Before joining Red Mallard as an employee, I worked for about two years as a freelance editor and writer. Like many of you, I spent a fair amount of time sending resumes and work samples into the indifferent void of job boards. It didn’t work, and I didn’t know why.
What motivates firms like Red Mallard to work with certain freelancers over others?
The Hiring Manager’s Point of View
When Red Mallard posts to job boards looking for a writer with particular skills, we typically receive well over a hundred applications on the first day.
Most creative agencies are small, with a few people handling everything related to running the business. The hiring manager who is tasked with sorting through a pile of two hundred resumes probably has a dozen other tasks to perform.
So we take shortcuts.
Here are a few examples of otherwise trivial issues a hiring manager may use as an excuse to hit the “not interested” button—and how to improve your chances they won’t:
- Hiding the big reason to hire you. Apply your craft to your own career. A professional writer should have no trouble writing a brief, targeted cover letter. Long-winded, quirky cover notes aren’t as effective as those that target the prospect’s pain point. Favor brevity over formality.
- Typos and poor grammar are easy knockouts. Errors imply a writer doesn’t review drafts before submittal, a lack of professional discipline that can cost agencies time and money. Double-check your work, especially on submissions to prospective clients.
- No visible, relevant experience. Very few writers can effortlessly hop between genres. If an agency is looking for years of industrial marketing experience, a writer who has spent two decades writing travel blogs appears to be a project, not a solution.
- Not responding to an ad’s specific requests. Resist the temptation to follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Take the time to read the ad and address anything that’s reasonable. Many freelancers don’t bother. Those who do get attention.
- No portfolio. Writers who don’t provide examples of their work send the wrong message. “Available on request” asks the hiring manager to do work. (They won’t.) If your background looks like the right fit, and your application has a portfolio link, the hiring manager will click through.
- Perceived lack of dedication to writing. Your application should declare “I am a writer first,” even if writing is a side gig. Agencies want to hire writers with diverse backgrounds, not the other way around. Designers who also write are likely to be ignored, while writers who also design can be an important asset. Don’t expect the hiring manager to make this leap for you.
You may not hear from an agency for a while. If a manager finds the right candidate in the first dozen resumes, the search ends. But staffing is a constant process. Often managers return to an old pile of applications to hunt for new options. When I was freelancing, my best client called me more than six months after I’d sent my resume. I’d forgotten I’d even applied.
Aggressiveness can pay off. If an opportunity is a good fit for you, track down the right person on LinkedIn or on the agency’s website to make a connection and ask for an interview.
The Business End of Freelance Writing
Because finding a new freelancer is a significant time investment, agencies always want a relationship to last. Once you’re in, you have a great deal of influence over your own staying power.
Quality work delivered on time is the most important component of a sustainable partnership. Consistency matters, especially to the agency’s clients.
But freelance writing is more than the work itself. It’s a business and a craft, and both aspects need attention to develop a perpetual freelance career.
These are some of the key elements a freelancer can bring to the agency relationship:
- Comfort with the contract.
Every agency relationship you have should be founded on a written contract. Contracts protect both sides of the relationship. Compliance with employment law, tax rules, copyright requirements, and much more hinges on a written agreement.
Take the contract seriously. As a small business, breaching your contract can have real consequences. Address potential concerns right away. While an agency might not be able to change some terms, others may be flexible. If the agency won’t budge on their contract language, you should decide if the risk is worth the reward.
- Take feedback seriously.
As I’ve written about before, freelance writers often don’t take into consideration quality feedback about their work. Embrace the opportunity to improve your work whenever you receive constructive criticism.
Few things are more valuable to a writer than a skilled editor returning an extensively marked-up draft. As a professional, your task is to review the markup with care and incorporate its lessons into future work.
Every writer needs assistance to break adverse patterns, but editorial feedback isn’t only about habits. It’s also about the agency’s style expectations—for itself or its clients. Incorporating feedback into future work is the mark of a pro.
- Clear and honest communication.
Practicing excellent digital communication etiquette is an important part of running a business. Professionals are expected to promptly respond to emails, accept meeting invitations, and arrive on time.
What about when life intervenes and something slips? At Red Mallard our focus is on the relationship and the person first, the work second. We’d rather hear you’re sick and unable to complete a project than receive it a week late with no communication in between. Explanations are beneficial; excuses are not.
- Understand your obligation to be efficient.
Uncapped hourly projects are terrific if you can procure them, but many projects have fixed rates or, at a minimum, maximum billable amounts. Agencies structure their freelance contracts this way because their clients are paying a flat rate as well. It falls to the freelancer to work efficiently.
If you work slowly, one of your top priorities should be exploring strategies to increase speed. There’s no better way to learn than to take one of those gigs that pays terribly per article but accepts a high volume of articles each month. If you need to produce 1,000 words per hour to make ends meet, you’ll find a way—and grow as a writer in the process.
This comes with an important caveat. If an agency sets a cap, it should come with a specific scope. The freelancer should always demand to be paid for anything outside of the scope. For example, if a typical article is compensated on the assumption it takes one hour to write it, but the agency continues to pull the freelancer into two-hour interview sessions for each article, the agency is abusing the freelancer’s time.
- Embrace opportunities to learn.
B2B marketing throws many challenges at writers. Along with articles and longer-form pieces like white papers, writers must also know how to write effective emails, impactful social media posts, and concise infographic copy. Strive to seize every opportunity to expand your professional palette.
Agencies generally aren’t willing to pay you to learn. The flat rate stays the same. When you’re trying something new, recognize you’re in uncharted territory and take time to study best practices. A few minutes spent reading an article or two helps you avoid pitfalls and deliver a better draft.
A favorable agency also is willing to assist your learning process. Agencies should invest time to develop their freelancers’ skill sets. Ideally they have in-house training resources; at a minimum your editor should be available to answer questions and provide direction. Coming to those conversations with a basic understanding of the project is important for making it a productive endeavor.
- Know what you need to get paid, and what you want to get paid.
Every freelancer requires a standard hourly rate. Knowing your minimum rate is important, in case an agency offers less than your preferred rate. Sometimes earning a little less per hour is worth it because of the volume of work involved.
Aim high. Asking for $25 per hour to write corporate marketing copy is a sign of inexperience; proficient B2B writers should be paid much more than that. Price competition isn’t much of an issue because quality writers can be difficult to find. If your work is fantastic, the agency will pay your rate, as long as it’s within the agency’s budget.
- Think long term.
Most of Red Mallard’s clients are in niche industries. Few writers come to us knowing all the details they need to write masterful copy for our clients from the start. They have to learn through the writing process.
Tackling a new subject is challenging. In the context of flat rates, this means those first few articles probably won’t earn a great hourly return. As the topic becomes familiar, the work speed improves, and the time spent at the beginning pays dividends.
A superior creative agency prioritizes steady, long-term relationships with its freelancers. Steady performance should mean more opportunities as time goes on.
Building a Home for Writers
Red Mallard strives to be a home for writers. We aim to compensate writers well for the work they do, while also giving them ample opportunities to interact with clients and shape the strategic direction of a client’s content.
If this sounds like the kind of agency you’d like to work for, we’d enjoy hearing from you. Email us at email@example.com with your resume and a link to your portfolio. We’ll be in touch.