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5 Dangers To Avoid When Hiring A Freelance Writer

5 Dangers to Avoid When Hiring a Freelance Writer

A good freelance writer for your business is as important as your bookkeeper, your publicity person, or the exterminator who comes in once a quarter to kill all the ants. Sure, you could probably do the job you hire them to do, but:

  • You wouldn’t do it as well
  • You wouldn’t do it as quickly
  • The project would steal time from your primary tasks
  • You don’t like doing those things

Hiring a freelancer to write your ad copy, video scripts, blog posts, white papers, e-books, and more is a smart move for any business that can afford it. That said, there are risks in hiring a freelance writer you should be aware of.

Let’s take a look at some of those risks, how they can hurt your business, and ways to mitigate them.

5 Dangers of Hiring Freelance Writers

1. The Race to the Bottom

Sites like Fiverr and Upwork are clearinghouses where you can find freelance creatives like writers to do the work you need. These sites are convenient and tend to be inexpensive, but they create a problem.

Both sites are international and tend to attract clients who make hiring decisions based on budget above most other things. As a result, the lowest bidders tend to be the most successful. Although that may seem like a good thing at the surface, it means those lowest bidders often come from two populations:

  • Writers living in countries with a low cost of living, who may have limited command of the English language or an excellent command of a regional English dialect that doesn’t match standard grammar conventions.
  • People living in North America, England, or Australia who write very quickly so they can make a living on that low price per word. They tend to have quality issues at least as bad as their less-hurried foreign compatriots.

Neither of these writers can reliably produce material that really shines, and only the best content will grow your business.

What to Do About It

Instead of hiring a freelance writer from “cattle call” sites and brokerages, aim to work with seasoned professional writers. Use recruiter sites like Monster or reach out to your local trade organization for freelance and professional writers and editors. This requires having a slightly higher budget for your content, but the resulting improvement in quality makes it worth the extra cost. 

2. Part-Timer Syndrome

A lot of people hanging out their shingles as freelance writers are not full-time professionals. Rather, they’re drawn from the ranks of people like:

  • College students looking to make a few extra bucks
  • People between jobs and earning a few dollars as a side gig
  • Retirees looking to stretch their pension and IRA funds
  • Stay-at-home parents who got bored once the kids went to school

Some of these people are great writers, and almost all of them are fine people. However, they might take an amateur approach to their freelance writing because they don’t rely on writing as the main source of their income. As a result, they might not be as serious about deadlines, work quality, their ongoing reputation, and basic professionalism as a full-time freelancer.

This also sometimes applies to freelance writers who work full time but overcommit and take on too many projects at once. Although the underlying reasons for the problem differ, the results are the same. 

What to Do About It

First, ask candidates outright what other kinds of projects they’re working on right now. Second, take a look at their social media and writer websites. Combined, these will give you an accurate idea of how much work they take on and how seriously they take their writing career. 

3. The Ghost

The ghost accepts an assignment and then disappears. Ghosts come in two species. 

One accepts an assignment and never gets back to the client. They vanish from the face of the earth, never to email, call, or text you again. Once the deadline has come and gone, you’re stuck running behind schedule because they flaked out.

The other accepts and turns in the assignment, but you hear nothing from them between those two points. Work quality is often fine, but it can be stressful not to hear anything as the deadline approaches. Worse, if they need a little extra time, they never let you know until the day their work is due, giving you few options for adjusting your timeline to accommodate. 

What to Do About It

Clear, written communication is the key here. Set up a payment plan where the writer receives funds only upon turning in their work (or a portion of the work for larger assignments). Also, set up a contract with clear expectations about check-ins and benchmarks so you can have a strong idea of the writer’s progress on your project. 

4. Technological Issues

Professional writers excel at writing the same way you excel at whatever you do. However, they may not be particularly good at the various technologies you use. They may write well, but they may not understand the specs and context of the service or product you provide. Their writing might be excellent, but they won’t be able to instill it with the deep analysis you need. 

They might have trouble navigating your company’s communications and content management system. They may have trouble turning in work, delivering updates, or attending virtual meetings simply because they’re not familiar enough with the tools you use.

What to Do About It

Before starting your search for the perfect freelance writer, make a list of the skills and knowledge the ideal candidate should have. Which software suites and other tools should they have had experience with? Put that information in the job posting and ask about it during the interview. You will be glad you did. 

5. The Shake and Bake 

One advantage of the Internet age is that we all have access to nearly the sum total of all human knowledge, on demand, whenever we want it. One disadvantage is that having access to all that information but doesn’t mean people can be experts in everything.

In the “shake and bake” approach, a writer claims to know enough to write about any topic at all, whether or not they know anything about it when they accept an assignment. They then go online and pull information from Wikipedia and other basic sources, grabbing a fact here and an opinion there until they’ve reached their word count requirements.

Although this approach is great for students who don’t mind getting a C+ on their term paper, it’s terrible for businesses who want to offer the kind of high-value content that will grow their client base and profits.

What to Do About It

The easiest way to avoid hiring a shake-and-bake writer is to ask to see their resume and list of clients and works published. They don’t have to be a world-class expert on the topics you want to see written, but they should show a pattern of working within — or at least adjacent to — your field. 

Final Thought

Hiring a freelance writer for your business will likely cost you a little more than you were initially thinking if you want the kind of quality that will make your marketing copy shine. Think of it as an investment and make sure you fully understand your relationship or contract with that person.

If you spend your marketing money right, it makes more money than you spent. That’s the whole point of marketing. The same is true of spending money on hiring a freelance writer for your business. In many cases, the first step in spending it right is spending more so that you avoid the pitfalls we discussed here today. 

Brian Lawhorn has been a freelance writer for 15 years, writing on a number of topics from agricultural to finance. He lives in California with his family of four.

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