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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