Freelance Writing 101: What Exactly Do Freelance Writers Do?

December 3, 2020
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Between 2014 and 2019, the number of working freelancers increased by 64.9 percent. In fact, freelancers now represent approximately 35 percent of the world’s workforce, and 75 percent of them say that they wouldn’t do anything else for a living. If you’re considering hiring a writer, you’re in good company.

Those new to the idea might be wondering: what’s a freelance writer, and why has this career choice become so popular? Just as importantly, what’s in it for the hiring company?

What Is Freelance Writing?

Freelance writing describes a unique work arrangement between a company and an independent writer. In most cases, the company hires a freelancer for a particular project. Unlike a traditional employer-employee relationship, the company generally doesn’t pay benefits or deduct taxes. Instead, the freelancer figures all of that out for themself.

While independent contractors and freelancers aren’t the same, there are some similarities. The contractor pays their own taxes and has to find their own health insurance, receiving pay only for work done. The difference is that an independent contractor tends to work with one company long-term and get paid by the hour, unlike the freelancer who juggles multiple clients and more often gets paid by the project.

What Do Freelance Writers Do?

Freelance writers create all kinds of printed content. Some are short-form — less than 1,000 words and intended for quick consumption online. Freelancers that create short-form content might produce tweets, social media ads, or even short blog posts.

Freelancers can also create long-form content, which ranges anywhere from 1,000 words to as many as 10,000 words or more. Examples include white papers, ebooks, and longer articles. Done well, long-form content can be a huge asset to a business because it builds credibility, engages users, and gets more shares than short-form content.

There are freelance writers with experience in all types of specialty content, including:

  • Grants
  • Resumés
  • Speeches and presentations
  • Press releases
  • Magazine and newspaper articles
  • Technical writing (how-to guides, manuals, etc.)
  • Video game content
  • Video scripts

Some freelancers are generalists, meaning that they create content for a variety of industries. A generalist might write a blog post about mortgage applications in the morning and a press release for a pharmaceutical company in the afternoon.

Others focus on a specific niche in which they have a personal or professional background — these freelancers are better known as specialists or niche writers.

Whether you want a generalist or specialist as your freelance writer depends on the kind of content you need. You can get great work from a generalist, especially if your piece doesn’t require the extensive perusal of technical resources, and generalists often charge less. Specialists may be more expensive, but they’re often more capable of creating complex, industry-specific content.

The Logistics of Working with Freelance Writers

Some writers prefer to work directly with clients through LinkedIn or their personal websites. You can find good writers this way, but it’s hard to know who and where the good ones are. Recommendations from colleagues can help you to sort through your options.

Paying Freelance Writers

As you shop around, think about how you want to handle payment. Are you comfortable with paying a percentage upfront or when the project is partially completed, or would you prefer to pay the entire amount when the work is done?

Most freelance writers get paid by the project. They might quote a flat fee for the entire project or charge by the word. Other freelancers prefer to arrange an hourly payment. If that’s the case, make sure you work out a way to verify how the writer uses the time that they bill you for.

Consider how your business pays vendors and contractors. If you use an invoice system, you might want to use the same system with your freelance writer. If you pay through PayPal, you can ask your writer to send a reminder when it’s time to pay.

Good freelance writers send payment reminders or invoices promptly. Be careful, though — less experienced writers may not remind you to pay, and that can disrupt your billing.

Using a Third-Party Service

Another option — usually a more convenient one — is to go through a content writing service like These services take on the process of finding, vetting, and even paying writers. All you have to do is create a content brief with guidelines and expectations of what you’re looking for.

With these content services, you don’t have to spend time checking writers’ credentials or developing a payment plan — the common administrative headaches that come with hiring and managing freelance writers. Instead, you can spend more time on your project guidelines and description. The more detailed your instructions, the smoother the whole process will go, and the sooner you’ll get the content you need.

Why Hire Freelance Writers

In-house employees are important for many areas of your business. For these workers, companies must cover payroll taxes, offer benefits, and deal with the inconvenience of the hiring process — but it’s worth the trouble when you need someone’s undivided attention.

But businesses don’t always need that in a writer. Writers can come on for one project, learn your brand voice and style, and deliver a product that’s every bit as impressive as something a staff writer could produce. Plus, freelancers offer several advantages that you simply can’t get from an in-house writer.

1. Topic Expertise and Writing Skill

It’s not easy to find someone who knows every topic you’re looking for content on — not to mention, someone who can also produce engaging and effective writing about those very subjects. That’s why freelancers exist.

A freelance writer knows their craft and when you need a particular topic addressed, there’s bound to be a freelancer who knows it. If you’re lucky, you can find one freelancer who can masterfully create the majority of your content.

2. Skill Specialization

Need a white paper today and snappy project descriptions tomorrow? Those are two very different writing skills. You could hire an in-house person and have them dabble, but you’ll get better results if you can hire freelancers with the expertise that you need for a particular project.

3. Ease of Hiring

U.S. companies take an average of 23 days to hire someone. That’s more than three weeks, assuming all the administrative work of creating a job posting, collecting resumés, interviewing candidates, and checking references goes smoothly. Then of course, there’s onboarding to consider.

When you hire a freelancer, you can request the content you need and have a contract underway in a matter of hours, especially if you go through a content service. You can cut to the chase and get your content faster — without the fuss of company onboarding and having HR explain employee benefits.

4. Cost Efficiency

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the cost of an employee ranges from 1.25 to 1.4 times their salary. So if you hire a writer for $50,000 — the average salary in the U.S. — you’re really paying about $70,000.

With a freelancer, you only pay the amount you quote. There’s no retirement plan to match, no equipment to provide, and no training to fund. It’s up to the freelancer — or their agency — to determine a fair rate for producing quality content.


Freelance writers can be a huge asset to your business. They bring expertise that you’d have a hard time getting from an in-house writer, and for a comparatively lower overall cost. Plus, because you hire them by the project, you’re not limited to just one person. You can hire a copywriter for your advertising, a press release writer for your publicity, and so on.

It’s even possible to build a relationship with one content agency and gain access to an entire roster of writers, with none of the hassles of finding them yourself. Start finding your writers this way through, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t tap into the freelance talent pool sooner.

About the Author

Ellie Diamond is a professional freelance writer with nearly a decade of freelancing experience. She creates informative and engaging content across a broad range of industries, including real estate, child development, healthcare, marketing, personal finance, and tech.

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