This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Every business relies on good written communication, from the marketing copy that attracts a customer to the instructions for putting together a product. For many small businesses, hiring a freelance writer makes the most sense. It can save you time and money while ensuring a higher-quality product.
This article will discuss not only how to hire a freelance writer—finding and selecting the right one for your business—but also what freelance writers do, how much to pay them, and the benefits of hiring freelance writers.
Search for Freelance Writer Candidates
Finding a freelance writer is not that different from finding any freelance employee. Here are the most common ways.
Post on a Job Board
In addition to the standard job boards, consider looking at gig-based boards, many of which allow you to post jobs for vetted freelancers to bid on. Some even provide an escrow account and dispute resolution process for extra protection when hiring. Upwork is one of the more established freelance marketplaces and our top recommendation.
Promote on Social Media
More than 40% of freelancers also find work through social media, according to a late 2020 study commissioned by Upwork. LinkedIn, being a professional site, is the best bet, but also look for writing groups on Facebook. Even if you can’t post directly, you can reach out to the organizers, who may relay your request or make recommendations.
Check with Professional Writing Organizations
Writers being loners is a myth. Thanks to the internet, particularly, they form professional, semi-professional, and casual groups online. You can find everything from the American Society of Journalists and Authors to the Authors Guild.
There are also groups by profession, like the American Medical Writers Association, and even by religious orientation, like the Catholic Writers Guild. Do a Google search by topic and “writers organization” and see what pops up. Some will list members looking for work, while others will be glad to share your job ad with their membership.
Ask for Recommendations
According to the Upwork study, nearly 50% of freelancers found work through personal and professional connections. Ask your employees, friends, and even other writers who were not the best match for your project if they have suggestions.
Freelance writing is an excellent remote position. For more tips on finding and hiring remote employees, check out our article on simple steps for hiring remote employees.
Select the Right Freelance Writer
When you have your candidates, you’re ready for the hiring process. It’s not unlike hiring a regular employee, but remember that the emphasis is on their skill and ability to meet a deadline as well as professionalism when contacting others in the process of completing the work. Take the following actions to help you select the best freelance writer for your needs.
In the case of freelance writing, experience often means more than education. The exception is for highly technical writing or when hiring someone fresh out of school. Most writers do not have journalism or creative writing degrees, so do not use this as a reason to reject a candidate.
Tailor the Interview
Questions to ask during a freelance writer interview include what industries they specialize in, whether they have experience in the specific type of writing you need, and what writing they do most—and enjoy most. Also, ask about their research experience and capabilities as well as whether they can or have interviewed experts when researching an article.
Request Sample Writing (Paid Samples)
These may be already written, or you may want to have the author provide a sample of the kind of writing you are looking for, especially if you plan to keep them for regular work or have a highly technical piece. Keep these tests small. Consider offering a small stipend for this kind of sample, as it can take hours of work. Definitely pay them if the test sample is good enough to publish.
Unless you are hiring for regular work, references may come in the form of published articles rather than contacts. However, with contacts, give priority to editors or those who hired the candidate for similar work.
Tip: When you are ready to make an offer, create a contract. Contracts protect you and the freelancer, and should include assignment, approximate word count, pay scale, due dates, rules for making edits, and reasons for rejecting a piece—although if you did your hiring well, this should not be needed. If the content a freelancer is writing is sensitive, include exclusivity clauses.
What a Freelance Writer Can Do
Freelance writers are usually excellent communicators with strong interests in specific fields or styles of writing. Some have practical experience in a technical field. Others are generalists who are good at research and adapting to the style needed by the format and the company. Here are a few of the most common types of content freelancers write, but if it involves words, you can find a writer to do it.
- Website content
- Social media
- Marketing copy
- Technical manuals
- Educational material
- Specialized writing: grants, speeches, regulatory material
How Much to Pay a Freelance Writer
Many factors of course go into determining rates for freelance writers, with a variety of sources pegging the average hourly pay at about $25–$35. For example, skilled freelancers, which would include freelance writers, earn an average of $28 an hour, according to the career site Zippa, while Indeed puts the average at just over $23. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median pay is $32.27 for full-time writers at a company.
Freelance writers, however, do not always work by the hour. More often, you may pay by the project, article, or word. There is no set price per word, although a fair rate is generally considered to be 20 cents per word. The more technical or involved the project, the higher the per-word price. A dollar a word is considered fair wages for very experienced writers. New writers are often willing to work for as little as 3 cents a word, but these are amateur wages.
Other items that go into consideration when negotiating price include:
- Regular work vs one-time assignment
- Rights (covered below)
What about writing for exposure? Most professional writers are wary of writing for exposure—meaning getting their name published with a piece. Generally, only beginners or someone who is truly dedicated to your project (such as for a charity) are willing to write for bylines only. Pay your writers as you would any employee.
Types of Rights
Rights are important to writers, particularly to freelancers, who may want to use the same material more than once. You can use rights as a negotiation tool. Regardless, your contracts should clearly state the rights the author grants in return for their pay.
In a work-for-hire, you as the employer receive all the rights for the work. The author cannot resell the article or piece of writing. However, they can write other articles on the topic using their independent research (but not company materials without permission). Employers usually ask for work-for-hire for documents with specific purposes and materials you want to remain exclusive to your publication.
These rights allow you to publish the article or story first, but give the author the right to publish the same piece later. You can designate a period of time before the writer can resell or republish—a year, for example. If the article or topic is not exclusive, then you may be able to pay less for the work in return for giving the author the right to republish later.
There are other rights, like the rights to purchase reprints, publish in anthologies, and more. But these two are the most important.
Why Hire Freelance Writers
Freelance writers can work by project, for the long term, or be held in reserve for specific needs. They offer many advantages over a full-time writing employee or handing writing assignments to existing employees.
- Infrequent needs: Hiring a freelance writer for occasional projects can be cheaper than hiring a part-time employee and may result in a higher-quality product than simply assigning it to someone in the office. Don’t worry about having to provide full-time work for a writer: Freelancer writers generally work with multiple clients, and many believe having a diverse portfolio of clients results in better job security (and more interesting work).
- Save on taxes: Freelancers are contract workers, meaning you don’t need to worry about taxes, benefits, or Social Security.
- Not enough work for an employee; too much time to DIY: When you hire a freelancer, you set the assignment, standards, and deadlines, and let them do the work. However, you should provide time for questions and provide in-house materials if needed.
- You don’t have the skills to do it yourself: Freelance writers have skills and experience with the written word as well as a natural disposition for grammar and storytelling.
- Easy to hire remote workers: Freelance writing is a no-brainer for remote work. Usually, all they need is a computer and the internet.
Hiring a freelance writer, whether by project or for regular assignments, is a cost-effective way to make sure you get high-quality documents. Freelance writers are a different kind of worker, and your hiring should take that into consideration. Think about experience over education, look at samples over references, and be sure you have a contract that specifies rights and deadlines as well as projects and pay rates.
There are many ways to seek out freelance writers. For job boards, we recommend Upwork. It’s suited for gig-based recruiting but is also a good place to find a great freelancer to be a regular part of your team. Go to Upwork and load your request today.