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How to hire a freelance writer

Let’s say your organization needs help from a freelance writer. Perhaps your overloaded staff is behind schedule. Or maybe you need to find someone with expertise writing an annual report, case study, blog or another content marketing piece.

No problem. There are plenty of experienced, professional and capable freelance writers with all sorts of backgrounds who are ready to lend a hand and get the job done.

If you haven’t hired an outside writer recently, questions like these might come to mind:

  • “Where can I find an experienced writer?”
  • “What should I look for in a professional writer?”
  • “How much do professional writers charge?”

The process of finding a good writer doesn’t have to be difficult. Just follow the tips below and you’ll be on the path toward securing a solid pro for the job.

Have your ducks in a row

Before looking outside for potential writers, get organized internally. Put together a list of specifics about the project in advance of contacting potential writers (a document similar to what ad agencies call a “creative brief”). Have this information handy when you contact writers.

The list doesn’t have to be exhaustive. But it should be thorough enough to give writers the information they need to provide a quote for services. Here are some basic items to compile:

  • Project goals (What do you want to achieve?)
  • Audience (Who are you trying to reach?)
  • Project timeline (When do you want to start the project and what is the project deadline?)
  • Approval process (Who will review/edit/approve submitted content?)
  • Budget (What can you afford to spend on the writing portion of the project?)

This exercise will also help you and your staff clarify exactly what you want to accomplish.

Begin your search

Peers and colleagues are often great sources for freelance writers. (I know my best clients typically come from referrals.) Ask around and see if you can get some solid recommendations.

Smaller ad agencies and freelance designers and photographers also work frequently with freelance writers. These types of vendors are usually more than happy to refer you to writers in their network.

To drill down further and find a writer with a particular expertise, use LinkedIn. Try a few different search phrases, like “freelance healthcare writer” or “health care copywriter,” for example. You can also search for writers in a specific area of the country by using the “Location” drop down menu. However, location isn’t as important as you might think. Freelance writers often work with clients across the country (and sometimes across continents).

Of course, you could also use Google to search for writers using terms like those mentioned above.

Do yourself a favor and don’t create a post seeking a freelance writer on a site like Craigslist or a mass online job board. Since the majority of professional writers don’t search these sites for work, you’re not likely to get good results.

Check qualifications

Now that you have the names of a few freelance candidates, check their LinkedIn profiles and websites to get a sense of their background and experience.

Most professional writers offer an online portfolio and client testimonials. If not, ask for samples and references. Experienced writers will have these readily available. If they don’t, look elsewhere.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, make contact by email or (even better) by phone. Have your “creative brief” handy so you can relay project specifics. This conversation is another research opportunity. Does the writer respond to your phone call promptly and professionally? Does the writer have experience writing for your industry? Is the writer available during your project timeframe or booked solid for the next few months?

Since you’re targeting an experienced professional, don’t ask the writer to complete a writing test. Would you ask a plumber to perform a “test pipe repair” before making a hiring decision? The writer’s samples and testimonials should give you enough information to make an informed choice.

A writer will likely ask specific questions about your project. You may not all the answers, but that’s okay. Seasoned writers can help guide you and provide ideas on how to reach your goals.

Compare pricing

Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for — pricing.

Expect to pay professional rates for the services of a writing pro. Experienced writers have spent years honing their craft and expect to receive compensation commensurate with their skills. Don’t focus on finding a “bargain basement” writer. Remember the adage “you get what you pay for.”

Your first thought might be to ask for the writer’s hourly rate. That makes sense on the surface, but it’s really a pricing structure more suited to advertising agencies. For most assignments, the majority of copywriters charge by the project, not by the hour.

To get a ballpark idea of what professional writers charge for common copywriting projects, check out the American Writers & Artists Inc. 2018 Copywriters Pricing Guide.

If your first contact with a writer is brief, ask for a ballpark project fee. The writer will likely give you a fee range, and you can decide if it’s within your budget. The time to ask for a price quote is after reviewing all project details with the writer, either on the phone or in person.

Review the contract

Expect a writing pro to submit a quote in the form of a contract. This document typically summarizes the project goals, objectives and deadlines; services provided; and payment terms. Review the contact carefully and ask the writer to clarify any agreement terms if necessary. Now is the time to make sure you and the writer are on the same page with regard to project specifics. You don’t want any misunderstandings to occur later and derail the project.

Avoid “handshake” deals or informal verbal agreements. A signed contract is a mutually beneficial document that manages expectations, clarifies work parameters, holds you and the writer to certain standards, builds trust and ultimately makes for a good working relationship.

If all looks good, sign and return the contract, let the writer know the project is a “go” and get started. Congratulations! You’re on your way to completing that pesky project.

Tell us your thoughts

  • Have you previously worked with freelance writers? How did you connect with them?
  • What qualities do you seek in a freelance writer?
  • What are the advantages to working with freelance writers?

Please share your comments below.

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