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Common Pitfalls of Hiring Freelance Writers (And How to Avoid Them)

Common Pitfalls of Hiring Freelance Writers (And How to Avoid Them)

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Content isn't just king any more. It's an expert strategy that connects every piece on your marketing chessboard. Content can bring new leads into your funnel, expand awareness of your brand, and convince hesitant prospects to buy.

In the past year alone, content has:

But simply creating content isn't enough to get these kinds of results. You need material that will engage your readers, earn their trust, and help them feel connected to your brand.

You need a skilled writer.

If you're reading this article, you're probably thinking about freelancing instead of hiring in-house. Congratulations — you're on the right track. The benefits of outsourcing are enormous.

Outsourced writers are less expensive, require less commitment, and give you a broader selection of talent. Half of all marketers have embraced hiring them, according to the study cited above.

But there are pitfalls to hiring freelance writers. The more you know about those risks, the better your chances of hiring the right freelancer.

Pitfall #1: The Writer Doesn't Hit the Right Tone

Your brand voice matters. It's how audiences recognize and get to know your business. It tells them what to expect from you and who you are as a company.

To earn audience's trust, your content has to have an authentic and consistent voice. More than 85% of consumers look for authenticity when deciding what brands to support, yet 57% think that most brand content is inauthentic.

That's a huge divide that your content can close — but only if your freelance writer hits the right notes.

Solution: Find a Writer Who Can Match Your Voice

It takes a lot of skill to write in someone else's style. Many writers get stuck in their own voice and struggle to escape the familiar. Their work for an estate lawyer sounds eerily similar to what they produce for a local pizza joint. For their clients, it's like content roulette — maybe the style will work; maybe it won't.

You want a freelancer who's more versatile, or whose voice fits with your style. Either is fine, as long as the fit is there. Your job is to ensure your writer has either:

  • Written in a brand voice like yours in the past
  • Successfully matched enough different voices that you're sure they can manage yours

Either way, you need to read through multiple samples and compare them to the brands' "native" voices. It's not easy, especially if you're less familiar with the craft of writing, but it's a necessary part of finding a capable writer.

Unless, of course, you go through a content platform. But we'll get to that.

Solution: Share Your Style Guide

There's a lot involved in matching a brand's voice. To ensure your writer will get it correct down to the smallest detail, provide them with a detailed editorial style guide.

A style guide explains your brand voice, from the big picture to the smallest detail. It describes your desired tone using the kinds of adjectives you'd use for a human's personality — approachable, honest, casual, businesslike, funny, serious.

You can also tell the writer what you want and don't want to sound like:

  • Friendly, not aloof
  • Helpful, not condescending
  • Respectful, not flippant

If you can include examples of content that's particularly on-brand, do so. It will help the writer understand how to craft the pieces.

Include specific details about how you approach grammar and style. That includes:

  • Grammar: Should the writer follow the rules or be more conversational?
  • Punctuation: How do you use commas, dashes, ellipses, and so on? Include your stance on the controversial Oxford comma.
  • Formatting: Share your preferences for heading styles, paragraph lengths, and so on.

If you follow a particular styles format — AP is a common one — let the writer know. These style formats cover a multitude of details and writers usually know how to reference them.

Pitfall #2: The Writer Is Difficult to Work With

Plenty of writers are extremely professional and wonderful to work with, but you don't want to take chances when you're paying someone to produce content. You need to make sure your writer will do two things:

  • Take feedback gracefully and fix what needs fixing (within reason)
  • Keep you updated, especially if there's an issue with the project

It's hard to know which writers will meet these expectations, so screen for communication skills when you hire.

Solution: Hop on a Video Call

A back-and-forth conversation is the best way to gauge someone's communication skills. If you plan to hire a freelancer who's new to you, and you don't know anyone personally who's worked with them, a video call can help you get to know them.

Most freelancers won't balk at this. A brief interview is normal when establishing a relationship with a new client. And if they do balk, it's a red flag.

Solution: Establish Clear Expectations

Freelancers tend to market themselves as "clear communicators" committed to "on-time delivery" — but what does that mean? One person might write this to mean "answers every email within 24 hours," while another means "is never more than 48 hours late."

You deserve to know what you're signing on for.

Before you commit to onboarding a freelancer, discuss how you both envision the working process. That includes:

  • Hours you expect each other to be reachable
  • How you both prefer to communicate (email, phone, Slack, etc.)
  • How often they should send progress reports and what to include
  • How many rounds of revision are included in the fee
  • How you'll deliver feedback
  • When they should expect payment

Both of you should feel free to ask any questions you have. It's better to be thorough at first than frustrated later.

That said, if you've been through extensive back-and-forth and the freelancer still seems hedgy, consider moving on.

Pitfall #3: The Writer Doesn't Deliver What You Envisioned

There are many different types of content writing. Each serves a different marketing purpose and requires a different approach. Examples include:

  • Blog posts (long and short form)
  • Case studies
  • How-to guides
  • White papers
  • E-books
  • Thought leadership articles
  • Organic social posts

Even within a category, content can look different depending on who publishes it and what they're trying to achieve. A style guide and a freelancer who understands tone can get you closer to the results you want.

Still, it's easy for a freelancer to make wrong assumptions if they don't have the right information. You might use the term " white paper" to mean a deeply researched, data-driven educational resource. Meanwhile, your writer received some low-quality training and thinks they're writing a sales piece or press release.

You might be in a hurry to expand your audience and start bringing more traffic to your website, but don't risk releasing something that isn't right.

Solution: Screen for Format Expertise

You need to know your freelancer is up for the task, especially if your niche is highly technical.

Review samples of what the writer has written, ideally on the topic you need and in the same format. If you're not familiar with the style or format, look at examples from other writers. Does your potential freelancer's white paper look like theirs?

If you hire someone who has delivered what you're asking for, you can save yourself a lot of difficulty.

Solution: Create a Detailed Outline

Even an expert writer can miss the mark if they don't clearly grasp what you need. You might know exactly the points you want to hit in your article, but the freelancer can't read your mind.

For example, you might commission a piece for your digital marketer audience on "5 Ways to Optimize SEO This Year." Even if you and your freelancer are both SEO experts, you might have different ideas of what's important.

The best to way to be on the same page is to draft an outline of the project you envision. It doesn't have to be lengthy or deeply detailed. It just needs to include:

  • The major points you want the writer to cover
  • The keyword(s) you hope to rank for
  • Any resources you want the writer to use (or avoid)
  • Whether you want statistics and, if applicable, where they should come from

It's tempting to skip this step, especially when you trust your writer. But the more information they have, the quicker they can deliver what you want and the fewer rounds of revisions you'll need.

Pitfall #4: The Writer Delivers Low-Quality Work

This is one of the most frustrating pitfalls of hiring freelance writers. You check someone's portfolio and they clearly write well. They have the versatility to handle your project and they have strong client testimonials.

Then their work hits your inbox and it misses the mark. They clearly don't understand the topic or their writing is clunky and awkward.

There are a few reasons why this happens. One is that the writer's samples were heavily edited. Everyone posts their best work to their portfolio, and sometimes a writer had more help than you realized.

Other times, the topic is the problem. They might have plenty of experience writing about property insurance, but real estate law is over their head. Maybe they know all about SEO from a content writer's perspective, but you need it described for web developers.

When your writer can't deliver, you can both get stuck in a lengthy cycle of attempted revisions. It's much better to prevent the issue by getting on the same page content-wise as well as structure-wise.

Solution: Verify Subject Knowledge

Some freelance writers are generalists. They take on work across a variety of subject areas and research them so they can write with authority.

Others specialize in one or more topics or content types. A freelancer might have a background in software development and write mostly for tech clients. Another might specialize in writing case studies.

There's no singular "right" type. Sometimes you want a generalist to produce content in different styles or on different topics. Sometimes you need an expert to tackle a technical topic or write for an expert audience. Determine what your needs are, then check the writer's portfolio. Have they written at the level you need, on the topic you want?

If you need someone with advanced knowledge, ask for a resume or summary of professional experience. Some expertise you can't develop by reading, especially in highly technical fields. And as always, read what they've written in your niche — the closer, the better.

Solution: Ask for Early Sections in Advance

If you've never worked with a particular freelancer, ask if they can send you the first few sections of your piece before the draft is finished. This lets you check tone and content, and offer help when necessary.

Sometimes a freelancer just needs a better idea of what you want. But if worse comes to worst and they're truly not up for the task, you want to have that conversation sooner rather than later.

Is There Another Way? Avoiding the Disadvantages of Hiring Freelancers

By this point, you might feel intimidated by everything you have to do to avoid the pitfalls of hiring freelance writers. You need to:

  • Check their ability to match your brand voice and tone
  • Make sure they've written the kind of project you need
  • Research their knowledge of your industry and topic areas
  • Touch base and discuss your expectations for the project
  • Provide them with a style guide and outline
  • Review early drafts and collect feedback

At this point, it can be tempting to cave and hire an in-house writer. But the in-house screening process is at least as in-depth — usually even more because more decision-makers are involved.

In-house writers also cost more than freelancers, while providing you with less flexibility. Once you hire a writer in-house, you're committed to their work. Outsourcing gives you a broader pool of talent with less commitment.

But it's still a hassle. You're right to wonder if there's a better way.

The answer is yes. You can sign up to a content writing platform.

Platforms like Compose.ly give you access to professional content writing services without the headache. Experts hire and vet each freelancer and match you with someone who can handle your project, without you having to lift a finger. All you need to do is describe the project, then sit back and wait for the content.

The platform handles the heavy lifting, including pay rate negotiations and writer payouts. With certain service packages you can even have the platform handle writer communications. It gives you the reliability of in-house with the versatility of freelancing.

By outsourcing your content, your bottom line and your readers benefit — it's truly a win-win.

Need help developing and executing your content strategy? Compose.ly has you covered.
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