Freelance business writing notebook and laptop
Mar 19, 2009
Amanda O'Donovan

How to Choose a Freelancer

Google freelance writing services and you’re likely to be spoilt for choice. Narrow your search by geography and you’ll still have more options than you can handle. Lurking amongst the search results you’ll find a selection of the good, the bad and the ugly. So, how do you make sure that the copywriter you choose is right for your project? In most cases, instinct and common sense will serve you well, but the following checklist may also be useful:

Content, Medium and Audience

Before you start your search, make sure you’re clear about the type of content you want to create, how you’ll deliver it and who will consume it. Are you looking for help with a variety of marketing communications projects, or do you need to find a subject matter expert who can write a whitepaper? Does your project focus on print or digital media? Who are you addressing, what is their level of expertise and what information are they looking for? When you’re clear about the purpose of your writing project, you’ll be better able to direct your search for a writer.

Project Scope

Are you looking for help in a copy crunch or trying to find a writer of record to work with regularly? When you start interviewing writers, you’ll need to be clear about the nature of the relationship and the volume of work involved.


Freelance copywriting rates vary considerably, from $50/hour at one end of the scale to around $150/hour at the other. In most cases, you get what you pay for, so beware of shopping in the bargain basement. In Toronto, expect an experienced corporate copywriter to charge between $100 and $120/hour. In many cases, hourly rates are simply useful as a benchmark to compare different writers. As budgets are finite, most writers would expect to quote you an overall project fee.

It’s important to know that the fee you pay is not just for the time spent writing. A good writer will also budget time for research and review. Some experts suggest that effective writers will spend up to 75% of their time on planning, research and revisions, and only 25% committing words to the page.


Although an Internet search may be a good way of exploring your options, the best way to find a great writer is by referral. Scour your network for suggestions, and spend time understanding the reasons for a referral. It’s important to make sure that the recommendations you receive coincide with the requirements for your project. Ask about writing style and also about working style, responsiveness and attention to deadlines etc.

Website and Portfolio

Spend the time exploring writers’ websites. The way writers present themselves online will often be very revealing. Pick through portfolios to check for writing expertise that coincides with your project brief. And take a look at client testimonials to find out why people value the writer’s skills.

Business Savvy and Common Sense

While there’s no substitute for common sense, make sure your writer can demonstrate good business sense too. If your project also requires subject-matter expertise and industry knowledge, ask the writer to provide you with examples of past work that will match your needs. Also, when you interview a writer, take note of how many questions he or she asks. More insightful and informed writers are likely to ask you questions and make suggestions.

Cultural Fit

It’s very important that you pick a writer who you’re going to feel comfortable working with. When you outsource, you’re creating a collaborative project between yourself, the writer and probably a number of content providers within your organization. Engaging a writer is more than a handoff…you’re in this together. If you’re working on a sizeable project, or creating a long-term relationship, it’s particularly important that your writer’s personality is compatible with your company culture.

Terms and Availability

Before you engage a writer for your project, make sure you are both clear about terms and timelines. A freelancer is likely to be working on a number of projects at once, so you need to know about availability and how that will affect deadlines. Make sure you are both aligned on briefing process. Will you be able to provide the writer with existing source documents, links to relevant websites, access to subject matter experts, time for brainstorming and interviews? How will you communicate with each other? Do you prefer face-to-face meetings, emails, phone calls, messaging – or a combination of these? You should be clear about the number of rounds of revisions you expect from a writer and be able to give some indication of how quickly you will be able to review the content your writer submits. When clients ask me how long it takes to turn a project around, they are often unaware of how many delays there can be on their end, due to the number of people involved in the review process, varying workloads, vacation schedules etc.

As with any business venture, planning is important. By devoting time to research, by asking a series of careful questions and by setting out the parameters of your collaboration, you’re more likely to find yourself working with an excellent writer. And that’s time well spent to avoid costly and time-wasting mistakes, which could derail your project when you can least afford it.


Amanda O’Donovan is a Toronto-based freelance business writer.You can contact her at 416 456 3859 or