Hiring Content Writers: Part Two - Creating a Detailed Job Description

A clear, concise job description shows candidates that you’re an organized professional who puts thought into what they want. It also allows the writers to skip applying if they recognize they’re a poor match for the work you need. Lastly, it aids you in screening out poor candidates. If an applicant asks you questions that you answered clearly in your job description, you know they’re desperately blasting out generic applications to every job they see.

Example job description

Below, I’ve included the job description I use to hire writers for Is It Keto. It’s a Google Doc, and I always link candidates directly to it to ensure a single, authoritative version. When I fix mistakes or clarify the wording, I never worry about who has which draft of my document.

Screenshot of Is It Keto's job description

Is It Keto’s job description Google Doc

Elements of a good job description

Here are the essential elements to cover in the job description:

  • Overview
    • What kind of content will they write?
    • What is the goal of the content?
      • Attracting attention to a product?
      • Improving search engine rankings?
      • Building a brand?
  • Requirements
    • Does the writer need specialized knowledge in a particular field of study?
      • e.g., medical writing, financial writing
    • Should they have specific skills?
      • e.g., writing for search engine optimization, appealing to young professionals
  • Assignment details
    • What is the typical word count for your assignments?
    • Are they required to revise the piece based on your feedback?
    • How will they collaborate with you?
      • Google Docs? Word?
    • Will you assign article topics, or does the writer pitch ideas to you?
  • Attribution and rights
    • Do you keep full rights to the articles, or can the writer republish them on other sites?
    • Does the writer receive a byline?
      • e.g., “by Michael Lynch”
      • Is the author allowed to link to their own website in the byline?
  • Timing
    • How many hours do you expect the writer to work each week?
    • How quickly must the writer complete work after they receive an assignment?
    • Is it critical for the writer’s working hours to overlap with yours?
  • Payment
    • How do you structure payment?
    • What method of payment will you use?
      • Check? PayPal? Venmo?
    • How quickly can writers expect payment?
    • Do you need to collect tax information from the writer?
      • In the US, you’ll need to collect a 1099 from any freelancer that you pay more than $600 per year. This is often unnecessary if you pay them through a marketplace like Upwork.
    • Will you pay a kill fee if you decide not to publish the writer’s work?
      • Publishers sometimes pay a “kill fee” if a writer completes an assignment, but the publisher doesn’t use it.
  • Example articles
    • Provide links to content that provides inspiration for what you want.
      • Be specific about what you like about the examples.
    • You can also link to counter-examples of writing you dislike.
      • What aspects of the counter-examples should writers avoid?

Save money by offering flexibility

Resist the temptation to demand constant availability and quick turnaround. Sure, it sounds great to have a writer at your beck and call, but that requirement limits the pool of writers and drives up their rates.

Think about it from the writer’s perspective. Freelancers juggle several clients at once, and it’s impossible to provide constant availability to all of them. They either have to pass on jobs that require quick turnaround or take those jobs only when the pay is extremely high.

Instead, offer writers as much flexibility as you can. Instead of imagining your ideal timing requirements, think about what you can live with. Can you tolerate a turnaround time of a week or more on assignments? If so, you’ll save money and attract better candidates by providing this flexibility.

Pay per hour, per word, or per article?

When it comes to pay structure for your freelancers, you have several options:

Pay structureDescription
Pay per hourWriter earns an hourly rate regardless of how much content they produce.
Pay per wordWriter’s fee is the final word count of the piece multiplied by an agreed price per word.
(typically $0.10 to $0.75 per word)
Pay per articleWriter earns a fixed price for each assignment they complete, regardless of word count or hours invested.

Pay per article is the most common arrangement for experienced freelance writers, but I chose pay per hour for Is It Keto for two reasons:

  1. Is It Keto articles vary widely in length and difficulty, so it’s difficult to assign fair per-article rates.
  2. Hourly pay lets me request non-writing work from my freelancers (e.g., studying my style guide, meeting me for periodic check-ins) without pressuring them to volunteer their time for free.

Other hiring guides discourage clients from paying per hour because it’s “too expensive.” This is plainly illogical. If you want work of a certain quality, it costs the same amount regardless of how you structure the pay. You can’t trick a writer into producing the same quality work for lower costs.

I pointedly avoid paying per word because I want concise writing. Paying by the word incentivizes writers to include fluff content that adds nothing to the article.

Other guides criticize hourly wages for the same perverse incentives. They claim that if you pay writers by the hour, they have no incentive to work quickly or produce quality writing. They earn more if the piece takes longer and requires more revisions, so why bother doing a good job?

In my experience, talented people deliver quality work if you empower them to do so. If you start micromanaging them or create systems that shift all financial penalties onto them, the relationship becomes adversarial, and the work suffers.

How much should you pay?

Which writer costs more in the long run?

  • A writer who charges $30/hr
  • A writer who charges $40/hr

Answer: Not enough information.

To understand why, consider the total cost of producing an article, given by the formula below:

Cost per article = (Freelancer’s time writing the article * freelancer’s wage) + (Your time editing the article * value of your time)

For example, in February, I calculated that each article took my writer about 2.3 hours to write and required 37.5 minutes of my time to edit. I paid the writer $20/hr, and I valued my own time at $30/hr, so the total cost for each article was:

Cost per article = (2.3 hours * $20/hr) + (0.625 hours * $30/hr) = $64.75 per article

Note: This applies specifically to pay per hour structure. If you’re paying per word or per article, check Who Pays Writers to get a sense of market rates for publications similar to yours.

A writer’s hourly rate is meaningless unless you know how quickly they work and how much editing they require. I typically pay writers their asking rate, then use a trial hire to evaluate whether they’re worth the money.

There are limits, of course. I never pay more than $60/hr because it’s simply too expensive to run trial hires at that rate, given how few of them work out.

The table below shows the rates I paid depending on how I foud the candidate:

Candidate sourceWhat I paid
College job boards$13-$15/hr
Upwork$20-$65/hr 1
Personal referrals$50-60/hr

1 The $65/hr writer was one of my first hires, and that rate was far too expensive given their writing quality. Today, I wouldn’t hire someone at $65/hr unless I was supremely confident in their writing.

Screening writers

By this point, you’ve created a job description and shown it to potential writers. Now, it’s time to decide how to screen the candidates who apply for your job.

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.