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How to Hire a Great Freelance Writer: Everything you Need to Know

By: Monica Mizzi — February 23, 2018

purple pool ball

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 greater choice, comes greater decisions. Will you use a writing platform, agency, or find a writer yourself? What guidance should you provide? How much should you pay? Should you make that hilarious joke about punctuation mistakes?… 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.

Freelance writer working in a cafe

Whether you’re thinking about hiring a freelance writer yourself, or using a platform to hire one, you need to take a number of different considerations into account.

1. Creating Your Project Guidelines

Provide clear 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.

If you have a concrete idea of what you want from the piece you are commissioning, try to provide as much guidance as possible.

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 your expectations.

If you’re posting on a free or paid jobs board

Freelancewriting.com job post screenshot

A preview of FreelanceWriting.com’s
job submission form.

If you’re posting an ad on a free jobs board like Freelance Writing’s job portal or Craigslist, or a paid one like Problogger or BloggingPro, you will have to do most of the legwork writing and formatting your job brief.

Why?

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 price of the piece.

Furthermore, you won’t usually 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 which is both informative and captivating to job seekers.

 

 

Big Tip
For a comprehensive look at what you should include in your job description, read our piece, The Ultimate Onboarding & SEO Template for Freelance Writers.

If you’re posting on a freelance platform

Compose.ly blog/article guidelines screesnshot

A preview of Compose.ly‘s blog/article guidelines.

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 will find a few mandatory fields to fill out such as your project’s Topic/Title and Description.

You will also find a range of optional fields that will help you understand exactly what you’re after.

 

On Compose.ly, for example, when you are ordering a blog post you will find the following useful optional fields:

  • Things to avoid
  • Your focus keyword/keyphrase
  • The point of view your piece should be written from
  • Source citation options
  • The option of a free relevant image

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.

Big Tip
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. Selecting Your Writer

Select a Writer Who Possesses the Credentials You’re After

Just like any other profession, writers come in all shapes and sizes. Each writer brings with them a distinct set of experiences and skills, such as their:

  • Subject specialties (e.g. marketing, medical, entertainment, etc)
  • Writing expertise (e.g. technical writing, copywriting, essay writing, etc)
  • Additional skill set (e.g. SEO, email marketing, lead generation, etc)

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 effectively complete your project.

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, then, 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 writer who is the best fit for your particular project? You need to vet your writers.

Vetting your applicants

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

When writing your job ad, make sure to include both specifications about the type of writer you are looking for, and a means of vetting your applicants.

The simplest means of vetting is to ask applicants to provide evidence of their past work 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 is an example of how you can phrase these requirements in your job ad:

If you are interested in applying for this job, please provide a link to your portfolio, as well as three examples of relevant published pieces. You should also include your resume and a short statement of motivation explaining why you think you will be ideal for this job.

Once you have posted your ad, you can expect anywhere from tens to hundreds of applicants. You will have to manually work your way through 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 which writers impress you the most. 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 which have overly lax vetting procedures. These platforms basically let anyone who applies to 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.

Compose.ly's top writers

Here’s a look at Compose.ly’s Top Writers.

At Compose.ly, we have very strict vetting procedures which result in an acceptance rate of only 1% of writers who apply to write on our platform. We make all of our writers undergo rigorous testing including grammar and essay tests.

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.

Writer specializations on Compose.ly

At Compose.ly, our writers specialize in a wide range of categories.

As shown in the image above, we have writers who specialize in a range of categories including travel and lifestyle, legal, science and technology, and sales and marketing. So no matter how niche your topic, we have a writer who has the skills and experience to fulfill your project needs – 100% satisfaction guaranteed.

Big Tip
Want to learn more about how not to hire a bad writer? Have a read of our guide to avoiding incompetent freelance writers.

3. Paying 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 work of a high quality if you’re giving them no incentive to?

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 couple of ways rates are usually set, namely:

  • Price per word
  • Price per project
  • A “package deal” amount for multiple projects

It’s up to you what rate you decide, but according to Leaving Work Behind, estimated blogging standards for freelance writers per word are as follows:

freelance writing rates table

This is a useful guide for determining how much to charge your freelance writer. (Image credit: Leaving Work Behind)

Setting the rate yourself

If you want to set your own rate, you will have to evaluate what is an ideal rate for both your budget, as well as to writers. If you set it too high you will hurt your bottom line, whereas if you set it too low, good writers will not bother to apply. It’s therefore imperative to give some proper thought when deciding a fair rate for your project.

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 are willing to pay.

That being said, your ad will likely also attract applicants who try to propose a different rate to your desired one. You will have to choose 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 to their skills and experience, and others will make offers too high or low.

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, this method can prove problematic when you are faced with the task of evaluating countless different profiles against hundreds of different quotes.

Big Tip
Another good indicator of a writer you’ll want to work with is how they 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.

If you’re posting on a freelance platform

Most freelance writing platforms have a set rate for each type of content, with prices differing according to the number of words and writer quality.

Set rates mean you don’t need to spend your own time trying to figure out 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 will receive.

Compose.ly product selection and pricing

Compose.ly prices are highly competitive for both our clients and writers.

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 on Compose.ly.

Final words

There are a number of considerations you must account for when on the search for a great 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. Our guide discusses some of the major differences between the two, and highlights what you can expect from both. Whichever you choose in the end, just remember – there is a world of difference between hiring a good writer and a great writer, so make sure you set your project up for success by hiring the latter.

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