As a small business owner or as a manager, you may eventually come across a reason to hire a freelance writer. Most of the time, freelancers are hired by businesses who don’t have the time or expertise to create the documents they are looking for. For example, a busy web entrepreneur knows that in order to rank well with the search engines that he needs fresh keyword heavy content. Yet, running the business, filling orders, and keeping the website code and functions running is a full-time job.
That is where a freelance writer comes in. A professional freelance writer can produce several pages of solid content quickly. The biggest catch for most professionals is that they have never hired a freelance writer before. In many areas there are definitive standards or associations that can help with contacting a solid professional. For example, you can look to the CPA designation to ensure that an accountant meets a certain level of training and experience. With writers, there isn’t the same kind of designation in use. Therefore, many of those looking to hire a professional writer attempt to use other concepts as a way to screen writers, often to their own detriment.
Freelance Writing Degrees
Without a standard writing certification, many employers turn to college degrees as a way to find quality writers. Many job postings or RFPs require a degree in English, or other “writing” type degree. The flaw in this strategy is readily apparent. While it is true that an English major may require more writing than other majors, it is not a writing degree. A person who completes an Bachelors of Arts in English can be reasonably assumed to have taken several classes in which reading is the primary focus. Most writing comes in the form of writing about what you have read. Again, this is not a bad thing, but does it help determine if some is a good choice to write for your business?
Academic writing is both very traditional and structured in nature. Does your brochure need a 5-paragraph essay structure? Should each of your paragraphs on the website begin with a topic sentence? Will Google rank your page higher if the conclusion refers back to all main points raised in the body of the essay?
Consider instead whether a degree in what is being written ABOUT would be more useful. In articles about engineering or marketing, engineering or marketing degrees may imply a certain depth of knowledge. That knowledge may be more useful than classical training in writing.
Freelance Writers and Buzzwords
When I read through various ads or postings requesting writers, I can see that the person who posted the ad did a little bit of research first. Unfortunately, this research can take the form of simply copying terms or phrases that have been seen often enough to look important.
One of the most common terms is “familiarity with AP Style.” This does indeed sound impressive, and it is likely to be seen on ads from important companies like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Of course, there is a reason it is seen there. AP Style, is literally, the style used by the Associated Press or AP. Most people know AP from their local newspaper. The AP service writes news articles and allows others who subscribe to the service to either reprint them, or use them as the basis for their own articles. Not surprisingly, then AP Style is very tailored to news.
Curious about what AP Style is? There is actually a book. The Associated Press Stylebook, details the AP Style and contains the rules for how to use various terms and phrases. For example, in stories about wildfires, there will often be a reference to a firefighting technique known as a backfire. This raises some issues. Is it back fire, backfire, or back-fire? In that same sentence are firefighting and wildfire, also in the AP Style guide. What about words a little closer to home?
According to AP Style it should be Internet and Web site. Do you need your articles to use a capital W and a space between ‘web’ and ‘site’? Then, maybe you don’t need AP Sytle.
Samples, Samples, Samples
In real estate, they say the three most important things are location, location, and location. When hiring or contracting with a freelance writer the most important things are samples, samples, and samples. Nothing will give more insight into a person’s ability to write than seeing examples of what they have written. Don’t worry if the writing isn’t exactly what you are needing. If an author can clearly explain technical medical jargon, it is a good bet that they can also explain technical financial jargon and so on.
If the position requires the ability to turn over material quickly, a “live” example of such writing can also prove useful. For example, if a writer has links to several websites that have writing samples clearly produced in rapid fashion, then that is extra assurance that he/she will be able to turn around the projects quickly as well.
Questions About Professional Writing
If you have any questions about professional writing, whether hiring or being one, please don’t hesitate to ask.