Tips for Hiring Writers
Talking the Talk
When in Rome, speak like a Roman. Before you hire profressional freelance writers for your website, make sure they have a firm grasp of the vernacular used in your industry. Make lists of well-known words and phrases used in the industry, and make sure that any freelance writer you hire uses them in your content. Research proves that you can connect better with readers (and spider bots) if your language is matched to your industry. So let any prospective freelance content writer know that it's mandatory that they learn and understand the lingo so that the content they create will connect with your readers.
Getting Great Writing
A great organic search marketing strategy starts with great writers. In the review process, ask them to show you content that’s more than just useful information. Engaging and/or amusing writing will keep readers coming back to your site again and again. If they don’t have it, ask for one short sample of content that will connect with you in a certain way. Screen freelance writers' work carefully before you hire them, and only hire the best. You'll be doing your readers—and your business—a favor.
Here are some answers about questions. Developing good questions for a job interview is an art form; you have to know what to ask that will help you decide if someone is right for a position without overstepping your boundaries and asking things that are inappropriate. Be very careful that you don't ask questions that could be interpreted as discriminatory. Below are a few of our favorite interview questions that instantly offer insight into experience:
- I reviewed your work, and really like the X piece. Could you tell me more about the assignment?
- What do you know about the target audience that you’d be writing for? How do you get under their skin?
- Has your work ever been tested with split testing or multivariate testing techniques? If so, what did you learn from the tests?
- How do you SEO your content? What research tools do you use? Do you also create meta strategy for your clients? What about link strategy?
Mediocrity is Expensive
Cheaper is just cheaper. When you have a limited budget for marketing, it's natural to ask, "How can I get this project done in the least expensive way?" But remember: you get what you pay for. Sure, your brother's kid might be able to turn out some content for your website—and cheaply—but will it sell your product? Will it resonate with the people most likely to buy from you? Will it be a professional, appealing representation of your organization? If you just need your customers to find your phone number and directions to your store, the inexpensive solution may be OK. If not, find freelance writers who have the professional experience and talent you need.
Managing Work-at-Home Freelancers
Can you handle a long-distance relationship? You may be understandably leery of hiring a freelance content writer who works hundreds or even thousands of miles from your company. How will you know that they're really working on your project or that they'll do it the right way? Ideas for handling this well include:
- Delivery. Start with one project with a defined delivery date and see how it goes.
- Instant Messaging. Surprisingly, most freelancers like IM check-ins. This shows that you care.
- Home Office Setup Confirmation. Check for the latest dedicated home office gear.
- Remote Employment References. Ask about the workflow and delivery patterns.
- Follow Up. Check in often to see how things are going, especially early on in the project.
Set the Communication Plan
A good freelance web writer will ask at the beginning of your relationship how you prefer to communicate (phone, email, IM, meetings, etc.),what kind of updates you want on progress and how often, and who s/he should contact in case questions or problems should arise. If the freelancer doesn't ask, run like hell. Just kidding. But do provide this information as part of your plan for success. Good communication is vital to a successful freelance relationship. Weekly check-in is standard with our freelancers, either via email or a brief phone discussion. Setting the expectations for communication can have a surprising impact on the quality of the work. A good writer wants to exceed your expectations, so let him know what they are.
Paying Freelance Writers
We recommend using money. Freelance SEO writers, like any vendors, should get paid in correlation to their agreed-upon rates, based on a number of variables that can include experience, difficulty of the job, importance of the job, readership, impact on your company and other factors discussed, negotiated, and agreed upon contractually by both parties. It’s often difficult to assess all of the variables and determine a fair price. Flexible plans that delay or ignore this obligation create a lose-lose situation for both parties. Quality satisfaction can also be considered in the conractual obligations; disagreement over the quality or quantity of the work performed can be resolved by a mediator or third party. In the end, the obligation should be on the freelance writer and their writing contracts to make provisions for these cases, providing a "kill fee" (usually half the contracted rate) if a project is completed but not used, and a late fee for the client who delays payment, and a penalty for the freelancer if he/she delivers late. If a freelancer or a freelance agency asks you for these provisions, don't be alarmed. They indicate that you're more likely to be working with an experienced professional—and therefore more likely to get good value for your money.
Training can make a big difference in the quality of the work a freelancer turns out. Understanding your company's culture and style is hard for a stranger to your business. Take the time to not just talk about the project, but to discuss the philosophy, chemistry, and environment that you work in, as this will help the writer to craft messages to your audience. Consider setting up quick, 20-minute meetings with any of the following employees at your company:
- Existing writers and editors who create content on similar projects
- Experts in your industry who know about your company.
- Customers who use your products or services.
- Sales manager or sales representatives at your company.
- Customer service manager who discusses customer needs regularly.
Has the Fun Gone Out of Your Relationship?
Freelance relationships go more smoothly when you, the client, go into them prepared. Before you place an advertisement or hire someone for freelance content writing jobs, you should be ready to answer these questions:
- What specific work do you want the writer to do?
- What is the goal of the work?
- How does this project fit into your company’s goals?
- What expertise is needed to do this work properly?
- What is the budget for this project?
- What is the deadline for this project?
- What is your plan for revisions and extras that may come up?
- Your relationship will be a lot smoother if all of this is explained up front.
Finding Freelance Writers
Hint: He’s the pale, thin guy chained to his computer. Whether you’re looking for a freelance writer to hire or you’re a freelancer looking for work, there are plenty of freelance sites online that match professionals with companies. Employers can search specific positions and scan writers’ resumes and freelancers can seek out work that companies have posted. Full-time, in-house employment sites work similarly to freelance sites. Some freelance employment sites also act as go-betweens, helping to sort out payment issues and common questions about the freelance hiring process.
Understand the Value
Your website is your virtual storefront. It’s often the first (and sometimes the last) impression you make on a potential client or customer. It likely contains the most important content your company will show the public. What’s that worth to you? If you take your business seriously and value this, you should be willing to pay a fair rate for an experienced and proven content marketing company to make your web content the best it can be. Remember, you get what you pay for.
Recognize the Talent
Deciding what to pay a writer can be tough, especially if you’re not convinced a freelance writer is really worth the expense. Let us assure you that it takes much more than a solid grasp of the English language to be a great web content creator. Many people look to an outside writer simply because they figure they don’t have the time to write (and therefore don’t place a whole lot of value on it. After all, they’d do it themselves if they weren’t doing “more important” work). What some people don’t realize is that good writing requires talent and experience the average person may not have – including themselves.
Don’t believe us? Skip Survivor and spend the time writing (but not publishing) two clever, insightful and timely blog posts about your business – then send them to colleagues for their opinion and say they were submitted by an outside party (if you say you wrote them, you’ll likely not get the most honest replies). Then, plug them into an SEO metric like WordVision and see how they stack up. Maybe you have some writing chops, but maybe you actually don’t (sorry!). Maybe you did well but found the process excruciating and can’t possibly imagine doing that everyday. Appreciate what a great writer will do for you!
Costs: Compare Apples to Apples
You’re getting quotes from different writers and seeing some major variances in price. What gives? Carefully look at what the different writers are offering – in services, experience and abilities (and if you’re not sure – ask!). A writer with a strong portfolio of paid work and mentions of SEO vs. a writer who is a recent graduate aren’t at the same level, will deliver different calibers of services and shouldn’t be expected to work for the same rate.
Just Who’s Doing the Writing?
Some writers promote their own background and experience but then farm your work out to a writer who charges far less for the work. And who would charge much less to do the same work? It may be someone less experienced and qualified.
This is perfectly legal (and it’s how many agencies operate), but it may not be the kind of thing you’re comfortable with (or think you’re paying for!). Ask direct questions. Will the person you’re speaking with be doing the writing? If not, who will? What role will your contact play in ensuring you’re getting the quality you’re after?
Confirm the Copyright
Did you know that even if you’re paying a writer for their services you don’t automatically own the copyright (which gives you the right to use the writing as you wish – like publishing it in a book)? Unless stated, the fee you pay is the right to use the copy, not the ownership of it. The person who does the writing technically holds the copyright unless there is a formal agreement in place.
This agreement doesn’t need to be complicated – it just needs to be explicit. If you want to own the copyright, be sure to mention this upfront when you request a quote from a writer – it could very well make a difference in the prices people propose and reduce the likelihood of a misunderstanding once the project is in motion.
Test the Testimonials
You’ve browsed a portfolio of a writer and talked to them about your project. You’re feeling pretty good about it, but you want to get a better sense of what it’s like to work with them. Who better to ask than the writer’s current or recent clients? A professional who is proud of their work and the way they conduct business will be all too happy to provide you with the contact information of a client. Take up this opportunity to chat with them yourself and ask the questions that matter to you.
A Writer Isn’t a Brand Strategist (Usually)
A politician develops the law and a police officer enforces it. Marketers and writers have a similar dynamic. Unless the writer you’re working with is also a marketing consultant (which usually means they have experience in developing branding, marketing plans and various promotional tactics), you shouldn’t expect them to come up with the big plan for your website. A writer implements the plans, they generally don’t develop them. If you don’t know where to start, consider talking with a content marketing agency first.
Briefs Are Your BFF
A creative brief is a concise document that lays out exactly what’s required of your freelancer and often are what a freelancer can base their quote on. It should include:
- background information about your company
- the scope and goal of the project
- information about the audience
- key details that need to be written about (including a site map if you’re developing a website)
- brand guidelines (is there a certain tense, style or verbiage your company uses?)
- proposed schedule
- proposed budget
The better your brief, the clearer your expectations will be with the writer you hire. And a writer who distinctly understands what you’re looking for is more likely to deliver excellent copy that hits the mark. Still not sure how to put together a brief or what you want in it? Talk to a marketing consultant.
Less Is Often More
Most writers are not interested in being paid by the word, but rather, by the project. As it turns out, developing a short, crisp and concise message often takes more time and talent than creating a longer one. These shorter messages also tend to be more effective. For example, if you were to pay $1 per word, the person who came up with Nike’s iconic slogan “Just Do It” would be paid $3. However, if they developed a longer but not as effective slogan of “Get Off Your Butt And Accomplish Something” they’d be paid $7. But which one is better? Which one is more valuable? (And by the way, Nike spent more than $3 on their slogan. A whole lot more.)
Get An Agency Edge
Many quality freelance writers work with agencies such as ideaLaunch because we put resources and networks toward securing clients (maybe like you?) that would be tough for a single freelancer to do on their own. What’s the benefit to you? The agency has already screened the writer, identified their strengths and can handle a lot of logistics (payroll, taxes and so on). You’ll likely pay a bit more for this service, but the time you save in hunting down the right freelancer is often well worth it.
Treat It Like It’s Top Secret
If you want your freelance writer to write for your business, they need to understand it fairly thoroughly. This may mean sharing with them some of your internal documents like marketing strategies and upcoming product details. While every freelance writer should be working ethically, it’s important you hold them accountable upfront. Pull together and have your freelance writer sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before the project gets started. This way, you’ll let them know that you take your corporate information very seriously and will not stand for any sharing of information outside the relationship.
Going For A Ghostwriter?
Sometimes companies decide that they’d like their executive to be the face for their content marketing. They’d like them to write blog posts and make comments on their social media platforms. But sometimes even the most talented executives aren’t the greatest writers. These companies sometimes hire writers to create blog posts under the name of the executive. This is called ghostwriting. There’s mixed reaction in the industry on this. While it’s very common for celebrities writing biographies to hire ghostwriters, social media often stresses transparency – so proceed at your own risk. One thing is for sure – ghostwriting will cost you more. Fees are often three times the regular rate.
Sweeten the Deal with a Byline
Not everyone can pay the top rate for a writer – but there are other things you can offer to make jobs more appealing to potential writers. Ensuring that the articles, blog posts and other content list the author is a good start. Better yet, provide them with a byline – a few sentences that describe the author and give a link to their website or e-mail address. This gives your freelance writer one more way for people to possibly contact them for future work.