Elance Blog

What to Look for in a Freelance Writer

You’ve come to the point in your business where you realize you can’t do it all. There are some tasks you’re not cut out for, and there are others that simply take too much time. In the same way that you hire an accountant to handle your taxes, you’ve decided to hire a freelance writer to handle your copywriting. Yet, just like with accountants, not all freelance writers are created equal. Some, in fact, are downright terrible. If you’re not at least a little bit choosey about your contractor, you’ll do your business more harm than good (and waste a lot of money in the process).

Your freelance writer’s qualifications
So, how do you know if the freelance writer you’re considering is the right one? There are several specific things you need to look for in a freelance writer:


  • Writing skill. It’s not always easy to judge a writer’s talent by reading their Elance profile or by exchanging a few emails. You need objective ways to measure their skill. One way is by looking through their portfolio (which I’ll discuss in a minute) for real-world examples of their work. Another is through third-party testing or verification. Elance offers contractors a number of skill tests in areas of writing and translation which rank proficiency and compare it with other contractors on Elance. Use these test results to help make your decision.

  • Professional training. Not every qualified freelance writer has a formal education in writing. However, as with most professions, that formal education doesn’t hurt. If someone has a Master’s degree from a recognized institution, for example, they are used to making their writing conform to custom specifications (such as an academic style guide) and are likely to have a greater command of the language. Elance offers contractors the ability to have their academic degrees verified, so you’ll know whether or not a given freelancer’s degree is genuine.

  • Professionalism. In many ways, the Internet has turned communication into a casual thing, even in business. That’s not all bad, but some contractors take it a bit too far. Look for contractors who maintain professional courtesy, respond to inquiries within a reasonable time (1-2 days at worst), and meet deadlines.

  • Fluency. Your freelance writer needs to have some fluency in your niche. This is more important for some topics (such as information technology and health fields) than it is for others. In many cases, you’re actually better off choosing the contractor who’s a skilled writer but has little background in your niche, trusting her ability to research the topic.

  • Experience. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and that’s especially true in the world of freelance writing. You’ll find many contractors on Elance who have little or no experience providing copywriting services for clients. On the other hand, there are many freelance writers who have worked via Elance for years, and who have consistent records. You can even view the contractors’ feedback on Elance, and see how those previous experiences turned out. Do keep in mind, though, that everyone has to start somewhere, so ensure you perform a full evaluation of a writer’s qualifications.

  • Cost. Cost is always a factor in business. As with other contractors, you get what you pay for with freelance writers. If you award a job to the cheapest bid on Elance, you run the risk of receiving substandard work. That doesn’t mean every contractor who’s charging higher rates is qualified, but if they are truly talented they will charge what the market can bear.


Balancing these factors one against the other will help you decide what kind of writer you’re looking for, and whether an individual writer matches your needs.

Evaluating a portfolio
I’d like to zoom in for a minute on one aspect of this process. I think portfolio evaluation is one of the elements that many clients ignore, to their detriment. What, exactly, are you looking for when you look through a portfolio? You’re looking for two things: you want a contractor who’s skilled in copywriting, and you want a contractor who’s experienced in the particular kind of copywriting you need. Open up a few of the portfolio pieces. Read one of them out loud, and see how it sounds. If you find yourself having to reread portions of the piece over and over again, it’s probably not very well written. You’re not too worried about typos at this point (although several typos in a given document should give you pause). Typos are easy enough to fix. What you can’t fix is poor writing.

You also want to make sure the portfolio pieces match the style of content you need. Blog post writing is very different from white paper writing. Sales copy writing is very different from article writing. Choose (and ask for, if necessary) portfolio pieces that match the style of writing you need.

What you’re not looking for—and this is where many clients make a mistake—is whether the portfolio pieces match your particular niche. As I said before, a skilled researcher can bring himself up to speed on most topics.

Kicking the tires
One of the best ways to see whether or not a freelance writer is a good fit for your project is with a trial piece. While you can’t (and shouldn’t) ask the contractor to provide you a free sample, you can certainly start with a small portion of your project. If you like the work, keep going. If not, move on to the next prospect. Your business’ success depends, to a large degree, on the quality of your copywriting. Take the time to choose the right freelance writer for your business’ needs.

About the Author:
Bob Younce is the owner of Composing Business, a freelance copywriting firm currently ranked in the Top 50 writing providers on Elance. Composing Business is dedicated to helping other small businesses get ahead with high-quality, compelling copy. Contact Bob on Elance or visit his website at www.composingbusiness.com.

 

Comments

A very informative, clear-cut article. These tips are just as applicable to contractors. If we know what clients want, we know how to position ourselves or improve our skill sets.

This article itself is a perfect example of how NOT to write an article, almost the epitome of the classic "talks too much but says nothing".

It's lengthy, bloated, full of redundant and useless "talking", examples:

- the whole opening paragraph is a total waste of time, and disconnect from the title of the article

- "Balancing these factors one against the other will help you decide what kind of writer you’re looking for, and whether an individual writer matches your needs."
What does this sentence even mean here? How it is useful for the reader when looking for a freelance writer?

- "I’d like to zoom in for a minute on one aspect of this process". LOL, who cares you "zoom in" on what.

Sorry dude, this is one writer that I will not be using.

I agree.

In many ways, the Internet has turned communication into a casual thing, even in business.If not, move on to the next prospect. Your business’ success depends, to a large degree, on the quality of your copywriting. Take the time to choose the right freelance writer for your business’ needs.Balancing these factors one against the other will help you decide what kind of writer you’re looking for, and whether an individual writer matches your needs.

Excellent guidelines. Thanks for you efforts. This should help a lot of people including me.

David

Very well written, I can agree.
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Really wish I had read this before I hired 9 writers! I did find two great ones, but also 7... less than great. Take your time looking over those writing samples! And try to be as detailed as possible in your specifications. Good luck!