Updated September 2023

When I started this company, most of my work was freelancing. Freelancers dream of long-term, great-to-work-with clients like Match.com (I created dating and relationship content for them for 12+ years!) For most of that time, my contact was Lori Polemenakos, a great editor, wrangler and supporter. It seemed only logical to ask her how she does it. 

5 tips for building great freelancer relationships

I’ve worked with a variety of experts, publications and writers in the pursuit of consistent, high-quality content. Content mills and SEO/spam farmers devalued our industry for a few years, but now, the tides are turning — and original, well-written content is staging a comeback online. Here are five things that helped me build loyal relationships with freelancers in my role as senior editor for Happen magazine:

1. Set realistic expectations early and put it all in writing.

Not all freelancers are journalists, but if someone’s writing style appeals to me and sources aren’t a problem, I’ll assign a “test” article. Once we’ve ironed out the details via email, a contract listing word count, pay rate, due date, etc., is sent and signed by the writer. When the piece comes in, it’s my job to give feedback and guidelines that may be helpful in crafting future submissions. Read more on why you should probably have a contract.

2. Make assignments on a freelancer’s strengths, not pitches.

If two writers pitch the same idea, one’s usually more qualified to write it. Making assignments that aren’t always based on pitches helps build mutual trust and triggers new ideas for contributors. If a pitch needs to be tweaked, explain the changes you’d prefer and get the writer’s buy-in before creating the contract.

3. Give good feedback now...

it leads to better pitches and fewer edits in the future. If the timing’s off for ideas, let writers pitch them elsewhere. Not covering a topic anymore? Tell your writers! Try to think in terms of ROI: giving good feedback early on leads to better pitches and fewer rejections in the future – and less time spent editing as writers learn to consistently hit the mark. Invest in the person, not the ideas — you’ll make everyone happier. Check out two ways to give better feedback.

4. Be willing to offer more than just a paycheck.

If you can’t afford someone’s usual rate, what other incentives can you offer? Some cost only your time —screen shots, readership statistics/comments, links to buy his/her previous works, letters of recommendation for publishers, guaranteed future assignments, and social media promotion are just a few tools to keep in your arsenal. [More tips for working with freelancers]

5. Don’t flatten a writer’s voice, do pay kill fees.

Years ago, a writer was hurt by the edits I’d made; she felt they put a negative spin on the positive message she intended to convey. If a submission’s unacceptable to publish as-is, an editor’s job is to ask for a rewrite or pay the kill fee — especially on a deadline. But don’t waste time rewriting it yourself! Just pull it, explain why and then move on.

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