If you want content marketing that works, you’ll need someone to write it.
And by far the most common solution for content writing is hiring a freelance writer—or more than one.
But not all writers are equal. And knowing who to work with can make all the difference.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Where the world’s best (yet affordable) writers hang out
- How to virtually guarantee a “good hire” before someone starts
- What tax and legal requirements apply to freelancers
And more. Let’s dive in.
You should know up front …
If you don’t have a writing team yet, you’re about to learn a hard truth:
Good writers are almost impossible to find.
There are a few reasons for this, but I think David McCullough said it perfectly:
“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”
Hiring writers will be difficult, frustrating, and sometimes expensive (both in time and money).
But having an amazing writing team is worth it in the end.
The secret to stress-free hiring (or at least not pulling out your hair) is to have a defined process. Mine has five steps:
- Post an opening
- Build a shortlist
- Provide a test piece
- Conduct an interview
- Onboard the new writer
Some companies do more; most do less. But those five steps are the sweet spot I’ve found between effort and results.
1. How and where to get great freelance writers to apply to your job post
There are two places where I’ve had success hiring freelance writers:
Anyone who is anyone uses ProBlogger. You’ll see shockingly big brands hiring there. It costs about $75 to post a job.
And Reddit is a surprising gold mine of opportunities. I’ve never seen any big names posting jobs there, but the writers are about equal quality (and there’s overlap between the platforms). It’s free to post on Reddit.
Whichever you choose, you’ll get a ton of applications—probably between a few dozen to a few hundred, depending on how attractive your job offer sounds. Around 5% will be good quality. That doesn’t sound like much, but 5% is all you need.
(Remember: it’s not easy. Trust the process.)
Your job post doesn’t need to be complex. List the requirements of the project in plenty of detail (how much writing, how often, what kind). On Reddit, you’re required to post a rate. On ProBlogger, you aren’t, and I recommend asking writers for their rate per word.
I’ve heard good things about three other strategies, though I haven’t used them.
The first is to ask for a referral. If you know people who have hired freelance writers, this is a good place to start.
Another is to contact a writer in a vetted directory. ProBlogger has a paid one, and plenty of other sites maintain similar lists.
The other method is to “poach” someone. If you find a post you love, find the writer and reach out. I’ve never done this, but I’ve been contacted for work this way.
There are also some places I would avoid. I don’t recommend looking for writers on Upwork, Fiverr, Craigslist, or other bargain sites. It tends to be a race to the bottom, and great writers don’t stick around.
I’ve made the mistake of hiring dozens of writers on sites like that. I don’t work with any of them anymore.
2. Build a shortlist of great freelance writers
In your job post, or whenever you contact a writer, you’ll want three pieces of information: rates, portfolio, and availability.
I recommend asking for a rate in USD per word, even if you’ll pay per project or use a different currency. This is standard in the industry and makes it easy to compare writers.
Next, you’ll want a portfolio. Any good writer will have at least a few pieces they’ve written. I’ll typically ask for three to five pieces. They can be published or just on a personal blog—what matters is the content, not the publication.
And finally, availability. It’s easier to work with one or two freelancers who write a lot than splitting up work amongst a team. Most freelancers will be able to write 1,000–3,000 words per week for each client, around one to three articles.
With this information, you’ll build a shortlist of writers.
Eliminate any writers with a rate you can’t afford or that seems suspiciously low. Most writers will pitch a rate of between $0.10/word and $0.25/word. Anything below $0.10/word is suspicious, and the upper limit depends on your budget.
Next, review every portfolio piece and select the best. This is my least favorite part, but it’s also the most important. A writer’s portfolio contains what they consider their best work, and they’ll likely never write something better than what’s there.
You should also run plagiarism checks on portfolio work, especially anything self-published. I’ve tested every popular plagiarism checker on the market, and Copyleaks outperforms them all. It has a free plan for 5,000 words a month.
Finally, use availability to find writers that will fit your needs.
By now, you should have a shortlist of three to ten writers. If you have more than that, review portfolio pieces more closely—you’ll notice more the second time around.
3. Provide a test piece to writers on your shortlist
Portfolios provide a window into the writer’s ability. But they can’t answer important questions, like:
- Is the writer easy to work with?
- Can they meet deadlines?
- Can they follow directions?
The test piece helps us answer these questions.
You’ll assign a piece that’s typical of ongoing work. Be as clear as possible with instructions and give a clear deadline.
Also, clarify payment terms up front. There are four methods:
- Zero payment
- Below-market pay
- Full payment only if published
- Guaranteed full payment
Some publishers think zero or below-market pay is sneaky because they’ll get a “free” or “discount” piece out of the deal. But you tend to get desperate writers.
The most common option is payment if the piece is published. This lets you off the hook if the first piece doesn’t deliver.
But I prefer option three. As long as the writer does the assignment (even if the final product is unpublishable), they’ll get paid. I prefer this because it starts off the relationship with trust.
It also gets an accurate picture of the writer’s work. With payment at stake, a writer’s first piece might be incredible, so it’s “publishable”—then get worse once they’re guaranteed work.
Based on the test project, you’ll choose your final candidate or two.
First, measure objectively. Did the writer follow guidelines and complete the piece on time?
Next, look subjectively. Did you enjoy working with them? Did you see any red flags? In my experience, working with a writer on a paid test project is an accurate picture of what it will be like working with them long term, so take little things seriously.
Now it’s time to interview the writer(s) who delivered a great test piece.
4. Interview your candidates
An interview is optional, and most teams don’t do it. But I recommend it.
You’ve already tested the writer’s technical skills. This is just a short phone or video call to get to know them before working together.
I’ve never cut the hiring process short at this step. (But I should have at least once.)
The biggest problem to look out for at this stage is discovering a “writer” is actually a content farm—a low-paid team churning out poor-quality articles.
A call is also just much more personal than email.
5. Onboard your new freelance writer
Congratulations! If a writer has passed all these steps, they’re almost guaranteed to be a great fit. The next step is to get your writer set up to use your system.
Onboarding can include whatever is important to you, but I always share a contract, tools, processes, tax documents, and payment methods.
A contract should be first, before other steps in the onboarding process. Not many clients use them, which will immediately set you apart. I recommend including the following sections:
- Everything you commission is “work for hire” (i.e., you own 100% of the rights)
- Terms of termination (I’d recommend 30 days, in writing)
- Invoicing methods and frequency
- Nondisclosure agreement
I am, of course, not an attorney. This is a guideline, but you should speak with someone qualified to help you build the contract you use.
Tools include whatever you use to manage projects. The most common tools I’ve seen include Asana, Trello, Slack, and Google Workspace.
Processes include guidelines and other information. Most teams use Google Docs, help desk software, or Notion.
Tax documents for US companies are a W-9 for US-based or American freelancers and W-8BENs for anyone international. (See the official IRS definition for more about form W-8BEN, and talk with your tax professional for more guidance.)
Payment information depends on what the freelancer wants. The industry standard is PayPal, but the writer will pay 3–4%. Other common methods include Payoneer, Wise (formerly Transferwise), wire transfer, and direct deposit through Automated Clearing House.
There you have it! A clear, proven process for hiring freelance writers.
I should wrap up this guide by mentioning that freelancers are a piece of the puzzle—not a complete solution. No freelance writers I’ve worked with or know analyze your goals and create campaigns for content.
Freelancers are a great place to start and can help you create content if you already have a strategy in place. But if you don’t have a bigger strategy, pushing extra content out into the world won’t help.
I’ve worked with dozens of companies that did just that, and I’ve never seen it work.
If you’re looking for more than just piecemeal content, talk to us.