How NOT to hire a great freelance writer

Some companies treat hiring a freelance writer like hiring an employee or a temp–drafting a list of must have traits and experience and then excluding any writer that doesn’t fit that mold. But a great freelance writer isn’t an employee or temp. They are a supplier. When you contract with a freelance writer, the content they provide is a product that you, for whatever reason, can’t or choose not to create in-house. You are outsourcing, which is a completely different and yet familiar business arrangement.

Contracting with a supplier doesn’t start with an interview. It starts with a meeting where you explain your content requirements and the writer describes how those needs will be met. The goal should be the development of a comfortable business relationship that is profitable to all participants.

As you conduct your search for a supplier to create the content you need, there are a few things you should NOT do if you want to hire a great freelance writer.

1. Insist that a writer is an expert in your field, industry, or product, or has previously written for your industry.

It sounds ideal doesn’t it? It seems logical that the best freelance writer to hire is someone who already knows everything about the subject. But a Subject Matter Expert (SME) isn’t the best choice for your freelance writing project.

Why? Because…

  • Being an expert in a subject, field, or industry, doesn’t make someone a great writer, a good writer, or even a passable writer.
  • You already have SMEs on staff.
  • An SME who does happen to be a decent writer may use jargon and may have trouble converting complicated processes or concepts into straightforward copy that readers can understand.

The best choice for your freelance writing project is an expert writer. An expert writer is a professional capable of conducting research, interviewing your SMEs, coordinating with your personnel to obtain feedback and approval on drafts and revisions, and delivering finalized content on time.

2. Decide in advance that you will only hire a freelance writer who is a journalist, or is not a journalist, or who has a particular degree, or specific industry experience.

You can find a lot of advice about hiring freelance writers and much of it is conflicting. One person may urge you to hire a former journalist because they have experience interviewing and researching and writing about topics they previously knew little or nothing about. But another warns against hiring a former journalist because they might be adversarial and focus on facts. This one says you can’t go wrong if you hire writers with a college degree in English, or Communications, or Marketing, while that one claims you should only hire writers with an advanced degree in a field for your industry or decades of industry work experience.

It’s possible to find a great freelance writer with any or many of those traits, but it’s bad advice to insist on a particular background and exclude in advance any writer that doesn’t have the desired title or certification. What’s more important is the ability of the freelance writer to produce good content on your timetable.

3. Expect to get all three points on the fast-cheap-good triangle.

Professional writing is like anything else your business buys.

  • If it’s fast and cheap it might be adequate but it won’t be good.
  • If it’s fast and good it won’t be cheap.
  • If it’s good and cheap, expect it to take a while.

Don’t waste time chasing the fast, cheap, good writer mirage. Budget for a professional, find a professional, and contract with a professional. Isn’t your business worth that?

To hire a great freelance writer, look for someone who is an expert in the field of writing–someone with a demonstrated ability to organize, research, interview, and write well, and with a history of meeting deadlines. Don’t make a sometimes difficult process worse by refusing to consider a writer who could be exactly what you need.