It’s a big decision to let someone else write about your business. In fact, some people don’t think you should do it. And obviously, some of us think it’s okay to hire someone else, if you find the right writer for your business.
Very few small business owners ever really say to themselves “Oh, loads of time to write the blog this week. And the newsletter. And update the website”. There’ll probably come a point where you think enough is enough, and consider taking on a freelance writer. It’s probably not the kind of role you’ve recruited for before, so might not be sure what to ask to stand a chance of finding the right person.
I’m sharing the 10 things that I try to make sure prospective new clients have got from any introductory call with me, as they’re also helpful for me as a writer to work out if I’m a good fit to them. I’ll also share the kinds of things you should be looking for in the answer. I’ve included a free downloadable checklist at the end as well for you.
Before you start
Before you even get to interviewing someone, you’ll need to find them. As with many things, recommendations are always a good place to start. Just remember that because someone writes well for your mate’s reclamation yard it doesn’t mean they’re going to be right for your small batch rum brand. Doesn’t mean they won’t be either, but still do the rest of your research.
You can Google, and be specific on area (so freelance writer guitar restringing probably has less to sift through than the more generic version). Whatever you search, check out the people you find on their own websites and on social to get a feel for what they’ve done and their style of writing. If it doesn’t click with you at that stage, keep looking. There will be more than one someone who does.
Ready to interview? Here we go.
Question 1: What kind of things do you write?
You should have a clear view on the things you want writing, so check that they are experienced in what you want. For example, I don’t do technical writing, white papers or bid proposals. I probably could if I worked really hard at it, but that’s not the best use of either person’s time. It also doesn’t necessarily deliver the quality you would need, or I’d want to be famous for.
I do write brand stories and manifestos that bring strategy, vision, mission and values to life. I write lots of web pages, product descriptions and product copy for the real world as well as the digital world. Then there’s emails, blog posts, brochures and funny postcards to go in deliveries. Okay, maybe not the last one, but I’d love to get a brief that asked me to do that.
Be clear upfront what you need, and check they can do it.
Question 2: What industries and topics do you know best?
You’re looking at two things here. The first is do they have experience in the area you’re involved in, which is self-explanatory. The second is how much background knowledge they already have, which might mean that they have experience to draw on outside of your brief.
For example, I write a lot about food, not to mention cook a lot and eat out a lot. I’ve got a broad knowledge of ingredients, food styles, even names of dishes, that spell checks and Grammarly might not throw up. It also means I can write about food with a very authentic tone.
To give you an example, I wrote a chef’s bio up for a client, and Grammarly kept insisting it should read that he’d written a book on the game. Now, that would be an interesting addition to his bio, but at least I knew not to trust the tech.
Your chosen writer doesn’t have to have experience in your industry, particularly if you have a business in a very specialist area. You’re going to want a lot of detail in answer to question 5 if they don’t. There might be some writers in your niche, but be prepared for their rates to be higher potentially, and they might be booked up well in advance.
Question 3: What’s your writing style?
This is a little like question 1, in that there will be writers with different styles that match different kinds of businesses. You’d hope to find things that matched up. For example, it would be unlikely that you’d be looking for a technical writer with a chatty, informal style.
You need to have an idea at least of what your brand sounds like, or you want it to sound like. Then you’ll know if what they’re saying resonates.
I would describe my natural style as informal, chatty, human. I could write very formally (I worked for a bank for over 3 years many years ago), but these days I prefer work that values human to human conversations, rather than talking at. If you know the sort of words you want people to say about your brand, then you can tick them off as the writer talks.
Question 4: How do you cost a project?
No one likes talking about money, but quite often what this is going to cost is a key concern. Writers charge in different ways. If you go to places like Fiverr, then it’ll be by the word. It might be by the hour or by the day. For many, it’ll be by the project.
By the word might seem appealing, you can see exactly what you spent your money on. My perspective is that a piece needs the right number of words. If you’ve said a price per word for 500 words, then you might get padding out to the 500. If the story can be told more compellingly in 437, then you don’t want someone adding in a meaningless 63 words. It’s one of the drawbacks with places like Fiverr. If people are on very low per word rates, then there’ll be a temptation to write at least up to that limit.
I would always prefer to quote someone for their project. Particularly for smaller businesses, I think it’s most helpful to know exactly what the budget for a project is. Whichever you prefer, make sure you are clear on this at the start.
Question 5: How do you do your research?
There’s probably no wrong or right answer to this, but you want to get a sense of how much information they’re going to need from you, and how much they will do independent research. It depends on how much detail you’re thinking you’re going to provide.
You might ask the writer to do all the work, coming up with the subject and everything. Or you might have key subjects you want them to cover, along with your business’ perspective on that subject. It’s a good point of discussion both ways.
Question 6: What’s your experience of interviewing people for perspectives and information?
I love reading of other people’s experiences, and I think it adds authenticity to brand stories as well. It’s a third party view on what’s going on inside that business. Or it could be that they are an expert in a particular field, which gives a stamp of authority to your business’ achievements.
With those benefits, interviewing people might be a skill you want to call on at some point, even if you’re not sure right now. It might also be that you want them to feel comfortable enough to interview members of your team to give the inside view of what goes on there.
Question 7: What’s the process you use for changes?
You might get lucky and love everything a writer produces for you first time around, every time. But just in case, best to know how they approach this. I usually include two rounds of edits in every project quote. The newer the client, the more we might use those, possibly even go over on occasion. The longer we work together, then the less we use them.
But you don’t want to find you’re working with a diva who won’t countenance any changes. They’re possibly in it for the art, not the commerce of your business. Oh, and if someone sends in a submission with terrible spelling, then you should definitely not be paying for those changes. Try to resist changing just for grammar, as sometimes we break grammar rules on purpose.
Question 8: How do you optimise content for search engines?
To be clear, this is about optimisation and not in-depth keyword research or your SEO strategy. Most freelance writers will probably consider this part of the process of developing blog content. If you give them keywords you’re trying to rank for, they should be able to optimise the title, headers and content. They’ll know how to write the meta description so that people click through to the content, and make sure you have appropriate internal links with the right kind of anchor text.
Question 9: How long do you take to complete a piece?
Hopefully, they won’t answer this one, without asking you a question back. The answer depends on the piece, what information you’ll be providing them with, and are interviews required.
I would say it’s not the answer you’re really interested in here, it’s the clarifying questions they ask you. It shows a thoroughness of approach.
Question 10: What are you reading?
This one isn’t entirely necessary, just might be interesting. They say good writers are also great readers. It doesn’t matter what they’re reading, but showing they’re reading some things would be good.
I’d probably not start by telling them I’m reading Hello (I might be), but I’ve usually got at least two books on the go, one fiction, one non. I read some of the papers, and I do read a lot of magazines of different types. And I read a lot of signs, posters and material out and about. No right or wrong answer, just I would tend to pick a writer who likes to read.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these will give you a great idea of whether a freelance writer is a good fit with you, both for style and experience. You’ll want to go on and ask for samples of their work, or links to it, and references. You might be able to see these already with testimonials on their site, and anything they write under their own name.
Of course, if you’re about to go into an interview and are ready to hire someone, then you don’t want to be reading through this post at the same time. So there’s a checklist available from the link here summarising these questions.
Hiring the right person should give you back time to work on the things only you can do in your business. It should also give you consistent content with a distinctive voice. Presence and consistency are key elements to trust, and you don’t get far without trust. Worth asking 10 questions to get to that.