So you need a freelance writer. Exciting times?
Well, it probably means you’ve got more work than you can handle. That’s generally good, but it also means you’re strapped for time. And now, you’re tasked with finding quality candidates, evaluating their credentials, negotiating a fair agreement and ultimately hiring them.
But wait, there’s more.
Then you’ve got onboarding. Your new writer will need to understand your processes, your tools and your collaborative culture. You’ll need to provide access to (and maybe even create) the messaging guidelines, audience persona profiles and other critical details your writer needs to get the job done. And don’t forget about ongoing follow-up. Even the best writers need feedback and follow-up to get to where they need to be.
Get this process right, and you’ll have a writer you can count on to deliver high-quality copy, consistently. Get it wrong, and you’re forced to start the process from scratch. That’s not just disheartening — it can be devastating from a resource planning standpoint. It’s at this point where you might be thinking, “I didn’t have time to find a freelance writer in the first place. Now I have to do it all over again? What’s to say the same thing won’t happen?”
Get the right freelance content writer the first time. Here’s how to find, evaluate and hire the best freelance writer for your content marketing team.
Where to Find Freelance Content Writers
There are four basic ways to find a freelance writer:
- Freelance writing websites (content mills)
- Specialized agencies
- Networking and referrals
Let’s discuss each option, including the pros and cons.
Freelance Writing Websites
Commonly referred to as “content mills,” freelance writing websites typically feature up-and-coming freelancers who are willing to take on work for a fraction of what an experienced freelancer would charge.
Examples: Upwork, Speedlancer, Fiverr, Guru
- High competition among writers typically means lower rates
- Many sites allow you to search by type of writing, view profiles and examine rates for easy comparison
- Allows you to test multiple writers inexpensively, though this can be time-consuming
- If you’re in a pinch, some freelance writing websites promise a deliverable within hours of posting your assignment
- Can be a cost-effective way to procure uncomplicated, yet time-consuming copy
- Much of the writing produced here is viewed as a commodity, hence “content mill”
- Some freelance writing websites come with contractual obligations
- Typically not the best option if you’re in need of an authoritative, experienced voice for your brand
The line between content mills and specialized agencies is a bit blurry, but the main difference is this: Content mills provide you with direct access to a network of mostly inexperienced writers, whereas agencies offer matchmaking services to a more experienced, more specialized roster of writers. Some companies, like Contently and Skyword are thought of as more of a hybrid between freelance writing websites and specialized agencies.
Examples: Creative Circle, The Creative Group, Outsource
- Easily find experienced writers in your niche without needing to do the legwork
- Most agencies allow you to view profiles and previous work
- Access to profiles and writing portfolios may require a contract
- Some agencies have special policies regarding ownership rights and bylines
- Because agencies take a cut, many of the most in-demand writers refuse to work with them
- Can flood your inbox with similarly-skilled candidates, requiring you to manually filter through them
“Ok Google, find me the best freelance copywriter for my needs.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were this easy? It’s not (if it were, there’d be no need for this post). Still, Google might be your best route to the right writer, particularly if you’re in a specialized industry or niche.
There are generally two ways to go about searching. The first way is to actually search for the type of writer you need: “freelance writer for aerospace industry.” LinkedIn is also an excellent platform for performing this type of search. The second way is to search through industry publications, websites and blogs to find content writers you like. Many won’t be available for hire, but some will.
- Can work directly with freelance candidates, without an agency or website taking a cut
- You have more control over the working relationship
- Find premium freelance writing candidates who may not be available via content mills and agencies
- Combing through websites and profiles can be time-intensive
- Not as scalable as freelance writing websites and agencies
- Talent is likely to be more in-demand, meaning higher rates and longer lead times
Networking and Referrals
You know people. And those people know people, who know other people. And among all those people might be your perfect writer. You know?
To kickstart the networking cycle, all you have to do is ask. You can single out someone in your network. For example, you might know someone who works at a marketing agency that regularly works with freelancers. Or you can blast your entire social network with your request (the more specific, the better) and see what comes back.
- The mutual connection often serves to increase familiarity at the outset of the relationship
- Can lead to “pre-endorsed” candidates who are already trusted by people you trust
- Network size and quality can limit the effectiveness of this approach
- Can be time-intensive (but can also be extremely quick)
- You may feel obligated to try out referred candidates who aren’t necessarily a good fit
- Popular writers often come with higher rates and longer lead times
How to Evaluate Freelance Content Writers
Now that we’ve established several options for finding freelance writing candidates, let’s talk about how to size them up to see if they’re right for you. And that’s the thing, they have to be right for you. You’re the best person to select the criteria.
What’s most important? Do you need a writer who has the curiosity to explore aspects of your industry, company or product that have thus far remained unexplored? Do you need someone who can perform wonders with your proprietary data? How strict are you with grammar? Do you need someone who will hit deadlines every time, come hell or high water? How important is technical proficiency? Can you teach it or is it a must-have?
Creating your list of must-haves is the surest (and most efficient) way to narrow your candidate pool to only the freelance content writers who represent the best fit.
Once you’ve used your criteria to filter your candidate pool, you’ll also want to perform a qualitative analysis. Read each writer’s previous work to get a sense as to whether their writing style will work for your brand. If you expect specific results from their writing, ask them to show specific examples of success. Talk to their other clients to find out what it’s like to work with them.
You may also consider a test assignment. Some writers won’t go for this, but if you agree upfront that you’ll pay for the work, most will be open to it. After all, freelance writers want to make sure you’re a good match for them as well. To that end, keep the test assignment simple.
Tips for Hiring Freelance Content Writers
Okay, you’re pretty sure you’ve found your ideal freelance content writer. If you used a freelance writing website or specialized agency, hiring terms and conditions will already be set for the most part. If you’ve found your candidate via search or referral, you probably have an idea of how the relationship should work, how the freelancer should get paid, and so forth.
So does your freelancer.
If you’re at all flexible, let the freelancer tell you about their ideal working relationship first. This doesn’t obligate you to accept every term, but it does make your (potentially long-term) partner feel understood. Chances are, their terms aren’t all that different from your expectations. And where differences lie, details can typically be sorted out to the satisfaction of both parties.
Eventually, you may want to lock your freelance writer into a long-term retainer. But at first, to limit your risk, limit the initial contract to no more than 90 days. Again, freelancers want to ensure a good fit as well, which is why many are ok with a 30-day trial period.
As for how writers get paid, you have options here as well. The most common payment methods are by the word, by the hour, by deliverable or by ongoing retainer. Most experienced freelance writers prefer to get paid by deliverable or by retainer, though some still prefer to get paid by the word or by the hour. Payment by word or by hour has become less popular as it opens you up to increased costs that don’t necessarily correlate with increased results.
Finally, there’s the billing component. When should your freelancer expect to get paid for their work? When working with content mills and agencies, the payment details will almost always be set in advance. For everyone else, it’s negotiable. Some writers demand an up-front payment (partial or all), others want payment within a few days of submitting work and others will be comfortable with net 30 invoicing.
If you’re confident you’ve found a freelance writer you can trust, and don’t want to risk losing them, it can pay to be flexible in this area. Some freelancers who demand payment upfront may be willing to switch to net 30 after a trial period. It’s all up for discussion.
When you know that you’ve found your ideal freelance content writer, strongly consider locking them into a long-term agreement. They may love working with you, but you never know when they’ll be pitched a big project they just can’t pass up, leaving you in the lurch for a few months, and back at square one.
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