How to Talk to Freelancers About Marketing ROI

Explaining the particulars of your business to someone who doesn’t work there is tricky. But it’s a necessary step if you want to develop effective content.

However, marketers don’t always take this step when working with freelancers. Maybe they don’t want to reveal proprietary data or think goals should stay private. Maybe they aren’t sure how to define their return on investment. Or perhaps, most likely, there are so many other things going on that they don’t even think to do it.

Whatever the reason, withholding information from your freelance talent can backfire in numerous ways. For starters, writers who don’t fundamentally understand their client’s mission won’t pitch as well. If they’re not aware of the criteria you’ll use to judge their work, then they won’t be able to edit themselves or anticipate feedback—both crucial freelance skills. And they’ll react disproportionally to small editorial changes because no one has ever bothered to show them the big picture.

Marketers and brand editors need to meet their contributors halfway, disclosing some basic information about voice, audience, distribution channels, and goals. Because everyone who creates content deserves to know its commercial purpose.

Freelancers, the funnel, and marketing ROI

How to measure marketing ROI is a bit of an inexact science.

The Harvard Business Review mocked up an equation and broke it down into subsections—justifying a marketing budget, comparing your efficiency to competitors, holding your team accountable. Some push a simple revenue-to-cost ratio while others argue that content marketing is a nuanced practice that requires more than quantitative assessment.

There are some figures on which most agree, though, and they usually map to the marketing funnel. You should be able to tell which pieces of content function best at different points in the funnel, and explaining that process to your writers will help them fine-tune their work to your needs. Blog posts tend to grab people at the top of the funnel and drive awareness. Anything related to clients or products falls more in the middle of the funnel where buyers consider different options.

As with anything else, writers and content creators respond well to candor from their editors and superiors; the more often they feel they’re trusted with the nuts and bolts of production, the more effort and strategic forethought they’re likely to invest in their work.

Starting the conversation

In the long run, every piece of content you produce should point back to revenue. But depending on how sophisticated your marketing org is, you may be better off talking to contributors about more immediate goals that will make more sense to them.

All digital content, whether it’s journalism or marketing, has an intended ROI. Some writers may be more familiar with click rates and time spent than, say, leads and subscriptions, but the same basic principle is at play.

You can get freelancers behind your company’s mission by including them in some of what goes on behind the curtain. Before they pitch, make sure they know your company’s tone—and more importantly, why you chose it. Who are their readers, and what call to action (if any) do you want blog posts to support?

When I began working at Contently, my prior experience in media meant I pitched stories aimed at general consumers. I had covered movies for several years, after all, and movies are a great equalizer—there aren’t really many strict demographics I needed to keep in mind. At The Content Strategist, however, I write for an audience of professionals working in marketing, audience development, social media strategy and/or content strategy. After figuring that out with my editor’s help, I started pitching pieces like “What Romance Novelists Can Teach Us About Pleasing a Tough Audience.” At any other outlet, I might have pitched a feature on the state of romance novelists selling their books on Amazon, but in order to place the story here, I added context to each author’s commentary by making what they told me feel relevant to marketers.

Once your contributors understand the mission and goals, you should continue the ROI conversation on a regular basis. Did a post keep readers on site longer than average? Did it take off on a particular social platform but fall short on another? Have people mentioned it to your sales team? All of these data points have value.

After the marketing team analyzes audience engagement, consider sharing some of your data analysis with writers. They may not need to know all the details, but creating digital content without a sense of how it performs is like throwing spaghetti at the wall in the dark with noise-cancelling headphones on. You may hit your target, but you have no idea how to replicate that success. If the ultimate goal is a long-term relationship with customers and prospects, that requires communication between marketers and writers before, during, and after the creative process.


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