You know you need a freelance writer to help your business thrive, but what does it really mean to hire one?
Here’s the lowdown on what to expect from a freelance writer. We’ll cover:
- The Introduction
- The Negotiation
- The Contract
- The Brief
- The Payment
- The Writing Process
- The Feedback Cycle
- The Payment (Part Two)
- The Referral
Your Guide to Hiring a Freelance Writer
Here’s the step-by-step process – and etiquette – for hiring a freelance writer to help your business.
Every writer is different and will handle the process in an individual way, but each of these steps will be involved at some point.
You need a writer. A writer needs you. It’s a match!
When you think you’ve found a local freelance writer – or even an international one – who fits your business needs, get in touch. Send a quick email with an outline of what you need, your timeline expectations, and any budget restrictions.
If the writer has room on the books, can work with your budget, and is able to provide what you need, they’ll let you know.
When something doesn’t match up, such as not having space for six months to complete the project, they will recommend a trusted copywriter in their network who will be able to help.
If a writer recommends another writer, use them. Writers are picky people. Value their referrals.
The writer has to pay their bills, too. Don’t take it to heart if your chosen writer replies with interest to your query, but says your budget doesn’t match their rates.
There are things you can do, before you give up on each other.
For example, if you’ve asked for ten 1000-word blogs, but your budget reflects another blog package the writer offers, they may suggest you opt for that.
Or the writer may ask what else you can offer in return. Can you provide bylines on their articles so that they can use them in a portfolio? Are you willing to do some social media promotion of their writing business?
Remember: it isn’t fair to ask a freelance writer to work for you for ‘exposure’. You can’t pay the electricity bill with exposure.
When you’ve both agreed what works for each party, it’s time to sign a contract.
Again, don’t take this personally. Writers know that 99% of clients are trustworthy individuals… but as always, the 1% prove otherwise.
A contract also protects you. It helps you to establish timescales and expectations of the project. It will highlight who is responsible for what. Who, for example, will be proof-reading the articles the writer submits? How long is the feedback cycle? What happens if the project is delayed?
A contract should include, at the least, the following clarifications:
- The project rate
- Payment terms
- Whether expenses are included (if not, rates of additional expenses)
- The project outline (how many articles, word count etc)
- Contact expectations (when can you/the writer be contacted, how long is a reasonable time to wait for a reply)
- Project milestones and deadlines
- Who owns the copyright upon project completion
- Whether a non-disclosure (NDA) must be signed
The writer won’t start any work – including research and planning – until both of you have signed the contract.
Here’s where you can really get into the good stuff. When the writer knows you’re on-board with the project, they’ll want to get all of the information from you for a brief.
It’s called a brief, but the more detailed it can be, the smoother the overall process.
This is where you supply the full project outline, any resources, and any themes or topics you must have included or used.
Surely this comes before the contract? Nope.
The contract is the overarching project brief. It says how much, when, and who. It doesn’t provide the in-depth details the writer needs for a specific article.
The brief often requires input from both the writer and the client. If the writer takes this part on before signing an agreement, you could run away with their ideas and never pay them a dime.
(Not suggesting you would do that, but it’s happened in history).
The brief requires research and discussion, and that means time. The moment a writer puts time into a project, the billing begins.
Anyway, what should a brief include? Well, how many spots does a leopard have?
What’s in a brief for your freelance writer?
I write blogs, so let’s use that as an example. The very minimal project brief should include:
- Suggested title
- SEO keywords you want included
- Resource links you want your writer to use (if any)
- Details of your competitors (so the writer can use for research but not to mention or link to in the blog)
- Contact details of any individuals the writer is expected to interview
- Word count expectations
- Date for draft submission
Remember: the writer is there to create the words around your desired topics and themes.
If you want somebody to come up with these topics and themes for you, that’s when you need to look at hiring a writer on a day rate. They need to spend additional time on industry research if you want them to come up with the ideas. A day rate is more economical for you without being unfair to the writer either.
As much as we’re portrayed as artistically miserable and living in poverty surviving on coffee and cigarettes, writers actually have bills to pay, too.
Most established freelance writers require a portion of the project fee to be paid upfront before they start work. This is 25% or 50%, but is sometimes as much as 100% for very experienced writers.
This commits you – and the writer – to the project. It also covers any unforeseen delays in the project: we know you want to pay our final invoice on time, but we understand that it’s simply a miracle for that to happen.
Again, don’t be offended when a writer asks for a portion of the project fee upfront. This helps their cash flow, guarantees you time on their books that week, and diffuses any awkward money-chasing conversations later on.
The Writing Process
This is where you leave the writer to do their thing. Once your upfront fee has landed in their bank account, they’ll hop to it and start work.
In your contract, you’ll have stipulated how long you expect to wait for the first draft. The writer will keep this in mind to make sure the article is delivered within your agreement.
Until you receive an article in your inbox, or until an article is delayed beyond the agreed timescale, leave the writer alone. They know what they’re doing, so let them do it.
There is nothing more damaging to client/writer relationships than a client ‘checking in’ daily on ‘how the article is getting along’. If the article is not late, or if you don’t have any last-minute resources that could be useful to send the writer, be patient.
The Feedback Cycle
Once you have the first draft, read it carefully. Pass it to someone else to read, too. This helps you to check your edits and suggestions, and spot anything you may have missed.
If you have any changes, make sure you give them to your writer in a clear format. For example, track changes on Word to add comments. This lets the writer see exactly what you’re talking about, and will help them to act on your constructive feedback.
Useless feedback that will only frustrate both you and the writer during this process includes:
- “I don’t like this” – with no indication as to why
- “Add more here” – about what?
- “This needs something else” – I can put a sketch of a unicorn in if you like.
Providing vague feedback will only draw out the project time. The writer will need clarification on what you want exactly, so that they can make relevant amends. Otherwise, you run the risk of playing draft ping-pong, which makes everybody unhappy.
Instead of the above, try:
- “We’ve got this blog [link] which helps to explain this in detail”
- “This isn’t our tone of voice, please revise without the emojis”
- “Can we focus more on the A project instead of the B project?”
Your writer will thank you for it – and your next draft will have the amends you want, instead of the ones you imagined.
Side note: when writers push back.
Sometimes, a writer may disagree with some of your feedback. This isn’t a personal attack on you: remember that you have hired them for their expertise.
A particular sticking point for many writers, for example, is when a client has edited words for ‘spelling and grammar’ but has actually added in errors. This is why you’ve hired a writer. If your writer is telling you that it should be ‘there’ instead of ‘their’, believe them.
Side side note: scope creep
Remember that brief? And the contract?
They set out exactly how many revisions the writer agreed to complete within the set price. The brief also set out the content, topics, and themes.
If your feedback requests an entire re-write, or you utter the fatal words of “can you just…?”, this is called Scope Creep.
Sometimes, a freelance writer allows some scope creep if it makes sense or if they like you as a client. However, scope creep impacts on a writer’s bottom line. The more time they spend on major revisions without extra pay, the less time they can spend on marketing, working on other projects, and generally running their business.
If you need to drastically change a project, don’t ask if the writer ‘can just’. Instead, tell them about the changes and negotiate a fair additional price to cover the extra work outside of the original brief.
The Payment (Part Two)
Once you have signed off a project in writing, your writer will send their final invoice.
The project is complete, so the final payment will be due. Your payment terms were set out in the contract, so make sure the final invoice is paid on time – especially if you want the freelance writer to work for you again.
A freelance writer runs a business, so they have as much right as any of your suppliers to be paid on time as agreed. They also have a legal right to add interest if an invoice isn’t paid by the agreed date – so it benefits you to pay on time, too!
If things all went swimmingly with the writing process (which it usually does), your freelance writer may ask you to write a quick testimonial or referral.
This could be a few sentences to use in their portfolio or on their website, or a tag in a social media post to recommend their services to others in your network.
They’ll do the same for you, so if you were happy with their work then go for it. It takes two minutes and makes people happy
It feels good to make people happy, right?