Hiring Content Writers: A Guide for Small Businesses

September 30, 2019

4 minute read

Hiring Content Writers A Guide for Small Businesses (cover image)

If you write original content for your business, you know how quickly it drains your time and mental energy. It’s extremely challenging to write articles or blog posts that readers find engaging, clear, and eloquent.

You may have considered hiring a freelance writer, but it’s daunting if you’ve never done it before. Where do you find writers? How much does it cost? How do you ensure quality?

One of my businesses is a content website, and outsourcing the writing has been one of my toughest challenges. The guides I found online were either uselessly vague or applied a wildly wrongheaded philosophy to working with freelancers.

I’m by no means an expert at hiring writers, but I’m better than I was at the outset. I’ve written this guide to help others understand the process and what pitfalls to avoid.

Who should read this guide

This guide is for people like me: small business owners who want to outsource writing to a professional. You can follow this guide with a monthly writing budget as low as $150, but it will work even for mid-range budgets up to $2,000-$3,000 per month.

If you need a dirt-cheap writer to churn out content for your spam blog, this guide isn’t for you. Conversely, if you’re a Fortune 500 company who can blow $50k on a writing project without noticing, most of the strategies I describe won’t apply.

What is a content writer?

There are three main types of freelance writers. Before hiring a content writer, you should understand how they differ from others:

Type of writer What they write Examples
Content writer Content that informs or entertains your audience Magazine articles, blog posts, ebooks, newsletters
Copywriter Text that compels the reader to perform some action, such as buy a product or subscribe to a mailing list Product descriptions, landing pages
Technical writer Highly technical content for an audience with specialized knowledge Software documentation, whitepapers

The fundamental principle of hiring talented people

There’s one underlying maxim that governs my hiring philosophy for any skilled position:

  • Talented people choose their employers selectively

Other guides recommend forcing writers through tedious and time-consuming hoops without pay. They assume that writers are so desperate for work that you can demand anything you want from them by dangling the mere potential for a job.

There certainly are desperate writers who will jump through all of your hoops, but they’re not the writers you want. Exceptional writers run for the hills as soon as they hear “unpaid trial job.”

If you want talented writers, create work conditions that are fair, pleasant, and interesting. Show candidates that you respect and value their craft. This starts from the first message you send and continues throughout your working relationship with them.

My practical experience

Everything in this guide is based on my real experiences of hiring and working with writers over several months. My business is a website called Is It Keto, which explains whether or not popular foods fit the keto diet.

Screenshot of Is It Keto broccoli article
Is It Keto article on broccoli

At ~73,000 pageviews per month, Is It Keto is still relatively small, but its audience has grown by 30-50% every month this year. I believe its success results from its succinct, clear writing.

Throughout this guide, I’ll share examples of the actual job postings, style guides, and email templates I used to hire and work with writers on Is It Keto.

Part One: Finding Writers

The first step in hiring writers is locating the ones who are available for work. This section outlines all the methods I used to find writers and my results for each.

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Part Two: Creating a Detailed Job Description

Now that you’ve found available writers, you need to tell them what you want. This section explains how to create a job description that minimizes ramp-up time and demonstrates to prospective candidates that you’re an organized professional.

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Part Three: Screening Candidates

Once you receive applications from candidates, it’s time to decide whom to hire and whom to reject. This section explains the signals that help you make this decision and which ones you should ignore.

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Part Four: Working with Writers

After hiring a writer, your next step is teaching them the style of writing you want. This section explains how to help writers learn to write well for you and how to ensure that your best writers stick around.

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Part Five: Terminating Writers

If a writer consistently fails to meet your expectations, you need to cut your losses by ending their contract. This section explains how to gracefully terminate a freelance relationship and integrate the experience into your future hiring.

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Cover art by Loraine Yow. Thanks to my writer, Morgan Province, for offering insight to help me create this guide. Special thanks to Alexis Grant of The Write Life for volunteering her time to provide me with feedback.

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