Working With Freelancers: A Handy Do-and-Don’t List

Freelancers and those who employ them often run into situations where judgement calls need to be made. Are you a freelance writer dealing with a difficult situation with an editor? Are you an editor trying to sort out issues with your freelancers? Here’s a handy do-and-don’t list to help you regardless of which side of the desk you find yourself;

10. Re-evaluate your relationship with any publication that makes excuses for not paying you. Editors, do the same for any freelancer who makes frequent excuses for not delivering the goods as per your arrangement. You don’t have to terminate the relationship right away, but letting the other party know the issue is on your radar is a good thing in any case.

9. Don’t backdoor your writer or editor. If there is a situation that needs to be discussed, TALK about it. Don’t let your writer or editor know after the fact that there was something that needed urgent attention.  This can include everything from telling your writer you found major errors in fact in a pending article to letting your editor know that your interviewee was hostile and might be a source of trouble in the future.

8. Freelance writers should know the terms of their relationship with the editor in full including payment dates and conditions, fact checking needs, the urgency of deadlines and what happens if either party needs more time to deliver according to the terms of their arrangement. Sometimes companies get in financial trouble and have to delay payment by a few days or weeks. Sometimes freelancers get bogged down and can’t deliver the articles strictly on deadline. Each side should understand how to proceed when these issues occur.

7.  Freelancers who have communication problems with their clients should re-evaluate the relationship. Sometimes breakdowns do occur, but routine, repeated communication problems could be a sign that it’s time to move on. If you have made repeated attempts to improve the flow of information to no avail, is this employer wasting your time?

6.  Editors who don’t get consistent, quality work from their writers should give the freelancers good feedback and a reasonable amount of time to correct and improve, but it’s not the editor’s job to teach a writer the basics of their craft. If you can’t get the results you need from a particular writer after feedback has been given, it’s time to cut them loose and move on. Life is not fair, and writers who don’t play the game to win don’t deserve third and fourth chances. It’s painful to fire people, but sometimes unavoidable.

5. Writers should ask for feedback on pieces in the course of a long-term relationship with their editors. Writers should NOT expect editors to have time to do in-depth critiques, but they should at least find out if there are ways to fine-tune their work to prevent the editorial team from having to spend much time on a given piece. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can make life easier for an editor you work with on a regular basis.

4. Editors should not expect writers to read their minds. TELL your freelancers what you REALLY want. If you want short, punchy pieces with lots of links or resources, TELL THEM. Don’t expect them to learn by reading the publication what you have in mind when you hand out an assignment. Give them some direction–that is what an editor is hired to do.

3. Editors, DO make yourself available by phone or e-mail. Writers, DO NOT take advantage of that availability. Remember that an editor has six things to do at once. The writer who makes an editor’s life easy is a valuable freelancer.

2.  Editors, if your accounting staff makes an error and overpays a writer, don’t make the mistake of putting the onus on the writer to “make it right”. You’re probably going to have to eat that overpayment or make an arrangement the freelancer is willing to go along with (don’t hold your breath). Writers, if you make an error and underbill a client, you need to show proof that you’re entitled to the extra money. Don’t expect them to take your word for it. The real bottom line here is that both parties need to be professional, pay attention to detail, and take responsibility for invoicing/paying accurately and on time.

1.  Writers and editors need to keep records, track payments and submissions and be prepared for things to go wrong. Writers, save copies of EVERYTHING and be ready to resubmit ALL work at any time. Don’t delete ANY articles you’ve written, ever. (You’d think this was obvious, but…) Editors should strive to keep track of all submissions and take responsiblity for what comes to the inbox. Don’t assume a writer is always at your beck and call…they have other clients. Writers, don’t assume the edior always has time to deal with you individually. Respect the time constraints that come with the job title…most don’t know just what that means until they wind up in the editor’s chair. It’s quite eye opening!