Three Ways to Determine Your Pay Rate as a Writer

Portrait of mystery unrecognizable monk in robeThere’s no fucking mystery behind setting writing rates, though nearly everybody treats it like some sort of sacred secret that requires lots of chanting monks and decoder rings to unlock.  It’s not, it’s actually very simple.  In fact, it really just comes down to one simple question:  “Am I making a living wage?”

Let me define the term “living wage” real quick, just in case you don’t understand what that means.  It means you’re able to eat, you’re able to shelter yourself, you’re able to afford transportation and you’re able to provide those things for your dependents, whoever they might be.  This does not mean that you’re necessarily able to afford a new car, the best, freshest organic produce and meat from bison, cows, chickens and fish who had personal manicurists and masseuses or that you’ll live in the swankiest neighborhood in town.  A living wage is about survival.  Are. You. Surviving?

Of course, no one wants to work for a living wage for long, that’s why we hone and perfect our fucking craft.  We learn and we improve to get the fuck out of the duplex with the crack whore who seems to work all day and all night, to buy a car that won’t leave us walking, to better ourselves and our station.  It’s the way of business, and you are a business.  Don’t forget that.

As you gain experience and build your portfolio, you’ll be able to demand higher prices.  This is where most writers stumble.  They’re no longer being offered a pay rate, they’re being asked, “What is your rate?”  Pick a number, any number.  There are lots of different ways to determine what you should be asking for pay, but I’m going to give you three winners, provided you promise to read this blog post before you ask me what I think you should charge.

#1.  Ask Around…

Seriously.  You don’t live in a vacuum and neither do other writers.  Didn’t we talk about networking with other writers at some point in the past?  If not, it’ll be coming, so just imagine now how lovely that blog will be.  Ask your writer friends — find out what they get outside of the fucking content mills.  If most of them are getting $50 for a blog post but they’re significantly more experienced than you, you might want to start a little lower, say around $35.

They may direct you to one of many papers that has attempted to aggregate this information.  This one, compiled by Lynn Wasnak is actually a great stab at collecting wage information.  The biggest problem is that the data is now at least five years old (it was collected based on 2009 and 2010 rates).  Times have changed considerably, Google has made it near impossible to hire ESL scabs and pretending that what they produce is high quality content and the economy has strengthened, so what I’m saying is that her carefully collected information is basically useless today.

But, you can use the exact same methods that Lynn did to collect her massive pile of data and simply ask your fellow writers.  “Hey, what do you get for a 500 word blog post?”  Easy peasy.

#2.  Decide How Much You Want

Once you’ve got a decent writing portfolio, a LinkedIn that you’re proud of and have a wad of social media followers, you may be able to command a decent rate if you’re a decent writer.  At that point, it might be a good idea to just sit down at the dinner table one night and figure out what it would take to make the kind of money you’d really love to earn.  This is all going to depend on your location — cost of living and all of that varies widely across the US, let alone across the planet.

So, let’s say you want to net $35,000, but still want to have time to spend with your kids (you must still be realistic in this scenario).  Start with your $35,000 and break it down into a monthly chunk ($35,000 / 12 = $2917ish).  Totally doable.  If you’re spending 20 hours a week, four weeks a month writing, that’s a total of 80 hours of writing a month (20 * 4 = 80).  Divide your $2917 by the 80 hours and there’s your rate!  ($2917 / 80 = $36.46)

Keep in mind that you’ll be spending a lot of time doing administrative duties like accounting and arranging new contracts, fighting yourself to get to work and twirling in your chair, so make sure you’ve got that time covered.  But with as little as a $36.46 per hour rate, you could easily be making $35,000 a year if you’re focused and learn to prospect efficiently.

#3.  Raise Your Prices

This is what I do.  I started this life as a Journalist, so I had a base pay rate I expected to get (it wasn’t much, but it was pay).  Since then, I’ve been creeping it ever upward to try to find the top.  So far, I haven’t.  Let me explain that better.

I have a bunch of clients that I love with the burning passion of a dying sun, but sometimes I get tired of writing all the time and kinda wish I was retired or dead.  That’s when I institute a pay increase for myself — mostly in an attempt to shake loose the stragglers who’s rates are already verging on being too low for my high and mighty status.

So far, I’ve mostly managed to only attract new clients as I’ve raised my rates.  Very few have actually left over this.  I don’t recommend this method, but I’m sure that there HAS to be a point where you raise your rates until you can hear the sound of laughter and knee-slapping.  I’m positive.  It’s a free market, you’re free to raise your rates to whatever insane place you like.  Go for it, shoot for the moon.

As of this writing, my rate is at $50 an hour.  I know that’s low for a copywriter, but understand that I live in the Missouri Ozarks and that’s a huge pile of money for this area.  I’m happy with it, my clients are happy with it, and we all have agreed that it’ll do.  I don’t have to hunt for clients, they come to me — and that’s worth a TON by itself.  Prospecting can be exhausting.

Applying Your Writer’s Rate

Now that you have some ideas for setting your rates, let me finish this blog up by telling you exactly what you can do with those rates.  DO NOT, UNDER ANY FUCKING CIRCUMSTANCES, GIVE HOURLY RATES AS BIDS.  Only chumps hire creatives by the hour and only creatives who are planning on ripping somebody a new asshole charge by the hour.

You’ve written a blog, you know how long it takes — that’s how you price that.  Most of us can knock one out in an hour — so for me, a 500 word blog starts at $50.  For you, it might start at $35 or whatever it is.  Obviously, the content does matter because research can vary, but you know how long that takes, too.  A quick Google around can give you that piece of the puzzle.

That’s everything I know about pricing yourself.  Now go away and price something.  If the world laughs, laugh with them.

 

You’re Fired! How to End a Writing Relationship

FIRED!It’s the beginning of a new year, and as per tradition, I have to let a few clients go.  I got to thinking that you might also have the same problem at some point in your career, and being less experienced than I am at this, will ultimately fuck it up.  So, let’s save the drama and anguish and I’ll teach you how to let clients go with poise and fucking grace.

Reasons to Let Clients Go

There are a number of reasons you may feel inclined to let clients go, ranging from the infantile to the practical.  If you’re pissed off that they asked for an edit, grow the fuck up and don’t throw away someone who’s trying to teach you something.  If you’re chronically overbooked and have no room to breathe, well, that’s another thing.  This blog entry is for the writer who spends too much time writing because they’re in so fucking much demand they can’t beat the offers off with a very large stick and bear mace.

First of all, before you ever contemplate firing your client, make sure you really have to.  A temporary bottleneck is inconvenient and stressful, but it will pass.  If, however, you’re writing 60+ hours a week and can’t remember how to spell “that” properly, you need some down time.  Downtime is crucial for your healthy existence and while having all the clients is tempting and makes you feel like a Goddamned superstar, it’s not really good for you.  You can chain smoke all the cigarettes and slam down all the coffee and the damage won’t amount to what pure stress-fueled insanity will do to your body.

It’s important to know when it’s time to let go.  That’s more of an art than a science, but when you’re chronically overworked and you don’t need the money bad enough to deal with it, it’s a sure sign that a change is a-comin’.  Understand that a client purge isn’t a bad thing.  For your remaining clients, it’s a very positive experience.  They’ll benefit from your increased attention span and ability to string words together in a much more coherent way.  So, trust me, you will get better if you do this.  Thin the herd, my friend.

How to Say Good-bye

Once you’ve decided which clients get the axe, whether by lottery, by seniority or by their fucking eye colors, it’s time to do the deed.  Write a very polite, but short message explaining that you’ll no longer be able to provide them services starting on a certain date.  Allowing about a month for your future former client to find a new writer is only polite, but expect to be fired right away.

If you’re on short notice, or you know someone who would be happy to write those blogs or landing pages or whatever, make sure to recommend another writer.  I find this is generally much better accepted than a short letter that says, “GO FUCK YOURSELF!  I’m not your little dancing word monkey to be teased and toyed with as you see fit!”  After all, you never know when you might need that client again for a recommendation or for work when things thin out again.  So leave on good terms, don’t be a fucking moron.

When I find I’ve collected a lot of extra clients through the year, I tend to let the problem sort itself out by raising my rates.  I send out an all-points to my clients, with each hidden behind a BCC, explaining that due to rising costs, blah blah, I’ve had to raise my rates to so many dollars.  Sometimes this doesn’t work, though, so be prepared to pick and choose if they’re all ready to pay you double of what they did last year.

I do play favorites, I admit it.  Clients who are easy to work with, who are always glad to read my work — even if they don’t pay the best — will always get preferential treatment when I have to sort out the pile.  The nicer you are to me and the more you challenge me, the more likely you are to stick around for the long haul.  Now, that’s not to say that I’ll write for nothing, because that’s not even remotely true, but if I have two clients who are in the same rough ballpark pay-wise and I love one as a person and detest the other, it’s no contest.

When Firing Goes Wrong

Once in a great while, your client won’t accept that they’ve been fired.  “Haven’t I been good to you, baby?  Haven’t I given you all the monies?,” this will be their battle cry.  For whatever reason, they feel like you owe it to them to stick around.  They probably kick their dog and beat their spouses, but you know, I’m only guessing.  These are the times that try men’s souls, but you have to stick to your guns, no matter how much they beg, coerce or threaten.

Do you remember how you had no weekends off in 2014?  That’s because you’re a sucker and you let them get to you.  This is business, it’s not personal, and you have to tell your clients so.  No, Client B, you didn’t give me all the monies, if you must know, and I’ve got to reduce my client load or I will literally die — you gave me the same monies as the other suckers, but you’ve been here for a month and they’ve been here for six years; you gave me the same monies as the other suckers, but they don’t demand I shout out their name during sex with my spouse; etc.

If you hope to ever see your family again, you have to master this skill.  And all it really requires is that you put your big girl panties on and suck it the fuck up.  Winter’s the season for panty-wearing, so go out there, fire some clients and knock out some free time for yourself.  Report back here and tell me how it went.

The Keys to Constructive Criticism

You Are Good EnoughRecently, I had a new client hire me for some video scripts (yes, I do those, too).  The back and forth was not ideal or even close to professional, with the client changing the instructions between messages — and that got me to thinking about all the people who really don’t know how to give constructive criticism.  So, now the post about that thing my brain thought.

Constructive criticism is a specific thing — it’s more than just saying, “No, this won’t work.” and it’s less than completely firing someone and doing the work yourself.  It’s about being part of the creative process, about pushing the work in the direction your vision sees it going.  Everybody and anybody can do it, but you may need a little help getting into the right spirit.  Here are my tips!

Have a Direction in Mind.  Before you ever hired a freelancer, you should have had an idea of where your project was going.  If you expected them to bring your ideas to life without knowing what your ideas were or what they hoped to achieve, you’ve just set that person up to fail and yourself for another disappointment.  Figure out what it is you want so you can give criticism that directs the project in the right direction.

Think Before You Email.  When you’ve got that first draft in your hot little hands, you’re probably tempted to fire off a criticism right away.  Trust me on this: WAIT.  Wait five minutes, wait 10 minutes… just wait.  Give it time, because the words you choose matter, especially to someone who communicates for a living.  Choose the right words to describe your feelings.  If you can’t write it, draw a picture.  Just be precise.

Be Consistent.  Most of the time, your writers (and co-workers and children and friends) are going to be paying attention to the advice you offer them.  When you’re working on a project, you’ve got someone with rapt attention before you — so don’t fuck around.  Check your old messages if you have to, but always keep your advice in line with advice in the past.  This is why newspapers the world over have used written guidelines — they’re like a contract with the writer that things should be so.  Keep your eye on the prize and give advice that gets to the results you’re seeking.

Provide Complete Instructions.  Oh my fucking bajeezus, I couldn’t tell you the number of one-time clients who started out in a bad way with this very problem.  The instructions seem simple enough: Write the Thing.  I’m on it.  When you come back telling me that even though the Thing I wrote was fine, it was too much about Widgets and not enough about Tribbles, I’m going to be noticeably pissed off.  After all, I put my time and effort into your piece, under the feeble instructions you gave me.  If you didn’t want me to do a certain thing, you should have said so in the first place.  You just add insult to injury if I continue cranking out drafts and you continue changing the rules on me.  STOP FUCKING DOING THAT.

No matter what it is that you want to do in life, you’re going to probably feel the need to provide some feedback at some point.  Whether you do this with the grace and dignity of the Queen Mother or come tearing through like a sex-crazed bull looking for anything to hump to his satisfaction is up to you.

What Can A Copywriter Do For My Business?

Business-Social-MediaDelegation is vital to the success of any business, no matter if you’re selling paperclips or installing satellite dishes.  You’ve got the guy who does the bookkeeping and keeps the lights on, you hire somebody to answer the phone, salespeople to make connections in the big wide world, but you’re still trying to write killer sales copy by yourself.

Why?  Why are you suffering needlessly through endless revisions when you could simply hire a professional to knock your blogs, social, press releases and other marketing materials right out of the park?  Maybe you don’t actually know what a copywriter does.  Let me enlighten you, because you really need one.

Modern copywriters combine sales skills with expertise in communications and the results are amazing.  Unlike the limp, cliched copy you’ve written for yourself, the materials a copywriter provides can stand on their own as a sales pitch when they must.  Your sales people can’t be everywhere all the time, they need a strong copywriter to help them fill in the gaps.  After all, your direct mail can reach tens of thousands more people than any sales force; your website makes connections with people globally without so much as a single trip through airport security.

Part of being a successful business in this day and age is about playing the long game — that’s why less threatening written copy is such a vital asset to any company.  Potential customers who are completely resistant to a sales pitch are more than willing to visit your site to find out more about your industry and your product.  These people don’t want to be bullied or goaded into buying something they don’t understand, they want information and on their own terms.

Welcome to the 21st century — it’s a crazy world where customers have very little faith in the economy and are holding on to their funds tightly.  You can’t force a sale by badgering them, you’ve got to build and nurture a relationship.  And that’s where your copywriter comes in.  Their work gives these reluctant customers a variety of ways to feel connected to your brand and regard it as a trusted friend.

Connection is the key.  Your lack of writing experience shows when your blogs are riddled with small grammatical errors or lack the musical flow that a copywriter cultivates.  Your customers can become as attached to your blogs as they do their favorite books, if only you bring in the right people to do the work.

Step away from the word processor and go find yourself an experienced copywriter to breathe some life into those lifeless and overly formal blog posts.  You’re doing a great job as the owner and manager of your business, but you’re not a student of the written word.  Hire a copywriter and watch your brand image solidify and your customer base grow.

Inexpensive Writers Aren’t Cheap

Dorothy_Com_a Dirty-Money-Filthy-Rich-Comica-Lazarides-LondonThis one is for anyone who deals with the written word on some level.  What is a word worth to you?  A penny?  A nickle?  A dime?  I know it may seem like a weird question, but words have value, some a great deal of value.

Those blogs you’re hiring out to establish trust and authority with your readers or that social media marketing you’re doing to impress the wider world — have you considered what you pay for it?  If you’re hiring cheap writers, it’s probably a great deal more than you realize.  Do you take that copy you bought for pennies and spend even more time completely rewriting it, reformatting it or tossing it in the round bin?  Or worse, are you just posting it so your site has SOMETHING to publish that week?

Believe it or not, Americans have become significantly more literate since the explosion of the Internet — the people who are looking at your website can read.  That also means they can detect the errors and the rough parts in the text that taint your site’s impression immediately.  Sometimes, it’s a subtle uneasiness that comes from reading text that was clearly written by someone who isn’t a native English speaker (pennies go a long way in those countries), that sense that we all get when we’re trying to establish trust with someone we perceive to be unlike us.  Other times, it’s blatant warning sirens caused by truly fucking awful copy (now punished by Google, so watch your rankings slip as customers flee), filled with incorrect grammar, poor punctuation and rampant misspellings.

When you hire these types of writers, you’re telling your audience — your customers — that you really don’t care about connecting with them, or creating a space where they can learn more about your product.  All you want is their money, today, right now.  I know the ’80s and ’90s were all about short-sighted business plans, but in today’s market you’ve got to look further down the road.

Today’s marketing is made up of relationships, and it starts and ends with your brand image and communications.  Since you have only a few opportunities to connect directly with your customers, you have to rely on your writing team to do it for you.  Blogs, social media and the like are long-term investments in your business’s future — over time, they establish your willingness to do for your customers, prove your claims of a depth of knowledge and can turn you into a fucking online superstar —  but it doesn’t happen overnight and certainly not for pennies.

Why Should I Direct Hire My Writers?

433089_f520Hiring a writer isn’t that much different than hiring a gardener or a mechanic or a fucking plumber, but for some reason you guys go off the rails when it comes time to do it right.  I mean it, what’s the deal with all these brokerage sites and middle men that you’re paying a ton extra just to have access to an anonymous pool of writers that you know nothing about?

Stop that.  Right now.  Get away from the middle men and listen up.  You need to direct hire your writers, starting N.O.W.  Why?  Well, for one thing, using a ghostwriter or even just hiring a copywriter to represent your company’s brand places a great deal of trust in that person.  If you don’t actually know who they are, how can you know if they’re going to be the right fit for your corporate culture, blog followers, social fans or whoever they’re supposed to lead, convert or entertain?

You can’t.  Those blind services are bad for business, they’re bad for the writers you do get and they’re just… bad.  BAD.  I know a lot of writers who cut their teeth in the content mills, but that’s no reason to trust them with your valuable copy.  In fact, for every one successful copywriter I know that works in the field now, there are probably 200 that never made it out.  And that’s not what you want — unless, of course, you LIKE bottom of the barrel dredges writing your very valuable copy.

Maybe you don’t know it, but of that $50 or whatever you pay per blog at a content mill, a very small percentage trickles down to the writer.  Sometimes they make a penny a word.  A PENNY!  Would you bother to do your best work for a fucking copper Lincoln?  Of course not.  Why waste your valuable marketing dollars on garbage when you could hire a professional copywriting team for the big jobs, or an individual, experienced copywriter for your less frequent content?

The market changes all the time, but in most cases, $50 will buy you something pretty decent if you wave it around a room full of properly trained writers.  Don’t waste your money, risk your brand image and drive yourself crazy with a content mill.  Stop right now… step away from those blind copywriting services and hire a professional who actually cares if your website sings.

Defining Blogging Success

nunsWhen you were working on your Internet business plan, did you anticipate a dedicated following in five days, five weeks or five months?  Have you defined any metrics to determine when your blogging is becoming successful?

As business owners, we naturally want to anticipate what’s coming and be able to predict success by defining goals and reaching them… but this is a difficult, if not impossible, goal when you’re trying to quantify the success of your business’s blog.  I’m not just blowing hot air up your skirt, if you’ve read anything here, you know I’m not full of shit like so many others.  I tell it like it is.  And here’s what I’m telling you:  blogging and Social Media are totally different creatures from any kind of marketing you’ve used before.

You can gauge how many customers you’re getting from the newspaper if you run a coupon in your advertisements, but all the SEO rankings, traffic reports and analytics can only give you a very vague idea of how successful your Internet marketing really is.  There’s a reason for this — the Internet is about building relationships and trust; you should really think of it more like networking than marketing.

Blogging is a Long-Term Commitment

So, you put up a blog to accompany your business selling used cars.  You run two blogs a week about buying used cars, offering tips for purchasing a good car, picking out the car that’s right for you, reviews of specific car models and so on.  These informative articles run on your blog and posted to social media go a long way to establishing your position as an expert in your field, but they don’t sell cars.  Not directly, anyway.

You may have that blog for six months to a year before you start seeing any real promotional value — compared to other types of marketing, that’s playing the really long game.  A lot of my clients reach a point of frustration where they don’t understand why their blogs aren’t turning into sales, and I have to explain to them, like I’m explaining to you now, that’s simply not what blogs are for.

Blogs (and Social Media) establish your credibility, demonstrate your willingness to invest in your customers over the long run and prove you can be trusted.  That last one may seem a little iffy, but think of it like this: a lot of your customers are terrified of giving any random website their credit card information.  They’re certain they’ll have their identity stolen at any moment and simply won’t risk it with a site they don’t have a history with.  But, if they’ve been reading your car buying blog for the last three months, guess who they’ll most likely come to for help first.

Leap Before You Look

I know it’s a huge leap of faith to just blog into the Tubes that are the Internet, but that’s what you have to do — and once your audience begins to build, you can do some surveys or use analytics to better understand who they are and what they want.  Once you’ve got those details nailed, you’re gold.  Your audience will click through your site, optimized for them, maybe buy something and they’ll tell their friends about your products.

That’s where this whole blogging thing pays off.  These indirect referrals are basically pre-qualified buyers.  They know they want what you’ve got, they have the money to spend, they just need to know they can trust someone to help them.  Like any type of referral, it takes a while to build these indirect referrals, but as they come calling, your reputation builds and poof!, instant Internet success.  Well, not instant, but certainly painless.

Where most businesses fail at online marketing is assuming that they’re not reaching enough people with their blogs.  If you’re properly SEO optimized, your blogs and sales pages are easy to find and navigate and you’re giving potential customers a reason to visit again and again, people will come.  It simply takes time, so don’t throw in the towel too soon.  You’ll be shocked at the difference a year makes.

 

Copywriter, Ghostwriter, Content Writer… What’s It All Mean?

ghost-writer2With Halloween just around the corner, it might seem like the perfect time to hire a ghostwriter, but depending on your project you might rather have a copywriter or a content writer or someone else entirely.  Just like there are lots of flavors of delicious donuts in the world, there are lots of types of delicious writers out there.  You might want one with pink frosting or that one over there with the sprinkles… you know they’re all donuts, but they’re also not the same — not by a donut mile.

So, let’s get right into it.  A writer by any other name is something wretched, I’m sure.  You’re probably familiar with novelists, they write novels, and journalists, they write news stories.  Although many writers wear multiple hats, here’s the break down of other really common types you’ll find:

Ghostwriter.  A ghostwriter is a special kind of writer, treat them gently.  It’s hard to find a good ghost — but if you do, throw money at them to keep them happy.  Ghostwriters do your work for you, in a voice that your audience would believe is yours.  Basically, they’re doing your homework and your teacher won’t even notice.  It’s quite a skill to be able to write in another person’s voice or bend to a voice of a writer who came before but is now gone.

Copywriter.  Like ghostwriters, copywriters have a special sort of skill that other writers lack.  They know how to sell your product and they’ll help your site turn clicks into sales.  Unlike other writers, copywriters have at least a rudimentary understanding of Search Engine Optimization, can help you with your keywords and metadata and know how to write a Call to Action that gets noticed.

Content Writer.  These dirt-encrusted writers dwell in small, dimly lit rooms banging out copy for less than they’d make flipping burgers.  If your site is in need of content that doesn’t necessarily require a sales message behind it, you may choose to employ one of these skittish creatures, but whatever you do, don’t feed them after midnight.  As far as writing skill goes, most people who market themselves as content writers are very low on the totem pole, so expect extremely mixed results.

No matter what type of writer you’re looking for, from sublime to unwashed and heathenly, understanding the difference between types of writers is a must before you start your search.  Beware cheap substitutions and always ask for samples.

Even Freelancers Get the Blues

brain_on_fireWhen you’re Freelance, nothing’s sacred — you know this, don’t you?  If not, you need to buck up to the reality you’re entering.  In the same vein, though, those of you hiring Freelance writers need to wise up to the fact that Freelancers are people, not robots.  I know, this is a crazy thought for both groups, but it is what it is.  We’re human, too, and we get sick, we get down, we fail sometimes.

A good friend of mine who was also a Freelancer disappeared back in April, and no one could find her (her family later notified us — she had died of pneumonia).  As tragic a loss as this was for so many of us in the community, it also got me to thinking about how being a freelancer isn’t like being an office worker or a teacher or whatever you might be.  In fact, we’re a very, very different kind of employee and that’s what makes being human so difficult.

When you hire a Freelance Writer, you’re doing it for the special thing they’ve got between their ears and the magic way that they can pull it out and show it to the world.  You might think you can replace Freelance Bob, but when you hire Freelance Sue it’ll become readily apparent that her heart and soul beat differently from Bob’s.  And that’s why you can’t simply sub a writer or swap them out on a whim… we each have a different voice and a special rhythm to our writing.

For Freelancers, it’s kind of a raw deal, honestly.  We can’t be swapped out — we can’t hire a substitute because they simply can’t be us.  When we’re sick or have an emergency or lose a dear friend and just want to ball up in the corner and cry for a month, we can’t.  You can’t, Little Freelancers.  You have a responsibility to your clients.  They need you.

Long ago I was looking into opening a bakery (really).  My father was trying to discourage me, telling me it was just like running a dairy farm — there’s simply no rest for the wicked.  If no one has told you this yet about Freelancing, let me be the one to do it: THIS JOB ISN’T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.  You won’t get breaks, you don’t always get weekends, you never get to be sick for more than a few hours at very best.

We write through the pain and sorrow and holidays because we must.  Because people are counting on us.  Because we can’t fail.  I’m sorry, Freelancers, but there’s no out.  There’s no excuse.  You go missing and everyone you work with gets their lives turned upside down.

That being said, Clients, you need to listen up, too.  Sometimes we *DO* get sick, and sometimes very bad things happen in our lives that we simply have no control over.  I know you think your project will belly-up if you give us a day or two to breathe, but I promise, it won’t.  Treat your Freelancers like you’d treat your kids or friends, that tough love is fine, but man, cut us a break when it’s clear we need it.

So You Wanna Hire a Freelance Writer…?

freelance_writerI don’t intend to sit here and pander to just the unwashed writerly types, this blog is for you, the clients of said filthy wordsmiths, as well.  I work with a lot of private clients, many who eventually become friendly and express their discontent with prior hired hands.  I’ve pondered this at great length, and I think the problem is that they don’t know how to hire a freelance writer — after all, this freelancing thing has been mostly the realm of private publishers for generations.

So, without further delay, my top tips for choosing a freelance writer (in no particular order):

1.  Choose a professional.  By “professional,” I mean someone who can show a long and meaningful history of successful employment.  If they’ve been writing for the same outlet for a long time, that’s a good sign that they’re either really good about deadlines or they’re such a good writer that clients are willing to overlook such a paltry thing.  This can also be a curse, though, since it may be hard to know if they’ll be able to adapt to your site’s style.

2.  Look for an expert.  An expert in your field isn’t necessarily good at communicating, and that’s ok.  But find a writer who knows a lot about whatever it is you’ve got, or someone who is willing to learn fast.  Your readers will know if your writer is just barfing up information from the WikiPedia, and they’ll give you suspicious looks for it.

3.  Pay writers what they’re worth.  Sure, I know what you’re thinking…. self-serving point here.  Not really — I have no problem finding clients who pay me what I’m worth.  I’ve also seen the results of poorly paid writers or bidding wars that end with some idiot paying slave wages.  If you want your writer to give two fucks about your project, you’ve got to pay them enough to make it worth their time.  Sure, you can find a novice or international worker to crank out copy for pennies, but you’re going to spend hours trying to turn that into workable copy.  Do yourself a favor and treat your writer like an investment — if you want to sell something, you need a sleek exterior.  Pay a writer who will make your project read like a beautiful song and you’ll never go back to working with bottom of the barrel writers.

4.  Request samples.  If you want to know what a writer’s voice is like, you’ve got to ask for samples.  Not just one, but two or three or four.  Read their whole catalog if they have it available — I know it’s hard to judge how well they’ll be able to handle your content, but try to make this process easy for everybody.  A writer worth their salt isn’t going to have time to crank you out a custom sample for free, so either work with what they’ve got (and ask for more if their samples are just way off the mark) or pay them for a custom sample.  We’ve seen too many people ask for free samples as a condition of employment, then walk off and publish them without so much as an acknowledgement — so we’re gun shy, too.

5.  Communicate your needs clearly.  If you want a writer to write softcore porn-like marketing for your houses, just come on out and say it.  Say what’s on your mind, tell us what you need, show us the site where it goes, give us as much detail as possible.  I promise it’ll make the process much easier.  Whatever your weirdness, I know freelance writers have seen weirder, and many (like myself) will jump at the challenge provided the pay is decent.