“Content is King" is a commonly used mantra among online marketers, but kingdoms come in all shapes and sizes. When you're a small business owner, it can be a struggle just to maintain a regular content calendar, let alone a content strategy that feels "kingly."
That's where hiring a freelance writer (or writers!) comes in. Whether temporarily or on an ongoing basis, they can ease the burden of content production. You can then simply focus on your overall strategy. Better still, new blood can inject fresh ideas and shake things up a bit.
The process of finding and hiring a freelance writer can be overwhelming. With so many avenues to go down, where should you even begin? This article is here to shed some light on the hiring process, plus how to set and maintain expectations once they’re on board.
Before you start posting on job boards and interviewing writers, you need to establish some clear goals. What is it you want the writer to do, and what is your timeline for this? Without figuring this out, it will be difficult to hire the right person, let alone write a good and accurate job ad that writers will respond to.
By getting a clear idea of goals and preferences, you'll save yourself from wasting a writer's time as well as your own. You don't want to find out midway through the interview process that half of your potential writers don't have the skillset that you need.
Three good questions to ask yourself at this stage are: What? How often? How much?
What… Kind of content do you want?
Written content can encompass many things. There's a big difference between snappy blog posts, engaging email copy, and long-form educational content. Do you want light and entertaining or more serious and high-brow? If you want to educate your readers with in-depth insights it will take time. You can't expect your writer to knock it out in the space of a day.
How often… Do you need your content?
Every day or every once in a while? If you aren't clear with scheduling, you may run into availability issues. Thinking about this will mean the difference between hiring someone once-off or on an ongoing basis to become an extension of the team.
How much… Are you willing to pay?
It's good to think about this now before setting up interviews with writers who are out of your price range. Like with most things, you also get what you pay for. Writing is a skill, and if you're unwilling to pay a fair wage, you can't expect high-quality content in return.
The kind of writer you want is going to be relative to what you need from them. However, there are certain traits and track records every freelance writer worth their salt should possess:
A solid body of work
Every writer should have a portfolio, or at least some high-quality writing samples on hand. You'll be able to tell a lot from what they provide. Their work will show whether:
Portfolios also provide an opportunity to check for plagiarism — because if the work they're sending you isn't even their own, they aren't the right writer for you. There are a variety of online tools available for this, such as Copyscape and Grammarly's plagiarism tool.
The right time zone
While it’s increasingly possible to hire internationally for cost or convenience reasons, if you want someone you can maintain regular communication with, the right time zone is essential. If they're somewhere in the world that's twelve hours behind where you are, this may be awkward.
Responsiveness in a writer is a sign of professionalism and reliability: two traits you want when hiring anybody. This is particularly important if you're hiring someone to work remotely. Continually having to hound them about a project's status or not meeting deadlines is just adding more stress where you wanted to lighten it.
Excellent reviews and/or references
You can get a feel for how good a writer is from their body of work, but not how easy they are to work with. Check out any testimonials they might have, on their LinkedIn profile or found on a freelance marketplace. Ask if they can provide any references you can contact directly. This is a great opportunity to find out about their attitude, and their project and time management.
There are several things you'll need to consider when it comes to remuneration. If you've asked yourself the questions outlined earlier, that should make it easier. How much you can expect to pay a writer is dependent on a number of factors, not least their experience and breadth of knowledge. The most common types of payment options for freelance writers are:
By the word: this can start from as little as $0.02 per word and go up to $1 or more. So, if you requested a 1000 word article at a rate of $0.05 per word, you would pay $50 altogether.
By the hour: expect to pay anything from $10 to $100 (or more), depending on their level of expertise. Ask the writer to estimate how long they think the project will take beforehand.
By the day: a common choice across industries, especially advertising and media agencies. Expect to pay anything from $100–$600 dollars.
By the project: preferable if you'd rather not spend time calculating the exact number of hours your writer will need to finish. How much you decide will depend on the project’s scope.
By retainer: perfect if you want a writer to regularly produce content for you. Usually paid on a monthly basis, the amount will depend on the quantity and type of content you need.
Whichever payment method you decide to go for, it’s dependent on what your expectations for your writer are. By-the-word is fine but can get messy when you take into account redrafting. By the hour can be difficult to keep track of. Both are solid choices if you don’t need a steady stream of content, but just a few articles or blog posts every now and again.
If you do want content on an ongoing basis and want to establish a relationship with the writer, the latter two options are your best bet.
Now that you know what an ideal writer looks like and how to determine payment, let’s dive into how you go about finding one.
There are a number of ways to find your freelance writers, each with their own merits and setbacks. The route you decide to go down will ultimately depend on the scope of the work you want to be done, and the kind of relationship you want to have with your freelancer.
Asking people you know and trust is always a good place to start. Reach out to colleagues and people in your network, and even family and friends. You never know who might point you in the direction of someone perfect for your business.
You're hopefully already following blogs and other outlets that are relevant to your field. If you're not, you should be. Not only is it imperative to keep up-to-date with the latest happenings, it's a good method of finding freelancers that fit your niche.
If you run a meal delivery service, get onto the best cooking and restaurant review blogs. If you're a dressmaker, check out some fashion websites. Seek out written media related to your niche, and pay attention to the writers you like. Google reviews and Yelp could also prove a valuable source for potential writers.
When you find writers that grab your attention, get their contact details, and social media handles. Then reach out to inquire if they're in the market for new freelancing gigs.
Speaking of social media, searching through Twitter, Linkedin, and even Facebook is also a handy way of finding suitable freelancers.
On Twitter, make the most of hashtags. Search for your specific industry and see what the most commonly used related hashtags are. Check out the writers that are using them and follow those who you think would suit your business.
If you need a marketing expert, you could search "content marketing". Frequently used related hashtags include #contentmarketing and #digitalmarketing. Writers in this niche will often use these hashtags when Tweeting an article they’ve written.
The Linkedin search function can also be effective. You can search for freelance writers in your local area, or use a more specific search term instead to trim down your results. Plus, you can see if you have any common connections to give (or not give) a recommendation. Linkedin also has a plethora of specific professional groups you can reach out to.
Although Facebook can seem like it's largely for personal use (which it is), there is a wealth of public and private groups where industry professionals connect, as well as general job-hunting groups. Often (though not always), these groups are city-specific, so searching through or posting in one could be a great way of finding a freelance writer who lives in your local area.
Using the Facebook search function, search for your niche (e.g. content marketing) and click on the "groups" tab. The list of results also informs you of how many members in each group live in your city.
Using a job board to find your writer allows you to write a personalized specific ad and will have the writers come to you instead of doing all the legwork. Some good choices for posting freelance writer jobs ads are:
A freelance marketplace is a platform that works as an intermediary between you and the person you're hiring. It provides companies with a space to find writers easily, and a middleman that will hold the freelancer accountable if work does not get done. Some popular freelance marketplaces are:
If you decide to go the job board route of hiring a freelancer, you'll need to craft a compelling job ad that encourages people to apply and encourages the right people to apply. But how do you write an effective job description that does just that?
Think back to those goals and expectations you made earlier and think about the ideal writer who could make these goals a reality. Key to a good job description is striking a balance between what you want and what a writer will be looking for.
Have an ideal vision, but be flexible: your unicorn writer probably doesn't exist, and if you ask for too much, you may deter perfectly qualified writers. For example, if you're looking for a freelance writer with specialized knowledge in finance, it's a lot to expect from them to be a skilled programmer in case you need some posts for your side blog on web development.
You can't expect someone to be an expert in all areas. Likewise, just because someone is an expert in something doesn't make them a good writer. Someone who has worked in one area of an industry may have a more narrow viewpoint than a writer who has been following all facets of that industry for years.
How do you navigate this, then? Look for someone who has a track record in writing effective content in several key areas related to your business. This will show they have keen research skills and a flexible approach to their work. Be sure to ask for a link to their portfolio or some relevant writing samples.
You should also talk about what's in it for them. Why should a freelance writer apply for your job and not somebody else’s? Some reasons could include having an author byline on your blog, real creative input, the opportunity to produce high-quality content, networking opportunities, and competitive payment.
So how do you whittle all this down into a job ad? Just take it paragraph by paragraph, be clear, to the point, and don't include anything that doesn't need to be there. The template below should be a good starting point.
Basic job description template:
Many job board websites give you the opportunity to ask some filter questions before a candidate applies. By including some specific questions on non-negotiable traits you're looking for, you'll be able to distinguish who is suitable and who isn't.
Some questions or things to ask for could include:
By including a short survey with the job application, you can quickly disqualify applicants who don't reach your criteria without trawling through every individual application.
Most people can write, but not everyone is a writer. This might seem obvious, but it bears saying. The first thing you should look at while judging a writing piece is whether or not they can write well. Does the piece flow? Is the grammar up to scratch? Is it a struggle to get through? How well is it researched? Does it reach the level of expertise you require? How relevant is it to your company's niche?
Even if you're happy with the writing samples provided, it's still a good idea to do a test piece so that you can see if they can adapt to your content style. Someone may be a good writer, but that doesn't necessarily make them a good fit.
Give the writer a sample topic to write about and detail exactly what you expect from the piece. Link to articles on your site as an example of your style, or if you don't have content on your website yet, link to articles from other sites that you would like to emulate.
Don't ask for too much; the writing assignment should be simple enough. You don't want to turn them off by asking for something excessive. This means asking for a reasonable piece. A 500-word article on five tips for boosting your content marketing strategy is a much more realistic task than requesting a 5000+ word definitive guide to digital marketing strategy.
While the onus should be on how well your writer can write, it's a good idea to have some face-to-face communication via Skype to establish whether you're actually on the same page. Try not to get bogged down in obtuse interview questions and focus on what's relevant to the role at hand.
Ask them to tell you a little bit about their writing experience and writing process. A more casual conversation can be more revealing than an intense interrogation. Examples of questions that will give you a glimpse of their work style, process, and dedication as a writer include:
Your writer must be well versed in your field, and a good way of keeping up to speed is reading blogs related to that subject area. It's okay if they mention some that aren't directly related (you want a well-rounded individual, after all), but if they don't mention any publications related to your niche, that's a big red flag.
With this question, you can gauge if they tend to do sufficient research. It's all well and good to check out the competition, but since you're a new client, they should also mention researching your current content to get your brand's voice right. Flying by your pants' seat can work in other areas of writing, but when it comes to well-researched Web content and copy, it's not ideal.
When it comes to tried-and-tested interview questions, some classics have been around since the dawn of job interviews that you might be tempted to ask just because it's the done thing. Of course, you can throw in a few, but they're not going to tell you much about your potential writer's work acumen. All it will reveal is how good they are twisting answers to silly interview questions to suit whatever it is they think you want to hear.
Commonly asked interview questions to avoid include:
Do you really want to know? And do you think they're going to give you an honest answer?
If you've done a good job screening and filtering applications and resumes, then you'll already know the answer to this question: they're a talented writer with experience in your field, looking for a new freelance writing gig.
Gone are the days of a job for life. You'll be hard-pressed finding someone with an honest answer to that these days. Remember that you’re hiring a freelancer, anyway.
And many, many more. To avoid getting scripted responses from your interviewees, we recommend putting thought into the questions you ask and sticking with relevant roles.
You need to be clear from the very beginning what you expect from your freelance writer(s) and what they can expect in return. If you said you expected one blog post per month, you can't be mad if you can't deliver more. If expectations change, you should discuss it with them to see if it's feasible on their side. Respect their time, and they will respect yours.
The key to building a good relationship with a freelancer is communication. In the beginning, especially, you should make yourself readily available should they have any queries (which they most likely will). Once they get used to your company's content style, these queries should lessen.
Communication can take place via email, or you could even set up a dedicated channel on a communication tool like Slack for a more streamlined and personal approach. Creating a dedicated Trello board and using collaborative software like Google Docs will also help in this regard. An opportunity for collaboration and will make them feel like a real part of the team — if that's what you (and they) want.
Another great way of setting and maintaining expectations is by providing a clear timeline of the content you want and when you want it. The easiest way of doing this is through an editorial calendar. There are several easy ways to create one for free; for example, by using Google Calendar or Sheets, or (as we mentioned above) creating a Trello board.
Acclimatize writers by providing a point of reference should they ever run into issues regarding style and content. This will save the writers from having to ask you questions about every little thing, but will also benefit the content department as a whole. Good content should be consistent, and without proper guidelines in place, consistency will be hard to achieve.
If you're just starting out, this can be a living document (a Google Doc, for example) that can be added to as time goes on, every time something new arises. A quick Google search for “copy or Content style guide” should throw up some interesting examples of how other companies do it.
For instance, a document that tells writers whether or not the company prefers "e-commerce" or "eCommerce" is far more preferable to being asked about it constantly. Likewise, whether or not you prefer title case or sentence case for headers. They may seem like minor details, but consistency in the small things will impact how professional your content comes across.
Hiring a freelance writer doesn't have to be a minefield. Taking the time to establish clear goals and expectations is half the battle. By doing so, you can then easily figure out the qualities of your ideal writer, where to look for your writer, how to hone your resume screening and interview process, and how you should pay them.
By following the steps mentioned above, you should find yourself with a great writer to complement your content team in no time.