How to Hire a Freelance Writer: What You Need to Know
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.
Finding Freelance Writer Candidates
Finding a freelance writer is not that different from finding any freelance worker. Here are the most common ways.
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.
Writers being loners is a myth. Thanks to the internet, many writers have formed professional, semi-professional, and casual groups online. You can find almost any type of writer from groups like the American Society of Journalists and Authors and 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 “writer’s 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 your employees, friends, and even other writers who were not the best match for your project if they have suggestions. If you’re on Upwork or LinkedIn, you can even ask writers you reach out to who aren’t the right fit for a referral to someone they know. Referrals are often the best way to source new workers.
Selecting the Right Freelance Writer
When you have your candidates, you’re ready for the contracting 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. As with many types of work, most freelance writers develop their skills through actual writing, year after year.
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, if that’s important for the work you need done.
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 if you’re not accepting something they’ve already written. Also, be aware that some writers may be prohibited from disclosing some of their other clients or work they’ve done for those clients.
If you need the writer to complete a test piece, don’t expect to get this work for free. Even if it’s not something you intend to use, their time is still valuable, and they deserve to be paid for the work they do.
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.
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.
Blogs & SEO
Companies may need a freelance blog and SEO writer to reach new audiences, increase organic traffic, and keep them ahead of the competition. Freelance writers can be better than in-house writers, as they bring fresh ideas and different perspectives to the table. If your project is focused on a specific area, look for a freelance writer with knowledge and experience in that field.
Companies use freelance writers for website content to keep their website up to date and engaging. Your website content needs to be regularly updated with fresh, relevant content for your clients and customers, something a freelance writer can provide quickly and effectively. Using a freelance writer for this type of project gives you access to different creative perspectives vs using someone in-house. Although experience and one’s specialty can help for writing website content, it isn’t as essential a requirement as with other types of writing.
Depending on your industry, you may engage freelance writers for articles. If you run a publication, you may seek freelance writers for articles to fill space. Specialty, in this case, does matter. You want someone with expertise in the subject matter of the article you need written. Writers in the field will be able to create unique, well-sourced, informative articles that resonate with your target audience.
A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that informs and persuades readers using facts and well-sourced arguments. Companies often outsource white papers to freelance writers because they can provide more specialized knowledge of the subject matter. Specialty matters when writing a white paper, both for the experience of crafting a well-written white paper and in the subject matter. When looking for the right freelance writer for your white paper needs, seek out someone with experience in writing white papers first, then focus on the subject matter.
Marketing copy is writing designed to promote a product or service and may include sales letters, brochures, press releases, and ads. Companies often use freelance writers for these needs to get expertise from a writer experienced in these types of persuasive writing, especially those in a particular industry.
Technical writing focuses on complex topics and requires precise language to convey information. This type of writing includes user manuals, operating instructions, product specifications, medical texts, and engineering reports. Freelance writers must have experience in this type of writing for them to be successful for your needs.
Educational materials come in many forms and include textbooks, online courses, worksheets, lesson plans, and interactive activities. While prior experience writing educational content is important, it isn’t as crucial as a writer’s prior experience with the subject matter, so make sure you’re looking for a writer who meets your subject matter requirements before moving forward.
Companies often seek freelance writers for fiction when they want to create imaginative, narrative stories that capture the reader’s attention. Not all freelance writers can effectively write fiction, so you’ll want to make sure you look for someone with experience in this type of writing. These writers will be able to create vivid, engaging characters with compelling plots that can serve your reader’s needs.
Specialized writing comes in many forms and may include long-form, grants, speeches, policy documents, and regulatory materials. This type of writing is unique, so you’ll want to seek out a freelance writer with specific experience in the type of specialized writing you’re looking for.
How Much to Pay a Freelance Writer
Many factors 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 around $21 per hour. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 median pay is $33.42 for full-time writers at a company. If you need a writer with specialized experience, unique knowledge, or many years of freelance writing experience, expect to pay well above these averages.
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, and will often result in content that needs extensive editing.
Other items that go into consideration when negotiating price include:
- Regular work vs one-time assignment
- Rights (covered below)
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 company, 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). Companies 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. You may pay more per hour or piece, but you’re only paying them when you need content created, not all the time like with a regular employee. Don’t worry about having to provide full-time work for a writer—freelance 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.
Partnering with a freelance writer, whether by project or for regular assignments, is a cost-effective way to make sure you get high-quality content. Freelance writers are a different kind of worker, and your contracting process 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.
Companies today use social media to help sell their products and services in almost every industry. With a strong social media presence, you can engage your customer base and even find potential employees. Using a freelance writer for your social media content will help you produce fresh and relevant content for your audience. Make sure you choose someone experienced in social media—preferably someone experienced in your industry, as they can help shape your brand and purpose to create content that best reflects your message.