This is a special article written for AM&P Network by member Ruth E. Thaler-Carter.
The new year brings new opportunities to expand and enliven association publishing projects by using freelance professionals in a variety of skill sets.
Why use freelancers? Because we (I’m one of them) often bring new ideas, approaches, sources and voices to your projects. Freelancers are likely to have connections with resources you may not know about and new ways of looking at the members, trends and issues making up your association and the people and issues it represents.
A freelance writer might ask questions of interview subjects that you’ve never thought about. A freelance photographer could come up with new approaches that add energy to standard images or focus on subjects who add diversity to your stories. A freelance graphic designer is likely to approach topics with fresh new ideas and styles. Freelance editors and proofreaders might catch mistakes and inconsistencies that everyone else has been missing.
Freelancers can help you with special projects such as annual reports or in-depth investigative packages that go beyond what your regular in-house staffers are available to work on. You can use freelance contributors to build up your reserves of “evergreen” material as well as for current and time-sensitive assignments.
If what you really need is a new in-house staffer, freelancers can still help you out. Bring in a freelancer to keep projects going if you’re short-handed, giving you time to assess potential full-timers rather than being forced to rush hiring decisions. Or use freelance assignments to judge whether to bring someone on board as staff.
Once you’ve decided to bring freelance talent into your publishing projects, the logical next question is where to find what you need.
The ideal starting point, of course, is your AM&P Network and the Associations Council. (See note below for special event.) The AM&P Network’s industry service partners include larger and small companies, as well as individual freelancers. The new year will bring new ways to identify and connect with those AM&P Network members—who already belong to the association world, so they understand that environment. In addition, publishing colleagues can recommend freelancers they’ve worked with, as well as provide guidance on rates and fees.
The next step is figuring out how to work with consultants and freelancers.
Ask for a portfolio and check references. Some publishers ask prospective freelancers to take a test or provide sample work, but please remember to compensate freelancers for this work. Freelancers shouldn’t work for free.
Provide as detailed a project description as possible, including essential people to include (or avoid) as interview sources, assignment length—word count—and image requirements for articles, and an in-house style guide or preferred style to follow in writing, editing and proofreading; brand guidelines or key colors and images to incorporate (or not use) in artwork; deadlines; fees/rates; number of revisions; and copyright and content rights. Build in early or false deadlines for a first assignment, just in case a project takes a bit more time or has to be reworked.
Put it all in writing as boilerplate or a template for contracts or letters of agreement that you can tailor to a variety of projects, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you bring in a new consultant or assign a new freelance project. Contracts protect both you and your freelancers from misunderstandings and chaos. They don’t have to be lengthy or super lawyerly; they just have to cover as many eventualities as you can predict.
Once you make the assignment, provide as much material as possible about your association—annual reports, magazines and newsletters, board and committee lists, blog posts, special projects, etc.—so the freelancer can approach the assignment from an informed position, with a good sense of your audience and voice. Smart freelancers will have done a little of their own research through your association’s website before contacting or responding to you, but more info is a good thing.
Make sure your freelancers can reach you easily with any questions they might have. Outline how you would like to communicate. If the consultant will work in your office, be sure to introduce them to in-house staffers (and reassure everyone that the newcomer is there to help, not to replace them).
The new year might be the ideal time to incorporate outside content and context into your association publishing projects—and make you look even better to the colleagues you report to and members you serve!
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) joined the AM&P Network in 1983 as communications manager at the American National Metric Council and has remained a member as a freelancer since 1985. She considers her AM&P Network connections and projects as major contributions to her freelance success over the years.
On Feb. 9 at 4 pm, AM&P Network and Associations Council will host: Speed Networking: Meet Your Freelancing Match (Virtual). The event will bring association publishers together with freelancers of all types — writers, editors, graphic designers, photographers and more. For freelancers and staffers who might have been looking in all the wrong places to find each other, this will be a fun and practical way to meet one-on-one with several potential matches. It’s free – register here.