Not quite the million dollar question, but if you’ve been thinking that you might want to have someone take on some of your writing needs, then it’s probably top of mind. It’s understandable; no business has an endless budget for anything. You probably also want to have some idea of what you might be getting into before you start talking to freelance writers.
Here’s the answer
But it’s probably not the one you want to hear. The answer is that there is no one answer to the question. Because there’s no one type of content required, and every writer is different.
But hopefully, I can share some things to help you get clear on how you might approach this. Being clear about what you want is always a good way to help manage the cost. There’s also the different ways that this might get costed, and what the pros and cons of each approach are.
Do you want a steak dinner?
The cost to hire a freelance content writer is a little like choosing a steak dinner. Stay with me.
You might choose to buy steak and cook it at home yourself. You could choose to go to Harvester. You could choose a small steak or a big steak, a rump or a fillet. You could go to a Michelin starred restaurant. You might fly to Japan to dine on the best Kobe beef as close to the cow as possible, served by a master chef.
Whichever you choose, you still get to eat steak. The cost you choose to pay for it is different and is based on the quality of the steak, and the experience of the chef. You have to choose the value of the experience, the quality and your budget.
If you don’t always choose the cheapest steak, then it’s worth thinking about why that is. There’s nothing wrong with that choice at all. Likewise, it’s not wrong to hire the cheapest writer. Just think about the trade-offs, in the same way you do when thinking about dinner.
Ready to go? Let’s begin.
Where to start
You’ve decided that your time is better spent on other priorities in your business. Probably. You might be feeling a bit nervous about whether a freelance writer will get your business, and the way you want to talk about what you do. And you’re worried about what it will cost.
The first thing to do is to write a brief. Which is really just a way of saying get your thoughts together. Don’t panic about doing it right; it’s most important that you do it. A good writer will use it as a starting point for a conversation with you to get under the skin of your business and what you’re looking to achieve.
Writing a brief
This sets both you and the writer off on the right track. It helps set up your aims and expectations and will help the writer understand the scope of the work. It also helps them cost the project effectively. If you’re unclear at this stage, then you’re setting both of you up for frustration during the process as you change your mind.
Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see something and know that’s what you don’t want. Most writers will allow for a certain number of edits (in my work I generally allow for two rounds), but you can’t expect to have endless rewrites and not end up with a bigger bill.
So, some thinking now will save you time, stress and money, so it’s got to be worth doing. Here are the things I would include:
- A summary of your business, and your brand story if you have one. Talk about what makes you unique in your industry.
- Why are you doing this? What’s the goal for the content? Sales, building your email list, likes and shares, profile…it can be whatever your business needs it to be. Just be clear about the ambition.
- Who is it for? Linked to the goal, if you have a view on who your ideal customer is, then include that.
- What kind of content do you have in mind, and where do you want to use it? It might be that you need new website or product copy, blog posts, social media content…you’ll know what you want and where you need to use it.
- How many pieces? If it’s just one piece, it’s going to be a very short brief, which is fine. If you’re thinking about something with more to it, then outline that plan.
- When do you need it? Is there anything else this has to happen at the same time as, or before or after?
Don’t worry about the format you do it in, or whether the words are right. In fact, it doesn’t need to be written. I have a client who sent me a video clip from an old Fred Astaire movie to illustrate the feel for a piece. Worked a treat.
So, your brief gives you the why and the what, the how many and when. Now you need to think about the who.
What kind of writer do you want?
This is a bit like thinking about how is cooking your steak. There are writers from beginners through to long-term professional writers who have lived and breathed writing their whole lives.
You might need someone with specialist knowledge of your industry or business type. You might want someone to write white papers or ebooks, which might suit some writers better than others. Or you might want someone who can write in a really conversational style.
There’ll be a writer for whatever you need, with whatever kind of experience you want.
Costing your project
You’ve got your brief, and an idea of the kind of writer you want to work with. Before you go ahead and talk to them, you’re still wondering what it’s going to cost to hire them. How will they cost it? I would imagine you’ll get one of three methods of working out the cost, all of which have pros and cons.
- Priced by the word – this is still really common for journalists, with many magazines and papers commissioning in this way. I last worked this way when I had a column in Great Food back when it was a magazine. On the plus side, if you ask for 500 words and it’s 10 pence a word, then you know exactly what the cost is. On the negative side, less is often better. Why say in 100 words what can be said more precisely in 75?
- Priced by the hour – you’ll see this on lots of the freelancer sites, and rates can vary from £1 per hour to over £200. Think back to the steak analogy and you can see why. A lot of this will link back to the experience of your writer, and their expertise. You’ll want the writer to give you a clear quote for the number of hours they expect to spend on this, rather than just signing up to an hourly rate.
- Priced by the total project – if you’re able to give the writer a clear brief, then this is probably a sensible way for them to quote. It also helps you be clear on the total cost. They’ll consider all the elements and time they need to complete your whole project, and that’s what they’ll focus on delivering. The negative is that you won’t know if they’ve completed in half the time they thought it would take, but if you were happy with the budget, and the quality is spot on, then how effectively they’ve used their time might not be a concern. Equally, if they’ve taken twice the amount of time, then it’s not your issue if you’ve delivered on your side of things.
Other things to consider
As I mentioned, most writers will build in a number of rounds of edits, so it’s best to be clear on how much rework can go on before you start racking up more cost. Your writer ought to discuss this with you before they start the extra work, and again it would be reasonable to get an understanding of how much more you might be looking at.
With any contract, then you’ll want to understand the payment terms as well. These will vary by writer, from all invoiced upfront to everything invoiced at the end, and every combination in between. Just make sure you’re all clear before you get underway.
Finally, plagiarism. You’re hiring a writer to create original content. You can ask them how they check (I use Grammarly Premium, it’s not infallible, but it’s pretty reliable).
Where to find a writer
Finding a writer is probably the simple part. Just stick “hire a freelance content writer” into Google. It brought up over 14 million answers when I did it.
Finding the right writer for your business is the tricky part.
You could ask for recommendations in your network. You could google it. You could look on Twitter or any other network. What’s most important is that you have some conversations first to see if you connect and can work together.
Look at their other work. Is it in a style that you like? Is it for a brand or business you admire? Can they share any results from that work for that client, bearing in mind client confidentiality might mean they can’t. They might not be able to share all their work if they are in effect “ghostwriting”. Some clients are happy for the work to be identified, some won’t. It’s not that the writer is being evasive.
There’s a writer for every business
While I haven’t been able to tell you exactly what it costs to hire a freelance writer, you’ve hopefully got good pointers in how to set about making sure you get the right kind of quote for you and your business. You can consider what’s the right way of costing your project, and how to find a writer.
If you’ve got any other questions on how to go about finding and hiring the right writer, then I’m always happy to help. Click on “Let’s Talk” and drop me an email, or you’ll find me on Twitter @HelenTWrites.