in a written proposal that lays out all that you’ll do for them to address those goals, and be clear about how much you’ll charge for it.
Build in two rounds of edits. Charge for half up front, but be willing to negotiate. Stay open to flexible fees and contract amendments down the line, because this could lead to more work, which is always worth it in the end.
And just get the job done. Get it done right, get it done on time, and make them look ah-may-zing in the end.
Don’t just wing it, either. If they want apples, give them apples. It doesn’t pay to recommend oranges instead. And, by all means, stay in your lane.
Be receptive to feedback along the way. Give them the chance to say what they didn’t like about your first draft, and fix it until they do like it; but stay true to your craft and be confident in your skills. Remember: you’ve built in two rounds of edits. Don’t shortchange them of that courtesy, but don’t overextend yourself by offering more.
When companies look to freelancers to lead, we should do everything in our power to demonstrate that they made the right decision in trusting us.