Best Practices for Publishers in Working With Freelancers and Contractors

This article was written especially for the AMPlify newsletter by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AM&P Associate Member and Freelance Connection Member

Congratulations! You’ve decided to use a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, designer, photographer, indexer or other service provider for a project, and you’ve found the ideal contractor through the AM&P Service Provider Directory or Freelance Connection or another service/recommendation.

What should you do next to make sure it all goes according to your best expectations? These “Four Key Elements to Ensuring Successful Relationships with Your Contractors” should help.

Define the project’s scope.
Provide as much detail as possible about what you will need and expect, from number of words for an article to types of images for photos or illustrations, scope of entries for an index, pages in a layout, and any other aspects that will shape the project.

Set deadlines.
Consider asking for an outline or sketches first, especially the first time working with a new freelancer/contractor. It also can’t hurt to set a “false” or early deadline for a first-time contributor, just to be safe.

Create a contract or agreement for all parties to agree to.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or full of legalese, but it should spell out all important points:

  • Scope/definition of project;
  • Rate/fees;
  • Deadline(s);
  • Copyright;
  • Kill fee (what you’ll pay if you can’t use the submission for some reason);
  • Publicity (whether the provider can post a link or the actual project to their website or announce it in their social media channels);
  • Payment policy (on acceptance, on publication, 30-60-45-90 days after invoice), etc.

Share your communications preferences.
Do you want to discuss the project by phone (what a concept!), email, Zoom, Slack or some other option? How often do you want to hear from the service provider? And be sure to notify providers if you change your contact information!

Tales from the trenches

Publishers can create great relations with AM&P Network service providers by establishing clear communications and expectations. These lessons-learned illustrate how the “Four Key Elements to Ensuring Successful Relationships with Your Contractors” can help avoid headaches for all concerned.

1. A freelance writer was self-editing and proofreading an article before submitting it, and the association editor called to ask where it was—she expected to see it as soon as she walked in the door on the day it was due, but the writer thought they had until 5 p.m. of the deadline day to send it.

Lesson for clients: If the time of day matters to you, communicate your specific preferences about when you expect to see finished work.

2. The CEO of an association in a heavily male-dominated industry told a graphic designer never to use lavender, lilac or other light shades of purple in suggested illustrations for the association magazine—but every issue included at least one sketch with such color elements. The CEO gave the designer several chances to follow this very specific direction before firing them.

Lesson for freelancers: Follow directions!
Lesson for publishers: Make your expectations clear, consider asking the provider why they have ignored those expectations and respond appropriately if problems continue.    

3. A freelancer sent an email message to let an association publisher know that they were running late on an assignment because sources weren’t responding to interview requests. Two days later, the email message bounced back as undeliverable. The freelancer didn’t know that the publisher had changed email addresses, and the publisher hadn’t gotten in touch to ask why the assignment hadn’t shown up yet.

Lesson for freelancers: Ask clients for backup contact information to use if you don’t get a prompt response to an urgent message.
Lesson for publishers: Give freelancers/contractors more than one way to reach you or at least new contact information as appropriate.

4. A consultant entered a newsletter they had worked on for a critique of its content and design. The critique was positive, but the client misinterpreted some of the comments and was—understandably—furious that (a) they weren’t asked if it was okay to submit their publication and (b) the assessment wasn’t all roses.

Lesson for freelancers: Never share a client’s project anywhere without permission, especially the “before” and edited versions, even if it could be anonymized to hide the publisher’s identity.

5. An association publisher asked a writer to compile a newsletter index. Instead of suggesting or handing off to a professional indexer, the writer tried to handle the request—and failed miserably, to their embarrassment and the publisher’s fury.

Lesson for freelancers: Don’t take on tasks you aren’t qualified for, or at least ask clients if it’s okay to use their out-of-scope request as a learning experience.
Lesson for publishers: Invest in trained, skilled service providers even if it costs more than assigning a task to someone else.

6. A publisher assigned an article and provided 15 sources for interviews. The first few that the freelance writer tried to reach weren’t available, resulting in a panicky, “I don’t think I can include everyone; are some more important than others?” The publisher responded with, “Oh, you don’t have to include all of them; I assumed not all would be available. Just use whichever five you can reach first.”

Lesson: Make expectations clear—provide plenty of sources but tell your freelancer how many should be featured, and which are essential. And try hard to make those sources diverse.

Have you had success or headaches in working with contractors? Send your anecdotes to Freelance Connection member Ruth E. Thaler-Carter at for possible use in future AMPlify articles to help colleagues create better relationships with freelance service providers. All responses will be treated as confidential and neither publisher nor freelancer/contractor names will be used.

Freelance Connection member Matthew Cibellis contributed to this article.

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