Sooner or later, in the life of every leader committed to great online marketing, a startling realization occurs: “Holy cow! Content creation requires an awful lot of writing!”

At this point, whether the leader is an engineer, a scientist or a motivational speaker, this realization leads to a quick conclusion: “I need help from a professional writer!”

But just how do you go about finding one? Especially if you are an engineer (or other left-brain thinker), this might seem like a quest akin to finding a unicorn.

As someone who’s spent the better part of three decades working with (and being) one of these writerly creatures, allow me to be your guide to determining when and how to hire a freelance writer. Let’s go on a unicorn hunt – step by step.

1) Determine Timing

First, figure out when it’s time to hire a writer. The simplest answer: When the demands of creating content outstrip the ability of the leader – or anyone else on the internal team – to keep up with the creation of blogs, social media content, whitepapers and other downloadable content. If you are not blogging regularly, if your website hasn’t been updated in a while, or if you have a stack of content ideas that you “just can’t get to,” then it’s time to seek professional help.

2) Start Looking

Second, begin the hunt. But where? As with any other need for your organization, the Internet offers a wide variety of opportunities. Reputable sources such as Zerys or eLance offer literally tens of thousands of potential writing resources.

So do local resources – nearby colleges, writing programs and especially print publications that rely on freelancers can provide the names of many potential writers. Don’t pull the trigger just yet. Now you know where to find writers, but first you need to know which ones are good.

3) Seek Out The Right Attributes

So let’s talk attributes of good freelance writers. There are a few that, in my experience, are non-negotiable:

  1. The first may surprise you: Curiosity. A good freelance writer should want to learn as much as possible about you, your organization and what you do. This is critical because this is the raw material that will power your inbound marketing. If a writer “knows it all,” or seems disinterested – that’s a writer to avoid.
  2. The second attribute is an ability to write on deadline. The gaping maw of the Internet waits for no one. Fail to post a blog today, and that’s an opportunity lost. Remember: the reason you want to hire someone is because you’re not meeting your deadlines now. You don’t do yourself any favors by outsourcing the problem!
  3. Technical proficiency is another non-negotiable attribute. This means the writer can spell, put sentences together, and oh yes, that he or she is “creative,” meaning that what he or she writes is worth reading, whether it’s about weddings or widgets. It does NOT mean creative in the sense of using your website as a billboard for their personal creative ambitions. There’s this thing called Tumblr for that.

4) Determine Compensation

Once you’ve determined if you need help, where to find the help and have a few ideas about what makes a good writer — how do you engage a good writer financially? After all, writers (like other professionals) do expect to be paid. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
  1. First, commit to a mutual trial period of 30 or 90 days. For specific details on payment, see my suggestions below. It’s important first to agree, especially if you are hiring a writer for the first time, that you need to make sure there is a good fit before you commit to something long term.
  2. Payment for writers typically follows one of these formats: By the word, by the piece, by the hour, or by an ongoing fee or retainer. Each choice can be right for you and the writer, depending upon your circumstances. Some quick thoughts:
    1. By the word: fairly uncommon these days and in my experience, not the best measure of quality or results.
    2. By the article or offer or other written piece: Most common and a good standard for most situations. Understand the per-piece fee will vary on variables including length, number of drafts required, complexity of topic, if interviews are required, if it’s necessary to work with a designer, etc.
    3. By the hour: Less common, and in my experience, not a good measure of quality or results. Also, if you’re new to content creation, you could find yourself paying a writer to sit around and wait for you to pull together the raw material for their writing.
    4. By an ongoing fee or retainer: If you’ve got a great writer and have a lot of writing needs, and are in a rhythm of producing ideas, this may be your best option because on a per piece or volume basis, this may be most effective in terms of cost. It will also likely be most attractive to a freelance writer – they like steady gigs! It will also be a win-win because now you’ve got a reliable, talented team member who “gets” your organization and can communicate about it quickly and creatively.

5) Look for Red Flags

This is great, right? Well, there are red flags. The ability to hire writers who are remote is a great benefit of our web culture. So you can no longer look someone in the eye, or take the full measure of him or her in person when hiring. So look for other telltale signs that a writer may not be for you:

  1. Ask them to write a SIMPLE test assignment. Agree that if you use it, you’ll publish it and pay for it. This litmus test will tell you a lot about how a future relationship will go.
  2. Talk to other clients. They don’t have to be in the same industry. You want to know about the relationship other clients have with the writer more than technical proficiency.
  3. And if there isn’t any technical proficiency, unless the writer is new, he or she won’t have any clients! That’s another red flag.

6) Acclimate the Writer

Now that you’ve hired a writer, what next? Well, this is a relationship like any other in your organization – it requires nurturing. At our firm, where we take on the most difficult and sophisticated inbound marketing and content creation for B2B companies, we always say that “inbound marketing is something we do with you, not to you.” That means it’s a collaborative process.

You cannot hire a writer, push them in a remote corner of your office or some cyber garret on the Internet and expect them to create great content for you. At the end of the day, while you need a talented professional writer to share your story, it’s still your story – and no one knows it better than you, so stay close to the trusted professional you’ve hired to share that story with the world.

I hope this this primer gives you some guidance on the elusive unicorn hunt when it comes time to hire a freelancer writer for your organization. If you’re ready to hire a writer, that’s great news for you and your organization. Hire right and the new writer you bring on board will power a new level of success in content creation and results.

Happy hunting! And in the meantime, if you’re stuck for content creation ideas, download our free offer to help you generate blog writing ideas.

Blogging Editorial Calendar Template

Originally published Apr 29, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023