Content Operations

How to Create a Strategy-Led Freelance Onboarding Process

Freelance writers and editors need an in-depth understanding of your strategy. Without it, they can't deliver high-quality work that aligns with your organization's goals and makes a positive impact on the business.

Updated on April 10, 202412 minutes

As a content manager, you should expect to spend at least some time editing your freelance team's work. But if you're wasting valuable hours rewriting content or adding missing strategic elements, it's time to rethink your process.

What's the core issue? Freelance writers and editors need an in-depth understanding of your strategy. Without it, they can't deliver high-quality work that aligns with your organization's goals and makes a positive impact on the business.

That means you need a better freelance onboarding system. Sound overly complicated? It doesn't have to be.

I spoke with six experienced content leads and freelance writers to learn what works (and what doesn't). Let's walk through how to create an onboarding process that gets freelancers strategically aligned with your business—including steps you can implement today.


Here’s a high-level summary:

  • B2B content has changed. Freelancers are more important than ever for content teams.
  • Strategic alignment with business goals is the key to producing genuinely good content.
  • A keyword is not enough to get freelancers aligned with your strategy. Content managers need to provide in-depth writing guides, customer profiles, and content examples.
  • Over-communication is more useful than you might think. Whether you prefer calls, async messages, or detailed databases—communicate, communicate, communicate.
  • Even great freelancers won’t deliver the perfect article on the first attempt—and it’s often due to unclear expectations. Give writers at least two trials to prove themselves.

Why strategy must play a key role in freelance onboarding

Since early 2023, you've heard the directive "do more with less" more times than you care to count. And as growth starts to pick up in 2024, you need to find ways to scale on a limited budget.

If your B2B marketing team is like most, in-house hires aren't a priority. Instead, 68% of marketing managers intend to bring on more independent contractors in 2024. Time to build out a freelance team.

The trouble with the state of content

In theory, working with freelance writers and editors shouldn't be difficult. You're likely no stranger to remote teams, having mastered the art of asynchronous work back in 2020 (or even earlier).

But this time, the stakes are higher for content teams:

  • Competition is stiff, especially for search. Outranking the big players in your space can be impossible. That limits the reach of your content and your ability to achieve goals.
  • Bland AI-generated content is everywhere. Sure, using AI may help you publish at scale. But that content won't be particularly good, and it won't build trust or connect with customers.

To stand out against competitors and AI-generated articles, you need content that's both unique and valuable. Your content has to say something new, reflect a point of view, and provide genuine value to the reader.

The trouble with strategic alignment

The higher your content quality standards climb, the tougher it becomes to work with freelancers. It isn't that they can't follow your briefs. Even the best writers and editors can't implement your strategy if you don't communicate it effectively.

In-house marketing teams live and breathe business and content strategy. They develop a deep understanding of business goals and learn how to create content that supports them.

Even the best writers and editors can't implement your strategy if you don't communicate it effectively.
Anna SonnenbergFreelance writer for B2B SaaS

In contrast, freelancers aren't immersed in your business. They don't have the level of access in-house teams do, and they don't have the same opportunities to get the answers they need.

So, what's the solution? As a content manager, it's up to you to rethink freelance onboarding best practices. You need a system that strategically aligns freelancers and enables your team to create competitive content.

How to improve onboarding processes for freelancers

Stuck on what to provide or how to communicate? Use these suggestions to go from "Onboarding process? What is an onboarding process?" to building a high-performing freelance team that makes a positive impact on your business.

Share strategic materials

When you bring on contractors, aim to set them up for success from the very beginning. Have essential documents ready to share as soon as you've signed the contract—and certainly by the time you send the first assignment.

Ideal customer profile (ICP)

Whether you call it a persona or an ICP, it's arguably the most important element to share with contractors. When onboarding freelancers, "So the writer knows who they're speaking to, I share our ICP and case studies. I also share an overview of what we do and our advantage," explains B2B content strategist Rachel Andrea Go.

So the writer knows who they're speaking to, I share our ICP and case studies.
Rachel Andrea GoMarketing Director @ MyFBAPrep

What should your ICP include? Forget about giving personas catchy names. Here are the most important aspects:

  • Job title or role so your team can do additional research into common problems and needs
  • Pain points, including how your product addresses each one
  • Goals, including how your product helps achieve them
  • Use cases relevant to the persona
  • Level of decision-making power

As a writer, I find a detailed persona to be the single most helpful piece of information. It tells me how to position the solution for a specific audience and prevents me from having to guess how the ICP uses the product. It also ensures that I mention the features and capabilities critical for the business and the customer.

Writing guide

Most style guides I've received provide a surface-level summary of what to do and what to avoid when writing or editing. But they don't usually get into the reasons for these requirements.

That's why I recommend replacing your style guide with a writing guide. The latter is more comprehensive, as it explains why, when, and how to implement each step. It also ties the style and content back to the strategy.

For example, Sean Collins, SEO Content Manager at Scoro, has developed a 32-page writing guide for contractors. It tells freelance writers everything they need to produce genuinely helpful blog content.

Even if yours doesn’t quite span 32 pages, it should include essentials like:

  • What kinds of words to include or avoid (and why)
  • Whether your brand uses bottom line up front (BLUF) or a more conversational style
  • How to write introductions that hook the ICP
  • How to conclude articles in a way that encourages readers to take the next step

Content examples

Over 10 years of freelancing, I've received plenty of links to published content in place of a comprehensive writing guide. The idea is that freelancers can somehow absorb your audience, messaging, and positioning—and echo it in their work.

This isn't an effective way to communicate your strategy, and it won't help new freelancers create content that meets your needs. It requires contractors to do a lot of guesswork—which may lead to the wrong answers.

Published content should never be the only material you provide. Yet it can certainly have a place in your freelancer onboarding process.

For every account and website we edit, we require that clients give us a style guide for our editors to follow.
John DohertyFounder & CEO at EditorNinja

Provide it as an example of how to format your brand’s content and include product mentions or subject matter expert insights. Use it to solidify writers' or editors' understanding of the quality you expect, too.

"For every account and website we edit, we require that clients give us a style guide for our editors to follow. We also ask for examples of content they've published that they are happy with so we know where their quality bar is," shares John Doherty, Founder and CEO of EditorNinja.

Videos and screen recordings

Most content managers I've worked with share writing guides, personas, and other documents in written format. Google Docs and PDFs are standard. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but it isn't the only way.

We record and store onboarding calls for people who are more video-centric learners
Katy FlattDirector of Operations and Culture at Optimist

Give contractors more ways to absorb the materials. "We record and store onboarding calls for people who are more video-centric learners," shares Katy Flatt, Director of Operations and Culture at Optimist.

"Really, the name of the game is: How can I detail what freelancers need to know and make sure they can access it easily, but still make it short and digestible enough that they don't give up on reading all this stuff?"

"It's an iterative process. Usually, that means not only documenting something in text but also creating a Loom to accompany it for visual and auditory learners."

Host everything in a central location

So, how should you deliver materials to contractors? Instead of emailing a dozen attachments, host everything in a central location. This way, freelancers can find what they need in one reliable place.

For example, upload everything to a Google Drive or Dropbox folder. Alternatively, create your own database or checklist.

"We keep a pretty healthy Notion database filled with detailed walkthroughs and onboarding information for our clients and for Optimist," Katy explains.

Eric Doty, Content Lead at Dock, uses the SaaS platform to share onboarding materials. His Dock writer's guide compiles everything contractors need while allowing them to experience one of Dock's core products.

Over-communicate when possible

Content managers typically inform contractors about positioning, messaging, and other strategic elements on a need-to-know basis. This approach is fine when you need to keep certain aspects confidential.

But in other cases, it may hold freelancers back. Instead, answer contractors' questions proactively and show them the bigger picture. Help them avoid common freelancer pain points by offering more information than absolutely necessary.

For example, does your product marketing team have insights that could benefit your freelance writers? Ask your in-house team to compile resources or offer their subject matter expertise.

"As an all-remote team, our goal is to get people up to speed as quickly as possible and provide as much access to information as we can. This way we can avoid losing a day or more when someone is offline or in a different time zone and can't access the materials they require," Katy shares.

"I'm an over-communicator. Transparency is one of our values, and anyone is welcome to ask an open-ended question or approach anyone on the team to get the help or insights they need. We even provide access to our client’s point of contact. We don't gatekeep."

Connect over a call

It's true that synchronous meetings have fallen out of favor. About 70% of meetings end up being a waste of time and prevent you from doing your job.

But a freelancer onboarding call isn't one of those unnecessary meetings. Instead, consider it an essential step in reinforcing the knowledge you've shared.

"I have an intro call with the freelancer where I basically say everything that's in the guide. That way, we've talked it through, and they can ask questions. Then, we can go through Dock's business model, business strategy, and product line—and do a demo so they really understand," Eric explains.

In my experience, many content managers offer to get on a call, but they don't require this step. When you go this route, freelancers may opt out due to time constraints or believing they already have a grasp on your strategy.

I recommend making an intro call a required part of the onboarding experience. It gives you a chance to highlight what you see as most important. It also allows contractors to get clarity on anything they find confusing.

Think of it as a kick-off call that starts the relationship and gets everyone on the same page. That way, you’ll make your freelance team feel like part of the project from the beginning.

Follow your freelancers' processes

Many freelancers rely on content managers to guide the onboarding workflow. But some experienced freelancers have developed their own systems for client onboarding.

Tanaaz Khan, freelance content strategist and writer for B2B SaaS brands, explains, "During onboarding, I send a client intake questionnaire that includes questions about:

  • Company overview
  • Business goals
  • Content goals
  • Success metrics
  • Product information
  • Customer information
  • Links to internal collateral (style guides, interactive demos, decks, etc.)"

"It's a simple form, and it's easier for both parties because the client has to fill everything once only. Then, I can connect that data to their record within my project management tool."

You really need to apply a strategic lens to everything you write—which can't be done with automated tools
Tanaaz KhanFreelance B2B SaaS Content Strategist & Writer

In many cases, your freelancers will ask for materials you’ve already thought to provide—like a writing guide and content examples. But when they ask for additional materials—like product demos or content pillars—do your best to provide the context they need.

Reiterate strategic elements in briefs

Even the most thorough onboarding program requires some repetition. Whenever you send contractors a brief, reiterate relevant strategic elements. Make it easy for writers and editors to know which persona and messaging to use.

"I think the only way writers can eventually internalize the information is repeated exposure," advises Eric. "When we write briefs, I always have a section for how Dock fits as a product and as a business. That's the most important part of the brief every time."

When you produce content with SEO in mind, address the search strategy, too. Sean provides a search motivation framework explaining why potential customers look for the topic, which helps freelancers fine-tune the messaging.

Set up a self-check system

Even the most conscientious freelancers may miss a key strategic element. To reduce the chances of this becoming an ongoing issue, encourage them to self-check as they absorb your strategy and as they apply it.

For example, the Dock writer's guide has an embedded onboarding checklist for freelancers. It invites contractors to take responsibility for completing each task.

Sean Collins includes a minimum quality checklist in every brief. Before delivering work, writers go through the list to check for quality concerns and strategic alignment.

John Doherty explains, "We have checklists or standardized processes (sometimes both) so editors do things 'the EditorNinja way.' We also have a double QA process on all documents. This means editors double-check their own edits, and then the lead editor checks their work before returning the document to the client."

Experienced freelancers may go the extra mile to deliver high-quality work. "I check for the overall content/business strategy manually. The more I write for a client, the more familiar I get with their company and product. Plus, you really need to apply that strategic lens to everything you write—which can't be done with automated tools," Tanaaz shares.

"If clients give me specific edits, I make a note in their dedicated feedback matrix. It's something I keep for myself, and it drastically reduces the number of edits over time."

Provide detailed feedback

If your onboarding process centers on a quick writing test or a single trial article, you aren't giving contractors a chance to succeed. For example, Optimist does at least two (paid) trial articles before taking steps to onboard new freelancers on a long-term basis.

Keep in mind that contractors won't always get the messaging or positioning right on the first try. However, constructive feedback can get them on the right track quickly.

"If a freelancer is a great writer but doesn't hit the mark, it's usually because there was something they didn't understand. Maybe that's your audience, the goal of the piece, or something else. In that case, you need to revisit your brief, give feedback, and I would recommend trying again," Rachel suggests.

Eric shares, "I kind of expect a writer to fail at it the first time. I'm not sure I've ever gotten a writer's very first draft that gets all the stuff right. But I expect by article three or four, they shouldn't need that much feedback around Dock's positioning."

"There are some writers who have been with us for 20 articles now, and I don't even have to do that part of the brief anymore. They just get how Dock fits in. It's an up-front effort, but it's definitely worth it if you're going to be working with writers long term."

Final thoughts on onboarding freelancers

When you get your freelance onboarding process right, you ensure your team understands your strategy and applies it to everything they deliver. This way, you can build a content team that produces genuinely valuable, high-quality content.

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