So you’re faced with a looming writing project, and you’ve decided to hire a freelance writer to get the job done.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of sifting through thousands of freelance writing applications, you’re not alone. With more than 53 million freelancers in America alone, increasing competition has resulted in more choice than ever for businesses looking to outsource.
But with more choices come more decisions. Will you use a writing platform, agency, or find a writer yourself? What guidance should you provide? How much should you pay? The questions can seem endless.
It’s a good thing then that you stumbled on this no-nonsense guide to hiring a great freelance writer. It runs through everything you need to know, from how to source a talented writer, to how much you should pay them. Combined with some tried and tested tips, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to both find and work with your next freelance writer.
1. Create Your Project Guidelines
Even the best writers aren’t mind readers. In order to attract the best talent and support them to create optimal content for you, you need to provide a clear and detailed job brief.
Of course, that doesn’t mean providing so much direction that you’ve practically written the article for your writer. It just means making sure to provide a clear outline of your expectations.
If you’re posting on a free or paid jobs board
If you’re posting an ad on a free jobs board, you’ll have to do most of the legwork writing and formatting your job brief.
The fields provided when you create a job ad only give basic guidance about what you should include, like the job title, description, your company name, and compensation.
Furthermore, you usually won’t have access to formatting options such as headings and bullet points, meaning you’ll have to be crafty with presenting your ad.
It will therefore be up to you to remember to add any additional mandatory information you require, and format it in a way that is both informative and captivating to job seekers.
For a comprehensive look at what you should include in your job description, check out our guide to onboarding freelance writers.
If you’re posting on a freelance platform
Writing platforms usually provide a set of project guidelines for you to fill in when you sign up.
One significant advantage of more reputable freelance platforms is that each product has its own set of unique set of guidelines for you to fill out.
After all, the requirements of a blog are not the same as a product description, nor a white paper, and so on.
So what fields can you expect to find on a freelance writing platform?
Generally, you’ll find a few mandatory fields to fill out like the title of your project and a brief description.
Some platforms include optional fields to help you specify exactly what you’re after. For instance, when ordering a blog post on Compose.ly, you’ll see the following fields:
- Things to avoid
- Your focus keyword/keyphrase
- The point of view your piece should be written from
- Source citation options
The inclusion of both mandatory and optional fields means that you can provide as little or as much information to your writer as you want. Just remember, the more direction you give, the more likely your writer will be able to hit the nail on the head.
Don’t forget to let potential writers know what you don’t want. Specifying what topics, references, and any stylistic elements you want your writer to avoid provides them with the necessary information to accurately write your piece.
2. Select Your Writer
Just like any other profession, writers come in all shapes and sizes. Each brings with them a distinct set of experiences and skills, such as their:
- Subject specialties (e.g. marketing, medical, entertainment)
- Writing expertise (e.g. technical writing, copywriting, essay writing)
- Additional skills (e.g. SEO, email marketing, lead generation)
What does this mean for you?
If you want to set your writing project up for success, you need to find a writer that has the necessary writing skills and experience to complete your project and do a good job.
Ideally, the writer you select should have demonstrated competency in writing about your given topic in a professional, authoritative, and skillful manner.
However, sometimes it’s not so easy to find an “ideal” writer who has all of the credentials you’re looking for. The next best thing in this case is to choose a writer who has the relevant skills and work ethic to do an effective job.
For example, if your topic is “10 Reasons Why You Should Make Bali Your Next Holiday Destination,” but none of your applicants have ever visited Bali, you could give preference for people who have travel writing experience, or have listicle-style articles in their portfolio.
Another important tip is to ensure that the writer you choose has experience writing in your given format.
Think about it: there’s no use hiring an award-winning speechwriter for a copywriting project if they’ve never written for the web before, and they don’t know what SEO is.
So how do you narrow down your pool of applicants to the best writer for your project?
You’ll need to vet them.
Just like you wouldn’t hire someone to join your company in-house without an interview, you also shouldn’t hire a freelance writer without vetting them first. When it comes to vetting writing candidates, you have two choices: do it yourself, or let a freelance writing platform handle it for you.
If you’re posting on a free or paid jobs board...
The simplest means of vetting is to ask applicants to provide writing samples and/or a statement of motivation. You may even ask for their resume to get a more holistic understanding of their skills and experiences.
Here’s an example of how you can phrase these requirements in your job ad:
If you’re interested in applying for this job, please provide a link to your writing portfolio, as well as three examples of relevant published pieces.You should also include your resume and a brief statement explaining why you are the best candidate for this job.
Once you’ve posted your ad, you can expect anywhere from tens to hundreds of applicants. From there, you’ll have to narrow down a list of possible writers to hire.
There’s really no other way to do this than to go through each application one by one, keeping note of:
- Who followed your instructions - Not all applicants will take the time to read your application instructions, but you can use this as a way of filtering out candidates. After all, if a writer doesn’t take the time to send you the correct application materials, there’s no telling whether they’ll be able to follow your writing guidelines.
- How writers present their skills - Are they confident in their own abilities? Do they sell themselves well? Are they polite? These are all things you should try to ascertain from their application.
- Who has relevant experience - Some writers will have published work in the same niche you need content in, while others—not so much.
- Which writers impress you the most - Relevant experience isn’t necessarily the most important criterion in deciding who to hire. You may find that you prefer one writer’s style and quality of writing over another with more experience in your niche.
Comparing each application against the requirements you stated in your ad will help you sort the good from the bad, and help shine a spotlight on the great.
If you’re posting on a freelance platform...
Each freelance writing platform has a different set of criteria for vetting writers. At one end of the spectrum, there are suspect platforms with overly lax vetting procedures. These platforms let almost every applicant join, and it shows with the quality (or lack thereof!) of work produced.
On the other end of the spectrum are platforms that implement extensive vetting procedures. Writers usually have to pass multiple tests, provide work samples, and undergo continued training and testing.
Take Compose.ly for example. We make all of our writers undergo rigorous testing, including grammar and writing tests, before accepting them on our platform.
Once you place an order, we do all the hard work of vetting your writer for you by matching you with an expert writer who best meets the requirements of your project. There’s no need to sift through a hoard of applications or worry about if your writer will live up to the hype they created.
We have writers who specialize in a range of industries including travel and lifestyle, legal, science and technology, and sales and marketing. So no matter how niche your topic, we have a writer with the skills and experience to fulfill your project needs.
<div class="tip">Want to learn more about how not to hire a bad writer? Find out how to avoid incompetent freelance writers.</div>
3. Pay Your Writer
When it comes to writing rates, we’ve found that it’s usually a case of “you get what you pay for.”
If you hire a writer to work for peanuts, don’t expect anything short of lackluster. When you think about it, why would a writer be motivated to produce high-quality work if you’re giving them no incentive?
A good rule of thumb is to pay a reasonable amount to attract writers with both the credentials you’re after, and the experience to fulfill your project objectives.
If you’re posting on a free or paid jobs board...
Posting on a free or paid jobs board gives you the freedom to either set a writing rate yourself, or ask writers to submit their own rates.
There are a few ways rates are usually set, namely:
- Price per word
- Price per project
- A “package deal” amount for multiple projects
It’s ultimately your call, but according to Leaving Work Behind, estimated blogging standards for freelance writers per word are as follows:
Of course, it’s also important to note that these rates are only averages. Other factors, like industry, the complexity of a project, and the writer’s location, affect what writers charge and what you should expect to pay as reasonable compensation.
Setting the rate yourself
If you want to set your own rate, you’ll have to check with your budget and determine the quality of writing you want. If you set it too high, you’ll hurt your bottom line. But, if you set it too low, good writers won’t bother applying.
One advantage of stating your desired rate upfront in your ad is that it encourages applicants who are willing to accept your rate to apply. This will help weed out applicants who want a higher rate than you’re willing to pay.
That being said, your ad will likely also attract applicants who try to propose a different rate from your desired one. You’ll have to choose to either reject them outright, or consider them on a case-by-case basis.
Asking applicants to submit their own rates
If you ask writers to submit their own rates, you can expect a mixed bag of responses. Some writers will make reasonable offers commensurate with their skills and experience, and others will list exorbitant or too-good-to-be-true rates.
Depending on your perspective, this can be viewed in two different ways:
- On one hand, giving writers the responsibility to present their own case for the rate they think they deserve will give you some criteria to identify the worthy from the unworthy (however you judge that).
- On the other, you’ll be faced with the task of evaluating countless different profiles against hundreds of different quotes.
If you’re posting on a freelance platform...
Most freelance writing platforms have a set rate for each type of content, with prices based on the number of words requested and writer quality.
Set rates mean you don’t need to spend your own time trying to determine a fair rate to pay your writer. Conversely, you may find hiring through a platform to be more expensive than going about hiring a writer yourself.
At least at Compose.ly, we offer our writers a competitive cut, as we believe that our writers should be fairly paid and incentivized for creating top-quality content. That means that while our writing services aren’t the cheapest, they are very competitively priced considering the caliber of our writers, as well as the quality of the content you’ll receive.
In short, our prices offer the ideal balance between the needs of both our clients and writers, by ensuring that our writers are duly rewarded for creating fantastic content, and clients are continually satisfied with the content they commission.
4. Set Reasonable Expectations
Finding a freelance writer that delivers perfect content without the need for any edits or revision is unrealistic. If you go in expecting this kind of applicant, you may as well be putting up a job posting for a unicorn.
Remember that a writer’s success is also in part contingent on your communication skills.
After all, you need to be able to provide clear writing guidelines for your freelancers and communicate what you want out of a piece.
If you provide only a vague description of what you want in a blog post or product description, don’t be surprised if the work you get back doesn’t quite hit the mark. You’ll be setting your freelancer up to fail, since they can’t read your mind.
That said, even with the clearest instructions, a freelance writer isn’t guaranteed to hit a homerun on their first draft. Be patient, and know that the more you work with a writer, the better they’ll get at writing for your needs. Over time, you can develop strong, mutually beneficial, and fruitful relationships with your freelancers.
There are a number of considerations to account for when searching for an excellent freelance writer. One of the most important is choosing whether you want to take the DIY route, or employ the services of a freelance writing platform.
Whichever you choose in the end, just remember: there is a world of difference between hiring a good writer and a great writer. Set your project up for success by making sure you hire the latter.
This post was originally published in February 2018.