An Insider's Guide To Hiring Freelancers (Without Getting Burned)

July 10, 2014 Steve Maurer


My name is Steve and I'm a professional freelance writer.

That is all you need to know.

Hire me.


Wouldn't it be great if that was all there was to it? But it's not that easy.

An increasing number of companies are looking to the freelance workforce to get the job done, done right and done affordably. And they're getting great results.

For many, however, it's something they've never tried before. If they're not careful they can get burned easily.

Because it's virgin territory for many businesses, they don't know what to look for (or where), what to ask and what to expect when contracting a freelancer.

They know some of the perks to hiring a freelancer: no office to provide, no equipment to purchase, not usually responsible for the "extras" like taxes, insurance and vacations. But the procedure itself is a mystery to them.

I wrote this Insider's Guide to help you through the process of hiring a freelancer, particularly a professional writer. That's what I do and nearly half of the freelancers out there do some form of writing-related work.

But the same principles and ideas can be used when hiring a graphic artist, web designer or a freelancer for any other task that can be "farmed out."

By the way, this is classified information, kind of like revealing how a magic trick is done or divulging trade secrets. Do not share this with anyone. When you're done reading, print it out, cut it into small bits and eat it completely, without hesitation.

Just kidding.

Sort of . . .

What is a freelancer anyway?

The first known use of "free lance" was way back in 1820. It referred to a knight or roving soldier that was available for hire by a state or a military commander. In other words, a hired gun.

Well, a hired lance, to be more precise.

So a freelancer is someone who is self-employed and has a specific, valuable skillset that he or she is willing to offer to you for a price.

How and where to find a freelancer

There are several places you can find freelancers for hire. And there are also some places you should avoid if you want good results.

Discount text sites

These sites, often "affectionately" called content mills, are clearinghouses for joining people wanting something written cheaply with people willing to do that. Be forewarned that you shouldn't anticipate much from most of these sites. Most of the writers are hobbyists, so don't expect a lot of quality research done for your articles nor presume that you will get painstakingly written content.

Paid pennies per word, these writers can't afford to do much research or spend quality time with your copy. Think short-order cook. There is little, if any communication possible between client and writer.

And you get what you pay for. Smell the smoke?

There are better choices.

Professional writing/content brokers

These sites also match up clients and writers. The difference, however, is in the quality of work. The writers are thoroughly screened and their expertise or talents matched more closely to the clients' needs. In most cases, the type of job has a set fee, of which the site gets a portion. You can expect a higher quality of work for your dollar.

Some top sites in this area are Contently and Scripted, where companies can connect with and view previous work of journalists and freelancers up for hire. Some of these sites will often have APIs to insert your written content directly into your website from theirs.

They are somewhat similar to, but also significantly different than working with an agency.

Job boards

These are sites where you can list your job, usually for free, and writers will contact you with a bid or offer. These are usually sponsored by a group or organization. Various types of freelancing projects can be listed, such as specialized writing, web development and graphics. One such site is Direct Response Jobs, sponsored by AWAI.

The Solo Professional

This type of freelancer is not governed by any particular group or company, but may have ties to some. Their bread-and-butter is working one-on-one with their clients. Some may supplement their work with job board replies and such. But for the most part they are true freelancers.

You can find them all over the web, on LinkedIn and through their personal websites. Most will specialize in one or two niches. If you search for them on the web, be sure to be as specific as possible for what you want.

The big difference is how they work diligently and directly with you to generate quality content and copy, the stuff you really need.

The fees are often higher; but the results are well worth it.

Solo freelancer pricing — what to expect

There are three basic types of pricing schedules: cost-per-word, hourly rate and project fee. While not entirely conclusive, the type of pricing often indicates of the freelancer's level of experience, confidence and ability.

For example, the cost-per-word pricing may signify that the writer is either still in or fresh out of a discount text website or is a newbie freelancer. This is, in my opinion, the worst pricing schedule to use. Effective writing, particularly sales and content copy, cannot be measure by quantity. Quality is more important than quantity.

For more information, read this article on the ideal length of blog posts used as content marketing.

Quoting an hourly fee is a two-edged sword that can harm both the client and the freelancer. On the one hand, the client really has no way of tracking the time spent. An unscrupulous freelancer (and yes, there are some) might pad the time to get more money. 

The problem for the freelancer is that the faster he gets, the less he gets paid. A new, higher hourly rate is not easy to negotiate. Upcoming freelancers often quote an hourly rate because they are unsure of their work's true value.

Unless the hourly plan fits the job, avoid it.

The third type of pricing schedule – the one I use – is the project fee. The freelancer will quote a set price for a project, which can sometimes be negotiated a bit. Different types of services are often "bundled" into a package deal at a lower cost than multiple one-offs.

The professional freelancers that I know, both full-time and part-time, use this pricing format. Even if the project takes more time than expected, the writer usually shoulders the added expense. There may be exceptions, like major changes to the project after start up, but not many.

Many freelancers have pricing guides that list fee ranges for various projects. Rarely, if ever, do they quote a firm price at first contact. If pressed, they may give you a range or estimate. But more information about the project is usually necessary before a firm proposal is submitted.

Solo professionals often work on a retainer basis, something not possible with the other choices listed above.

Choosing, contracting and working with a freelancer

Finding and working with the right professional for your project may seem overwhelming. But it doesn't need to be that difficult. Since I'm a writer, most of these tips will be shared in that light. However, all freelancers will be similar. Here are some things to remember:

  • You are in business. So is the professional freelancer.
  • You are in business to make money. Ditto for the freelancer.
  • You want to give your customers and clients the best product for their money. Guess what . . . so does the professional freelancer.

A serious freelance writer will have a website. This is where the writer showcases his or her talent. When you check out the website, read over all of the copy and not just the work samples. After all, a freelancer's first client is himself.

Look for other places the freelance writer "advertises." This can include a LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, Facebook page or other social media network.

The same applies to other types of freelancers.

Freelancers niche themselves

Most freelance writers have niches. The first major niche division is business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C).  Most freelance writers will specialize in one only.

For example, I write in the B2B markets. It's rare that I'll write B2C copy unless I feel I can do it justice. If I can't, I probably know someone who can and will refer you to them.

Some writers niche according to writing format and/or venue:

  • Some work in print only, some work online only; but some do both.
  • Some write ad copy, others write content marketing articles. Many write both since they integrate so well.
  • B2B writers might do any combination of traditional pieces: white papers, case studies, press releases, etc. Some specialize in only one format and do it exceptionally well.

Most freelancers will niche according to industry. It's a rare person who can write effective copy in every field. Some will have one industry they concentrate on; others may have two or three. By covering limited industries, the writer is able to keep up with current and emerging trends more effectively.

Proposals, kill fees and other considerations

I know this has been a long post. But the information should serve you well when considering a freelancer. I'll close with a few thoughts concerning the hiring and working process.

On major projects, the freelance writer will rarely give you a quote at first contact, as mentioned above. He or she does not know enough to do so. More information concerning the project may be necessary. The writer must figure out a price that is fair to both of you.

A written proposal is often used to make sure both agree on the scope of the project, the type of writing format(s) and other technical consideration. Some writers will need a portion of the fee paid up front if the project fee is over a certain amount or if the project is lengthy. Some require the full amount on smaller projects before work begins.

A kill fee — also called a cancellation fee — is often written into the project proposal/contract to protect the freelancer from loss should the project be cancelled or its scope changed once it's started. This is a normal and usual industry standard.

The proposal/contract should also include the deadline for final deliverables and payment as well as the freelancer's revision policy.

Working with freelance professionals can be an eye-opening experience. They bring fresh and unbiased perspectives to your project. Some can act as consultants since they keep track of current trends and techniques.

This Insider's Guide is not all inclusive. This guide's purpose is to give you a taste of what freelancers are like. There's a lot more that could be written about working with freelancers. But now that you have the basics, I hope you'll feel more comfortable with the idea.

Consider freelancers for your next project. It just might be the boost your business needs.

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About the Author

Steve Maurer

Steve Maurer, Maurer Copywriting is a freelance copy and content writer in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His tagline at Maurer Copywriting , Professional Freelance Business Writing – Plain and Simple, explains both his target audience and his writing philosophy. You can meet him on LinkedIn or call him at 479-304-1086.

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