Freelance writers are as unique and special as snowflakes. That is, unless you don’t take the time to develop and nurture their individual skill sets, and then they’re about as unique as a bowl of Cornflakes.
When a content manager takes on the role of talent manager, he or she must realize that each person is going to require different levels of control and assistance. Learning how to help each freelance writer become an excellent source of quality prose is the key to having a stable of talented writers rather than a content mill full of one-trick, quantity-focused writers.
For those content managers who truly care about their writers, there are simple steps to take in order to recognize and hone the talent on the team. Here is a guide for managers who are ready to take the next step with their writers.
DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS
Review your client list and determine current needs and goals. If most of your clients like humorous, light-hearted listicles, then developing humor in your writers will be a top goal. A typical list of needs might look like this:
- Professional/Technical – 2 clients, 10 articles per month
- Humorous/Light – 3 clients, 7 articles per month
- Research-Driven – 1 client, 4 articles per month
- Automotive/Niche – 1 client, 30 articles per month
Once you assess your needs, it’s time to assess your writers. Consider how many of them are able to tackle technical, professional writing. Make a list of the ones who shine when it comes to finding in-depth research. Then, when you’re left with a list of writers you aren’t sure about, it’s time to start talking.
TALK TO THEM
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Contact your writers casually via social sites like Facebook, and try to determine their interests. Review any introductory assessments they submitted when hired. Consider past emails they may have sent to editors or to you about assignments and issues.
The goal of talking to your talent isn’t really to discover their talent immediately, but rather to become aware of them. Often, content managers become enthralled with their ‘all-star team’ and forget about the incredible talent that’s a little further down their roster of writers. Re-acquaint yourself with these writers and you might quickly discover how clever and interesting they are, too.
SEND A SURVEY
Try not to be intimidating if you create and send a survey out to the troops. Make it seem fun and casual, if not optional. Let them know that you have new clients and simply want to ask a few questions about interests and availability. If your needs assessment mirrored the one we used above, then a few of the questions might look like this:
- If you were giving a speech and decided to use a joke as the ice breaker, which would it be?
- Which car make & model from history do you think was the most innovative?
- For research-driven articles, which resources do you like?
- Can technical writing be interesting?
- Do you prefer to write all of your assignments in one sitting, or do you like to spread them out throughout the week?
Be wary of writers who answer every single question ‘perfectly,’ because they’re probably being dishonest in the hopes of getting more assignments. While that’s great for content mill-type writing, quantity writers often miss the mark when it comes to quality prose.
CREATE TEST ARTICLES
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While writers hate unpaid test articles, they usually don’t mind a series of paid assignments that happen to be tests. Content managers can craft titles and descriptions to test writer abilities without sending out tedious assignments. For example, if there is a writer who gave a wonderful answer to the automotive question, then sending him or her a test assignment like, “The Bizarre Truth About Steering Wheels” could yield great results.
With test assignments, the goal is to send an open-ended assignment that could lead to a plethora of article results. Using the example above, a writer who understood cars could return an article about functionality, or the evolution of steering wheels, or an in-depth coverage of the materials used. Whereas a writer who is not knowledgeable about cars would likely write about something basic, such as steering wheel styles throughout time.
While you might do a fabulous job of assessing your writers initially, a content manager has to remember that people change and evolve. Re-assessing a talent pool every quarter is necessary to determine if writers’ interests are changing, or if their availability and interest is waning.
Knowing your ‘all-star team’ is great for harried assignments that need a quick turnaround. However, recognizing new writers for their talents is even more vital to a smooth, long term operation.
A content manager’s work is never done. He or she must continually re-evaluate writers, and be willing to get to know each of them as individuals. However with a little effort, the best content managers can double their ‘all-star’ roster and recognize which writers need to go.