How to Find, Hire and Keep the Most Competent Writers

2/04/ 2015   |   Joanna Paula Cailas  |   Outsourcing

Good freelance writers help catapult you in Google rankings, and engage, serve and entice your target audience through words. How do you find and keep this versatile investment? 

Notice that my title says “the most competent.” This isn’t a put-down. It’s just a fact. “The best” are an elite, expensive and exclusive, and usually already working for themselves. Only the big-shots get to hire them.

But the most competent freelancers? They have a keen eye for detail, all the better to absorb techniques from the best. You, as a startup or small business owner, might not be able to afford the elite, but find a good writer, and it’s like striking oil.

How to spot good writers

They have an impressive profile or blog. What makes it impressive? No wordiness. No fluff. Glowing feedback from previous clients. If you find them in freelancer sites, they have a good score on their reliability: deadlines, communication and cooperation have consistently good ratings.

Should you look at test scores? You can usually suss out their command of vocabulary and mechanics from their own words. If the profile doesn’t clue you in on your prospective writer’s skills, sure, look at the test scores. But beware– I just discovered that people have made cheat sheets for those tests.

Brainbench and similar certification providers are still secure, however. Look at these scores, look at how they write. You get a better and more accurate picture of their skills than with college degrees.

They have a full job history and ongoing contracts. If people hire and keep hiring your writer, that’s proof s/he is good. Even better if the clients’ fields vary. This indicates an ability to research and write in different niches.

When you invite them, they might mention they can only start with you next week, as they are booked this week. You might not want to wait, but it might be very worth it.

They’re published. Writers aspire to bylines. It’s their validation, the proof of their hard work and skill in their craft. Aside from their own blogs, you should find their writing in third-party publications. Competent writers are good writers. Magazines, newspaper columns open to the public, and anthologies publish good writers.

If your business is in an established niche, it probably already has several online publications and/or specialty blogs you can browse for likely writers. Feel free to write them and invite them to write for you. Bonus: authority authors like this would share their article on YOUR site to their audience.

The above criteria (great profile, performance, publication), does away with having to interview your writer to ask and see if s/he’s capable. When you do talk, you can get right to it. The above answer the important questions:

  • experience (published work means you don’t have to ask for writing samples they might have secreted away somewhere…eh)
  • SEO knowledge
  • dependability

All that remains to be asked is their turnaround times and rates—behold, unsurprisingly, good writers are not cheap. Not expensive like the best ones (or the ones who think so anyway), but not cheap either. Still cheap if you compare with worldwide standard rates, however!

How to hire and keep your freelance writers

First of all, have a plan. Don’t be vague about needing content. Does your niche even have room for blog pieces, or would it only need short blurbs? Or would you do better with videos? Not all businesses are the same; not all content have to be the same.

Lay out what you want done and what you need done. E.g., you want a lighthearted, conversational but well-researched piece on THIS topic every week and you need SEO and a strong potential of conversion toward THAT product or service, etc.

Is it going to be you or your writer? Ghostwriting is fine. But bylines are great. Offering a byline would get you a happier freelancer and a lower rate in exchange for being able to claim and add the work  in their portfolios.

But all good writers understand ghostwriting. We no longer have to sign NDAs. We do website pages without credit and make quips for your social media posts without getting attribution either. It’s all in a day’s work, and it’s satisfying when the work (and the boss) is wonderful, useful, fun–something we can get behind on.

Make a budget and a calendar. Writers love deadlines. Give them something specific or something regular (weekly, monthly, etc). Or have them tell you when they could submit and agree on that. And of course, writers love getting paid, and paid well. Low-balling would get you sub-par writers with less than sub-par writing!

Agree on how the payment is made. Hourly rate doesn’t work with writing. Are you going to be charged while your writer is getting his/her gear on, researching and getting distracted by puppy videos? Hourly rate is for editing. It’s fixed-price for writing.

You need funds ready for whichever your writer prefers. Half-price upfront, in milestones along with milestone submissions, or lump payment after completion.

Don’t stifle. Expect a check-in schedule, not an hourly or daily report. And don’t outline things rigidly either.

Having a topic and a target demographic is enough. A keyword or key phrase is a plus. A format for headings and sub-headings? Too much. Keyword density? Outdated. Let your writer do his/her job.

Writers don’t need regular Skype calls/chats with you, and you certainly wouldn’t either. Once all the information have been shared, expect your writer to go quiet until he/she submits the article on the time you both agreed on. Writers prefer email. Calls, not so much. Instant messaging, distracting.

If it’s a big job, say, a 30,000-word mini e-book, a weekly or bi-weekly milestone submission is sufficient. A good writer would check-in with you every other day at least, just to assure you the work is in progress, or to ask you questions, and to consult you if the work is going in the direction you want.

Feed your writer. Yeah, your payment turns into food, but I mean little canapes of appreciation and a regular dose of no-pressure. Let your writer write. If the content is part of a campaign, assign other parts to the rest of your team.

At USource, I started out with writing. Solely writing. Dan didn’t even have me do the HTML coding–that came later. Posting my own articles on our Facebook also came after that. I did the writing first and then a shift into the other aspects was a natural progress. I could have managed it one lump, but I appreciate Dan easing me into it, letting me do my writing first–the rest are just trimmings.

And he takes us out every year, sometimes twice a year! (I’m not hinting, Dan.)

Writers are low-maintenance. That is, when you find good ones.