Hiring an outside business or content marketing writer can get a bit hairy. After all, any Joe or Jane Schmo can call him or herself a writer, including the never-published neighbor who spends weekends holed up writing the next great American novel and pitching hissy fits when some dares suggest a word change.
So how do you avoid being hoodwinked when your money is at stake?
First, make sure you read “How to Find a Content Marketing Writer” from last week. Then once you develop a list of potential writers, start your detective work. Along with talking directly to candidates, you also want to do the following to help you discover even more clues about whether they have the skills and level of professionalism that will make them a good match for the project and your organization:
Check out online presences.
- Your first stop should be LinkedIn. Read about your candidates’ professional backgrounds but also pay attention to the groups to which they belong and if you have any connections in common. And examine the writing in their profiles. Do you like the style? Is spelling and grammar correct?
- Spend time on a writer’s personal and business web pages, as well as his or her blogs. Look at them with the eyes of an editor. Is the writing clear and well-organized? Is the writing easy and enjoyable to read? Is spelling and grammar in good shape? Also look at website and blog organization. In my opinion, poorly organized websites can reflect poorly organized minds.
- If Twitter timelines or business Facebook pages exist, check them out. Don’t worry about number of followers; instead, look at the type of content being posted and who the writer follows. You can learn a lot about a person this way.
Check writing samples.
Of course, you’ll want to ask for writing samples. Always keep in mind, however, chances are high that writing shared with you has gone through editors and may or may not be even close to what a writer originally wrote. You’ll have a better chance of finding original, unedited writing on personal blogs and online profiles, such as LinkedIn.
Pay attention to the questions a potential writer asks you.
When you talk to writing candidates by phone or email, pay close attention to the questions they ask YOU about your project and organization. These questions provide gobs of insight into each individual’s understanding of content and business writing as well as the principals of marketing and public relations. Here are the sorts of questions you should expect to hear:
- What is the business goal of the written piece?
- How will it be used and distributed?
- Is the intended audience defined?
- What is the primary message(s) the writing needs to convey to the reader?
- Is background information readily available and/or are subject matter experts accessible? (This question helps a writer make a judgement about the scope of project and time needed to complete it properly.)
- If the product is going to be used on a website, are keywords available for search engine optimization?
Talk to references.
When you talk to references, your goal is to elicit specific information about a potential writer’s working methods as well as writing abilities. Be sure to ask the following:
- Did the writer meet all deadlines?
- Is the writer overly protective of what he or she writes? (Believe me, managing a prima donna ego on top of deadlines makes for a complicated working relationship at a time when you’re looking to lessen the load.)
- How quickly did the writer get up to speed on the jargon, technology and style of the hiring company?
- How much editing and/or rewriting was required?
- Would you use the writer again for future assignments? Why or why not?
As someone who has hired contract writers, I know that finding a dependable, freelance team member is difficult and fraught with potential pitfalls. Your extra detective efforts on the front end of the hiring process have the potential to save you hours of time managing and rewriting, thousands of dollars of company money, and more than a few sleepless nights brought on by missed deadline stress.
Photo courtesy of SXC.