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You are here: Home > Marketing > Articles > Commission

So You Want To Commission

A Freelance Writer/Editor?

by Kay Ross

Have you decided to commission a freelance writer/editor to write or edit a document for your company or organisation - an ad, a brochure, a website, a feature article, a press release, a newsletter, an annual report, a sales letter, a direct mail piece, a video script, a book, a speech, a project proposal...?

Perhaps you've identified a possible freelancer (preferably a member of the Women in Publishing Society), and now you're about to meet with her for the first time to discuss the assignment. Here are some questions that she'll need to ask you before she can give you a realistic quote, accept the assignment and start the work:

  1. Who is the document aimed at, and what are his/her/their needs, concerns and motivations?
  2. What is the purpose of the document, i.e. what do you want the reader to DO with the information?
  3. What's the most important message that you want to communicate in the document?
  4. How does this document fit in with the rest of your organisation's marketing/branding strategy?
  5. Please tell me all about your organisation, your products/services, your customers and your competition.
  6. What is the nature of your company/organisation? Is it a multinational corporation, a small enterprise, a non-profit community group or a registered charity?
  7. Please show me some similar documents that your organisation has produced before.
  8. How complex/technical is the assignment?
  9. Who retains copyright of the text?
  10. Do you have an in-house style guide? For instance, do you want the document to be written/edited according to US spelling and punctuation (color, behavior, and organization) or British spelling and punctuation (colour, behaviour and organisation)? And do you have a standard preferred way of writing dates, times, telephone numbers and place names (Wanchai or Wan Chai)?
  11. Is there anything taboo that I'm not allowed to imply or promise in your document?
  12. If the assignment involves the editing of previously published text, or your draft text of a new document, can I see that text first? Do you want just cosmetic fixing of minor spelling and grammatical mistakes, or do you want major surgery to the tone, style, length, logic, structure, cultural appropriateness and marketing effectiveness of the document? And do you want me to use the "track changes" function so that you can see what changes I make?
  13. If the purpose of the document is to sell something (your product or service), what is the offer that you're making? What is the financial and emotional benefit of that to the customer (i.e. your value proposition)? What is your desired brand/image? How do you want your customers to FEEL when they use your product/service? Do you have any customer testimonials?
  14. What is your project schedule and deadline?
  15. What is your budget? And on what basis do you propose to pay me: a set fee, a rate per word/page/hour, a percentage of sales...? If you pay per word, is that per commissioned word or per published word? Will you pay for out-of-pocket expenses, e.g. travel, research?
  16. How many rounds of revisions to the text do you expect me to include within my quoted timeframe and fee?
  17. Who needs to approve the text, and what is the process for gaining that approval?
  18. Who will I report to, and how will we assess results? (You'll need to nominate one key contact person within your organisation, so that the freelancer doesn't have to deal with conflicting instructions from several people. This ensures clear lines of communication and prevents delays and confusion.)
  19. Do you want me to liaise with (or even manage) the translator, photographer, graphic designer, printer, etc.?
  20. Is this an urgent one-off assignment, or do you aim to build a long-term business relationship with me?
  21. Will I need to sign a confidentiality agreement?
  22. When will I be paid? Will you pay me in one lump sum once the project is finished, or do we need to agree on payment by instalments? Who should I make my invoice out to, and do you need a signed, hard-copy invoice or is an unsigned soft copy acceptable?
  23. Will you pay me a "kill fee" if you decide, through no fault of mine, not to use the document?
  24. Can I have a contract in writing to confirm the details of this assignment and our agreement?

Of course, as the client, you'll no doubt have a few questions of your own for the freelancer at that first meeting:

  1. How much do you charge? (She'll probably reply: "Sorry, how long is a piece of string? I can't give you a realistic quote until I understand the assignment, your organisation and the intended readers of the document.")
  2. Can you show me some examples of your work?
  3. Do you have any experience in our industry?
  4. How quickly can you finish the job?
  5. Can you give me a discount? (I hope she'll reply: "Well, you can get two out of the following three: cheap, fast, high quality - but not all three.")
  6. Are you willing to do this first assignment for free, or at a discount, if we promise to give you more work in future? (I hope she'll reply: "Sorry, no. My time and skills are valuable; if you want them, you pay.")

Advice for freelancers

Stand up for your rights, and don't sell yourself or our profession short. Before you accept the assignment or offer a quote, ask yourself:

  1. Has the client given me a clear brief, or does this sound like a recipe for frustration and disaster? (If it's the latter, get clear quickly or walk away.)
  2. Is this the right client/assignment for me? Does it match my skills, background and values?
  3. How long do I estimate this assignment will take? How urgent is it? Given my other commitments, am I willing and able to commit the necessary time and energy to this project?
  4. How much will I need to charge in order to cover my costs and make a reasonable profit? And does the client seem willing and able to pay the right price?
  5. How keen (or desperate) am I to win this client and this assignment?
  6. What's negotiable and what's not?

Clients and freelancers need to be very clear about each other's needs, expectations, budgets and timeframes - to avoid misunderstandings, get it in writing. Then, you'll be well on the way to building a happy, long-term and mutually beneficial business relationship.

Copyright Kay Ross


Kay Ross is a Hong Kong-based marketing consultant & coach, editor and copywriter. She devises creative marketing strategies and crafts compelling English-language marketing communications messages that translate into bottom-line results for her clients. To learn more, visit www.kayross.com.


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Sharing tips at the "Making the Most of the Media" seminar
September 18, 2006