For nearly a decade, I worked hard to build up a career as a freelance travel journalist. That all changed in 2020 when a worldwide lockdown brought the travel industry to a halt.
I knew that in order to get work, I’d need to diversify into other verticals. It wasn’t easy, but by 2021 I was editing and writing for health, sustainability, home furnishings, and lifestyle brands. Contently was the single most helpful resource for making this shift—by keeping my portfolio up to date, I got my name in front of prospective clients far more easily than I would have been able to on my own.
After nearly three years of pandemic-induced uncertainty—and now, emerging stressors including a possible recession and the rise of artificial intelligence—the good news is that 90% of content marketers saw continued investment in quality content plans throughout 2022.
In 2023, freelancers need to prepare for whatever new storm they may have to weather. One way to do this is to make the most of the clients you already have by effectively communicating with editors, keeping your portfolio updated, and adhering to deadlines (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?).
Based on my own experience as a managing editor and input from several other MEs and Contently managers, here are a few best practices for making the most out of your Contently contributor experience—and ensuring you have a healthy pipeline of assignments.
1. Make notifications work for you
One of the most effective ways to keep track of your stories and deadlines is by using Contently’s notification tools. Managing editor and editorial consultant Gina LaGuardia wholeheartedly agrees: “I may be a bit of a unicorn with this, but when it comes to keeping track of upcoming deadlines, I am a notification junkie,” she said.
More specifically, the three main avenues of communication between freelance contributors and editors are email notifications, comments, and direct messages.
Let’s look at how each of these tools can help streamline your user experience.
There are dozens of email notifications available when you click the “your account” tab, which is directly under your profile avatar in the righthand corner when you log into Contently. Options range from deadline and pitch updates to workflow step alerts to overdue notices. But which notifications should freelance writers be using?
“I think it’s important only to select notifications that directly apply to you. Otherwise, you wind up with an inbox full of emails that aren’t relevant,” said bilingual managing editor Jennifer Fernández Solano.
“It’s easy to miss or ignore them if you get too many email notifications. So it’s essential to modify the email settings in a way that works for the writer,” added managing editor and fashion writer Julia Gerke.
Lifestyle managing editor Robert DiGiacomo suggested breaking down notifications by category. “For pitching purposes, the ‘pitch is… requested, accepted or declined’ options are key,” he said. “Once a piece is assigned, helpful email notifications include when the story is assigned to you or sent back, when its due date is changed, and when the project you’re working on is almost due or overdue.”
Pro tip: Gerke suggested that freelancers regularly update these preferences to ensure they’re still helpful.
Comments are a fantastic communication tool to use during the writing process. In the comments tab on each story, contributors, editors, Contently staffers, and clients tag messages to keep their thoughts and ideas in one tidy location. (An important note: All parties involved in a story can see comments, so they should never be used for personal or sensitive conversations. For those questions, you can use the direct message feature—more on that in a sec.)
“I believe communication is key to producing work that hits the mark and keeps a client coming back for more,” said Kat Lisciani, a strategy services manager at Contently. “I love to leverage the comments tab when I have a question or if there is a hold up with completing my step in the story workflow.”
Matt Smith, manager of account services at Contently, added, “Being able to quickly highlight and speak to a section of content you’re working on with a client or editor and engage in a thread is very handy and transparent.”
Pro tip: Fernández Solano said that the central comment-related notifications freelancers should sign up to receive include comments you’re mentioned in or ones made on a pitch, as well as when you’re added to a team (which indicates that a new Contently client wants to work with you).
Sometimes, freelancers are juggling so many projects that they think they fully understand a brief they’ve been assigned, only to realize—as the deadline looms—that’s not the case at all. It happens to the best of us.
To avoid misunderstandings, Gerke recommended discussing any sensitive matters like this via private direct messages. “The DMs are also helpful to discuss budget or scope concerns and when deadlines can’t be met,” she said.
Pro tip: DiGiacomo noted that while the Contently messaging system is the preferred way to manage your communications for an assignment or during the pitch process, you may also want to share your email address with an editor as a backup.
Keep track of your work with Contently platform tabs
Once you’re sure the right notifications are reaching your inbox, fine-tune your goal to stay on top of things with these handy platform features.
The “stories” tab allows contributors to view their upcoming assignments in order of pending due dates. “I love this tab view,” said managing editor and healthcare writer Michelle Seitzer. “Lists are my favorite way to organize things I need to do. I prefer looking at all the pieces in my queue in that format.”
Lisciani is equally enthusiastic about this platform feature. “The stories library is my absolute favorite tab in Contently. Every morning when I log in, this is the place where I like to start my day.”
Pro tip: Lisciani suggested freelancers take advantage of the platform’s robust filtering capabilities, which allow you to filter stories in progress by the current workflow step due date, story format, and more. To use this feature, click the gear icon located on the righthand side of the page, just above the list of publications to which you’re staffed.
The “tasks” tab gives you an instant overview of all stories in progress, new ones to accept, and overdue projects. “It’s one of the most helpful features for project management,” said DiGiacomo.
In fact, almost everyone I spoke with for this article mentioned this tab. “I find that this is the most under-utilized secret weapon Contently offers—it’s truly a one-click destination to manage your workflow,” added LaGuardia.
Lisciani chimed in, “You can navigate there to see upcoming stories or expiring pitches in the next week, which is super helpful for prioritizing and blocking out time at the beginning of the week and getting everything done.”
Pro tip: LaGuardia encourages her writing teams to click on the task tab frequently. That way, they can quickly and clearly identify and review any upcoming tasks.
This is an excellent tool to pitch (and impress) clients with ideas that align with their content needs. Before you submit a pitch, however, be sure to touch base with your managing editor to check if the client you’re hoping to reach is actively looking for content concepts.
Pro tip: Smith said that throwing out ideas is a great way to stand out among other contributors—clients generally love seeing new suggestions from writers they work with.
Optimize your portfolio regularly
An optimized Contently portfolio offers the very best way to get you in front of new clients by showcasing your latest work.
“It’s how I keep getting to work with such fantastic clients! I enjoy the graphic organizer style of it and the ease of sharing a link to multiple work samples all in one place,” said Seitzer.
LaGuardia encouraged writers to properly set the “topics,” “skills,” and “keywords” when adding new articles and revisiting older ones. “When I’m sourcing a new project for a client, I always use those filters to help me sort through writers’ portfolios, so ones that are noted accordingly rise to the top of my consideration list,” she said.
Pro tip: Seitzer emphasized that it’s important to update your portfolio as often as possible! It’s easy to do, and it’s a great way to find new clients who need your skills.
Take advantage of one (or all!) of these Contently contributor best practices to improve your user experience. Small steps like keeping an eye on your current workflow activities and updating your portfolio regularly will help ensure 2023 is your most productive year yet.
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Author: Jessica Benavides Canepa