What makes a good freelancer?

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Our deputy managing director Clare Brundle shares her insights on what makes a good freelancer, and what you as content publishers and marketers should be looking for when taking on new contributors.

Clare Brundle

After 20 years or so working on ‘both sides of the fence’ in content creation, I’d like to think I know a thing – or even eight – about what makes a good pitch and a great freelancer.

Aided by our team of editors, here’s a list of what to do (and what not to do) if you’re a freelancer looking to get work.

1. Introduce yourself properly

For new contacts, take the time to introduce yourself properly on email and succinctly express why you’re someone I should work with, highlighting any relevant experience and specialisms with a link to your online portfolio or your Linkedin profile. I know Instagram is so much sexier but it’s really important to maintain an up-to-date profile on LinkedIn, particularly if you’re looking to work with corporate clients. It’s also a great place to find the right contact and keep abreast of industry news.

Email remains the best way to introduce yourself and submit ideas to an editor, and to follow-up on your pitches. Remember that everyone is pretty busy, so while most editors will be happy to receive a friendly ‘resend’ after a week or so, please don’t hassle us – particularly by phone the next day. Did I get your email? Yes, I did – along with 100 other really important emails amidst an urgent deadline.  

A young woman writing in a notebook

2. Hone your email as carefully as your content

You only get one chance to make a first impression and the way someone phrases themselves in their pitch emails reveals so much about what type of person they are as an individual, which can make or break whether I want to work with you. 

You also wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – submit copy with grammatical errors and typos, so please don’t hit ‘send’ without doing a thorough proof read.

3. Give me the elevator pitch

A pitch isn’t a fully finished story. It’s short, to the point, with questions to ask and not everything figured out. I want a possible headline (or headlines, one clever and one SEO for web), a sentence summary that gets to the nub of why the story matters now, and then one to three grabs at what the story is and why you are the best to tell it (who will you interview? What kind of unique access or perspective do you have?).

It also always helps if there’s something creative, left-field or original about your idea or the direction you want to take. Sell a story I haven't heard 100 times before and take me straight to the heart of the action; if you get the editor excited about your angle, they're more likely to want to hear how it ends and share it with their audience.

4. Do your research

For custom magazines specifically, contact the editor for a set of contributor guidelines and try to pitch to specific sections of a magazine rather than send a blanket pitch which reads like it’s gone to every man and his dog. Or, worse still, is running in the current edition.

Editors love to receive well-considered ideas written in the style and tone of voice of the magazine/content vehicle for which the pitch is intended. Knowing the writer has gone to the trouble of reading already published material and has the writing acumen to adapt their own writing to a brand or masthead’s style are signs of impressive proactivity. He/she saves us so much work and will surely get a second gig.

For broader content pitches, research the brand in question and look at how content flows through their ecosystem – their website, their social, their offline and online publishing platforms – to understand where that brand ‘plays’ in the market, their tone of voice and positioning, who their target audience appears to be, and what content is popular. This makes you look really smart and helps ensure your content effectively hits the sweet spot where brand purpose and audience needs intersect.

5. Where relevant, think multi-format and/or digital first

Pitch ideas in multiple formats and/or the right format for the right channel. This means not just thinking about long-form articles for print and web, but also social copy, Stories and vertical video.

For digital content ensure you are up to speed on current SEO best practice, what people are searching for online and the type of content people are engaging with/sharing to support your idea. Tools like SEMrush, Hootsuite and BuzzSumo can help with keyword research and social listening.

6. Deliver copy on time, to brief and to the agreed word count

Please remember that we don’t make up our deadlines randomly – we work within strict client approval processes and tight production schedules – so missing your date for submission can cause a whole heap of trouble. But we also understand that life happens. In worst-case scenarios, check in at some point prior to the deadline to request a slight extension – without the four-paragraph email about how the dog ate your homework.

We’re also not fans of receiving content which takes a different direction to what was agreed. It’s challenging for a range of reasons – but mainly due to the fact that all our content plans have received client approval well before being commissioned. If, however, a more exciting angle presents itself while working on the story or if there’s been an issue collating material or nailing the angle, best practice is to always keep the editor in the loop so you can navigate any change together and there are no nasty surprises. 

And please stick to the word count. We can’t – and won’t – pay for more than we’ve agreed, even if those extra 1000 words are pure poetry.

7. Submit clean copy

It’s just not OK to submit error-ridden, poorly written, punctuated or grammatically imperfect copy. A professional writer should boast the skills to know how to craft a sentence, where the comma lives and how to spell. If not, do a course (it’s a tax deduction!) or read a copy of the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers – every writer should have a copy of this tome on their desk.

8. Be ready and available for follow-up

The best freelancers check their email regularly and graciously answer follow-up questions or respond to feedback we – or our clients – might have. The worst just go AWOL and don’t reply to emails, leaving us in a weird limbo of uncertainty as to whether we need to can the story and find an alternative.

Silence is the worst, particularly when the writer eventually pipes up and pretends our emails were going into their junk folder or didn’t get through. This actually happens.

Clare Brundle, deputy managing director

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