Best Practices for Finding Freelancers: Top Go-To Sources of Talent

video marketingContent is king, as the saying goes, and that’s certainly true in a digital world. Consumer appetite for content is at an all-time high and continuing to grow. That’s great for organizations that have well-oiled content creation teams in place to meet the demand. For others, though, developing content on a regular basis that is high-quality and focused on issues and topics that resonate with their audiences can be a challenge. The gig economy can help. A wide range of freelancers and contract content creators are available to organizations to help produce content for any format.

Common Sources of Freelancers

I posted the question, “Where do you find freelancers?” on HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and ProfNet and received 48 responses from a wide range of businesses with varying content needs. While not a statistically reliable sample, it’s clear that of the many options available for sourcing freelance talent, Upwork has the highest level of awareness among potential employers or clients—20 of the overall responses, compared to eight for the next-highest mentioned source, Fiverr. But then mentions drop down to only three for sources including Guru, Craigslist, and LinkedIn and two for Google search, personal referrals, and Facebook groups.

Blaise Ramsay, owner of FyreSyde Publishing, says, “As a small press, our company relies on freelancers to handle many of the various steps in publishing that we do for our authors. Some of our freelancers have provided content like sell sheets for our books and book descriptions for Amazon.” Ramsay has used sites such as Fiverr, Upwork, Elance, and Indeed. They serve different needs, she says. “Upwork is typically the place to go when looking for written content like ghostwriting, editing, etc., while Fiverr is a large source of graphic and logo design.” When reviewing potential freelancers, Ramsay says she pays attention to ratings and feedback. “If we find the ratings are constantly high and feedback is positive, we generally make a list of the freelancers we want to contact.”

Rex Freiberger, managing partner of Gadget Review, a technology and lifestyle publication with more than 50,000 product reviews and ratings, has hired freelancers from a variety of places (including Indeed, LinkedIn, Upwork, and, he says, “even Craigslist”). One, though, that he says doesn’t get enough credit, is Fiverr. “I wrote this site off at first because, obviously, no work worth having done is going to get done for $5,” he says. “But the site has expanded since its inception, and many freelancers have set up shop with full packages expanding on very basic services. I’ve found some incredible freelance artists through this service, and the ability to select add-ons allows me to tailor my order to exactly what I need.”

Buyer Beware

The freelancers are out there—lots of them. And their numbers are growing exponentially, especially as many organizations—including traditional publishers and newspapers—are furloughing, laying off, or terminating staffers because of both the pandemic and declining subscriber numbers. There are, says Nancy Van Brunt, senior director of talent success at Upwork, 57 million workers freelancing in the U.S., according to the company’s research. The sheer number of potential freelancers available, of course, can make the vetting process challenging.

John Moss is CEO of English Blinds, based in the U.K. Online marketplaces and gig economy sites such as Fiverr and Upwork, Moss states, tend to show up first for those searching online for content writers. “However, these rarely fulfill the purpose for businesses looking for top-level creators who are reliable and have the requisite skills and qualifications,” he cautions. “Cheap copy is cheap for a reason, and low-cost talent brokerages of this type host the good, the bad, and the ugly—with the onus on the latter two!”

The risks, he says, can include “plagiarized copy, poor spelling and grammar, an inability to follow briefs and meet deadlines, and a high level of transience and poor reliability. The occasional competent creator who starts up their freelance career on such sites soon moves on.” Moss recommends professional guilds and directories as better places to look for talent and recommends “choosing creators with a well-established online presence, proven track record, public portfolio of relevant content, and available testimonials.”

For example, one organization that I’ve been a longstanding member of is the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). Its stringent requirements for members mean that those seeking freelance help are likely to find the high-quality services they’re looking for without having to wade through an overwhelming number of potentially unreliable options. Its Freelance Writer Search service allows those with the need for writers, editors, and editorial project managers to post a free job listing.

Vetting Freelancers

Still, despite some caveats, many of those seeking freelance help have found success through Upwork. They need to pay attention to some important details, though, and be thoughtful and selective when choosing freelancers, says Van Brunt. “The process takes a bit of work, but the extra effort should improve your success at finding the right writer that you can return to again and again for your ongoing needs,” she states. She offers the following tips:

  • Create a compelling job post—Experienced professionals are selective about the client they take on, she says. Consequently, it’s important to provide details, including being explicit about your budget to attract more qualified freelancers. She says your post should answer three questions: What do you need done? When do you need it? And what are the start and end dates for your project?
  • Ask for samples—Samples of work are a common expectation, so any freelancer with experience should be able to provide them. “Pay attention to how they’ve structured the piece, voice and tone, topic comprehension, and their grasp on the target audience,” Van Brunt recommends.
  • Schedule a video interview—Upwork’s platform offers this option, Van Brunt says, and allows users to “see the candidate’s body language and hear their tone of voice.”
  • Give a test project—Test projects, says Van Brunt, “will give you an apples-to-apples comparison” and a sense of what various freelancers will be like to work with. Importantly, she recommends, make sure these are paid projects “at a fair rate.” She adds, “Give each writer the same project and be sure to provide a clear project description with deadlines and deliverables.”

Van Brunt also recommends avoiding some common red flags, for instance, “cookie-cutter responses to your job post, grammatical errors, and delays in response times.” She suggests including an item in your posting such as, “Please include your earliest availability for an interview.” This, she says, “can give you helpful information while also confirming that they’ve paid attention to the details in their response.”

“Never lose sight of the fact that you get what you pay for, and great copy doesn’t come cheap, whichever way you shake it down,” says Moss. “However, it will pay for itself many times over in the medium to long term, and is a meaningful investment in your business’s success.”


About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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