As businesses increasingly rely on content to drive their brands forward, there's a growing need for top-notch writers—whether it's to spice up landing page copy or to churn out engaging blog entries.
But often for a business, hiring a full-time writer doesn't make sense: the demand for content isn't steady enough, or the price tag for a new marketing hire is too high.
That's where freelancers come in—they're the on-demand resource for content needs. Businesses turn to freelance writers for blog posts, case studies, white papers, and other copy, but also leverage them for grant work, ghostwriting articles or speeches, technical writing, email campaigns, and newsletters.
So how do you get the ball rolling and hire a freelance writer? And perhaps more importantly, how do you find and keep a top freelance writer who can bring your company's voice to the masses? We've done our homework to answer all those questions for you—with insight from a few established freelancers, to boot.
Find Freelance Writers
Good news: There are a lot of freelance writers out there. And, well, that's also bad news.
The massive talent pool works to your advantage because it means that writers need to compete with each other on rates and deadlines. But, you'll also need to wade through plenty of mediocrity to find true talent. That last part is important when you're looking for public-facing content that will represent your brand.
There are plenty of places online to find freelance writers, but before you start searching, determine what you're looking for in a writer. Do you want an expert in a particular area? Are you willing to work with a young, unproven writer who seems to be a wizard with words? Do you want someone who has a marketing background or who knows SEO tactics? Do they need to live in your area? Knowing exactly what you want in a writer will make your search easier.
There are six main routes to finding good freelancers:
You ask your friends for referrals when you're searching for doctors, babysitters and restaurants—do the same for writers. If someone you know has good things to say about a writer he or she has worked with, you don't have to fret over whether this new person will meet a deadline or turn in something sloppy. Ask people in your network if they've worked with a freelance writer in the past, and they may serve you an expert wordsmith on a silver platter.
If you have a larger budget, agencies will do the matchmaking for you. Bigger firms like Creative Circle and Outsource have huge stables of writers hoping to grab odd jobs. There are specialists, too, like Seliger & Associates for grant writing or BlogMutt for business blogging. You'll also find companies like Contently and Skyword which offer a hybrid approach, giving you both writers and the tools to manage them.
But before you work with an agency, be sure to check out their reviews online—there are a few out there that have seriously bad reviews from past writers who were paid peanuts for a project. Skip the drama and work with a reputable organization.
If you're interested in going beyond content creation and hiring a firm to help with lead generation, lead nurturing and SEO, check out an inbound marketing firm. Starting your search locally is a good jumping off point.
3. Content Mills
If you're on a strict budget, try "content mills," websites that give huge volumes of work to up-and-coming freelance writers who will complete projects for pennies on the dollar. Upwork showcases writers' profiles along with hourly rates, and you can also search by type of writing. Speedlancer offers content by word-length along with consultation for a 30-day editorial calendar.
Fiverr's writing and translation category is another option: it's an online marketplace where people—including writers—post jobs they will complete for a measly five dollars. And of course, there's always Craigslist, if you don't mind a flooded inbox.
4. Blogs and Magazines
The next time you read an article on a blog or magazine site, such as Entrepreneur.com or FastCompany.com, check out the author's bio—often you'll find the words "contributing writer" or "freelance" among these few lines. If you're impressed by the piece, consider asking the individual if they're looking for new freelance clients. If the individual's email isn't provided, Google the person's name and you're sure to either find a website or LinkedIn page.
This route, however, might lead you to pay more than you anticipated as these writers are often at the top of their game, allowing them to charge significantly more. And just because the writer has been published on a notable site doesn't guarantee they're an A+ freelancer, either. These publications have turnover all the time, so research the writer's other work before you pull the trigger.
5. Social Media
With a little expertise, LinkedIn search and Twitter search can be valuable resources for finding agencies and writers. Plus, it lets you scope out the freelancer's portfolios and blogs before you contact them.
With LinkedIn, the earliest results will be people who are in your network to some degree, which means that you can ask your colleagues for recommendations and introductions. And once you stumble upon an intriguing writer on Twitter, rest assured that person will be following other writers, too. Or you can consult your Twitter followers for potentials by tapping into Followerwonk, an app (free for one social profile) that lets you search for keywords in the bios of your followers.
6. Google Search
Then, there's the tool that you use to search for everything else: Google.
Google is best if you're looking for writers who specialize in something, like someone who can blog about biotech. If you Google "hire freelance writer," you'll spend a lot of time sifting through blog posts and articles about freelance writing (like, um, this one) but not get a whole lot of actual writers. Instead, search for something like "freelance writer luxury brands" to nail your specific request.
No matter which way you go, you should always run a Google search on a writer's online presence; check out the individual's past work, website and blog to get an idea of the person's voice and ability.
At the end of the day, when you're choosing a freelance writer, the rule is much like a hotel stay: most of the time, you get what you pay for.
Bonus: Copyblogger Media's Certified Content Marketers
If it's a content marketer you're seeking to help write blog posts, author white papers and create customer case studies, then start with Copyblogger's list of Certified Content Marketers. The media company stands behind the dozens of marketers on the list, having each of them complete advanced coursework and submit work for review in order to make the cut.
Hire Freelance Writers
Every writer is different when it comes to the hiring process. Some require formal contracts, others consider an email confirming the job requirements and fees sufficient.
On your end, there's no set formula when it comes to hiring a writer. Some companies like to "audition" a writer before hiring them—and unless free trial work is explicitly offered by the writer, you should expect to pay them for their time, even if it's at a reduced rate. Other companies simply consider the writer's body of work.
Freelance writers work remotely, so it's wise to establish expectations for communication methods right off the bat. You'll need to be sure to include them in things like editorial schedule coordination and processes, and you may want to establish regular check-ins for long-term projects.
Companies that are looking to hire the same freelance writer on a regular basis may prefer that a writer be incorporated; it prevents confusion around whether someone is an employee or a contractor in the case of an audit (and there are tax differences if you're writing off the cost of hiring a freelancer, which you should be!).
Lastly, remember to ask your writers for a W-9 so you're not scrambling for the paperwork come the end of the quarter.
Pay Freelance Writers
Rates are going to vary from writer to writer, too—especially if a project is research-heavy, complex, or short-notice. Plus, most writers charge by the word, but others prefer to be compensated by the hour, or even by the project.
One thing's clear: Squaring away the payment question is the most variable part of working with freelancers.
Kristi Hines, a freelance writer who primarily writes blog posts and ebooks for businesses, charges by word count.
"For blog posts, I offer clients blog posts at 500, 750, 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 words. Those seem to be the most popular lengths," she says.
She also offers clients the option of doing 30-day net invoicing or a monthly blog post package with an advance payment discount.
UK-based freelancer Sophie Lizard, who specializes in science, technology and psychology writing, charges by the month for a predetermined set of deliverables, as well as by half-day and by word count.
Samar Owais, who helps small businesses market themselves through blogging and email newsletters, asks for 50 percent of her fee before the project starts, preferably via bank transfer, and opts for payment on a per-project basis.
Peter Bowerman, a writer who provides content like brochures and video scripts for businesses, charges by the project, and says that's what clients prefer since it helps them set a budget.
"The only time an hourly rate makes sense is when the project scope is undefined or ever-evolving," Peter says. He typically gets 50% upfront in the form of a check, but can take credit cards or PayPal.
"Once I have a good solid working relationship with the client, I usually skip the upfront deposit and just collect the full fee on the back end," Peter says. "But clients who are new to hiring writers should expect to pay an upfront deposit of one-third or more. "
Tom Ewer, who mainly writes blog posts but has also written web copy and whitepapers, determines his fees using a mixture of word count and project.
"I invoice my clients on the first of the month for work carried out in the previous month, and am typically paid within a day or two," he says.
So determine what works for you, find out what works for them, and once you've settled on a price and a payment method, you're good to go!
Keep Freelance Writers
Once you find and hire a freelancer writer who is top-notch and understands what you want... once you agree to a payment setup and they start delivering consistent, high-quality content… you still face a final challenge: holding on to them.
1. Be Fair with Deadlines
A little common courtesy goes a long way in attracting great freelance talent. Consider their time, the information they need, and the paycheck they expect.
"Don't subject writers to ridiculously short deadlines just because you dragged your feet on your end," Peter Bowerman says. "Pay them on time, and don't make them chase down their money; give them what they need—in terms of source material—to do their job."
2. Be Responsive in Your Inbox
"There needs to be a good balance of communication between both parties to maintain a strong relationship," Kristi Hines says. "While you don't want to ask your freelancer for daily status updates, you don't want to disappear for weeks at a time, either."
Since freelancers are remote workers, it's always a plus to involve them as often as it makes sense; it will help build a valuable working relationship and also turn them into a cheerleader for your brand.
"Making freelancers feel like part of the team is a great way to keep them on board and engaged with your company," Hines says. "The more engaged your freelancer is, the more they will naturally promote your content and your business."
3. Be Receptive to New Ideas
You hired this freelancer because you needed their expertise. For some people, it's hard to let go and hand over creative power to someone else.
"If you're paying good money for a writer, then you should expect to them to challenge you when they feel that the direction you're proposing isn't ideal," Bowerman says. "In the end, you're the boss, so you get it the way you want it. That said, don't ignore their advice along the way."
Samar Owais advises that you treat your freelancer like a partner and not hired help. "They're experts in their fields so trust their judgment," he says. "Offer constructive criticism, and above all, appreciate the good work they do."
4. Be Organized with Feedback
When you establish a check-in system with your freelance writers, you should outline who they report to and who they're working with. Make sure there aren't too many cooks in the kitchen.
"A good way to lose a freelancer is to have a bunch of people provide feedback instead of having one person do it and make your freelancer run in circles trying to satisfy each of them," Owais says.
Sophie Lizard says the key to this is balance: "The best way to keep a freelance writer is to give them plenty of direction without micromanaging—show them exactly what you need, then let them get on with creating it."
5. Be Ready for Rising Costs
As the cost of groceries and rent rises, remember that your freelance writer is seeing the same change in numbers—and has to make changes accordingly.
"Probably the most common reason you lose a freelancer is that, over time, as that freelancer got more established, they raised their rates and…you can no longer afford them," Bowerman warns. "Before you cut a freelancer loose—or they leave—ask yourself if the value they bring isn't, in fact, worth their higher rates. Will it be that easy to replace them? If it will be, then part ways; if not, then how much time will you spend breaking a new writer in, and is it worth it?"
In the end, hiring a freelance writer can either be a smooth and painless process, or one filled with frustrating dead-ends, missed deadlines and unexpected high rates. Enter the process with a content topic and type, budget and, most of all, patience, and it shouldn't be long before you find success with freelance writers.
If this is your first time hiring a freelance writer, be up front about that fact. A great freelancer will help you get accustomed to the process as well, making it a better experience for both of you.