By Barry Feldman published April 6, 2015

How to Hire Freelancers Who Make Your Content Better

hire-freelancers-better-content-coverYour content marketing ambitions are large. Unfortunately, your team is not. Though you may need help for one reason or another, it might not be the right time to bring in another employee.

Enter freelancers: With a team of contract workers, you can enjoy the flexibility that comes with hiring on an as-needed basis, while avoiding the overhead that accompanies permanent staff. Above all, you’ll get the talent and experience that fit your project.

Freelancing is more popular than ever, so the talent pool is immense. This means you need to know how to find, hire, and work with the right freelancers to make your ad hoc hiring strategy pay dividends.

Facing the challenges

Finding freelancers isn’t difficult, but finding good freelancers can be. So where should you look to find reliable freelancers?

I recently posed this question to my friend and associate Kathryn Aragon, who hires freelancers in her role as managing editor of The Daily Egg, a blog about conversion optimization and A/B testing tips.

My favorite way to find writers is to discover them through articles they’ve written. I immediately send them an email telling them what I like about their work and ask if they’d be interested in writing for our blog.

The freelancer in me likes this strategy. When an editor makes it clear that he or she respects a freelancer’s work, the relationship begins on a positive note that is likely to continue.

Here are Kathryn’s favorite tips:

  1. Ask other editors or content marketers for recommendations.
  1. Read blogs you love and look for people who are writing the type (and quality) of articles you need.
  1. Place ads on ProBlogger’s job board ($50 for 30 days).
  1. For freelance designers, try Dribble, a show-and-tell site for designers.

Evaluating the search

Before you write the posting or reach out to your first freelance candidate, ask yourself a few important questions:

What type of writer do I need?

Before you identify the type of writer, identify what you want the person to do. Hiring a writer to execute an in-house print newsletter may require different attributes than hiring a writer to post regularly to social media.

In general, writers versed in content marketing and social media are likely to be your best fit. Traditional copywriters, journalists, and technical writers also can be valuable sources, but you’ll want to ensure their particular skills can meet your needs.

Should I hire industry experts?

While hiring writers who know your turf can be helpful, a candidate’s writing chops and chemistry usually rank higher. Go back to why you’re hiring the writer. If you have a great editor on staff but no one with subject matter expertise, your priority will be an expert. If you are looking for someone to create quality content, go with a talented writer. Of course, if you can find someone who possesses both skill sets, hire that person.

How do I begin to know whom to contact for an interview?

Look at their submissions or replies to your inquiry. Did they take the time to craft well-thought-out cover letters or email introductions? Do they seem to “get” what you want in a freelance writer? Review their resumes or portfolios to see how well their past work fits with what you want them to do. Select only the most qualified, based on experience, interest, etc., to proceed to the interview stage.

Talking with the candidates

When interviewing writers, first learn a bit about how they think and operate, as well as what they know. To do this, ask open-ended questions such as:

  • Explain why you want to work for us.
  • I like the piece you did called “XYZ.” Could you tell me more about the assignment?
  • How do you approach the content development process?
  • How do you optimize your content for search?
  • What do you know about our brand’s target audience?
  • Can you explain how you handle representing a client when you’re engaging with its clients?
  • What’s the biggest challenge you find working as a freelancer?
  • Tell me about your other clients.
  • Is your freelance business full- or part-time? When do you do most of your work?

These questions touch on several areas that you want to know about – how well do your prospective freelancers know how to write for a target audience, how well do they understand your company and/or industry, and how do they operate their freelance businesses.

Kathryn offers another tip: “Look for writers who are willing to read your guidelines or sample articles and are interested in learning what you need,” she says.

Making the hire

Once you’ve identified the best candidate, the next step is to hire. At this stage, it’s critical to get everything in writing to ensure both parties are operating from the same understanding.

What should the agreement include?

  • Clearly stated goals
  • Must-have steps in the content development process
  • Scheduling details, including turnaround time
  • Length of assignment or contract
  • Ownership of content
  • Out clause identifying when and how either party can end the agreement
  • Fees and payment terms
  • Non-disclosure and/or non-compete terms as necessary

What should I expect to pay?

Fees are based on word count, time, or the project’s deliverables. In some cases, you may establish retainer arrangements for ongoing work. If so, your writer will likely offer a volume-based discount.

Word count fees vary from pennies to $1 per word. Though I’ve come across fee-per-word structures more frequently in recent years, in the position of buyer, you need not focus on words or hours because the product you seek is a great piece of content. You might use per-word or hourly fees as a reference or for comparisons.

When hiring a new writer, I recommend requesting fees based on the project at large. Establish your expectations (which probably will include a minimum word count) and get a fixed price (which the writer probably will base on hourly fees).

When asked to address the question of hourly fees, writers’ rates will vary widely:

  • New or “hungrier” writers will charge less than $50/hr.
  • Established writers’ fees often range from $50 to $100/hr.
  • Writers with decades of experience, areas of specialization, and/or high client demand (due to a reputation for delivering ultra-effective content), are likely to charge more than $100/hr.

Of course, you’ll have budget requirements, but I encourage you to always place quality above quantity. Your content marketing objectives will be better served by a handful of gold pieces than dozens of little lightweights.

Who owns the content?

When you hire a freelance writer, you pay for use of the copy, not ownership of it. It’s typically a one-time use too. If you want to own the content, add a clause in the agreement to ensure that your company retains the rights or at least the ability to modify the content for other uses.

Are long-term deals wise?

Probably not at first. With a new writer, start small with a single blog post or short-term project.

“If the freelancer is relatively inexperienced, you might offer a trial period in which you can evaluate each other,” says The Daily Egg’s Kathryn.

If you run a highly desirable blog and website (i.e., heavily trafficked and/or a recognizable brand), it’s not uncommon for some hiring editors to ask for the first piece for free or at a discounted rate. If you go this route, be respectful. Understand that your freelancer has a revenue budget to meet, just like you.

Remember these things, too

Kathryn points out that you and your freelancer are taking a risk. The key is to create a mutually beneficial relationship. “Be honest about what you need and the compensation you can offer,” she says.

Freelancers look for great clients with whom they enjoy working, and often share the word with their network. That means you should be helpful, encouraging, and flexible. Kathryn says that when an editor is hard to work with, freelancers often warn one another.

“If you make your freelancers look good, they’ll love you,” Kathryn says. “Give them a backlink or two, a byline and bio, and include their names when you promote the posts on social media. They’ll try to introduce their writer friends to you and you may find it easier to negotiate favorable terms with them.”

Many of the tips in this post come from Demand Media’s new e-book, Tools of the Content Marketing Trade: A Guide for Building a Team and Achieving Content Marketing Success.

The key to helping your freelancers be successful is to share your strategic approach to content marketing. Want some help in that area? Develop, implement and scale your content marketing program using our new series of practical tools and exercises. Download Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Barry Feldman

Barry Feldman is the mind behind Feldman Creative. He is also a writer for Demand Media Content Solutions (a CMI benefactor), a content studio that connects brands to audiences using original content. Through data-driven content strategy and innovative content creation, Content Solutions is changing the way brands communicate with digital audiences. Find out more about Content Solutions by visiting our content marketing blog or Twitter. You can learn more about Barry on his website.

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  • KeriLynn Engel

    This is a nice overview, but I have to take issue with one part. In your list of interview questions, you recommend asking “Is your freelance business full- or part-time? When do you do most of your work?”

    At least in the United States, that’s not appropriate to ask of an independent contractor. While you may be able to dictate your employees’ working hours, you cannot dictate how or when an independent contractor does their job.

    If you’ve never hired an independent contractor before, you may want to review IRS guidelines for determining whether individuals providing services are employees or independent contractors: (Again, this only applies in the US.)

    • Ann Gynn

      As I edited the piece and added those questions in that bullet point, I’ll respond to your issue with that part. Thanks for sharing the link to the IRS self-employed/contractor status site. The IRS offers strict parameters for legal independent contractor relationships.

      The IRS, though, doesn’t regulate how to hire an independent contractor and these questions were offered as food for thought. Just as a company evaluates other vendors before engaging in a legally binding arrangement, companies may find it helpful to know how the freelancer operates hirsor her business — Is it a full- or part-time endeavor? Is it something the freelancer does after regular business hours? The answers help identify the best freelancer fit for the company’s particular needs.

      For example, if a writing opportunity requires someone who can conduct interviews during a typical 9-5 workday, someone who writes primarily at night or weekends may not be the better choice. Or if the company expects freelance opportunities to grow with its selected candidate, it may want someone who works full time in freelancing and is more likely to be able to take on additional work.

      You’re absolutely correct that the important thing when a freelancer is hired is that the company doesn’t treat this individual like an employee — otherwise the IRS may come knocking. Important lesson to share with or remind all!

      • Kimmo Linkama

        Having worked as an independent professional for 20 years, I have a
        comment on terminology. A ‘freelancer’ is someone who runs his or her
        one-person business. Yes, business, meaning they’re doing it full-time.
        Those who provide services in addition to a permanent job would be
        better termed as ‘moonlighters’. If you look at the etymology of these
        words, it is easy to see the difference, which unfortunately many
        clients do not know or appreciate.

  • Guest
  • Linked Media Group, Inc.

    Nicely done Barry!! My pet peeve is seeing so many jobs posted on any/all freelancer types of sites pegging payment at $5-10. an hour for content writing. We don’t honor writers enough in this world we all live and work in by paying many of them a decent wage as you know !!

    I see a great deal of emphasis on technical skills, coding, growth hacking but so many businesses forget how content defines their brand more than anything else. Cathy Stucker’s Blogger Linkup site is a great resource for advertising for and finding writers.

    Thanks for sharing this and kudos back to CMI and Joe Puluzzi for all of the advocacy on behalf of writers and the importance of a content marketing strategy.

    • Barry Feldman

      I’m with you. $5? Ouch. Cliche though it might be, you get what you pay for (I hope).

  • Cara McCarron

    Our whole business model is based on taking care of our freelance writers. We started The Content Company after my husband and partner was a freelancer for years making garbage money in some cases.
    Good writers equals high quality content. In my opinion, the days of content just for the sake of content are gone. We pride ourselves on high quality and fair pay for writers. Nice article here!

    • Barry Feldman

      Amen to that Cara. Thanks for the comment.

  • Emma Clemantine

    Nice work Barry. Thank you so much for sharing informative post with us. I would like to share more information about SEO services Mumbai. Currently I am in India and they provide me the best internet marketing services which was an great experience for me.

  • Dale

    Barry, as a freelance writer, let me say thank you for being one of the “good” clients and trying to help others follow suit.

    • Barry Feldman

      Yup. Working both sides, so I hope to have some meaningful perspective.

  • michaeldavid005

    < I freelance online, working basic jobs that only require desktop or laptop computer and access to internet and I am so happy with it… After six months on this job and i had profit so far in total 36 thousand dollars… Basicly i get paid about 80 bucks each hour and work for 3-4 h a day.Best part to whole this thing is that you can determine your own working hours and you get paid at the end of each week.

    ▬▬▬▬►►► -> Work from home opportunity! <-<-


  • Marisa Norwell

    The company who really cares about freelance writers is Freelancercareers. The only requirement still is the strong academic background.

  • Kristen Hicks

    I know I’m late to chime in, but great post!

    I can definitely vouch for what Kathryn says about freelancers having networks. I have a number of go-to freelance contacts for referrals and for discussing the ins and outs of the business. When we have a difficult client, or even a mostly great client with whom there’s a complicated situation, we go to each other for advice (or to just have a sympathetic ear to complain to). This probably isn’t always true, but in many cases, once you’ve found one good freelance writer, you’ve probably tapped into a network of several (whether you know it or not).

    A discounted rate is one thing, but I’d actually advise against ever asking for a free piece of content. It’s ok to let it be known that you accept guest posts and would love to hear a pitch, but if you reached out to the freelancer to hire them and are making their hiring contingent on getting work for free first, that sends the wrong signal. In my experience (and in those of other freelancers I’ve talked to on the subject), this is telling us you’d be one of *those* clients – the type that don’t value our work and will push up against every boundary we draw to try to get more for less. If you send the signal that this is who you are, many of the best freelancers will walk away and you’ll lose out on potential talent.

  • Shannon Byrne

    Hi Barry – awesome post! Writers put so much effort into each piece of content, it’s refreshing to know that people out there are using these pieces to bring them new jobs. :) Would love for you to check out CloudPeeps (and I’ll be sharing this article with the community!). We vet all of our freelancers – so you’re more likely to quickly find a writer who’s going to provide the value you need. Happy to answer any questions!