If there was one piece of advice I could impart to business owners and freelance writers alike, it would be this:
Don’t work with just anyone.
Let me explain:
A former client told me they needed to cut my work in half so they could give the rest of it to an agency. They assured me that it didn’t have anything to do with the quality of my work, but the quantity. With the agency, they could get all of their writing, marketing, and content strategy needs satisfied at a cheaper rate.
Three months later, they came back and asked if I’d be willing to write all of their content again. Sure, they had gotten a good deal on content for a few months, but the quality and expertise just wasn’t there.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Writers (including myself) take on work that isn’t a good fit and business owners hire anyone who seems like they might do the trick.
That said, I recognize that this is no easy feat. How the heck are you supposed to know how to hire a freelance writer for your business? And what exactly does a good freelance writer — let alone, the “best” — look like?
I’m going to help you find the answers to that today.
Note: This is not going to end with a pitch for my services. I just wanted to write something that would help connect business owners with the right kinds of writing talent.
Why Should You Hire a Content Writer?
If you’re reading this, then you’re thinking about hiring a content writer. Perhaps you need someone to write the copy for your website or you need someone who can write blog posts and produce other content for you on a regular basis.
But do you know why it’s so valuable to have a professional writer handle this for you?
Let me break it down:
- Outsource your writing and free yourself up to do what you do best.
- Launch a new website as quickly as possible (since it won’t be contingent on when you have time to write content for it).
- Improve the quality of existing content that’s good but could be doing much more for you.
- Improve the quality and consistency of your content.
- Scale your repository of content (e.g. blog posts, ebooks, infographics, reports, etc.) and quickly grow your authority.
- Produce more search-friendly content.
- Encourage visitors to do more than just look and read with highly engaging content that’s tailor-made for your business.
- Create content that anticipates and answers prospective customers’ questions and concerns.
If you don’t feel as though any of these reasons resonate with you, then you might not need a content writer right now. And that’s fine! Just keep these benefits in mind in case your circumstances change in the future.
Where Can You Find High-Quality Freelance Writers?
Here’s what I can tell you about the most commonly used avenues for finding writers:
Most new writers use marketplaces (like Guru and Freelancer) as a way to get experience and to build up a portfolio of work.
Now, I’m not saying that “new writer” equals “bad writer”. However, if they’re on there charging $.01 per word, then that’s a problem. It’s a clear indicator that they don’t value themselves as a writer, don’t really know what they’re doing, and don’t have a clear area of expertise.
And if you’re only offering to pay writers a penny per word, shame on you.
Remember that story I told you about my old client? This is what they ended up using — they just didn’t know it at the time.
That’s the problem with content mills. Many of them have amazing websites that make them sound like professional content marketing agencies. But if they’re offering you a shit ton of writing at an unbelievable price, then don’t expect much in return. I used to work for a company that used content mills to produce their clients’ content and this is how it works:
- They work with clients in a very specific niche…
- So they can have very cheap writing labor (usually from a marketplace) rewrite the same article numerous times…
- Then each client gets a different iteration of the article or web page.
Ultimately, what you’re paying for is paraphrased content that similar-looking companies are using on their sites as well (which will hurt you in terms of SEO and overall authority). That’s why it’s so cheap.
This one can be hit or miss. It really depends on where you’re looking and whether or not you take the time to properly vet the writer using their social media profile.
Let’s say you do a search on Twitter for “WordPress writer”. You find two or three people who seem like they’d be a good fit based on their bio. But then you look at their feed and don’t find much about WordPress or writing at all. One of the writers spends most of their time complaining about their clients, not getting paid, etc. (which is a huge red flag) and the other writer mostly shares GIFs of puppies.
Social media can be a good way to find a writer that fits exactly what you’re looking for, but only if you treat their bios and feeds like a resume.
Content Marketing Agencies
A true-blue professional agency that specializes in content marketing is a great investment — but only if your content is already making a splash.
Why do I say that? It’s because agencies are expensive.
Think about it this way:
If your business is new and your cash flow is very light, you want to make every dollar spent count. While a writing agency will give your business a rock-solid foundation, it might not pay off right away and you can’t afford to blow that kind of money straight out the gate.
However, if your business has been around for awhile and you’re trying to improve your website’s conversion rates or to grow your authority on social media, an agency is your best bet. They’ll take what you’ve been doing, strengthen it, and then work on getting you results like you’ve never seen. In this case, you’ll see a huge ROI.
This is a good option if you’re looking for a local writer. They don’t necessarily need to work in the same office as you, but they’ll be located nearby so you don’t have to worry about pesky time zone differences.
That said, Google is a lot like social media. If you don’t look closely enough at what they’ve presented you with, you might end up with a dud.
The first thing to evaluate is the way their website appears in search. If they came up for a search like “freelance writer in Chicago”, that’s a good sign as it means they are familiar with SEO. But don’t forget to look at the search listing itself. If the title or description are incomplete (e.g. with ellipses (…)) or nonsensical sounding, that’s a red flag.
The next thing to evaluate is the website. They don’t need to have a flashy looking website, but their content should be up to snuff. If it doesn’t read well, it’s riddled with errors, or it doesn’t come off like something you would want people to find on your own website, move on to the next writer.
Your Developer or Designer
In my experience, personal and client referrals don’t always pan out well.
It’s not that they want to send bad writers your way. It’s just that they hear “I need a writer”, and they rack their brains for any and every writer they know. Since there aren’t a lot of us out there, we often get referred to businesses and niches that aren’t a great fit and it puts everyone in a bad position in the end.
Sooo… if you’re going to ask anyone for a writing referral, make sure it’s someone who actually knows your business inside and out. Your web designer or developer is one of the best people for this.
Your Favorite Blog
This is by far the best way to find a freelance writer for your business. There are so many reasons why:
- You’re probably reading content on high-authority blogs, which means the writing talent is going to be top notch in terms of quality and reliability.
- The way they write for that publication is the way they’re going to write for you, so you won’t need to direct them to do anything but “write the way you do for so-and-so”.
- If you’re willing to give the writer a byline, you can leverage their name and expertise to grow your own brand reputation.
Also, it’s a huge time saver.
Many times, you need to go to the writer’s website, look through their portfolio, and then fill out a contact form to schedule a consultation call if you want to learn more. But if you’ve found them through content they’ve written for someone else, many of those questions and concerns you’d get ironed out on the phone will already have been handled.
How Do You Hire a Freelance Writer?
Okay, so you know why you need a writer and where you can find them. Now we need to talk about how to hire the very best freelance writer for your business.
1. Figure out what you need.
It’s not the writer’s job to figure out what you need (unless you plan on paying them to do strategy for you). So, come prepared with a list. Do you need:
If so, how many pages? What about the length of pages? Do you need additional content (like for forms, sidebars, pop-ups, etc.)? Will you need keywording and other search optimizations? How about landing pages or sales funnels?
If so, how many a month? How long will they be? Do you need images or screenshots? Will they get a byline or be a ghostwriter? Does the content need to be uploaded to your content management system? How about SEO?
Do you need help with marketing collateral, branding, infographics, reports, press releases, lead magnets, and so on? How much of it will you need and at what frequency? Are there any special guidelines to address?
2. Set a budget.
Don’t let the writer pitch you a rate they think you will approve. You should come prepared with a number in mind and make an offer.
Just make sure the offer is a fair rate. For example, if you want a 1,000-word article with high-quality screenshots and SEO, expect to pay at least a couple hundred dollars for it.
If you pay a fair and competitive rate, you can expect higher quality content in return. And when you have high-quality content on your side, the return on your investment will be even better. So, instead of just attracting a bunch of people from search who have no interest in reading your content, you’ll attract highly qualified leads — some of whom will convert and cover the costs of the writing.
3. Determine what kind of working relationship you want.
You may not be hiring this person as an employee of your company, but you still have to consider how you want this relationship to work.
Do you want to carefully oversee their production of content?
This could include reviewing their topic suggestions, outlines, and providing multiple rounds of feedback on their work. This would be valuable if your brand has strict style guidelines and messaging that need to be adhered to.
Do you want to give them autonomy to choose topics and run with them?
This would be a good idea if you don’t have time to manage another person or you have no experience in writing and would have nothing of value to add.
Do you want to have occasional meetings?
This could be useful if you’re going to collaborate with them on topic generation. If you do this, though, make sure to increase the rate you pay them as freelancers should never have to attend meetings for free.
Do you want them to share the content they create for you on their social media channels?
If you’re leveraging a writer who has authority in your space, this would be a great way to get your content in front of the right audience. Again, if you want them to do anything more than just write, make sure the rate is commensurate with what you’re asking for.
Are there set days of the week or month when you need content completed?
Be careful with this one. When you start dictating when someone works, it actually changes your relationship from one of a contractual nature to employment. And if that happens, then you have to be ready to pay benefits and taxes to them. So, what you can do instead is set general deadlines for work and let them work at their own pace (e.g. “2 articles a month”, “website copy due by May 31”).
This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the things you should consider, but it’s a good place to start.
4. Find someone with experience in your field.
When it comes to your business, you’re not trying to serve everyone, right? Unless you’re Amazon, that would be damn near impossible to do. Not only that, you’d be putting your business at a serious disadvantage. It’s much easier to stand out when you have a clear specialty than when you’re trying to be all things for everyone.
The same holds true for writers.
As you narrow down the list of writing candidates, make sure they have hands-on experience in your field — either writing for your niche or actually working in it. It’s the only way to ensure the writing that’s produced for your company sounds like it came from your company and not from some paid outsider.
You want readers and prospective customers to be impressed by your words; not caught up in how disconnected it sounds from your branding.
5. Make the offer and sign a contract… with a catch.
If you’re working with a real pro, they’re going to offer to send you a copy of their contract. If they do, that’s awesome! Just make sure to read it carefully before you sign and send it back. Don’t be afraid to suggest alterations if you feel they’re necessary to protect both your business as well as the writer.
If they don’t send you one, that’s alright, too. Just make sure you have one prepped and ready to go. Include the details of your working arrangement in full, cover only the essential clauses, and send it over in a timely manner (i.e. within three days of speaking).
As for the catch:
If you’re hiring a website writer, ask for a paid trial assignment (no more than 400 words) before committing to the terms of the contract.
If you’re hiring a content writer, ask for a trial month (no more than two short posts) before committing to the terms of the contract.
This way, both you and the writer get a chance to make sure this arrangement is beneficial for both of you. This doesn’t mean that you get free work from them; you still have to pay during the trial. However, this is a no-obligation period where either of you can back out if this proves not to be a good fit.
Once you’ve made the offer and have received a signed contract and commitment, it’s time to get to work!
One last thing I want to mention is this:
It may take some time for you and the writer to sync up. It’s really no different than hiring an employee, when you think about it. No amount of handbooks or training are going to get them up to speed on Day 1, so be patient with your freelance writer — for the first few weeks anyway.
If you can make it through this transitionary period, it’ll pay off. The more work a writer does for you, the more in tune they become with your business and the better content they’ll be able to produce. So, don’t be so quick to cut the cord, especially if you’ve gone through the points above to ensure that you hired the right writer in the first place.
If you run into trouble along the way or have any questions about hiring your first freelance writer, feel free to leave them for me here.
And if you want to help your writer create awesome content for your website or blog, check out these templates. There are blog and SEO checklists they might find helpful!