During this time of economic upheaval (especially when the chairs around you are no longer occupied because of cutbacks), it makes perfect sense to leverage your freelance staff to a greater degree.
I’ve been freelancing in the B2B space at least part-time for nearly 15 years now, and the best relationships I’ve had with editors have been just that — relationships. I may not get a story every month or every issue, but I know that when assignments are available, I’ll be the first to get a call. In return, I keep my eyes open for news events and ideas to send an editor’s way and make myself a valuable resource.
Here are a few ways you can get more out of your freelancers:
1. Share the style sheet. Most magazines have their little style quirks, and if an editor tells me what those quirks are, I can write in the appropriate style. I had written for a magazine for nearly a year when I noticed that its style for state names was different from AP, which is my default style. When I asked the editor why she didn’t let me know, she said, “You write so well that it’s not a problem to change those few things.” I replied, “But if you’d let me know, you wouldn’t have to change them!”
But at the same time, don’t send me the entire manual. I’d bet there are only a half-dozen variations among magazines, which can be summed up with: “said/says,” two-letter state names, percentage vs. %, serial commas, numbers under 10 and second-reference attribution. Just tell me enough to make your job easier.
2. Give clear assignments, but leave wiggle room. Do you really want the assignment as written, or can I do the reporting and see where the sources take me on a particular topic? My best clients give me leeway to prepare the story as I see fit, but I always check in after discovering the assignment is going in a different direction.
3. Is this deadline real? Sometimes Joe or Sally Source is on vacation, out of the country at a conference or swamped with work, but that person really should be in the story. Can I have another day? Another week? A good freelancer will get you the story on deadline day, but you could have a better story by waiting a little longer. Just let me know up front.
How you can help your freelancers:
1. Develop a relationship. If you like the work, hire me again. You’d be better off with a small stable of freelancers you use all the time than a huge stable you use infrequently. Many of us are generalists and can write with authority on a variety of topics.
2. If you want photos and captions, say so, but don’t leave that detail until the last minute so I have to follow up with sources.
3. If you can easily answer a question yourself (by doing a quick Internet search), please do it. It often takes more time and effort to call or e-mail a question and wait for a response than it would to look it up yourself.
4. Keep me paid. Turn those invoices in on time and keep after the accounting department if necessary until the check goes out.
5. Recommend me to your friends. I know how I obtained each client, and those made through referrals only make me more loyal to the person who recommended me.
Freelancers can be a fresh set of eyes and ears on your industry, but you must maintain a healthy relationship with them.
Matt Bolch is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor. After a long career in newspapers (including nine years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), Bolch became a full-time freelancer in 2002. He currently is managing editor of CDHCSolutions and EmployersWeb.com magazines and writes for a dozen mainly B2B magazines. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1987 and has been a member of ASBPE since 2002. Bolch has been an Azbee Awards judge for three years and is a regular attendee at the national conference. His Web site is MattBolch.com and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.