How Not to Hire Freelance Writers

On Mondays I usually post a list of freelance blogging jobs here. Today though I found myself somewhat disgusted by the blogging jobs I found. Based on those ads and their requirements, I wanted to offer a few tips for those considering hiring freelance writers. Here's what you should not do in your job ads (and why):

Don't ask for custom samples unless you're paying for them.

Working as a freelancer doesn't mean we work for free. If you want a freelancer's time, pay for it. If you want a sample before hiring them for long term work, you have two options to do that. First, you can review their past portfolio pieces to see if their style fits your needs (the most common route). You could also hire them to write a single article (or whatever you need) up front as a test, and then make a long term hiring decision based on that. Asking for free custom work on the hopes of being hired is completely unprofessional and inexcusable.

Don't act like you're hiring a full-time employee.

I'm shocked by how many people request formal resumes and such from potential freelancers. What's worse though is that today I saw a company asking for things like cumulative GPAs. Folks, these traditional requests are fine if you're hiring an employee. They're often completely overboard when hiring someone for short-term per-project gigs. Instead look at their portfolios. Their work will speak for itself. (And frankly, there's no reason you need someone's GPA to hire them as a part-time, freelance blogger. That's just silly and makes a bad impression - this particular advertiser came across as absurdly demanding for example with their list of requirements.)

Don't tell us what you think is normal or standard pay.

For starters, I can almost guarantee you're wrong. Beyond that, you just look foolish and inexperienced when you tell writers that their standard rates should be something like $5-10. Get real. If you can only afford to hire amateurs or hobby writers, that's fine. But don't waste your time (or ours) trying to justify those rates as anything more than what they are -- token pay.

Don't tell freelancers how to manage their clients.

Frankly, you don't have the right to do this (in the US at least). One ad I saw today emphasized that while the writer would be allowed to take on other clients (not that the writer needs their permission), they would have to be their primary client. Um, that's not how it works. You're a client. So are their other clients. It's up to the writer to decide when to work for each, how to work for each, and how to prioritize their time. Clients can't control these things without crossing into an employer / employee relationship (and if they try, they can end up subjected to taxes and other expenses on the writer's behalf because of demanding an employee-style relationship).

It doesn't matter if your project is estimated at 30 hours per week. That doesn't mean you're a primary anything. Maybe that writer works 60 hours per week. Or maybe a client they work with 10 hours per week pays them several times as much. Only the freelancer gets to determine their priorities. Their responsibility is simply to deliver their work as promised by their deadline. Anything else is out of your hands, and shouldn't even be discussed in a job ad.

I really can't understand why some people think it's alright to be overly demanding, especially when many aren't compensating fairly to begin with. Those looking to hire freelance writers should spend a bit of time understanding the differences between contractors and employees, the market and real rates paid to these professionals (not just what you see advertised on Craigslist), and some need a basic dose of reality (Would they ask an employee to work for free first? Unlikely, and probably illegal).

Writers, the best thing you can do is pass up opportunities expecting too much for too little. Don't allow others to control you. Don't work for free in the hopes of getting a paying gig (it's the equivalent of paying to be considered for a job). And for goodness sakes, respect yourself enough to hold out for the clients who are going to respect you. There are plenty of them - you just have to work a bit harder in the beginning to find them (and it's worth it!).

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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18 thoughts on “How Not to Hire Freelance Writers”

  1. It is ironic that you posted this article today. I heard back from a prospective client who requested free samples. I already submitted published samples, so I inquired how much I would be paid for them. Rather than re-hash as to why I would not submit free samples, I placed a link to this article and requested that they read it.

    I doubt if I will hear back but you never know.

    Thanks again as this came just in time!!!

  2. Clint, I was thinking the SAME thing! For every absurd request, we should send this post out to the listed email address.

    Thank you Jennifer, for voicing this on behalf of all of us.


  3. Clap, clap, clap.

    I, too, just linked back to this article on my blog because I had just ranted and raved about employers wanting free sample articles from prospective writers. And I love the term “token pay” for those piddling $5 per article payments that so many people seem to offer these days. I made $5 per hour folding t-shirts at the Gap in 1994, and I expect and deserve much better payment for my writing.

  4. Unfortunately there are all too many writers willing to comply with these terms and worse. This is a great article – I tweeted it and will link to it from this week. I’m not sure we can fix this problem, but at least we don’t have to sit and be quiet.


  5. I always thought requiring a resume on a part-time gig was a little bit too much. Pffft. I’ll just apply to jobs asking for resumes anyway and demonstrate the work I can do. (Besides, I’m not very good at resume writing anyway :V )

  6. Amen to that! Thank you for voicing what the rest of us feel and know. I think some clients really need a lesson in respect. This speaks to all of the major issues most freelancers come across at one point or another.

  7. Flipping heck – I think I’m lucky to have got most of my freelance work thru contacts that don’t deal with this level of crap – or even formal contracts! Tell me how to manage my clients – I don’t think so – that’s why I work for me and just me!

  8. Brilliant article, Jennifer.

    Perhaps freelancers should start to ask for credit scores from prospective clients? As a sample from them that they will pay the future invoice…:-)

  9. I just wanted to pop in and say I’m glad to see so many people agree (although I may become one of the most hated among the various client markets if you actually send them here lol). That’s okay though.

    Interestingly, I didn’t know when I wrote this that it was going to be such a timely issue. I found out after the fact at least two other big blogs in the niche talked about similar issues this week. Apparently I’m far from the only one fed up by the demands in ads these days. Thankfully I don’t have to deal with things like this with my own clients, but I truly feel for those who do!

  10. Great article. I have turned down a large amount of work for the reasons you mention.

    Freelance writers are professionals and should think of writing as a business; and also value themselves.

  11. I have hopes and dreams of starting a political blog. I would love to hire freelance writers for occaisonal articles, but I have no idea what this costs or how to go about finding the journalists. I will continue to read through this site, but would be thrilled with a general idea of what to expect.

    • Daniel, unfortunately with freelance writing there’s really no such thing as a “general idea of what to expect.” Things vary wildly depending on exactly what you want. For example, you’ll find plenty of bloggers happy to write for $5-15 per post, but they probably aren’t journalists — just Web content writers (and at those rates rarely specialists). If you wanted someone active in the political scene who could blog from an insider’s view, and they’ve been a political journalist for years, then you’re going to pay much, much more (could be a few hundred per post, could be $.50 per word, $1.00 per words — it all depends on who they are and what they bring to the table). The best thing you could do as a prospective client is simply understand that going in (don’t expect top notch, well-researched and detailed work at $15 for example — it’s not going to happen). You need to set a pay level you’re comfortable with budget-wise and then set your hiring expectations based on that. You could pick up a copy of Writer’s Market perhaps. Look through some political publications, online and off, and see what rates they’re paying for pros in the niche.

  12. Beautiful post! I know you made it a while ago, but it’s very important – I cannot tell you how appalled I was when someone suggested I write for today… I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I hope everyone in search of a freelance writer gets the chance to read this! Thank you for writing it.

  13. Jennifer, I’ve been blogging for a while now and I am glad to see posts like yours. I’ve been blogging mostly for myself, as a hobby, but finally decided to put my English degree to use and start working as a freelance writer. Many jobs I’ve looked at want to pay in the $5-10 per article range like you mentioned. I consider myself a great writer and I’ve got the degree to back that up but what I don’t have is a presence on the internet. Do you think it’s bad for a new writer to accept less in order to get started and get his name out there? Thanks in advance for any advice/opinions you have.

    • 1. Keep in mind that an English degree won’t land you higher paying freelance writing jobs on its own. If you want to write books it might mean more, but for freelancing buyers pay the most for specialty knowledge rather than the ability to write well. A decent writer with an in-demand specialty background (business, finance, etc.) and strong marketing skills will almost always beat out someone who emphasizes the writing first and foremost. So I wouldn’t put a huge amount of emphasis on your English degree. Find out where you have that specialty knowledge in some in-demand niche, and make that your main marketing focus. Let the degree be a supplement to that. By all means mention it. Just focus on showing you can write about topics the client can’t, and ones those $5 article writers can’t cover adequately, and you’ll have a better shot at getting the higher paying work.

      2. I don’t think it’s always bad to accept lower paying work starting out. But here’s the thing. If you do that thinking those low paying gigs are going to lead to higher paying gigs, the vast majority of the time you’ll be wrong. Low paying clients beget more low paying clients. And what you write for them won’t be on par with what higher paying clients expect to see in a portfolio (as in seeing you’ve written for comparable markets / clients). There are some people who are exceptions, but it’s never smart to assume you’ll be an exception to the rule. If you need the portfolio pieces badly, read this for some ideas. One is to only write for free or low pay for well-respected nonprofits. If you write for cheap webmasters, you tell future clients you don’t value yourself enough to charge professional rates (and undercharging is actually a huge turn-off for many people with bigger budgets). Instead, do a free piece or two for a nonprofit. Not only do you get a more respectable portfolio piece but you also get the PR benefits. So choose a cause you can really get behind and see if there’s a local branch that could use your skills.

      3. As for getting your name out there, low paying gigs isn’t the way to do that. All that does is associate your name with those low-paying markets, often saturated with sub-par work. You don’t want people lumping you in with that group. Are there good writers working for content mills for example? Sure. But until they stop associating themselves professionally with all of the bad apples there, most will struggle to consistently land high paying jobs (and if they could, there would no longer be a reason to write for those mills because their schedules would be filled with better options). Instead get a professional website set up and work hard to optimize it for keyword phrases potential clients would search for when hiring a writer like you. For example, I focused on things like “business writer” and “professional business writer.” Then get your name out there in other ways. Join forums and social networks where your target market is. Start a niche blog in your specialty area. Guest post on other specialized blogs. Comment on other blogs. Release a short free e-book, report, or white paper to create some buzz and drive purchases. There’s a lot you can do. Here’s an article with 30 platform-building ideas to give you some more options.


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