“We wrote our first blog post before we wrote our first line of code.”
- Jon Miller, founder, Marketo

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Tag: hiring

How this editor weighs up freelance enquiries

Photo by amtec_photos on Photopin

What happens when we get approached by a freelance writer?

First, the set-up: I usually get an email direct to me (because we post my address on our website and say we’re open to enquiries), and that usually contains a brief note and CV/resumé. Within that, I usually see career history, links to work samples, and social media accounts.

So here’s what I do:

  1. If the freelancer’s Twitter handle is offered, I usually cut and paste that into Tweetdeck. The picture is telling (selection, more than quality, says a lot about the type of person). But more important, I see what they’ve been tweeting about and who they follow. Some people are professional all the way – only interested in topics that they cover as a writer; other people are up for jokes, politics, you name it. I don’t mind the latter – I’d be a hypocrite to not be OK with people who are broad in how they use a social channel – and it gives me an insight into who someone really is.
  2. I usually then look at career history. This can be both within the CV/resumé or on LinkedIn. I like the latter as it’s usually easier to click through to pages of past employers. I’m looking for publications or brands that I know, and links to other people this freelancer might have worked with. It also gives me a good idea of subject matter expertise. And I like to know how long someone has been freelancing, as well as any other roles they have outside of content or do in parallel to their main gig(s).
  3. Also, don’t think we’re not interested in things like their listed softer skills, languages, qualifications or awards. All could be useful when we work out who’s best for certain projects.
  4. Lastly, I look at examples of work. Why isn’t that a priority, if that’s what we’re going to ask someone to do? As we’ve blogged about before, work samples and portfolios are useful for showing output and areas of expertise, but they’re no guarantee of someone’s ability. Content is a team sport, and any good writer has benefitted from a good editor, a good sub/copy editor, probably a good designer and so on. I’ve been known to contact these people (if I can work out who they are) to ask their opinion on someone we’re interviewing.

I’m not the first to write about this, but possibly the hardest thing to know about hiring someone is just what they’re like as a person. Values, approaches to work and complementing (though not being the same as) the existing team are at least as important as the things that recruiters and HR departments typically screen for.

For a freelancer, the risk is slightly less. But I can’t think of a project or piece of content where we have any leeway for someone to be a bad fit. Everything is important.

And you never know for sure what someone is like until that first day, and until v1.0 of that first assignment.

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What we look for when we look for writers

Puzzle PieceI have to admit something. I’m writing this as I’m preparing for a call with a would-be writer for Collective Content. I’m happy he’s calling, don’t get me wrong. He’s an experienced writer and editor about all things marketing and martech, and we’ve recently lost one of our best contributors in that area.

But I’m not sure I should be talking to him.

Why? A mutual contact has introduced us and I don’t know if this will now be a waste of both our time.

He could be great. He’s almost certainly very good. But there’s honestly no way to tell that from a phone call. Or even from meeting someone and looking them in the eye.

Here’s what tends to be most useful. And before anyone accuses me of not being a people person (maybe I’m not), I agree it’s also important – as with any relationship – to get to know the person you’re working with. It’s just not enough on its own.

What else do I need? If you’re asking me to take a gamble by commissioning your writing/editing/designing/other abilities for a project or for full-time employment, these are useful things to do:

  • Put us in touch with an old editor or client (for commercial writing) who saw your work up close. Examples of work give us a feel for subject matter and craft. But at a professional level, they will probably have gone through several rounds of quality control, so it can be hard to tell how much was an editor’s touch and how much was you. We need some honesty ahead of our relationship.
  • Share some ideas. That means for blog posts, features, white papers, tweets even. We’re not one of those awful agencies that wants 100 people to submit 10 ideas each so it can then cream off the best ones, never to reply to you. But one or two bits of thinking that show you know your stuff and are creative…? That helps.
  • Show us you understand the process of the business we’re in, which is related to the last point. For example, while journalists can make great commercial writers, quite a few don’t get what the purpose of the writing is or how to work with clients. And no, it’s not just about an immediate return on a client’s investment. Good writers in this business need to understand how to answer questions like, ‘What is content marketing?’ ‘What are differences approaches to consumer and B2B content?’ ‘What delights or upsets a client?’ These aren’t questions just for writers, either. For all of us agency side, understanding purpose is important.
  • Niches are good. We know content shops that employ people straight out of J-school. Or hire them blind over the internet. That’s not us. We want to be able to vouch for you and have confidence in not only your writing skills but your deep subject-matter knowledge as well. Prove to us you know a niche or two. That’s hard to fake, especially when speaking to us. For designers and other creatives: show us what you do that others can’t.

When Nina Mufleh famously applied for a job at Airbnb last year, what caught everyone’s eye was her focus on the job and company she was targeting… not her focus on herself. That’s the right mindset to have.

Want to write for us and our clients? Get in touch using the details at the foot of this page.

* photo credit: Puzzle2 via photopin (license)

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

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How content and copy are different

Hire an editor for a new launch – that was the simple request put to a friend and member of the Collective Content family. The hunt was ultimately successful but along the way he learnt a thing or two.

Most importantly, he worked out a simple question to sort those with a background in copywriting from those who are journalists.

He asked: “What is the best story you ever broke?”  

To those with a background purely in content creation, often under marketing, the question did not compute.

For the journos, it was obvious. (Though they didn’t all have great answers, I’m sure.)

What does this show? There is a difference between copy and content.

In this guest post over on the CMA site, Robin Bonn from Seven gives us more on the same theme (Great copy isn’t content).

“A nice bit of copy won’t cut the mustard,” he concludes. And you can see where he’s coming from.

It is one thing when someone I know is tasked with hiring an editor and copywriters apply. It is another when brands shifting towards content marketing in a big way can’t get out of a mentality that leans towards:

  • the campaign (three months?) over the long term;
  • the product over its benefits and customers;
  • the company line over authenticity;
  • the company message over good stories;
  • sell, sell, sell over tell, tell, tell.

Plenty of content creators can write some copy. Not so many copywriters can generate content.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

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Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

Facebook: facebook.com/CollectiveContent

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/collective-content

Phone:  0800 292 2826