7 Things Brands Expect When Working with Freelance Writers

| | Writing

Do you find it difficult to score freelance writing assignments from brands? Or feel frustrated when you know you’ve produced a great article for a client, only to never hear from them again?

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Freelance writing assignments often make up a big part of travel bloggers’ income. But with so many content producers out there, and only a limited amount of jobs, finding (and keeping) those coveted freelance contracts is no easy feat.

When I first started pitching to brands, I was under the impression all they cared about was the quality of the writing, and that my lack of experience was letting me down. Now that I’m on the other side of the fence (working full-time for a content marketing agency), I’ve come to learn the real reasons why brands choose to work with specific contractors.

SPOILER ALERT: some of these may sound strange, or even petty.

Here we go:

1. Be Easy to Work With

A writer with a mediocre style who’s an absolute dream to work with, will often get more work than someone…who causes the client to do the extra work.

Most of the time, it’s all about the small details. Next time, when communicating with a brand, ask yourself:

– Are you getting to the point? Keep all emails short and sweet. Especially pitch emails. Most content managers (or equivalent) have hundreds of emails to sift through daily. If your email looks overwhelming, it probably won’t be read. Get your point and credentials across in the shortest way possible.

Did you read the brief? In my experience, most writers (even the good ones) don’t read briefs properly. They’ll get the content right, but use the wrong fonts, incorrect paragraph spacing, forget to include the provided keywords for SEO or even submit the file in a format that can’t be opened.

Are you easy to reach? This can be a tricky one for travel bloggers who are always on the move. If you’re going to be off the grid for a little while, be sure to warn the client beforehand, so they can ask questions/request any amends before you go.

2. Have Confidence in Your Work

For most clients, the one thing that will make them delete an email right away is the phrase ‘because I’m new to this, I’m willing to work for a lower rate’.

Working with new writers is always a risk for brands, who have to trust they’ll produce quality content on their behalf. One of the warning flags they look out for is lack of confidence.

Ensure you communicate with confidence in all your emails, especially pitches. Remove words that evoke doubt, such as ‘I think’, ‘maybe, ‘probably’, ‘hopefully’, ‘almost’ and don’t apologize unnecessarily as it makes you sound unreliable.

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3. Negotiate Rates Assertively (But Politely)

A big mistake many freelance writers make is stating their rates upfront. Brands will almost always let you know their budget. If not, ask. This avoids you having to under-sell yourself (if they are able to pay more than your rates).

Negotiating a higher rate is not only perfectly acceptable, it might actually increase your chances of securing the contract. Brands will generally have more confidence in your abilities if you give the impression that you’re slightly overqualified for the work.

But how do you negotiate without coming off as rude? Below is an example of an email I received from a writer, who approached a slightly awkward topic in a eloquent and diplomatic manner.

“I’m also wondering whether the budget is flexible at all?  Not that money is the motivator for me, but I am doing some other freelance writing at the moment and the market rate, at least in my experience, seems to be generally a bit higher than the 40c per word that your budget allows for – mostly around 65c-75c.  Given the short turn around and the fact that I have some competing deadlines I’ll only be able to take this one on and give it the priority that it deserves if your client can match this rate. I completely understand if this isn’t possible, in which case I’m afraid I’ll have to decline this opportunity.”

4. Always Ask for Extra Information

Nothing scares me more than when I brief a writer and they come back with zero questions.

Here’s the truth: most of your clients will be super busy and/or a bit lazy, so your briefs will almost always lack the majority of the information you need to write the piece. Most clients will expect you to request this.

Depending on the project, there may be a number of things to clarify. In general, make sure you’re clear on:

  • Deadline
  • Word length
  • Call to action
  • Products/experiences to focus on (if applicable)
  • List of keywords to include for SEO (if this is an online piece)

Bear in mind you won’t always receive answers to your questions. That being said, there’s never an excuse to miss a deadline or provide incomplete work, no matter how many times you had to chase the client.

5. Be Extremely Thorough with Referencing

While poor grammar and spelling often spring to mind as the most likely things to cost you a contract, in reality, most brands or editors won’t mind a few typos.

What’s much worse, more time-confusing and potentially damaging for the brand, are sloppy references. Always hyperlink your sources or include them in the text (depending on the submission guidelines). It’s good practice to also provide a list of the references in a separate document, for the brand to review.

Having to heavily fact-check an article, especially if on a tight deadline, is enough for many content managers to stop working with a writer, even if the rest of their work is excellent.

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6. Meet Deadlines – No Matter What!

Out of all the points listed here, this is probably the most important.

Brands hardly ever set deadlines out of thin air. They’re usually running behind schedule even before they briefed the work. By submitting your work even a day later than agreed, you run the risk getting someone into a lot of trouble.

If for any reason you can’t submit the work in time, call your contact beforehand and suggest a list of other writers they could approach to do the job. While not ideal, offering to find a replacement might increase your chances of receiving further work from them.

7. Manage Awkward Invoicing Processes Diplomatically

Chasing invoices is a tedious process, and can often make or break a writer’s relationship with a brand. In you have any issues getting paid, ask to speak to the accounts department directly. In many cases, your contact will have no power over this process anyway, and will get increasingly frustrated at being chased. By taking them out of the equation, your relationship with them is less likely to be compromised.

Be firm but polite when chasing – (very) late payments are never acceptable. Just never request to be paid a couple days after submitting the work, on the grounds that your ‘payment terms are 7 days’. Unless negotiating beforehand, any terms you specify on your invoice are usually invalid, and will just irritate the client.

Final Thoughts

In most cases, even writers with limited writing experience can score freelance assignments with brands. While you should always focus on producing quality content, be sure to pay just as much attention to the rest, as this what could make all the difference. It’s all about making the client’s life easier and having confidence in your work – this includes negotiating higher rates and better contract terms when you feel you’re being undervalued.

Just be sure to live up to their expectations!

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