Besides being responsible for creating and executing content strategy, a major role of content managers is coming up with the perfect “mix” of talent. When building out a content strategy, how can content managers go about recruiting the perfect team of freelancers? And how do they keep content creators engaged and continually producing their best work?
Like hiring for an in-house position, seek freelance creatives who not only have the technical chops but also fit the culture. “I want to see that you know the industry and can write clearly and concisely about it,” says Meagan Maguire, an editorial manager at Skyword. “On the culture side, it’s important that contributors are communicative, take time to understand the program’s goals, and take pride in their work,” says Maguire.
“There’s a breaker box in the basement of my apartment building,” explains Maguire. “The maintenance guy wrote on it with a Sharpie, ‘take pride in your work, don’t leave a mess.'” This applies to the contributor. “Don’t send me a jumble of words and keywords. I want to see a piece with a hook, a middle, and an end. Think about an article holistically. That’ll get you a long way in my book.”
So where does the recruitment process for freelance creatives begin? One may think that it begins after content strategy and the editorial guidelines have been fleshed out.
But Maguire explains that, to her, contributors are actually an integral part of the strategy. She begins by pulling together a list of potential contributors during the initial stages of strategy development. “Outreach doesn’t begin until we’re ready to begin content creation, but I think about contributors from the very beginning,” says Maguire.
Start brainstorming what type of contributors you’re looking for. Perhaps you are seeking writers who have written extensively in the pets space or maybe graphic designers who have created data visualizations in healthcare. Besides a knowledge of the industry, do candidates fit the style, tone, and voice of the brand? Have they demonstrated the ability to write for the target audiences? Would they jive well with brand messaging? Create a handy checklist (or use ours) during your search.
Recruiting talent when you’re in the early stages of content creation is one thing, but finding content creators down the line is another matter. Sometimes your needs may be obvious. For instance, maybe you’re in the insurance space, and you want to ramp up content on auto insurance in Q2. Or perhaps you want to bring on a content creator that specializes in visualizations, or crosses several different mediums.
But what if your needs are broader? If you have a team of in-house content creators and are looking to add a few freelancers, think about the strengths of your current team and how additional talent might bring something new to the table. What needs do you have, and what could a freelance creative offer? Are you ramping up content and need to hire freelancers to support your new needs, or are you interested in exploring new mediums? What brand storytelling problems are you trying to solve? From there, you can create a game plan for your recruitment efforts.
Maguire suggests poking around relevant quality online publications and checking out the creatives. See what other outlets they create content for, and on what topics. Next, hunt for their professional websites, blogs, and portfolios to learn more.
And don’t forget the power of referrals. Ask writers or other content managers you’re acquainted with in the space if they know of solid videographers, graphic designers, podcasters, and writers. Chances are they can point you in the right direction.
Try doing a keyword search on LinkedIn. You can also try Twitter. “Whose work shows up in relevant hashtags? Who’s getting retweeted?” asks Maguire. “Who’s writing consistently on the subject I’m recruiting for? I find a lot of great people that way.”
Image attribution: Alejandro Alvarez
For content managers who work with a remote team, it’s easy to be opaque, points out Maguire. Make a concerted effort to build trust and rapport with contributors. “If there’s a strategy shift, I’ll share that if at all possible,” says Maguire. Send out a newsletter or group email, or schedule a workshop to keep contributors abreast of changes in content.
As someone who writes for different publications, I find there’s nothing more frustrating than experiencing radio silence from a content manager, only to find out that they are moving content in a new direction or are temporarily putting a halt on content creation. Keeping your freelance talent in the loop makes them feel valued. Moreover, they’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for, which means less work for you. In turn, they’ll be more motivated to go the extra mile and submit their best work.
“From initial contact, I strive to make it clear that I value two-way communication,” says Maguire. “I hire smart people, and I want to hear their ideas and perspective.”
Maguire stresses the importance of asking what her contributors are interested in and what their specialties are. “This allows me to offer them the most relevant assignments and gives them an opportunity to write about things that personally resonate.”
Offering feedback to your team of freelancers is essential. “When a contributor submits content, they shouldn’t feel like they’re throwing a stone down a dark well,” says Maguire. “If it’s an awesome piece, I want contributors to know that.” Share stats like views and clicks on articles so your contributors can see how well their pieces are performing.
The same goes for constructive criticism. “I want to help writers grow and get better,” explains Maguire. “By showing an earnest interest in contributors’ work, they tend to feel more involved and engaged. Everyone wins.”
Wrangling a killer team of freelancers is just the beginning. While selecting your team is important, content managers also need to take the time to cultivate a team so contributors stay engaged and devoted to creating their best work.
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Featured image attribution: John Schnobrich