There are a number of things to look for when hiring a freelance writer for any project. For a once-a-year event like an Annual Report the stakes are even higher. A well-written and attractive Annual Report, especially one that wins awards, is a competitive differentiator, helping brand a company by listing past accomplishments and strategic direction.
Whether you hire me or someone else, you’ll know you’ve found a world-class freelance writer when they can show they’ve mastered these seven key skills:
1. Simplifies large amounts of complex data
By definition, an Annual Report covers a company’s entire achievements for the year. The writer needs to review sources of data that include Press Releases, the company website, competitor’s websites and their Annual Reports, financial data, research reports, white papers and more. Their task is to produce copy that summarizes and simplifies the raw material in a way that meets the requirements for the report. In my experience, this requires an ability to sort, organize, prioritize and retain massive amounts of incoming data.
Key Skill: You need a writer with the experience to review vast amounts of data from every division in the company. Then turn around and write simple 50-, 100- or 500-word summaries.
2. Communicates as well in person as on the page
In addition to the raw data, content from the report comes from people throughout your organization. While conducting research, I might meet with engineers and product specialists one day, review numbers with the finance team the next, and interview the CEO to better understand their point of view. My writing skills are table stakes. But the ability to communicate with people is just as important. A big part of being an effective writer is talking with other people and gaining their trust.
Key Skill: In addition to world-class writing skills, the person you hire needs to be able to communicate with people at all levels in the organization.
3. Is a team player who respects your goals
No one person will create the Annual Report. It’s a team effort and a time-consuming task. Engaging a freelance writer takes the burden off full-time staff, and brings a valuable outside perspective to the content. A freelance writer must be willing to collaborate on drafts until everyone has reviewed and signed off on the content. This is often easier for a freelancer, who does not have a stake in the politics of the organization. The writer needs an ability to handle constant change and the humility to make the full-time staff look good. They need to check their ego at the door and respect the ideas and values of the client.
Key Skill: Like a speechwriter, a freelance writer must be comfortable working anonymously. No writer should expect a byline on an Annual Report.
4. Has what it takes to survive in the corporate world
Many successful writers prefer to work alone. Novelists and poets are often uncomfortable away from their desk. While you need an accomplished writer, a recluse won’t survive in the corporate world. Look for a freelance writer who assumes full responsibility for their commitments.
Key Skill: Hire someone who has what it takes to work in a corporate environment, shows up for meetings on time, meets deadlines and respects the chain of command.
5. Is a diplomatic and impartial observer
Each division of a company would like to be the star of the Annual Report. A freelance writer can be a fair judge of content that comes from different divisions. In addition to resolving competing claims for column inches, someone from outside can manage style variations and write with a consistent voice and style. The last thing you want is a report that seems as if it’s written by divisions with different agendas. Someone has to be the guardian of the core message.
Key Skill: Asses the writers’ diplomatic skills. They must be comfortable with conflict and have absolute discretion when resolving competing claims for attention from divisional heads.
6. Excels at storytelling
Stories humanize content. They provide the narrative and context which heightens interest and helps the reader remember the information. Effective storytelling requires command of the language plus the flair to find ways to differentiate achievements.
I’m impressed by the team at NPR Planet Money who bring dry economic data alive through compelling stories. This should be required listening for all budding Annual Report writers.
Key Skill: Beyond the ability to synthesize the facts, a good writer should be able to weave a story from the content so the report is as rich and interesting as possible.
7. Understands the world of business
While a freelancer might lack the deep subject expertise of your employees, they should have a solid understanding of the changing world of business and the major issues of the day. This knowledge base helps calibrate the value of the content and puts the issues faced by your company in perspective. It comes from the writer’s commitment to being a student of business.
Key Skill: Look for a writer who is well read. Subscribers to the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal or Economist have the edge.
If you are considering hiring a freelancer writer to help produce your next Annual Report, start interviewing candidates early. Ask for writing samples. Expect to work with a freelancer writer for two to three months to produce a report. They should be flexible about billing, either charging by the hour or a flat-rate fee. If you find a writer who does good work, make sure to lock them in for next year’s report as soon as you have finished the current project.
If you check all these boxes your next Annual report should be an award winner.