Freelance Writers: What you Need to Know

If you have a keyboard, you can write. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can write well. My cat has a penchant for writing, but on the one occasion when she actually managed to send an email, I had to take urgent action. After all, she sent it to a client, and I can’t have my clients thinking I routinely send “wertshfknmgf” as a message. But I digress.

Writing is Skilled Work

The truth is that while anyone, even my cat, can write, it takes a little more than access to a keyboard to write something intelligible. Of course, there are people who write in full sentences with proper words but still don’t make the least bit of sense. All in all, it takes a good set of skills to be an effective writer. And without trying to sound in the least bit puffed up, I have to tell you that these skills are pretty rare.

A writer must be good reader, for example. And beyond reading, there must be comprehension and the ability to interpret and reflect information accurately and in context. Writers also need to know when they should reject a source, or at least look for further confirmation. All of this takes critical thinking, a skill which seems to be rather rarer than it ought to be.

Once all the research is done, and your writer has the information he or she needs to start writing, structure becomes important. The more sources there are, the more of an art it is to present the information within a logical structure. And all of this has to contribute to the point you’re trying to make. You can’t be all over the place and then suddenly zip in with a conclusion that doesn’t reflect on the information that leads up to it.

Beyond that, there’s the technical stuff. No software I’ve used has ever managed to spot every single technical error its possible to make, and style is pretty important too. The bottom line is that writing is skilled work, and you will probably get what you pay for.

Writers are People and Some People are Temperamental

It’s why I work alone these days. At one time, I was running a team of four to six writers. It wasn’t easy.

There was the woman who overthought each piece until she ended up in a puddle of angst and couldn’t write a word. There was the guy who was so sure of himself that he didn’t pay the least heed to editing advice and who would lose his temper if the client wasn’t altogether happy with a first attempt. Then there was the girl who did a perfect trial article before dissolving into a mess of grammatical errors that I had to correct because she had no idea of how to go about doing it herself. Or the chap who thought it was OK to agree to a deadline, only to blithely inform me on the day that he wasn’t going to deliver.

Maybe it’s because people think writing is easy. Maybe it’s because they don’t think it’s important to keep their word. Maybe confidence issues intervene. Whatever the cause, I was happy to dispense with the lot and continue on my own. Sure, I’m not perfect, but at least I’m consistent.

Time is Money

I’ve worked with some really good writers that take three to five days to come up with an article that pays maybe $30. They often complain that it just isn’t worth it, and I agree! Balancing good research with high quality work and a time frame that makes writing a sound business proposition for the writer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

I took over a client from a writer who often complained of the research-heavy, time-consuming nature of her work and found myself able to knock off an article in an hour or two. She used to say it took days. I was terrified! Would the customer be satisfied with my “quick and dirty” effort? He was. Objectively, I think I did fairly well, and the $30 task was completed within a time that made it reasonably worthwhile for me to undertake the effort.

I’m not going to say that quick work is better work, but the time taken should reflect the budget. It makes the difference between freelancing and slave labour. So if you want to keep budgets within reasonable bounds, you need someone fast, or you’re going to end up with a resentful writer. I know it’s not fair to blame the client if you’re a slow writer, but not all freelance writers do!

Not the Bottom of the Food Chain

When I first started as a freelance writer, I often likened it to a food chain, with writers at the bottom of it. You’d get the client who was hired by the end-user, who hired an agency who outsourced it to someone who might be posing as writer, and you’d get hired at least three steps away from the client themselves.

It’s far from ideal to get three markups before you get the finished product. So these days, I only accept middlemen if I’m directly hired by a marketing agency. I shudder to think what they’re charging the actual client, but they can get away with it, and I’m happy with the money that comes to me.

Should you use a marketing agency for your content? I’m not against it. I’ll freely admit that all I do is the words. I do think SEO is easier than it sounds, but I’m not an expert, so I could be wrong – and as for formatting, I truly am awful at that, so your agency could be worth the extra amount you’re paying for my articles. Once the agency hires a “writer” who then hires me, we’re getting into deep water, and you’re just losing money on the deal.

I have had some customers who tell their marketing agencies that they already have a writer, and I suspect it saves them some money. How much that is could be enough to make the agency do everything it can to criticize my work, but I can usually handle the scrutiny.

Your take home? It may well be better to hire the writer yourself and let the marketers seethe quietly about the lost income. It means skipping the food chain and everyone who feeds on it without actually doing anything much. And it will very likely save you money too.

About andreadurrheim

I'm an ex-horticulturist turned horticultural journalist turned radio broadcaster and general freelance writer. I'm hoping to promote my work through my blog and find out more about other writers too!
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