When you want to create top-notch content, and your in-house team is busy, who you gonna call?
Certainly not “ghost busters”.
Freelance content creators to your rescue. They can help take the load off your already stressed marketing team. Hire when you need them without the overheads of a full-time employee.
There’s one problem, though. Searching for a good writer is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Over the past few years, I have worked with several dozen freelance writers. This guide is a distilled version of my experience. My aim is to help you hire and retain professional writers.
Step #1: Conduct a need analysis
Are you ready to hire a professional freelance content writer?
Before you start the process of searching for a writer, you need to do a need analysis.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do you need a content writer or an editor?
A writer will help you create fresh content. They are the creative ones who’ll take your fresh ideas and convert them into a coherent story.
An editor will give your content a professional touch. They ensure the content has clear prose, is grammatically correct, and adheres to your company standards.
It’s not uncommon for writers to double up as editors for their work. However, it’s inefficient as spotting your mistakes is difficult.
How often do you need to create content?
What does your editorial calendar look like? Do you want to publish content once a week or once per day?
The volume of work you have on an ongoing basis will impact the kind of writers you can hire. It will also affect your billing.
If you have tight deadlines, most writers will charge you a premium on top of their regular rates.
What budget do you have?
Don’t start looking for freelance writers if you don’t have a budget in mind.
Freelancers need to know your budget. This helps them understand whether they’ll be able to take on your project and at what volume.
What kind of writer do you want?
Assuming you need a content writer and not an editor, it’s now time to figure out the exact skill set you want.
- Do you need someone to write ad copy? That’s a copywriter
- Need someone to create content from scratch based on a topic or keyword? Hire a content writer
- Do you have technical documents or white papers to create? You need a technical writer
While most writers can work on all roles, it’s usually best to hire specialized people.
Do you need writers to sit in your office and work?
Work-from-home is popular among content creators.
If you want the writer to work from your office, you’ll eliminate a lot of good writers.
Step #2: Source potential writers
The good thing about content writers is that there are plenty of people to hire from. Since companies have adopted content marketing, the demand for professionals has skyrocketed.
Here are a few ways you can source potential writers.
Ask for a referral
Referrals are one of the best means to hire people. People usually recommend others when they are confident of their ability to deliver.
Content creators are usually a closed knit community. Some of the best writers I have worked with came as referrals from other writers.
Contract an agency
There are thousands of agencies offering content writing services. But not all agencies will deliver value.
There are several benefits if you work with an agency:
- You can scale your content creation. Agencies staff many content writers. If you need more content, agencies can assign more writers to your project
- Agencies are predictable. They usually stick to deadlines. If your regular writer is unavailable, they assign another writer to your work
- Low overhead. Give them your content brief and everything else will be taken care for you
- An all-in-one package for content. Related services like a custom image to go with your written content can be delivered by the same agency. They’ll have people with complementary skills onboard
But not everything that glitters is gold. Agencies have their fair share of problems as well.
- Agencies will bill you an extra 100% – 500% of the cost they incur on your project
- If you hire agencies who quote low rates, chances are you’ll encounter a lot of employee churn. One agency I worked with used to change the writer assigned to our company every alternate week. This resulted in a lot of overhead for me training the new person to fit into our workflow
- If you like a writer, you can’t bring them onboard as a full-time employee. Agencies will have no-poaching clauses in the contract
Look for writers on freelance websites
There are dozens of freelance websites where you can source freelance writers.
Once you post a project, people will bid for it. You can look at the candidate profile, read reviews left by others, and negotiate price. After you accept someone to work on your project, your payment will be stored in an escrow account. Once the writers deliver the work based on the requirements, they’ll receive the money.
The freelance website manages the entire process for you. These websites will take a percentage of the project cost as their service fee.
Here are some of the popular freelance websites where you can hire writers:
Do an online search
Good writers often have enough work and are not available to hire on freelance websites. They’ll have a website where they provide you all the required information.
An online search is the best way to uncover these writers. You can do a location-based search or a specialization-based search.
If you want to work with someone in your area, do a location based search. If you prefer to work with experts, specialization based search is the most effective.
Most job portals will give you resume access to candidates on their system. You can search and download resumes of content writing candidates.
In my experience, job portals are great if you are searching for technical writers.
Scout for freelance writers on social media
Twitter, LinkedIn, and Medium are great sources for discovering good writing talent.
It’s not easy to find talent in Medium. However, Medium does have a unique advantage. Since it’s a writing platform, you can see how well someone can write. High levels of engagement on their posts show the ability of the writer to create engaging content.
Step #3: Hire writers
It’s time to sort the wheat from the chaff. Here are a few practical ways to identify good writers and hire them.
Evaluate their most recent work
Ask candidates you are evaluating to send links to few of their most recent published work. Since editors can work their magic, evaluate some of their unpublished works too.
Give them a paid assignment
Once I narrow down my selection to five or less, I provide them with a paid writing assignment. I give them minimal guidance and see how well they can write about topics relevant to my business.
The most cost-efficient approach is to give different topics to shortlisted writers. For a more balanced review, give everyone the same assignment. It’ll be easier to compare their work.
Give them a trial period
Based on the assignment, I’ll select one or two writers for a longer trial. The trial will be for 30 days or 60 days where they work with the marketing team to create content.
The trial period will give you a better sense of the value each writer brings in. Some writers need minimum hand holding and can churn out content faster. Others need more time per content, but they might not need as many copy-edits.
Here are some of the factors I’d look at before finalizing my content writer.
- Content turnaround time: How long does the writer take to create content and move it to the next stage?
- How much hand holding does the writer take? Can they do things on their own or is someone regularly required to help them out?
- Can they create different types of content? Long form, short form, social media posts, etc.
- How engaging is their content? Are your readers coming back to consume more?
- How many conversions can the writer drive? Do they deliver more value in dollar terms compared to their payout?
Give them formal contracts
Not all freelance writers want contracts. But it’s best to have a written agreement before the start of the trial. Revise the agreement once you have finalized your long-term writer.
The agreement should state the scope of work, payment terms, and other relevant details.
Step #4: Onboarding your writer
The biggest reason why most freelance writers don’t work out is because companies fail to onboard writers.
It’s easy to say the content writer never delivered. Just as with any new employee, your writer also needs to be onboarded. Here are a few important things to take care of during the onboarding process.
Familiarize writers with your company processes
The scope of work covers what’s expected from both parties. But it never talks about the small-yet-important stuff.
Your writer should be familiar with your organization’s content marketing goals and processes. Some of the questions new writers will have are
- Who do I report to? It’s never a good option to have several people manage freelance writers. Always have a single point of contact
- Are there other writers in the team? Can I collaborate with them on content creation?
- Who’s responsible for idea generation?
- Is there an editor? Who reviews my work?
- If I do not believe the revision request will help the content, do I have the power to say no?
- Who’s responsible for sourcing and adding relevant images?
- Who’s responsible for publishing content to the company website/blog?
- Who can give me work? Should I accept any request for content creation that comes my way?
- Are there any relevant tools I need to know about? If yes, who can give me access to it?
- If I am sick and cannot work, who do I inform?
- Should I raise an invoice? If yes, when do I raise an invoice? Is there a format for the invoice and what information is mandatory?
Help them understand your customers
Who are your potential customers? What pain points do people face in your industry? What problem is your company solving?
It’s critical that writers understand your audience. Only then can they create content that delivers real value. I might not care about a DIY guide to set up a powerful gaming computer. But your ideal customer base might.
Train writers on tech tools for better efficiency
I was able to reduce the content turnaround time by training my writer on excel. The content we used to create required lot of data. This meant that a lot of spreadsheet work in the back-end.
While my writer knew how to use excel, she didn’t know how to use advanced features like pivot tables. This would have helped her cut down her spreadsheet work by more than 75%. Training her on pivot tables only took 30 minutes of my time. However, it significantly decreased her content turnaround time.
Never assume your writer will know how to use the tools your company uses. Be proactive and give them an option for training on any tool they will be working on.
Brief writers about your company content marketing goals
Do you want more engagement or leads? Do you want your content hub to be popular for thought leadership content or practical advice?
Whatever your marketing goals are, share them with your content writer. Understanding goals will help them craft content that delivers business results.
Help writers understand your company voice
Does your company have a style guide? Do you want to follow a particular tone in all your content? Do you want to limit content to certain types?
Lay out everything up front. Don’t make the writer work the first content, only to have them rewrite the entire piece.
Step #5: Paying your writers
Payment terms need to be set in the beginning.
Freelancers do not have the perks associated with a full-time job. So don’t compare the cost-per-article with that of a full-time writer.
There are several ways freelance writers bill you for the work they put in. Based on the contract, it can be per-hour, per-article, per-word, or something else agreed upon.
When you work with local freelancers, you’ll have the option to pay them by cash or cheque. If you work with international writers, you’ll need to use PayPal, credit card (if the writer accepts it), or wire transfer.
If you hire through freelance websites, freelance sites handle the payment. You’ll have to make a deposit, and it will be paid out to the writers based on the payment terms.
Caution: Factor in your ability to pay while sourcing potential writers. Some people will accept only cash or wire transfer. You’ll also need to inform the writer about the tax that will be deducted from their payment.
Tax laws vary from country to country.
In India, it’s mandatory to deduct 10% (20% if PAN is not provided) as tax before payout if payment crosses a certain threshold. This deducted tax needs to be deposited with the government before the 7th of the following month.
When you hire freelance writers, you should also factor in the increase in payment over time. As freelance writers become more established, they’ll raise their prices. Have an understanding of the ROI of content the writer creates to justify the revised cost.
Step #6: Retaining freelance content creators
The problem with outsourcing your work is that you have limited influence on people you work with. Finding good writers is hard. So it makes sense to try and retain them.
After all, you don’t want to repeat the whole hiring process once again, do you?
Here are a few ways to engage and retain your freelance content creators.
- Be transparent and clear about your expectations
- Set realistic deadlines. Don’t expect a good writer to churn out five content pieces in one day
- Cut them some slack. Creating content requires lots of focus. On some days, you just can’t get the creative juices flowing. Let your writers write when they are at their best
- Treat them as your employees. Maybe you can’t provide them dental and 401K. But you can get them involved in the content marketing decision process
- Play to their strengths. Analytics and data-driven posts not their cup of tea? Let someone else handle it
- Give outlines the first few times. This will help them adapt faster
- Pay them on time. Always
- If they deliver exceptional value, compensate them extra in dollar terms