In July 2013 I was contacted by Andre Van Kets from the Discover Africa Group asking me to participate in a survey aimed at uncovering travel blogger traits – that is the characteristics that companies look for when hiring freelance bloggers and writers. Thanks to Authorship Markup, I actually knew Andre from seeing his face pop up in Google’s search results whenever I was searching for car hire, and other travel & tour related things; but it was nice to put a voice to the face that had stared back at me from the search results for so long.
He was going to use the research as part of a talk he was giving at the Getaway Travel Blog Conference in August. Happy to help, I immediately got down to responding to the survey (the marketing nerd in me loves answering these things) and I soon found myself really identifying with the list of 20 key attributes Andre had compiled.
Working with a fairly large pool of freelance writers (both local and international) in my role at Travelstart, the characteristics covered in Andre’s research such as (just prefix all of these with a ‘Does the travel writer have’) – Unique Voice, punctual / responds to email timeously, responds well to critique, meet deadlines – really rang true with my experience of outsourcing content.
As promised, Andre sent me the results and findings from the research he conducted and I’ve outlined some of my key takeaways below. I hope this gives aspiring travel writers and bloggers some clarification on what company’s like Travelstart look for when commissioning freelancers.
Meet the deadline
I can’t stress enough how important the deadline is. Remember that the person representing the company that’s hiring you will often have goals and targets set out by a boss of his/her own and in order to achieve a scalable output of content, the employer needs to know he/she can rely on the contractor to deliver work on an agreed date.
When you’re awarded the job, agree on a date for a first draft review with your employer, make allowances for feedback and a second draft (most freelancers will not charge a fee for this) and then stick to these timelines unconditionally.
Be prepared to give progress reports along the way, and in circumstances where you foresee yourself not meeting a deadline then let your employer know well in advance (not 24 hours in advance) and suggest alternative arrangements for completion of the project, or pass the work on to someone in your network who can make the deadline without compromising on the quality your employer expects. One or two emails between you and one of your freelancing peers and you will probably even get a small commission out of it.
Have a Unique Voice
It’s important to have a voice that you can “own” in your space but it’s not something that’s developed overnight. A unique writing style will help you stand out, communicate succinctly and share your personality through your writings.
While many companies will have a voice and tone style guide that they want contractors to familiarize themselves with, most will appreciate a writer who can breathe life into a new piece of content with a unique voice.
If you invest the time to find the voice that best represents who you are, then you are being true to yourself; you’re being authentic, and it will show in your writing. Travel companies and publications appreciate a genuine voice as it brings a humanness and realness to their content that they can’t achieve through the humdrum of ‘mass market’ content generators.
Respond well to critique
The feedback procedure is an integral part of the employer-contractor relationship and should be handled professionally on both sides of the project. It’s important for employers to give feedback so they can offer a clearer view of what they’re after, and it’s equally important for contractors to receive feedback as it can help expose inefficiencies.
“Only bad writers think that their work is really good.” – Anne Enright
So when constructive criticism is meted out by your employer don’t take it as an attack on your life’s work and remember that you are being paid.
Be professional in your response to feedback and it will go a long way in helping you build a lasting relationship with your employer and ultimately get more projects. Focus on delivering great work and providing excellent service and you’re sure to get feedback you can be proud of.
Don’t get too hung up on SEO
Opinions will no doubt differ here but I don’t think you should sell your creative soul to satisfy a company’s SEO objectives. Sure if you can offer an optimized piece of content as a value add then great (Moz has an excellent resource covering SEO 101 for Travel Bloggers), but I don’t think a lack of SEO knowledge should be something that deters you from taking on jobs for an online audience.
I for one can’t stand a generic page littered with ill-fitting keywords produced in the name of ranking in the search engines – besides keyword stuffed snore fests are hardly a winning strategy anymore.
If you’re writing for an online audience then spend some time researching what makes great headlines in terms of SEO, as well as what goes into meta data. Learn how to tag your articles and blog posts so that they have meaning for the audience they’re intended for as well as Google; and remember that you’re first and foremost a professional writer contracted to create something that an audience will want to Tweet, Like and forward to their friends and family.
Don’t neglect your personal brand
According to the Discover Africa research, out of the 20 character traits/skills measured, travel companies and publications that hire freelance writers rank a portfolio of work (third), a unique voice (seventh), being active on social media in your personal capacity (ninth) and having a large social media following (fourteenth) – all qualities that require a freelance writer/blogger to invest in themselves for no pay.
These qualities are especially important in the freelance space and it might mean spending your ‘free time’ working on building your online reputation, writing on your own blog, updating your porti, formulating opinion pieces, implementing Google Authorship and engaging with your audience on social media.
In due course, spending time on your own Internet visibility will go a long way in helping you offer a holistic package to employers and it will increase your earning power.
As a company, when a freelancer approaches me with “Hey I will Tweet and Facebook your content for an additional X Rands” I will certainly be interested provided they have the social reach to make it worth my while.
Of course, offering social media endorsements as a value add is at your discretion and will probably depend on whether or not you even like the blogs, videos and images your employer is putting out there.
Be punctual on email
Not surprisingly, being punctual and responding to emails timeously is one of the most important qualities companies in South Africa consider when hiring freelancers. As a general rule, aim to respond to your employers email within 24 hours and if you need more time to reply effectively, send a quick note letting your contact know that you have received their message and that you will respond in more detail soon. Your employer will appreciate it if you show that you value their time by responding to emails punctually.
If you know you’re going away and you’ll have limited access to email then let your employer know in advance stating that you won’t be available for projects but you will be available for more work on your return. If you are in a different time zone to your employer then consider the impact this will have and adjust your email response time accordingly.
In Andre’s research we have something that formalizes the qualities and skills that make a freelance writer employable. It’s a great set of standards for publishers and writers to work against and if you’re a self-employed travel writer/blogger in 2013 then you should feel excited about what the future holds for you. While this space is still new for contractors and companies, I think a shift in the perception of what a good freelance writer can offer a travel company in terms of marketing value is just around the corner.
Download the full report about Research into the characteristics that travel companies look for when hiring or contracting travel writers and travel bloggers on the Discover Africa blog (discoverafricagroup.com/blog/travel-writer-travel-blogger-research/).
All Graphs courtesy of Andre Van Kets.