November 1, 2016
You know you need stellar online content to win at today’s digital marketing game. But while there are tons of different places to hire writers — from freelance marketplace sites like Guru, Freelancer.com and Upwork to location- or industry-specific job boards like San Francisco’s Craigslist, Built In Boston and the ProBlogger Jobs Board — identifying the right writer for your needs can be difficult.
How can you tell which of the thousands of writers out there will do the best job on your project? If every writer claims to provide expert-level content, how can you tell who will really deliver and who’s only bluffing?
The 10 questions below won’t guarantee you’ll make the perfect hire, but they’ll dramatically cut down the time you spend working with inexperienced writers who won’t meet your needs:
1. How would you describe your writing style?
Freelance writers come to Web content work from many different places. And, as you might expect, their past experiences affect the writing styles they’ve had to develop.
A writer with a journalism background, for instance, may have developed a direct, research-driven tone on the job. An academic writer could bring a more formal, authoritative voice.
These styles may be appropriate for your project, though it’s important to note also that Web content writing frequently requires a more casual, conversational tone to connect with readers. Finding a writer who can represent you on the Web in the way you want requires due diligence.
2. Have you written on this subject before?
To be clear, background knowledge isn’t always necessary. Experienced Web content writers are often skilled at researching new niches and jumping into unfamiliar subjects.
However, there are some industries that require prior experience. Health and fitness writers, for instance, should have a good grasp on current research. Financial and legal writers may need enough experience so that they’re able to comply with industry-specific restrictions.
3. Are you able to write to my specific voice?
If you’re completely new to content marketing, it may be up to your writer to drive the voice of your campaigns. On the other hand, if you’re using content campaigns to establish and build your personal brand, it’s important the writer you hire be able to mimic the voice you’ve already established for yourself.
Not sure if the writer you want to hire can hack it? Opt for a paid test assignment. Give the writer all the information you’d share if you hired them on, pay them for the time, and commit to a small writing sample before bringing them on to handle a longer assignment.
4. Can you please send samples of your work?
When I’m hiring writers, my preference is to view live samples; that is, articles that the writer has published online, under their byline (and preferably on well-known, reputable sites). While I always accept attached documents as part of a portfolio, seeing live links minimizes the risk that the writer has simply outsourced good samples for application purposes and won’t be able to deliver good content when the project begins.
5. How familiar are you with content marketing?
As I mentioned above, freelance content writers come from all different backgrounds. And while that’s great for clients who need to tap into different styles and experiences, it also means there are writers working today who don’t understand what content marketing is and how written content fits into these campaigns.
When I’m hiring writers for content marketing campaigns, I need their work to move the needle for my clients. Content marketing pieces aren’t just supposed to be educational and informative; they need to provoke a response in readers, whether that’s a positive brand association or an actual action (like an e-mail newsletter opt-in or a purchase).
Not all writers understand this distinction, and even those who do aren’t always able to successfully integrate these calls to action into their writing. Writers who “get” content marketing and their role in the process are worth their weight in gold.
6. What is your availability like?
Hiring freelance writers for content marketing campaigns often means ongoing deliverables, whether it’s one blog post a week or 10. Find out ahead of time if the writers you’re reviewing have room in their schedules to fully meet your needs.
7. What are your rates?
Freelance writer rates are a complicated thing. You can’t go by price alone; there are great writers charging pennies, and lackluster creators who claim – and get – exorbitant rates.
Consider also the requirements of your project. If you need simple content, finding a good writer at $0.05 to $0.10 per word should be no problem. If you need more expert-level content, or if you’re expecting your writer to perform additional services like WordPress uploading or image sourcing, you could wind up paying anywhere from $0.15 to $1 per word.
8. What is included in your rates?
As you’re asking about rates, clarify up front what your expectations are. Do you need a writer who can source images? Is the ability to undergo multiple rounds of revisions important to you? Making sure the services you need are covered by the proposal you receive prevents frustrations down the line that could derail your project entirely.
9. Do you offer any additional services?
This is also a great time to find out if your prospective writers have any other skills that could be put to use in your campaigns.
For instance, I mentioned WordPress uploading before. A freelance writer with Web design skills means you only have to hire one outsourced worker. Oftentimes, writers work in partnership with graphic designers, videographers and other content creators. In addition to streamlining your hiring process, working with established teams means less communication required on your part to get all involved parties to collaborate.
10. What is your turnaround time like?
Finally, if you need your content turned around within a certain period, be clear about your expectations from the start. Some writers can get you a finished draft within a day or two; others need at least a week’s notice to fit you into their schedules. Clarifying this from the beginning ensures you won’t be kept waiting by a freelancer with different expectations than your own.
Certainly, these aren’t the only 10 questions you should ask. Depending on your project’s requirements, there may be a number of others you’ll want to add to this list. Consider this to be a solid minimum, though, that will help you weed the pool of freelance writers out there down to a much more manageable pool of qualified candidates.
Have another question you’d add to this list? Share it with me by leaving me a comment below.
Sarah Rickerd is the owner of Content Conquered, a content creation agency dedicated to producing high-value, conversions-driving blog posts, case studies, eBooks and more. Sarah has been writing professionally since 2007 and has helped her clients publish more than eight million words online in that time.