February 10, 2017 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
You need content. Whether it’s for an email marketing campaign, an industry report, or your blog, you don’t want to write it so you need to hire a freelance writer. While you may see us as time-saving word gurus who love to do that one thing everyone else seems to despise — writing – there’s probably a lot you don’t know about where your dollars are going when you pay that final invoice. Here’s what you’re paying for when you hire a freelance writer.
Before we ever crack open our Word Doc programs, writers do massive amounts of market research. If we’re going to pitch you ideas for content – like for blog posts, social media campaigns, or published articles – we want to make sure those ideas are going to be attractive to readers. That means digging into the questions readers are asking, finding out what people are sharing most on social media, and keeping up-to-date with the latest news stories for a timely tie-in.
Market research is all about getting to know your audience. Writers want to make sure that the piece they’re about to write is actually going to be read. More importantly, we want to make sure it’s going to be read by the specific audience you’re trying to reach. When you hire a writer, the time spent on market research translates directly into how well that content is going to serve you.
If market research is about getting to know the audience, then keyword research is about getting to know search engines and trends. Everyone searches for things in a different way. Some people speak questions to Siri or Alexa while others type short phrases into Google. So if you want your content to be found in that vast cosmos that is the internet, you want a freelance writer who knows how to wrangle keywords.
Keywords are the flickering blue light that attracts readers to your content. But Google knows that keywords are the be-all and end-all for websites and there are algorithms in place to ensure that keyword stuffing (including highly searched for terms a ridiculous number of times on a page) isn’t rewarded. So freelance writers spend a great deal of time and energy finding the perfect keywords for your content and including them in just the right places (like H1 tag, H2 tags, and body content) sparingly.
As much as we writers like to think that we know a little bit about everything, our little bits of knowledge can’t fill in-depth articles on specialized topics. That’s why we rely on interviews. Whether we need a sound bite from a top researcher or we want to include eyewitness accounts in a news piece, interviews can make a piece glow.
Given that they’re so valuable, it’s no wonder interviews are difficult to arrange. In researching a piece on reproductive medicine last year, I had to reach out to 30 specialists before I found one that could squeeze me in for 20 minutes before my deadline. However, it’s part of the job and freelance writers are willing to go that extra mile (or marathon, in some cases) to make your content extra special.
I recently wrote a piece for a new client on whether or not the omega-3 fatty acids in pumpkin seeds can help relieve children’s allergies and asthma symptoms. I don’t have allergies, asthma, or kids, so I went in blind – a common scenario for most freelance writers. After nearly three hours of research – which included reading testimonials from parents who said pumpkin seeds are magical asthma-fighting nuggets of omega-3 gold to rigorous research studies that said they’re are no better at fighting asthma than a wishing well – I was ready to write the piece.
All in all, it took me three times longer to research the piece than to write it. But I have no regrets because I was able to deliver a well-written article based on hard facts that probably saved parents of asthmatic children hundreds of dollars in pumpkin seed money.
We’re not paid because we’re experts in a specific field. We’re paid to do the research and interview the experts so that we can put together a piece that offers value and makes sense to the average reader. Sure, you could pay an expert to write a well-informed article for you, but chances are you’ll end up paying more for their experience and you’ll wind up with an article that doesn’t have the same high-quality flow that freelance writers know how to create.
When you sign a contract with a freelance writer, you’ll probably discuss how many revisions the writer is willing to do for any given piece. However, it’s important to remember that writers edit and revise their work many times before sending you the final draft. Good freelance writers don’t just type out several hundred words and send a draft to you in its most raw form.
We want our clients to think we’re perfect so they’ll work with us again, so we put a lot of time into proofreading, editing, revising, stepping away from it for a little while, and then doing it all over again. When you hire a freelance writer, your funds are paying, in part, for our obsessive perfectionism regarding everything from the Oxford comma to re-checking stats.
If you’re lucky, you work for an amazing employer who doesn’t mind offering employees decent benefits like health insurance and a retirement account. However, if you’re like us freelance writers, then you know how expensive it can get to cover those costs yourself.
Freelance writers are solopreneurs. They run every aspect of their businesses and fill the roles of bookkeeper, supply manager, marketing manager, copywriter, editor, and printer repair specialist all at the same time. Freelance writers don’t have the luxury of sick days or paid vacation, either. If we want to take a week off to visit family – or even an afternoon – we have to plan for days, possibly even weeks ahead of time to make sure our clients are taken care of and our businesses will stay afloat while we’re away from our computers.
Beautifully crafted, fact-based content doesn’t just spring up from a mystical geyser in the Iceland. As much as we freelancers would love to find such a resource, we actually have to string all those words together ourselves. But before we do, we need to know what we’re talking about, get a few expert opinions, and pay our overhead.
Then, once the piece is complete, we polish it up so it’s nice and sparkly with just the right personality before sending it on over to you, dear client. All those hours of investigation, wordsmithing, and revising are what you’re buying. Now that you’ve enjoyed a little peek behind our content-creation curtain, I hope you feel a little more comfortable the next time you click “Pay Invoice.”