Once you’ve found a freelance copywriter you want to work with, what you do at the beginning will set the tone for the entire relationship. The best way to do that is to have documents in place to make sure you’re both on the same page. Here are the three critical ones you need to work effectively with freelancers.


Always, always start with a signed contract or writer’s agreement before the freelancer begins working on an assignment. This is not legal advice – and most freelancers worth their salt will appreciate a contract that clearly states things like ownership of work, independent contractor status, etc. Sometimes your freelancer will provide you with one. Either way, have one in place!

If your company doesn’t have a standardized freelancer’s agreement you can use, you can always search online for a template, customize it, and run it by legal. Yes, have your legal department take a look. If you give them something to look at that’s already drafted, you’ll get it back a lot faster and can get your freelancer started sooner.

Procedures Manual

If you don’t already have this, create a templatized and standardized “how to work with us” document to give to freelancers. Lay out the basics: tone, style, how to submit, how to invoice, any quirks your company has.

One thing you can do to make sure your freelancer reads the document is to pull the “brown M&M” trick. Van Halen used to put a clause in its rider that no brown M&Ms could be anywhere backstage, or the concert would be canceled. It was to make sure that the promoters read the entire rider.

Throw in a fun fact or piece of trivia in your guide, and ask the freelancer what she thought of it. If she has no clue, she didn’t read it.

Assignment Letters

When it comes down to specific assignments, give your freelancer specific guidelines. As a freelancer myself, I can tell you that I have plenty of skills – but mind reading is definitely not one of them. If you don’t tell me how long you want the piece to be and what angle you want, I can’t deliver the article you envisioned.

Never tell a freelancer to deliver 500 words on X topic. It’s a mistake, unless this is one of your most trusted freelancers.

Provide an overall topic or theme. Then, provide guidelines: how many sources do you want the freelancer to use? What are acceptable sources? What are unacceptable sources? (e.g. Wikipedia, competitor’s website)

Also provide reasonable deadlines. Anything less than two weeks is difficult for most freelancers.

Make sure the freelancer knows he can email you if he runs into problems.

Put this all into an assignment letter, at least at the beginning. The assignment letter doesn’t have to be a formal document; it can be an email.

The point of laying this foundation is to make sure the work product your freelancers deliver is what you’ve envisioned. It may seem like you have to take extra time to do it, but this is one of those times where you want to spend time to save time.