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5 Tips on Dealing with a Freelance Writer

I started my rodeo with freelancing sometime back in 2008. Over those years, I have had my fair share of projects that went sour. I realized that the most common source of problems between freelancers and clients is miscommunication.

Or the lack of it.

But what is it that will help you get the most out of your money? How do you ensure that you hire the right freelancer out of the millions out there?

Here are my tips:

  • Be clear with what you want
  • Agree on a schedule
  • Take the time to review the writer’s portfolio
  • Agree on the payment terms
  • Set reasonable expectations

Writing is not like baking a cake. There is no cookie cutter formula that you can apply. Clients also sometimes expect a New York Times quality article for $5.

Many times, I received requests to write an article that is not on the internet yet.

And the pay?

$10.

Obviously, I rejected these projects. There were also clients who wanted me to write a detailed a review of a software tool—and that I must use the tool. But the client wouldn’t provide me access to it.

The pay proposal from the client?

$15 for 1,000 words.

And the cost of the software tool?

$47 per month, charged annually upon registration.

It does not make business sense.

I need to be blunt and I have to say this: what you pay is what you get. As a client, you are not any different from an employer. Before an employer hires an individual, the applicant goes through an exam, and then an interview.

While you cannot replicate this in the freelancing world, there are some steps you can take as a client so you do not get burned. It is such a horrible experience to pay for an article, only to find out it is not written in the style and voice that you desire.

1. Be clear with what you want

What kind of article do you want? Is it a listicle, an essay, or a how-to?

There are many ways to write on a single subject matter. In some projects that I had, my clients handed over to me some keywords and nothing more. In my early days of freelance writing, I made the mistake of assuming that I knew what the client wanted, so I wrote the article in essay form.

Only, it turned out the client wanted a listicle. He was expecting that I squeeze 10 tips in a 600-word article. I re-did the article, but the client was already not impressed at the first delivery.

This going back and forth is a waste of time, and it all begins because the project was unclear. Both writers and clients have the responsibility to lay down the project in detail.

For example, you can give a writer the keyword “Facebook marketing”. This keyword is too broad. Writers will have many ideas how to work around this topic, but they may also write something you do not like.

A better instruction is to tell the freelancers to write 10 Tips to Make an Effective Facebook Marketing Campaign”. This couldn’t be any clearer, and the writer has the full guidance of the topic itself.

If you are paying for 1,000 words, it makes sense to tell the writer to split the words as evenly possible between the ten tips, the intro, and the summary or conclusion. This way, the freelancer will not write 300 words in the intro, another 300 words for Tip Number 1 and then spread out the remaining word count on the rest.

If he does that, the article will look awkward.

Also, you need to specify if you want bullet points or not. In my 11 years as a freelancer, I am amazed that some clients do not like standard methods of article writing for the internet.

There are some that prefer huge blocks of texts, and there are some who want the articles to be easy on the eye.

Be clear with what you want, and the freelancer will deliver a good job.

2. Agree on a schedule

You cannot expect writers to complete one project for you in one day. Writers are not machines. They have moods, and writing is a mentally draining task. I spend more than eight hours a day writing, and I am too exhausted to continue after that.

Some subjects are also tougher to write. Not all freelancers have an expertise on every niche. And this causes the writers to spend days to produce an articles that is up to par with your specifications.

On a schedule agreement, you need to set a milestone. If you ordered ten articles, do you want the writer to deliver all ten together?

Or would you rather that the writer sends one article, and then you discuss how to move forward with the project?

This option is better, especially if you are working with a freelancer for the first time. At the very least, you can check the first article and provide your feedback.

With a milestone, you can discuss the changes you want, and then allow the writer to revise his work until he gets it right. And then he can move forward with the rest.

3. Take the time to review the writer’s portfolio

Never order an article from somebody whose work you have not reviewed. Why am I saying this?

Every writer is a unique individual. Their tones of voice are different. Their vocabulary and style vary. Take the time to review a writer’s portfolio so you get to feel the writer’s style.

You cannot change a writer’s tone or vocabulary. And if you do not review a freelance writer’s portfolio, you may receive an article that does not fit your website’s voice.

I, for one, am leaning towards a no BS style of writing. I do not write with humor, and I avoid projects when I am forced to be a different person.

While I can write sales materials like as if I am the business owner, it is hard for me to write in a fictional voice, like a mascot or persona who has a specific set of characteristics.

I was once a mascot for McDonalds’—wore Hamburglar and Grimace. All I did was wave my hands, but I did not embody the mascot’s character.

On top of this, the portfolio should reveal the writer’s capacity to write in English. If it is his second-language, does he use it in such a way that passes as a native? What about grammar and syntax?

Does the writer add value or does he fill his articles with fluff? Is the article rich in information or full of useless gunk?

The writer’s portfolio will reveal all this.

Now, how can you be sure that his portfolio is real—that he wrote them?

One way to do this is to ask a writer only for published materials that carry his bylines. Read the published materials, and decide.

If he has none, look for someone else. It does not take money to create an online portfolio. If a writer cannot afford a website, all he has to do is to publish his articles on LinkedIn.

4. Agree on the payment terms

There are writers who would start work without a down payment, and there are those who will not work without it.

You cannot blame writers who ask for a down payment. I for one have been a victim of fraud. I have worked with some clients who promised to pay twice a month. I wrote articles on a daily basis for these clients, only to get conned.

These scammer clients kept on dragging the payment date, until I realized that these were con men who had no plan to pay. I had to demand payment for the articles I already wrote, and they gave me a lot of excuses.

I have ben scammed.

And I learned my lesson.

Agree on the payment terms, revisions, and terms of refund. If you prefer to use an escrow, then by all means use freelance marketplaces like Fiverr. The thing with these marketplaces though, is that they are too saturated with people who have no clue of what they are doing.

They fill their profile pages with fake portfolio samples, and you end up wasting your time. You can get a refund, sure, but a week waiting for a product is still a week.

Freelance marketplaces are also costly because the writers have to pay a 20% fee for each project cost. If a freelance writer is charging $20 for an article, he only gets to keep $16. So, he has to make up for that lost by increasing his price.

And on Fiverr, clients also pay a fee of no less than $2 for their orders.

What I would recommends is a 50-50 split. Pay 50% now so the writer can start, and then have him deliver a milestone. It is during this milestone where you can decide whether to continue with the project or ask for a refund.

Again, these details and expectations must be discussed before you commence on a project.

5. Set reasonable expectations

You get what you pay for. If you are expecting a $15-dollar article that packs a punch like movie reviews in Rotten Tomatoes, you are delusional.

Every writer reaches a level of incompetence, which is commonly known as the Peter Principle. And while we get better at it over time, improving your writing skills does not work out like muscles in the gym.

There are no vitamins that can make you write like Kurt Vonnegut Jr., or Joseph Heller, or Sydney Sheldon, J.K Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien.

Even if you increase the payment, you cannot squeeze out something more from a writer. What you see is what you get. Writers will improve, but this takes years.

Again, I cannot overemphasize that you check a writer’s portfolio.

As far as expectations are concerned, you have to go back to item number 1. If there is clarity about what you want, your writer is going to deliver.

Conclusion

Writing projects go awry because of so many reasons. Even in professional environments, writers and directors quit because they have creative differences against their colleagues. As a result, the project goes into development hell.

If this can happen to them, this can happen to you and me.

But there is a solution: communication and reasonable expectations.

11 years of copywriting. I know what I’m doing. Review my portfolio and if you like my style, we can work together in building our online business.

SUGGESTED READING:

Content Writing Versus Copwriting
5 Steps to Write an Article That People Actually Read

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