How to hire a freelance writer

“Content is King” is a commonly uttered mantra among online marketers. But when you’re a small business owner with an equally small team, it can be a struggle to maintain a regular content calendar, let alone implement a content strategy that stands out as being “kingly”. If you only have one content writer or manager on your staff, or worse still, if you’re the only one on your staff, sooner or later you’re going to find it a struggle to keep up with the content demands of online marketing.

That’s where hiring a freelance writer comes in. Hiring a freelance writer (or writers!), whether temporarily or on an ongoing basis, will ease the burden of content production and leave you or your marketing person with more time to focus on overall strategy. Better still, bringing someone new on board is certain to inject a new point of view and shake things up. What’s not to love?

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 can shed some light on the process and point you in the right direction while giving you some tips on the qualification process and setting and maintaining expectations when they are brought on board.


Where to find a freelance writer

There are a number of ways to go about finding 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.

Word of mouth

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 who’s perfect for your business.

Scope out relevant blogs and media outlets

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 in the world of what your business does, but 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, obtain their contact details and social media handles and reach out to inquire if they’re in the market for new freelancing gigs.

Social media

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. For instance, if you need a marketing expert to write some informational pieces for your website, 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 wrote.

The Linkedin search function can likewise be effective. You can search for freelance writers in your local area, or use a more specific search term instead to really trim down your results. Plus, you can see if you have any common connections who can give (or not give) a recommendation. Linkedin also has a plethora of specific groups where professionals in the same industry can connect and discuss issues. These groups can prove useful in finding freelance writers who are seeking new opportunities.

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 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.

Job boards

Using a job board to find your writer gives you the opportunity to write a personalized specific ad and will have the writers coming to you instead of having you do all the legwork. Some good choices for posting freelance writer jobs ads are:

ProBlogger

While ProBlogger is a blog and community focused on helping people make money from blogging, there is a sizeable jobs section that’s been going for 10 years. The rate for posting an ad starts at $70 for 30 days.

Indeed

As one of the top job sites in the world, Indeed is a great option for posting your job ad. You can post an ad for free, with the option of sponsoring a post starting from $5 to boost its results placement.

LinkedIn

Posting an ad on LinkedIn will really boost the chance of your ad getting seen by the right people. Billing is on a pay-per-click basis. You set an average daily budget and you will be charged for how many views the job ad receives.

Craigslist

Craigslist is somewhat notorious, but if you establish a good system for identifying qualified candidates from the outset, you could be able to find some good writers. It’s a great option if you’re on a tight budget, depending on the geographic location you’re posting in, as it can cost from $10-75 to post a job ad in selected areas.

Freelance Marketplaces

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:

Upwork

Upwork is probably one of the most well-known freelance marketplaces out there. Companies post an ad free of charge, while freelancers respond to the ad with their own payment bids and proposals. It may be tempting to go for the lowest bidder, but as mentioned before, you really do get what you pay for. Be sure to check out their profile, prior work, and reviews before accepting a proposal. It gives businesses the option of hiring people for one-off tasks, recurring projects, and even full-time contract work.

Fiverr

Fiverr is a platform in which freelancers advertise themselves. With a variety of categories and sections, you can narrow down results to writers who fit your exact needs. For example, you can click on the “Writing & Translation” section, then into “Articles & Blog Posts”, and following that select the level of research you’d like done, tone of voice, article type, and lastly when you need your article. The results will feature the most suitable writer profiles, each one containing a star rating, description, rates they charge (starting from – you guessed it – $5), and reviews.
Much like Upwork, you really do get what you pay for. While paying $5 for a 1000 article from someone who isn’t native in your language may seem like a great deal, is that really going to bolster the quality of your content offering? It’s highly unlikely.

Writer Access

As you’ve probably gathered from the name, Writer Access is a freelance marketplace dedicated solely to connecting businesses with writers in the US. You can choose writers based on star levels, from 2 to 6. If you go for the basic marketplace model, clients are charged per word based on the star level. At a 2-star level, writers are paid 1.4 cents per word, while at a 6-star level, writers are paid 7 cents per word. With the Elite Marketplace offering, you’re charged per project. Writers keep 70% of their earnings, while 30% goes to Writer Access. Membership starts at $39 per month for the most basic package.


Freelance writer hiring process

If you decide to go the job board route of hiring a freelancer, you’ll need to craft a compelling job ad that not only encourages people to apply but also encourages the right people to apply. But how do you write an effective job description that does just that?

What to write in your freelance writer job ad

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 a 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 another company’s? Some reasons could include having an author byline on your blog, real creative input and 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:

  • Information about your company and what it does

  • What the freelance writer position entails

  • The kind of content you need

  • Why your company is great to work for

  • Salary expectations

  • How to apply

Filter questions

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 more easily be able to distinguish who is suitable and who isn’t.

Some questions or things to ask for could include:

  • Salary expectations

  • Availability

  • Links to relevant writing samples

  • Experience using software or tools related to your company’s niche

By including a short survey with the job application, you can quickly disqualify applicants who don’t reach your criteria without having to trawl through every individual application.

Judging writing samples and assigning a test piece

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 piece that is reasonable in length; a 500-word article on five tips for boosting your content marketing strategy is a much more realistic ask than requesting a 2000+ word definitive guide to creating an entire marketing strategy.

Interview Process

While the onus should be on how well your writer can write, it’s definitely 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. Oftentimes a more casual conversation can be more revealing than an intense interrogation.

Examples of questions that will help you get a glimpse of their work style, process, and dedication as a writer include:

  • What are your project management techniques?

    Freelance writers work with several clients; you want to make sure that they’re adept at delegating sufficient time to each one and don’t get stressed out in the process. High levels of stress don’t tend to translate to good writing. This will also give you a fair idea of how good they are at keeping to deadlines. Like we mentioned previously, you don’t want to be hounding them.

  • What are your favorite blogs/online publications?

    It’s important that your writer is 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.

  • How do you begin with researching a new project?

    With this question, you can gauge if they tend to do sufficient research. It’s all well and good checking out the competition, but since you’re a new client, they should also mention researching your current content in order to get your brand’s voice right. Flying by the seat of your pants can work in other areas of writing, but when it comes to well-researched Web content and copy, it’s really not ideal.

When it comes to tried-and-tested interview questions, there are some classics that 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:

  • What is your greatest weakness?

    Do you really want to know? And do you think they’re going to give you an honest answer?

  • Why do you want this job?

    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.

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

    Gone are the days are a job for life; you’ll be hard pressed finding someone with an honest answer to that these days.

And many, many more. To avoid getting scripted responses from your interviewees, we really recommend putting thought into the questions you ask and sticking with things that are relevant to the role.


Onboarding and setting expectations with your freelance writer

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 they don’t have the availability to 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.

Maintaining good communication

Key to building a good relationship with a freelancer is communication. At 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 want).

Set up an editorial calendar

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.

Create a style guide

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.

For instance, a document that tells writers whether or not the company prefers “e-commerce” or “e-commerce” 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.


Conclusion

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 how hone your resume screening and interview process, and how you should pay them. By following the aforementioned steps, you should find yourself with a great writer to complement your content team in no time.

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