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How to hire a writer- Do's and don'ts for business

Updated on September 5, 2012

I work on Elance and do a lot of contract work. I also go looking for extra jobs to broaden my range of subjects and types of work, and I’ve been seeing some horror stories from people trying to hire writers.

Non-writers are at a terrible disadvantage when they first start hiring. Not only do they not know the writing industry, but they don’t know the writing mindset:

· Writers are basically in business for themselves.

· What’s worth doing is the bottom line.

· Writing banal crap isn’t a great portfolio option.

· You don’t get good jobs on the basis of doing iffy quality work on websites because you can’t compete with the guys that do the high value materials.

· Bids on sites like Elance, Freelancer and others are done on a competitive basis, but if someone bids low, they’ll aim low and won’t spend time creating top quality work.

· Content value is the difference between a successful website and an instantly ignored website.

· Value includes the relationship with the client. Going back and forth over trivial things is expensive and time consuming for writers who have to use their time to make money. There are some things you won’t put up with for a $10 article.

The business perspective

The other side of the equation from businesses is pretty straightforward:

· Lousy work. This is a result of a combination of the hirer’s ignorance and often low paid writers who are prepared to take the risk to get paid for minimum effort. Ironically, this is endemic on the “clever” websites which want bulk content and then wonder why they don’t get hits. The writers have very little to lose, so they do things like this.

· Missed deadlines. Unprofessional, stupid and exasperating, this is non-delivery on a massive scale and it costs money.

· Low grade content. “Market standard” means nobody will read it. They’ve read it before, with the subjects changed. It has almost no impact on readers.

· Plagiarism. A genuine risk, and likely to get the original sources very annoyed indeed.

· Ridiculous runarounds on basic issues. Nitpicking “editorial sessions” in which more time is spent discussing issues and creating product are truly ludicrous.

· Escrow incidents where the business loses out. I saw this on a thread about, where a business wound up paying for materials that simply weren’t delivered. said it couldn’t be a party to the dispute, and the business was left carrying the can.

Businesses should take the long view of hiring writers. There are some very basic things which will avoid all these problems and deal with the writers’ issues as well:


· Go looking for multi-role writers. Multi-role writers can work across a spectrum of tasks, so you don’t have to hire multiple people. These guys are experts, and have the experience to make doing business with them a lot easier.

· Check the writing samples you receive thoroughly. See where these things are published and check for site quality. Good sites invariably have good writers.

· Value contributions and ideas from your writers. This will be appreciated and you’ll also find that many of the contributions have dollar values. The multi-role writers can be major assets in this regard.

· Pay attention to writing issues and the writer’s comments on them. Good writers know how to create content efficiently and produce good content on time.

· Check your facts in any dispute, particularly about edits. If a writer isn’t delivering because of endless editing issues, it’s never the writer’s fault. This is the one and only thing where writers never vary. They write what they’re told to write, 99% of the time. They don’t go out of their way to create extra work for themselves, particularly if they’re not getting paid for it. It’s the editor’s fault for not clarifying the issues.

· Content value equates to originality. People don’t want to read the same old things online. Web content writing must be compelling. It needs to be fun, interesting and contain value for the readers. Value this originality, because it’s why people are visiting your site.

· Forget style guides. Nobody reads anything online with a style guide in hand, solemnly correcting trivial points. Just make sure the content does what it’s supposed to do, and you’ll save a fortune in wasted time.

· Value original content. This stuff is gold, in every sector. Good writers can produce exceptionally high value materials. The creative writers are also usually the most professional, very reliable and motivated.


The don’ts are quite frankly business common sense:

· Don’t use a shopping list to hire a writer. You need to see relevant values, not a simplistic hiring criteria.

· Don’t assume a qualification is any use at all when hiring a writer. There are good writers and hack writers. There are those who can write dazzling, fascinating content and those who could bore a brick to death with what they learned getting their degrees. The name of the game is delivering information, not pizzas.

· Don’t assume the lowest cost is the best value. It might be occasionally, but the low cost guys are usually aiming for more than they normally receive, too. The higher cost guys can negotiate a lower rate and will, if they see value in the deal.

· Don’t be too pedantic about writing technicalities. Unless the errors are glaring, it’s not worth anyone’s time, and about 50% of the time non-writers are wrong.

· Don’t go nuts over a few typos. This is actually a separate issue to those above. The best data entry people in the world have an accuracy rate of about 95%. (Yes, 5% of the world’s date at least is just plain wrong.) Writers usually achieve much better results, around 98% for a 500 word article. Good writers won’t tolerate it. They’ll just pack up and go, leaving you to pick up the pieces. That also leaves you with the need to hire a new writer and the related costs.

· Don’t put bean counters and micromanaging underachievers in charge of writers. It won’t work. Writers do not appreciate bureaucracy, in any form. Just let them write!

Be patient and practical when hiring a writer. Good writers bring something new to the environment. Writing isn’t “just a job”. All writers are different. Some are more productive in some areas and less so in others.

When hiring a writer, fit the job to the person, not the person to the job.


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