I was lucky enough to be among the first nDash writers. Thrilled to be a part of something new, I gobbled up every piece of advice I could find. And, since both technology and the freelance marketplace have undergone such a huge transformation(s) since then, I still take in all the advice that’s offered.
But sometimes, I get cocky. After all, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and my pipeline is usually pretty full. So sometimes, I get lazy and take shortcuts when writing pitches or applying to assignments.
Lately, however, I’ve been getting my feet wet on the content strategy end of things, and I recently opened a brand account to manage content for a client.
To say that it was an eye-opener would be an understatement. Seeing the process from both sides put all of those tips and best practices into context.
Want to know what I learned?
The eye-opening things I learned using nDash as a brand and writer
Don’t set your prices too low.
If you’re coming to nDash from the content mills, you probably have an unrealistic idea of how much good content writers can earn. The problem is that setting your prices too low is a red flag to brands that want quality content. And what you may not realize is that when brands look at your profile, they can see your rate card. Whether you’re just starting out or haven’t looked at your rate card in years, go check it out now. No one is going to take you seriously if you’re willing to write an 800-word blog post for $25.
When you apply for an assignment, send the brand a message explaining why you’re the right person for the job.
I’ll be honest — for the longest time, I didn’t realize you could (facepalm!). And then I figured I didn’t need to; I thought my experience spoke for itself.
I realized how wrong I was when I started getting applications from writers. Getting an application without any kind of personalized message is like getting mail addressed to “John Smith (or current resident).” I realized that I wasn’t so awesome that I didn’t need to explain my awesomeness. And I’m sorry if the truth hurts, but neither are you.
When you apply for an assignment — even one that reads like it was custom-made just for you — write a sentence or two about why you’re a good fit. It doesn’t take that long, and your application will be taken more seriously. (Confession: I mostly skipped over the applications that didn’t have some kind of message.)
And here’s a bonus tip: Take a look at their profile, website, their blog, etc. Think about whether you could add value in other ways and include a teaser in your pitch.
Don’t ask the brand to rewrite your pitch.
If the brand tells you that your pitch has potential but is a little off-target, don’t ask them to fix it for you. That’s your job, and they’re already doing you a favor by inviting you to resubmit. It’s fine to ask a few specific questions, but for goodness’ sake, don’t ask the brand to edit your pitch to make it fit their needs.
If you get the assignment, shoot the brand a message letting them know that you’re on it.
Brands have deadlines to meet, too, and it just adds to the stress when a writer accepts an assignment but then goes dark.
If there’s a style guide, use it.
Look, I get it. I know it’s a pain to go back through a document to look for things a brand wants you to do differently than you’re used to. When I write for brands that don’t use the Oxford comma, I have to put off proofreading until the sun is over the yardarm so that I can have a glass of wine to soften the blow. (If I were younger, I’d make a drinking game out of it — one sip for every comma I had to delete.)
But the truth is that you’re delivering a product, and the customer gets to decide how they want it. When you shop online, you expect to get the color, size, fit, etc., that you ordered, right? So do the brands on nDash.
And as much as it hurts me to say it, Oxford commas and header capitalization are small things. Those style guides address some big issues, too, like what the brand is trying to accomplish with their content, what kind of sources they want you to link to, etc. (I know because I spent hours developing one for my client.) If they’re in a regulated industry, their style guides tell you how to keep them out of trouble.
So read style guides and follow them, OK? Even if they’re a pain, which most of them are — for the writer. But they’re not there to make your life easier; their purpose is to help you deliver the product the brand ordered.
Remember that content marketing is persuasive writing.
You can include every single point in the content brief and still not get the job done. That’s because your job isn’t just to cover all of the points. It’s to weave them together in a way that takes the reader by the hand and leads them step-by-step to where the brand wants them to go. One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a brand is figuring out what to do with beautiful writing that doesn’t say anything.
Mind your manners when you submit the content.
This sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how many writers don’t take this simple step. When you submit your work, add a note thanking the client for their business and assuring them that you’ll be happy to make any edits that are needed.
I’ll stop beating up on writers for now. But keep reading while I move on to the brands!
When you post an idea request, give the writers a hint, OK?
Imagine being called into your CEO’s office and being asked for an idea. After stammering for a minute, you’d probably ask, “An idea for WHAT?” An idea to increase sales? To reduce payroll? To be more socially responsible?
I know what you’re thinking: “But they can just read our profile…” But here’s the thing: I’ve received at least one idea request from a brand whose profile was completely blank. For those brands that do have thoughtful, detailed profiles, there’s another common problem. Profile language is often aspirational, describing the brand’s mission, its ideal customers, etc. That’s a great way to develop your brand image, but it’s not actionable. It may connect with your customers on an emotional level — and that’s a good thing! — but does it actually say anything? It’s a problem I’ve run into a lot with clients who want me to work on their LinkedIn profiles or their web content. They send me content that sounds great but doesn’t actually say anything concrete about who they are or what they do.
And even if your profile does describe what you do and what you’re looking for in detail, there’s still one thing missing: why you’re requesting ideas. Are you just stuck on idea generation and need a blog post to publish next week? Or are you looking for something more specific, like lead generation or conversion?
The more info you give the writer, the better ideas you’ll receive in return.
Be transparent about your budget.
Speaking from a writer’s perspective, I don’t respond to ideas or pitch requests that don’t include an estimated budget. Writing a good pitch takes time and effort, and few top-tier writers will do that for an assignment that might end up paying only $50. So your budget is important information to include (especially if it’s enough to afford the most experienced writers).
Complete a detailed content brief.
I’m torn on this one. I’m happiest when a brand tells me the purpose of a post and lets me run with it. But I’m not so happy when they come back later and request edits because I didn’t use certain keywords or include a specific CTA.
Your content brief should include everything the writer needs to know to make you happy. The one message it should always convey is:
“What do you want people to think, feel, or do after reading this?”
That’s the purpose of the blog post; it tells the writer what you’re trying to accomplish. And, if you don’t know the answer, that’s a whole ‘nother problem (that’s Southern-speak!). In that case, there’s a good chance you’re wasting your resources, and you need someone who can help you with content strategy.
Other than that, include things like keywords, resources to use, resources to avoid, etc. If you need help creating your content brief, try nDash’s AI-powered tool.
Evaluate pitches carefully.
Sometimes you’ll get pitches that are obviously based on keywords and topics but have nothing to do with your business model. I typically dismiss these because it’s obvious that the writer didn’t take the time to investigate the company. (Full disclosure: I’ve done this before myself, but I’ll never do it again after seeing it from the brand’s perspective!) If the idea has potential, message the writer and encourage them to resubmit their pitch after editing it to fit your business needs. Some will be willing to do that and are likely to end up submitting a great article. Others won’t, but don’t take it personally. They probably have a lot of business already and are going with the low-hanging fruit rather than spending time rewriting a pitch that may or may not be accepted.
Respond to pitches quickly.
Most of the writers on nDash are busting it trying to make a living. Every pitch sitting in a brand’s inbox is an opportunity in limbo. If you’re not interested, please reject the pitch so the writer can pitch it elsewhere. If you think it has potential, don’t be afraid to work with the writer to refine the angle.
Make your editing process user-friendly.
I want my clients to be 1,000% happy with my work, and I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to make that happen. With that said, some edit requests are frustrating. From working on the brand side myself, I know that it’s a heck of a lot easier to fix a typo or comma error myself than it is to send it back to the writer, so I really don’t understand why a brand would do that. From the writer’s perspective, it feels nitpicky because we know you could do it faster yourself.
If, on the other hand, the writer sends you content that stinks from the intro to the conclusion, send it back. But be sure to say why you’re requesting edits. “This paragraph doesn’t read well,” tells the writer what you don’t like, but it doesn’t say anything about what to do differently. If you want to avoid multiple rounds of edits, your feedback has to be actionable.
And if you discover a writer who shows potential but isn’t quite there yet? Take the time to nurture them by giving detailed explanations of what you want them to do differently. Really good writers that mind-meld with you and your brand are hard to find, and it’s well worth your time to “bring them up the way you want them.”
If your assignment sits in the “Open Assignments” section for more than a day or so, your price is too low.
Writers race to compete for good assignments. If your assignment is priced at anything under $100 or so and you have no takers after a few days, you’re going to have to raise your price if you want any applicants.
So that’s a whirlwind tour of my last few weeks at the university of being both a writer and a brand. It’s been an incredibly insightful experience that opened my eyes to things I had never thought of before, and I hope my story does the same for you.