How to hire freelance writers

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freelance writer peter alfred hess

I recently participated in a LinkedIn discussion about hiring freelance writers. The original poster was troubled by writers who presented only their best work as samples (well, duh!) then turned in sub-par work on his project.

vetting writers for LinkedIn

Some commenters chimed in that he should ask writers to perform a “test” as part of the application process. I, and several others pointed out that this is an unfair practice. Asking someone to create something for you without compensation is exploitation.

Writing Test response LinkedIn

Don’t agree? Consider this: You don’t ask your accountant to fill out a “test” tax return. You wouldn’t ask your attorney to represent you in a “test” deposition. And what would your dentist say if you asked him to fill in a “test” cavity?

You evaluate these professionals based on their credentials. The more talented and experienced they are, the more you pay. If you can’t afford that premium, you accept that your results will be of lower quality. That’s how business works. Professional writing is no different.

The right way to evaluate freelance writers

Having said all that, I understand many nonprofits, small businesses, and solopreneurs operate on a shoestring budget. You still deserve the best writer you can afford. So, how do you screen freelance writers?

Step One: Evaluate samples

Every writer should have a portfolio of samples that you can review. Yes, these are going to be their best or most relevant work. Keep that in mind. If the samples are riddled with grammatical errors or nonsensical sentences, move on. If the samples are only OK, that means the writer’s best work is only OK, so move on.

Be sure to pay attention to more than just grammar and spelling, though. Ask yourself, do you like the writer’s style? Do they present well thought out and creative ideas? Does the writing demonstrate a depth of understanding of the subject matter? If the answer is no, move on.

Step Two: Check the writer’s web presence

Check out the writer’s website. Does it include a blog? Read several entries and evaluate the writing there. Does it show subject matter expertise? Does it offer a unique perspective? Does it demonstrate solid language, grammar, and punctuation skills?

In addition to their blog, check out the writer’s social media presence. How do they conduct themselves online? Do they present themselves as a professional writer, or as a hobbyist? Have customers posted reviews or recommendations? Do they participate in group discussions and share ideas with others?

Keep in mind that occasional grammar and spelling errors in this casual form of communication are to be expected, but if every post demonstrates a poor command of written language, move on.

Step Three: Speak to your writer

No matter what kind of professional service provider you’re hiring, you’ll want to interview them. When it comes to hiring freelance writers, pay attention not only to how they answer your questions, but what questions they ask you.

When I’m discussing a new project with a customer I want to know as much detail as possible (before quoting a price). Some questions I might ask you include:

  • What is the topic?
  • Will you be providing subject matter research, or will I have to find my own sources?
  • What goal are you trying to achieve with this piece?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • How many words do you estimate it will be?
  • How soon do you need it back?

Often, I’ll need to speak with you more than once to really grasp what the project entails. I also like to review your website and other content to better understand your business. If a writer is willing to quote you a price without knowing any of this, move on.

Step Four: Offer a fair price

The freelance writing market is fierce, so no matter how low your budget, you’ll get bids. But as I told the gentleman on LinkedIn, even a good writer is going to turn in shoddy work if they have to turn over a ridiculous volume to make a living. The more you can afford to pay, the higher quality you’ll get.

 

Vetting writers, LinkedIn

One commenter had offered to do the work for $16 per 1000 words. I had to respond.

Personally, my rates are near the top of the content writing spectrum. Why? Because I charge enough so that I can take my time and do it right on the first or second draft. I also like to work for just one or two customers at a time, giving them my utmost attention.

Not that you can’t find good writing at bargain basement prices. You just have to spend your time and energy hunting for it. Wouldn’t you rather use that time making progress toward the project’s completion?

Optional Step: Test your writer the right way

If you have a large project or need writing on an on-going basis, it makes sense to want to test the waters before diving in. That’s perfectly fair.

In such situations, I suggest starting with a test – a PAID test.

For example, let’s say you need six white papers written. Hire your freelancer to first work on a short article or blog post. This small, initial project gives you a chance to feel each other out and learn if you work well together. No exploitation needed.

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