Finding 'the one': tips to help your search for the right freelance content writer
Updated: Mar 1
If you’ve never outsourced work before, finding the right freelancer to take care of your copywriting and content needs can be somewhat daunting. That elusive, special someone needs to fulfil some pretty tough criteria: relevant qualifications, experience in your field, an ability to innately know exactly what you need before you ask, similar writing style etc.
So how do you find ‘the one’? There are two stages: 1) the search (where to look) and 2) the evaluation (how to know if they’re 'the one').
First things first: you need to know who you are looking for. Think about what type of work you need to be done and build a picture of your ideal candidate in terms of the experience you’d like them to have, the skills they will need, the technical knowledge required (if any), and their location. Do you need someone who is local who can work in your office, or would someone working remotely and corresponding via email, phone and Skype work just as well?
Now you are equipped to write an amazing brief. This isn’t difficult – just follow the tips in my earlier post Things you've probably forgotten to put in your brief.
*A word of advice: exercise caution when it comes to the level of industry expertise and technical knowledge you require. Unless the job cannot be completed without it, you may inadvertently turn away some fantastic freelancers if you’re criteria are too strict.
The search: where to find the right freelance content writer
There is a multitude of channels for finding freelancers; some more effective than others.
Personal referrals: This is probably the best way to find someone trusted as people will generally only recommend freelancers they’ve had good experiences with. Ask for referrals from colleagues past and present, friends and family. Get on LinkedIn and Facebook and start messaging people. You’ll be inundated with names.
Professional associations and industry networks: Search member directories on the websites of industry and professional associations like the Professional Copywriters Network, The Freelance Collective or the Society for Proofreaders and Editors. The freelancers listed on these sites are qualified and vetted. You can often choose to pay a small fee to place an ad on these sites and have freelancers pitch/apply.
Google: Doing a simple google search can be fruitful – but be specific about what you are looking for and the location or you will spend all day sorting through listings.
Social media: Browse Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and keep an eye out for freelancers who are particularly active sharing posts and writing their own blogs. Use specific searches and hashtags e.g. #copywriter #contentmarketer #contentwriter etc. Again, take a look at industry-specific Facebook and LinkedIn discussion groups and ask around.
Freelance job sites: Sites such as PeoplePerHour, Freelancer.com, Upwork, Crowd Content and The Work Crowd provide a platform for clients to post jobs and search for freelancers. BEWARE: you may need to pay fees to advertise and you will need to devote time to sifting through dozens (if not hundreds) of proposals. Also, while a freelancer may offer a great proposal at an unbelievably low rate, enter with the knowledge that you will get what you pay for, particularly if you are paying by the word. Many of the best writers avoid these sites and stick to sites like Expert360, ContentCo or The Freelance Collective (Australia), or the professional association sites detailed above.
The evaluation: how to assess freelance content writing candidates
Just as you would for a permanent job candidate, you need to assess freelance content writers and editors for their suitability. After all – you are placing something of great importance in their hands: your content and your reputation.
Once you've found one, or several, potential freelancers I suggest that you:
Take a look at their social media profiles. This will tell you a great deal about their working style, what their areas of expertise and interest are, and how they share their expertise with the world. The more polished their writing and more considered the content they post, the better!
Check their website and blog. These platforms are the barometer against which you can evaluate their writing style. Great freelance writers and editors are able to flex tone and style easily, but their personal style can tell you a lot. Furthermore, take note of the presentation of the website or blog: professional, modern presentation is an important indication of how they will treat your work.
Ask for examples. This may include similar portfolio examples and/or a sample paragraph – but not a whole article or post. Every hour is billable for freelancers, so out of respect please don’t ask for work for free.
Meet them. While a face-to-face meeting is ideal for judging if you both ‘click’, it isn’t always possible. Arrange a telephone or Skype call and have a list of questions ready.
Look at their life before copywriting. Almost all copywriters, editors and content marketers have had a previous career which may have some bearing on their suitability to work for you and your industry. Do check their CV or LinkedIn profile or 'About me' page for clues. If the work is specifically for marketing copy, ex-marketers (like me!) are a great fit as we understand why it's required and how the copy will be used. If you are seeking a freelancer to write copy for PR and newspapers, consider appointing a former journalist.
Listen to their questions. If your freelancer asks detailed questions and requests a brief, this is a good indication of the quality of work they provide and lengths they will go to. If they ask for a topic only and do not ask for background information, you may end up with paragraphs of copy lightly paraphrased from other people’s work they found on google, meaning it probably won’t hit the mark for your brand or audience.
Offer a trial period. You wouldn’t marry someone you hadn’t dated, and the same applies when you appoint a freelancer. A one-month or one-project trial (paid, of course!) should be sufficient to test the relationship waters.
This sounds like a great deal of work, but it is worth it. Once you have found a great freelancer they have the potential to be the love of your (business) life.