Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Freelance Blogger
Hiring a professional writer to keep your blog running smoothly is a great way to make sure you're taking advantage of one of the best inbound marketing strategies. Your strengths lie wherever your business lies, whether that is real estate, plumbing, financial investments, or home security – in other words, not in writing.
Choosing a freelance blogger, especially on the internet, can seem a little daunting. How do you know what you'll be getting? How can you be sure you can trust the person you hire? Here are some questions to ask that will help you pick the best writer for the job the first time around so your blog will be full of great content quickly and efficiently.
1. What kind of content do you usually create?
Most freelance bloggers do much more than writing blog posts. Many will also create whitepapers and ebooks, sales copy, email marketing copy, newsletters, etc. Some write journalistic articles; others write full-length books. Some double as editors while others double as planners or marketers. Find out what other projects they like to work on and see if they own up to any limitations. All writers have them, so don't always trust someone that says they can do everything.
In my case, blogs will always be my favorite because they're like a quick dip into a topic. I do occasionally relish a deep-dive when I have the chance to spend several days working on a whitepaper or other detailed assignment. Editing is an excellent palate-cleanser, and social media allows me to spend time with people and not just words.
My limitations are anything that requires fluff or a certain type of excitement. For example, product descriptions. Some writers can spin out incredible copy in record speed; when I do product descriptions, I fuss over the words for far too long, and the result isn't worth the effort. I'll do a handful for a webpage, but I cry "uncle" if it's a mass-writing for an ecommerce site. (But I have some great people I can refer you to!)
2. What industries do you focus on?
Most good bloggers can pick up enough to write a few general posts about any industry, but writing in-depth content that is interesting and engaging requires not just more knowledge, but more passion. Any writer claiming that they can write long-term about any industry at all is probably not as good at it as they think they are. Be sure to ask for writing samples from many industries to see if the writer you're thinking about can back up their claims.
My bread-and-butter is marketing. I love writing marketing copy for marketing agencies. It's a little meta, but I truly geek out over marketing concepts and tactics. I also have a deep well of home services knowledge (think: HVAC, painting, plumbing), real estate (buying, selling, leasing, landlording, tenant advice), and home budgeting and finance. I've had a great time with a human resources client all year writing and learning about coaching culture and how it can change the world (it's inspiring!). I've stretched my legs a little and dipped into the beauty and skincare realm recently as well.
I have to shy away from any tech topics that are too technical. I can write confidently from the consumer's perspective, but B2B tech is over my head. Investments are another no-no for me unless we're talking about average people and their 401(k)s and Roth IRAs. Some more industries that are not for me include fashion, automotive, medicine, and legal topics. (But, again, I know some great writers I can refer you to if those are your industries!)
3. Which styles and tones are you most comfortable with?
Every company has a tone that their either already using or trying to achieve with their blog. Some like light and entertaining content, while others prefer more objective and serious posts. Most freelance writers are good at writing in many different styles and tones and good ones can adapt freely according to their clients' needs. Ask to see samples of a few different styles – not just the one you're looking for – so you can see the range that the writer has. That way you know you'll have a balanced writer who can offer you what you're looking for every time.
My specialty is breaking down complex concepts into everyday language so we can all understand the topic. I lean a little informal, but I'm happy to tip the scales in the formal direction for businesses that need to be serious, and for content pieces for which informalities would be inappropriate. I have a little more difficulty tipping the scale in the other direction unless I'm working on social media plans.
4. How do you research your pieces?
No writer is going to know everything they need firsthand to create great content. Researching is an important part of the process, even if it's just scanning the competition to see what's going on in the industry. A good freelance writer will not only be adept at researching, but it should also be something that the writer enjoys doing. Learning about new things is part of the writing process and genuine interest is the best way for a writer to compose compelling content. Find out what publications the writer is familiar with, see which they consider reliable or go-to sources for general information (hint: not Wikipedia), and what process they use to learn about new publications and new information in a variety of industries.
I do often take a poke at Wikipedia for something that's brand new to me, mainly because Wiki articles contain an already-compiled list of resources. I also have a few go-to sources for news and statistics in many industries. Forbes, Business Insider, and other similar publications are always publishing studies on business, human resources, employment, marketing, banking, and other topics. I'm a big fan of HubSpot, Kissmetrics, Moz, Entrepreneur, and Harvard Business Review for the latest and greatest in marketing, social media, and small business management.
5. What do you know about SEO?
Search engine optimization is a constantly changing game and incorporating the best SEO practices into every blog post and website piece should not be something that a freelance blogger considers an “extra” unless you're asking for extensive keyword research. Today's SEO focuses heavily on great content, but strategic keyword placement is still relevant. Using the best current SEO practices should be a natural part of any freelancer's writing process to ensure smooth keyword incorporation into headlines, headers, content areas, and meta descriptions.
I am a firm believer that your most important keywords should naturally appear in your copy if you're focusing on the right topics for your content marketing. I'm also aware that every small business has a handful of longtail, low-competition keywords they need to rank for. Those usually take a more deliberate approach to include them in content, but it's a necessary task. As a copywriter, I'm entirely thankful to Google for working on keyword associations and semantic clusters because it makes it less critical to have exact keyword phrases in your copy and looser inclusions will be just as effective.
6. What does your workflow look like?
You want to know what kind of hours your freelancer keeps. It's okay if the hours don't match up with yours all of the time, but you do want to find someone who is occasionally available for live discussions. You'll also want to know what turnaround times to expect. When you submit a request for a piece, how long does it typically take to get back?
I'm available as a live human being most weekdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. I'm happy to meet with local clients and I have an arsenal of video chat software (Hangouts, Skype, Signal, Facebook Messenger, Slack, etc.) for those who are not local. I can almost always accommodate a client's time request, even if it's outside my best hours, but I try to stick to a loose schedule because some tasks are better for early morning (I like to edit with buckets of hot coffee), and others do better at the end of the day when I have no gas left for deep analytics (I love making social media posts at the end of the day).
Turnaround times are obviously based on the nature of the project. I can accommodate a last-minute request for a Facebook post announcing your holiday hours a lot better than a last-minute request for a 30-page case study analysis. Generally speaking, for the bulk of the work I provide, 3 days is the average turnaround time. Rush jobs can frequently be accommodated; projects with heavy research will take at least a week. Anyone I've built a relationship with frequently enjoys on-the-fly things like a quick proofread of a text passage if I'm available.
Bonus: A Word on Revisions
Every writer on the planet hates them and any who say otherwise are lying because we all think we're amazing and can get everything perfect on the first go. On the other hand, refusing to make revisions or to charge for them right off the bat is bad business. When working with a new company, revisions are inevitable as the writer and the company come together on style, tone, goals, and word choice. Over time, the collaboration will become smoother and fewer changes will be necessary.
I expect revisions from my clients. For blogs, articles, social media, and other smaller projects, the first round of revisions is on me. For in-depth reports, white papers, web pages, and other high-profile pieces, the first two rounds are on me. If I'm still getting detailed revision requests after a few weeks, however, I will probably want to have a quick chat about style, tone, and goals. If we're not on the same page, that's just unnecessary struggle for both of us and we all would prefer a more natural, more efficient collaboration.