Finding the right combination of experience and talent in a freelance writer can be tough. But it's worth getting it right—having the right writer on your team makes a big difference. So how do you go about finding the best freelancers writers for hire?
We asked over 30 marketers for their advice. And you can bank on their experience: two-thirds of them are working with 6–10 writers at any given time.
So these respondents are speaking from experience.
Here's what they have to say about finding freelance writers for hire:
Write Good Ads for Job Boards
Hiring a great freelance writer starts—in many cases—with posting a great ad.
"Ask for writing samples, passions about subjects (so you can see if they are a fit), a few brief sentences on experience, and availability," says ContentMender's Ron Lieback.
"Make sure they answer everything you ask for—if they can't follow these simple instructions, how can they follow instructions for a basic writing assignment?"
Syed Farhan Raza from Laptop Cut says this about posting job ads:
"Keep the job posting general to receive maximum applications. You can shortlist in a later stage."
(Many marketers suggest doing the opposite, and looking specifically for industry experience. We'll get to that in a moment.)
Joe Goldstein from Contractor Calls uses a specific strategy in his job ads to make sure writers are paying attention:
Whenever I put up a listing for a new writer, I always hide at least one absurd question in the description. It includes a very clear stipulation that 'any applicant who fails to answer this question in the first application or response will no longer be eligible for the position.'
"Questions like 'would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?' quickly weed out writers who have a limited capacity to follow instructions, pay attention to details, and handle odd requests. It also helps us move past writers who apply to jobs in bulk, and also applicants who have limited experience writing in English."
"Sometimes, the answers to these absurd questions can also be extremely revealing. I've had applicants try to relate their answers back to the role or their area of expertise, ones whose writing styles suddenly changed for that one answer, and ones who try to flip it around and outsmart me."
"I've even found a few good long-term writers based on their answers to those absurd questions alone."
Scrutinize Ad Responses
"Go ahead and judge a book by its cover," says Weidert Group's Kelly Wilhelme. "When you get an inquiry from a freelancer about doing work for you, the cover letter can tell a big story."
"Are there typos? Is the tone appropriate? Does it seem like a form letter sent out to anyone and everyone? Does the writer demonstrate an understanding of your industry and/or your need?"
"A good writer will do his or her research about your organization to try to determine what type of writing you need (technical, script, long-form, social, etc.) and talk in depth about their relevant (and specific) experience to convince you that he or she is right for you."
Matt Connor from Strasmore uses a similar strategy for screening freelance professional writers for hire:
"We use Upwork and have had great success by requiring cover letters from freelancers when they submit their proposals, along with requiring previous work samples."
We read the cover letters and immediately know if they’re going to be a good fit, and the previous work samples give us an idea of the kind of content they can write. This has led to us hiring really fantastic freelance writers that we wouldn't have found elsewhere.
"When reading the cover letters,” says Connor, “most freelancers will just copy/paste the same response to multiple job postings. It's very easy to detect this because the cover letter will be very general and not address anything specific about your company or job description."
"That's why it's also important to write clear and specific job descriptions and talk a bit about the types of content they'll be writing. This alone will disqualify ~80% of proposals."
"For the remaining proposals, reviewing how they communicate is key. Since they will be writing content for us, I pay particular attention to how ‘easy’ it is to read their proposal."
"Do they have any spelling/grammar issues? Do they communicate clearly and in a friendly way? This [will] disqualify another 10–15% of proposals."
"Now you should have a small number of proposals remaining. We can now review their work samples, previous work, ratings from other jobs, etc. to see if they would be a good fit. I then pass these candidates along to be reviewed by our team to see if they have any comments."
Find the Job Boards That Work for You
You can place ads for free freelance writers for hire on many different sites. It’s worth experimenting to see which works best for you and your company.
Geoffrey Scott from Motile says that he's been most successful on the FreelanceWriting.com job board (which has the added benefit of being free).
"Plus, if you express interest, you can even get your posting listed in their weekly newsletter (which is also free). I've only done this once, but it was effective. In less than 24 hours, I had over 100 applicants for the job—many of who seemed quite qualified to write about technical topics."
The top freelance writers I've ever worked with approached me because of this particular job board and its associated newsletter, so I definitely endorse both.
Use a Freelance Writer Marketplace Instead
Many of our respondents mentioned Upwork as a good place to hire writers, and Geoffrey Scott says that he's gotten "fine" results with Scripted and WriterAccess.
Jessica Nelson from Vigor Visuals has had great success with the Zerys marketplace:
"My number one tip for finding and hiring great freelance writers is to utilize your Premium Support Project Manager at Zerys. Since they work with a large scope of writers and companies, they know from experience the types of writers to cater your auditions to."
"I was new to Zerys and had no idea how to conduct a good audition and what writers to recruit for the project. My Project Manager helped me go through each detail of the audition, publicized it, and contacted specific writers she thought would be a good fit for the project."
"As a result of having this help from my Project Manager, I was able to hire 9 writers in a week."
Ask Your Network for Recommendations
You may be able to sidestep the ad-placing process altogether if you've worked with writers in the past.
Solicit Recommendations from Other Writers
"My one tip for finding and hiring great freelance writers is to ask the writers you already work with for references," says Stephanie Fehrmann from Redefine Marketing Group.
"Writers tend to know a lot of other writers, and most wouldn't risk their reputation by recommending someone that is irresponsible. I've found A LOT of great writers by simply tapping into the resources I already have."
"For example, one of our clients wanted to bump content production from 25 blog/month to 75 and I didn't have enough writers at the time, so I asked my most trusted writers for referrals which they were able to provide. I was then able to scale my content production without having to go through rounds of interviews and resume reviews."
"Just goes to show how important relationships are in content management, and how nurturing those relationships is so important. You never know when you'll need to ask a writer for a favor, and being friendly with your writers is key."
You might also be able to ask your customers for writer referrals, says Romy Fuchs from BEE Inbound.
Post Your Opening on Social Media
“At Databox, we have doubled our output to about 30 articles per month. In order to scale cost effectively, we switched from in-house writing and editing to freelance writers and in-house editing.” shared Peter Caputa, CEO of Databox.
“To find our writers, we simply posted a job description on our site and shared it with our networks on social media. Because a few of us have been marketing to marketers for most of our careers, we’ve gotten more than enough applicants through a simple post like this one.”
Always Ask for Samples
"Ask for a writing sample and heavily scrutinize every part of the process," says Junto's Pat Ahern. "Start by asking them the right questions:"
- Ask the freelance writer for hire to explain their process of finding discussion points to walk through (ex. when writing "The 5 Secrets to Be Better at X", how do they determine which 5 items to talk about?).
- Ask the writer to walk you through their editing process.
- Ask the freelance writer for hire which questions they typically ask to understand the voice of the brand that they are writing for.
"From there, evaluate the quality of the actual writing sample that they send over."
- Read the article. Does it make a clear argument and answer the promise made in the title of the article? Is the article easily digestible (i.e., can you skim the article and take away 80% of the value that the article has to offer)?
- Use an editing tool like Grammarly to evaluate the quality of their writing from a grammatical perspective. Did they make multiple spelling or grammatical mistakes?
- Did they use excessive adverbs? Adverbs weaken your works and should be used to a minimum.
- Does the writing sample convey the right brand voice? (NOTE: learning a brand's voice takes time. Be lenient with this questions. The most important thing to keep in mind how far away they were from conveying the brand voice).
"I'd recommend always asking for a few examples of the writers' work before hiring them to ensure it fits what you're looking for," says Izaak Crook of AppInstitute. Crook also recommends using PeoplePerHour and Upwork, where you may be able to see some samples without going back and forth with the potential freelance writer for hire.
Akiva Leyton from Falcon Marketing gives the following tips for getting work samples:
Ask them to provide you with a bunch of articles they wrote in the past, and read through them. If you like their tone and writing style then it's a good sign they are effective writers.
“Keep an eye out for any typos, as if they are not skilled in the use of grammar, you might be forced to proofread every article they provide you, which quickly adds up to a lot of your time."
Evaluate Samples Carefully from Freelance Writers for Hire
"Once a writer completes your test project, take the time to assess how well they followed your directions and communicated throughout the process," says Bill Ferris of Decor Interiors.
- Did they meet or exceed every one of your expectations or did they agree to the work, only to provide a stripped down version?
- If they needed to vary from your requirements, did they give you [a] heads up and explain why?
- If you had ideas or changes in the middle of the project, how quickly did they respond?
"Smart writers, who understand that it's more efficient to get additional business from existing customers than find new customers, will bend over backwards to accommodate your test project."
"They recognize that first impressions are extremely important and that as you work together more frequently, the process and understanding will become smoother and less time consuming. These are the people that I want to work with."
Once you've evaluated your applicants' samples, you can move onto interviewing the freelance writers for hire. Be sure not to rush through this step. Most of our respondents interview between two and five writers before making a hire. But some speak to as many as ten:
Look for Experience in Your Industry
Cassandra Jowett from PathFactory places a strong emphasis on industry experience: "My advice for finding and hiring great freelance writers is to find professional writers who specialize in your company's niche."
"Either they are a subject-matter expert who happens to write very well, or they are a writer who has developed deep expertise in your industry by writing about it almost exclusively throughout their career."
"These writers are worth every penny because the drafts they give you will be 90% there and you just have to polish it up; no endless rounds of revisions. These writers tend to be well-connected in your industry, so you can easily find references for them in your network."
Spitfire Inbound's Samantha Steele adds a small caveat:
[F]ocus on those who specialise in your subject, or at least have transferable skills. For example, an auto writer can write well about fleet, and a detail-driven technology writer can write about niche, technology driven industries (like telecommunications and warehousing software), but a lifestyle writer will probably struggle with those topics.
Poach Freelance Writers for Hire From Other Blogs You Respect
Where are you going to find these freelance writers for hire that are already experienced in your niche? Especially if you're in a highly specialized field?
"[F]ind blogs similar to what your company offers and contact the writer of the blog to see if they are interested in creating some content for you," says Erica Scott of EzLandlordForms.
"That was the best move we ever made for content creation."
Gabriel Antonio from ProfitPress uses the same strategy: "Our #1 source for good freelance writers is by looking at industry and competitors blogs. Every article they write is a content sample and it lets us really get a feel for the authors before hiring them."
Antonio also does some undercover work: "We'll also occasionally pose as writers to those publications to understand how they compensate writers in order to craft better offers and get a higher offer acceptance rates."
Want to get more information on those freelance writers for hire? iHeartRaves' Brandon Chopp has some advice for you:
"If you find an article you like, but you want to read more examples of the writer's work, you can copy and paste their author bio into Google, and you'll be provided with tons of articles that the author has written. This will also usually provide you with the author's contact information or personal website."
Conduct a Writing Test
Over the years, I've found the best thing is to use a writing test. It shouldn't be too long (for example, it could be to rewrite the opening paragraph of a particular article) and every candidate who makes the shortlist should be given the same task.
"I find it works well—both because it takes a little effort, and so only those genuinely interested will do it, and because it allows you to directly compare a set of writers to each other easily."
Michelle Chuang from MMS Brand Consulting agrees:
"Based on my 20 years of marketing experience, the best way to hire [a] great content writer is to review their sample work or better yet, give them a simple topic and ask them to compile a mini blog of 200–300 words."
"This way, not only [will you] be able to ensure the quality of the writer's work but also test the creativity as well as the due diligence that the writer takes to compile great content."
"Experience and writing samples are good reference to ensuring qualification but when I ask them to produce a short writing sample on the spot, this give me the opportunity to see how creative and resourceful the individual is as well as the technicality of his/her writing skill."
What else might you look for in a writing test for freelance writers for hire?
"A test article is a great way to get a feel for the writer's tone, style, and willingness to receive and implement feedback," says Sarah Patrick of Clutch.
Miromind's Dmitriy Shelepin gives this advice: "Test tasks . . . allow you to evaluate the writer's ability to cover 'unexpected' topics. At the same time, especially if you work on an hourly basis, you can ensure that you are comfortable with the writer's pace/price ratio."
Consider a Paid Trial
A writing test is usually a very small task—as Chuang suggested, 200–300 words. You might also consider a longer trial period with freelance writers for hire.
My No. 1 tip for hiring freelance writers is to start out with a paid trial. Be willing to pay their full rate for an initial trial piece so you can both make sure it's a good fit, not just in terms of quality of work but the logistics of working together.
"For example, I was looking to hire a writer one time to help me complete some B2C blogs. Her portfolio was great: household brand names, conversational copy, awesome samples."
"When she submitted her draft, it was littered with typos. The work was lazy. I realized that the work she had in her portfolio was work she had done while working at an agency, under creative direction from seasoned professionals. It was a learning experience, and I'm glad I didn't commit to a long-term contract with her!"
Nate Masterson of Maple Holistics recommends a similar strategy—following up a short writing prompt with a probationary period.
Related: Writer Hiring Checklist
Look for Signs of Standout Quality
Some marketers look for specific indications that a writer will create great content for them. More than anything else, they look for indications of writing quality and a writing process that works for their business:
Max Woolf from Zety looks for freelance writers for hire who are passionate about writing:
"There are a lot of people out there who want to have a freelance job. The first thing they will consider doing would probably be freelance writing because if you speak the language, pretty much everyone can do it."
"When screening prospective writers, I usually ask if they have or used to have a blog or some other platform (Instagram) where they would share their ideas with others. This helps me understand if the person loves writing or they do it because it merely pays good money."
Do They Have Storytelling Skills?
Web Canopy Studio's Caroline Maier looks for freelance writers for hire who think like journalists.
"A writer who knows how to ask compelling questions, where to probe further and how to identify the nuggets of information with the most dynamic answers will win the freelance contract from our team every time. The application of strategic thinking and analysis as a result of their article research is icing on the cake."
"We have some clients with very abstract or often complex content to work with. We need to identify the human components, almost primal parts, of the story, bringing those to life through well written story to generate leads."
"We worked with a writer from Scripted to assist with a client who manufactures thermal properties used in cold food storage, even clothing. To understand this arena you not only had to do ample research to understand the technical side of things but also see where the human story laid in wait."
"Our freelance writer did an amazing job of deciphering the complex code of this story into easily understandable TOFU content that has drawn exceptional traction."
Carl Parnell from Influence Agents also emphasizes storytelling ability.
[T]he main thing we look for is a really great story teller, regardless of the sector we need them to write content for.
"Even the most technical of pieces still need to take the reader on a journey, be easy to read and understand and create a genuine opportunity to teach the reader something new. When we find writers that tick those boxes, we feel like we've struck gold."
Are Their Marketplace Reviews Good?
If you're hiring on a freelance marketplace, look at a writer's reviews, suggests freelance marketer Stacy Caprio. "My best tip is to only hire writers that have dozens, or preferably hundreds of 5 star or near five star reviews and a near 100% success rating backed by hundreds of happy clients."
"I have found this to be the best predictor of success, and highly correlated with how far the writer is willing to go to correct mistakes or make sure their work is high quality."
Can They Edit Poorly Written Content?
You're hiring a writer, not an editor—but that doesn't mean editing skills aren't valuable, says Kenneth Burke from Text Request.
"99 times out of 100, your own employees are going to have a better understanding and more experience with your industry and subject. The problem is your employees aren't always the best storytellers."
"So I look for freelancers who can take a poorly written article with good information and turn it into something people want to spend time reading."
Be Willing to Pay for Quality
Look for writers who are focused on quality over quantity. This often means paying more for specialist writers or agencies, but the return on investment should speak for itself.
"Similarly, if you go with an agency, while they may not have the core understanding a specialist freelancer may have, they are being paid to produce the highest quality content. Because of this, they will dedicate time and effort to get a firm grasp of what it is you do, to make sure their work is of the highest standard."
At New York Ave, writers are "all treated as real members of our team," says Joshua Hays. "We're considerate of their schedules, open to ideas, provide them with lots of room to try new things, and are committed to steady increases in pay."
"This collaborative approach has helped us continually produce top-tier content with a team of writers that are readily available and eager to dig into the writing challenges we assign."
. . . But Shop Around So You Can Save Some Money, Too
"If I have one tip to give out, it's to stay away from the writers who are demanding the most money," says Matt from Wfh Office, who recruits writers using the ProBlogger job board.
"There are plenty of great writers out there that work at a reasonable rate. If you can give them enough work to keep them busy, they'll stay with you forever."
Greg Shepard from Dallas Maids puts an even stronger emphasis on paying bottom dollar:
"Hiring writers on [U]pwork, a business owner is able to leverage 3rd world talent at a fraction of the price you would otherwise pay in America. Also, you are able to offer [an] above average wage compared to similar jobs in the writer's country, therefore you can attract good talent."
"Surprisingly, leveraging 3rd world writers is a competitive advantage few businesses take advantage [of]."
Set the Stage for Success After You Hire Them
Several marketers emphasized the fact that hiring a writer doesn't mean the process is over. You still have some things to do if you want the contract to be a success.
Stream Creative's Steve James makes sure that his writers have the tools they need to succeed.
The experience (and outcome) of using a freelancer is only as good as the information and resources you provide them to be successful in the execution of the writing project.
"Especially with new freelancer relationships, providing them with a writing brief that outlines the communication objectives, appropriate tone of voice, target keywords, key personas and positioning statements, makes a significant difference in the quality of work that comes back."
"Sometimes, it's appropriate to pass along outlines, source materials, articles to reference, and competitor websites. In many cases, your work on the front end determines how successful the project can be."
Laurent Ross from Oxygen agrees:
"Crucially, having comprehensive and well-researched buyer personas will provide the freelancer with the tools and context they need to understand who they are writing for."
"Finally, ensure you have someone from your team who can help with keyword research, SEO optimisation and will help any freelance writer you hire for developing difficult content."
Something that’s absolutely critical in my experience: organize your work effectively with freelance writers for hire. “The best writers will do their best work when they know what they need to do and can do it efficiently. Whenever I show a prospective hire how we do it, they are always amazed and I think I get their best work because we do this.” added John Bonini of Databox. “In our project management system, we track every article from the research phase (where we interview experts) to writing, editing, publishing and promoting. We assign our writer’s tasks and deadlines to make sure we can support our and our partner’s editorial calendar. We also feed them the research since they might not always have the expertise to do it themselves.”
Finding and hiring great freelance writers takes time. But you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you find a freelance writer for hire that’s a great fit for your business and set them up for success, they’ll help take your marketing to the next level.
If you’re getting started with content marketing, make sure to check out our 5 tips for creating consistently valuable, readable content, too. They’ll help you lay the groundwork for long-term content creation.
Have you hired freelance writers? How did you find and vet them? Share your tips in the comments below!
About the author - Dann Albright
Dann is a freelance writer who helps B2B companies reach their audiences more effectively. With an emphasis on organic traffic and conversion, he takes big ideas and turns them into highly practical content that keeps readers hooked.