Why a Good Freelance Writer Is Hard to Find

Freelance writers are great … except when they’re not

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 1,000 times: in content marketing, freelance writers are your friends.

And it’s true. One of the biggest challenges for content marketers involves figuring out where all this content is supposed to come from. Freelance writers can help create, edit, curate and manage content when you don’t have the internal resources to do so.

Yes, freelancers can be very good friends indeed.

Of course, they can also be the kind of friends who hit on your sister, tell inappropriate jokes in front of your parents and never kick in for the next round of drinks. Sure they’re still your friends, but a part of you kind of hates them.

Me? I don’t hate freelance writers. I depend on them to do my job, and have for quite some time. But make no mistake – they can cause their share of headaches as well if you’re not careful. With all the help freelancers can provide content marketers – and again, they really can – here are three things you should know going in.

1. Freelance writers don’t know jack. At least when it comes to your business, that is. More often than not, generic freelance writers won’t have the background or topical experience to create quality content for your target audience from the start. You need to coach them, and even then there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever reach the standards required to build your brand.

This is especially true for technology companies where the majority of content is … you know … technical. Most freelancer writers don’t know the difference between a cloud and a coatrack. And even if they grasp the tech side eventually, they’ll still need to be able to put those facts in the proper context for your readers.

Whatever your business is, the best freelance content will come from either A) industry professionals with a way with words, or B) professional writers with experience in your coverage area. A 24-year-old with an English degree usually won’t cut it.

2. Optimization is not always on the menu. Allow me to let you in on a secret: most professional writers hate SEO. Loathe it. Detest it. Particularly journalists, many of whom regard Web optimization as an assault on the noble art of news writing. Either that, or … they just don’t have any experience doing it.

Remember, SEO is still a relatively new practice, and few writers (particularly freelancers) have the skills to apply it to their writing. Heck, even seasoned SEO professionals have trouble keeping up with Google’s Panda algorithms. The point is, while most freelancers can create lots of content for you, don’t assume they are making it “search friendly” as well.

3. Not all freelancers can write. Believe it or not, just because a person makes him or herself available as a writer, doesn’t mean they’re actually any good. In fact, there are lots “writers” online that are simply looking for an easy way to make a few extra bucks.

The next thing you know, you have a bunch of content on your hands with poor headlines, clumsy leads and more fluff than substance. It’s important to check the background of freelancers before you hire them and request writing samples of their past work to ensure they have the chops to do the job.

Remember, no one knows your business as well as you do, and when it comes to content, your readers are also your potential customers. Freelance writers can be a huge help in reaching that audience – but that doesn’t mean you should put your content in the hands of the first writer you meet.

You can find more information on content marketing and editorial practices at the OpenView Labs website. You can also follow Brendan on Twitter @BrenCournoyer and find more from the OpenView team @OpenViewVenture.

Brendan Cournoyer
Brendan Cournoyer
Content Strategist

Brendan worked at OpenView from 2011 until 2012, where he was an editor, content manager and marketer. Currently Brendan is the Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Brainshark where he leads all corporate marketing initiatives related to content, creative, branding, events, press and analyst relations, and customer marketing.
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