Seven Top Tips for Hiring a Freelance Writer

I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for over 25 years (I’m semi-retired now). During that time I’ve had a lot of would-be clients approach me about working for them. To some I’ve said yes, others no. Often, my decision is strongly influenced by the way they approach me.

So I thought in this post I would set out a few tips for anyone who wants to hire a freelance writer. If you’re a writer yourself, maybe you’ll identify with some of these points. If you’re looking to hire a freelance writer, I hope my advice will make the process a little less stressful for all concerned!

1. First Find Your Writer

One of the best ways to find a freelance writer is by personal recommendation. So if you happen know anyone who hires freelance writers, find out whom they use and ask for their contact details. This will give you a good starting point in your search at least.

Otherwise, you will need to start looking around. You could simply enter “freelance writer” in Google and see who turns up (not forgetting to check the ‘sponsored listings’ as well). You can also narrow down your search by area or by specialism.

In addition, there are lots of resource sites you can use to find a writer – the WritersNet Writers & Authors Directory is one example.

You can also post details of the job you have in mind on websites such as Guru and Upwork and invite authors to bid for them. This does have some drawbacks, though. Apart from being time-consuming, the information available on those bidding for work is often minimal. You will still need to check very carefully whether any candidates have the skills and knowledge you require.

2. Give Them Enough Information

Once you’ve found a potential writer and checked them out, you’ll want to contact them to see if they are interested in taking on your assignment. It’s important to include enough information in your query for the writer to tell if the job would suit their skills and experience.

Personally, the type of enquiry I least enjoy receiving is along the lines, ‘I have a writing job for you. Phone me to discuss.’ That means I am expected to call this individual at my expense – possibly at international rates – with no clue what he or she wants me to do, and the need to make an on-the-spot decision whether I am interested or not.

While I don’t require a detailed brief with the initial enquiry, I much prefer a paragraph or two of explanation so that I can get some idea what the job will entail: length, subject matter, deadline, and so on. If there is a set budget, it is helpful to know this also. Otherwise, especially if I am busy, I am quite inclined to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. Experience has taught me that vague enquiries seldom lead to worthwhile assignments.

3. Don’t Assume You’re Doing Them a Favour

Professional writers are busy people, and they can’t take on every job that is offered to them. That applies especially with jobs that are offered out of the blue. You need to make some effort in your approach to demonstrate that you are a genuine prospective client and not, as they say, a tyre-kicker. As mentioned above, it helps a lot if you provide enough information in your initial approach to show the writer that you are business-like and professional, and have devoted some serious thought to what you want the writer to do.

4. Don’t Expect Them to Work for Free

If you just want a quote or expression of interest, that’s fine. But if you want your writer to produce sample articles, outlines, or whatever so that you can assess their suitability for the job, you should offer them a reasonable fee for this.

5. Don’t Assume Any Writer Will Do

Writing covers a huge spectrum of activities, and all writers specialize to some extent. This is another reason you should tell your prospective writer what the job will involve in your initial approach. Even if it’s not a type of writing he (or she) does, he may know someone who specializes in that field and be able to refer you.

6. Be Honest and Up Front

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it’s important not to get off on the wrong foot with your writer.

Here’s an example from my own experience. I was asked by a potential client to help him write a book, and as a first step to produce an outline. This involved researching the topic concerned, and turned out to involve a bit more work than I anticipated. However, I agreed to do it, as I assumed that as long as the client was happy with my outline, I would get this well-paying assignment.

Then I found out, quite by chance, that a colleague had been approached by the same person and asked to do exactly the same thing. In fact, the client had approached at least two other writers as well, and we were effectively competing against one another. I felt I had been misled, and told the client I was no longer interested in working for him.

Of course, there is no objection to a potential client getting several quotes if he wants to, but where preliminary work is going to be involved for the unsuccessful writers as well, I believe the client should make this clear to all concerned. See also my comments above about not expecting writers to work for free.

7. Give Them All the Essential Info

If you don’t tell your writer all the important facts, don’t be surprised if they produce something unsuitable for you.

Here’s another example from my experience. A few years ago I was approached by someone wanting me to write a short story for him, to give to his fiancee on their wedding day. He told me he wanted a medieval-style fairy tale, with himself as the hero and his fiancee as his princess.

I took the job (at below my usual rates, but I actually found the project quite touching and romantic) and produced a story where the hero went to Hispaniola with the king’s forces and slayed a mechanical dragon that had been terrorizing the locals. He then came back as a hero to claim his bride.

My client wasn’t impressed. He told me his fiancee’s ex had been in the army, so could I come up with a story that had no military connections? Everything I’d written had to be scrapped. I told the client that if he still wanted me to do this job, he would have to come up with an outline plot himself. I would then flesh it out for him, but I couldn’t go on writing stories then having them rejected for reasons I had hitherto heard nothing about. I never heard from him again.

In the last example, I do actually have some sympathy for the young man concerned, as he obviously had no experience working with freelance writers, and he did have the best of intentions. However, it turned out to be a waste of a week’s work for me, purely because I wasn’t given all the essential details.

To sum up, then, if you want to hire a professional writer, it’s important to present a business-like image. Show the writer that you value their skills and understand that they may not want, or be able, to take the job on. Give them all the facts they require to assess your proposed project in an open and honest way. If you want them to produce a sample of work for you, offer them a fee. And once you’ve hired them, give them all the information they need to be able to do a good job for you.

Do all of these things, and you will be well on your way to becoming the ideal client for a freelance writer. And, more importantly, there is every chance you will find a suitably skilled individual for your project, and get the best possible results from them.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it on your own blog or social media: