How to Evaluate Freelance Writers

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Hiring freelancers: Is it an art or a science? It’s easy to tell a potential freelancer “no” when their grammar is beyond repair or when their test assignment comes in four days late. But what about when they do turn their stuff in on time?

That’s when the decision can get tricky, especially considering the busy demands of a content marketing team. The team at Hotjar produces 40 pieces of content a month, so editor Fio Dossetto came up with a streamlined system to assess the fit of potential freelance writers. She says the system has turned the evaluation period into something much less stressful, which has come in handy as Hotjar has scaled up its content production.

Fio walked us through her process, and she was also kind enough to share some of the documents her organization uses when evaluating freelancers. Check them out if you’re looking for a template for assessing freelance writers.

Build a Transparent Submission Process

When writers approach Hotjar, Fio and her team ask to see their previous work. Fio says she values writing style, but also takes into account the writer’s personality, even considering emails to evaluate their communications skills.

Once a potential writer clears this hurdle, Fio speaks with the writer and gives them a test assignment. It’s here where Hotjar’s streamlined submission process comes in. Fio provides each writer with three documents: a style guide, Hotjar’s guidelines for submissions and a set of questions that will be used to evaluate the submission. “We’re very upfront about the fact that this is our checklist,” Fio says. She tells freelancers to keep the checklist in mind because at the end of the assignment, it’s how they’ll be evaluated.

In addition to guiding candidates toward the house style, Fio says the checklist introduces Hotjar’s values, particularly its emphasis on transparency. “As a company, we have made a habit of publicly admitting our mistakes and when we go wrong,” she says. “We expect this element of authenticity as well in the submissions.”

Let the Checklist Guide Your Decisions

So why a checklist? Well, for one thing, Fio cops to being a person who thrives on lists. “I am naturally quite an organized person,” she says.

But she says she made the checklist to help with the most difficult part of being an editor: rejection. Like many of us, Fio has had to learn how to grit her teeth through saying no to people, and she says she sometimes found herself trying to make things work rather than simply rejecting a writer. Most importantly, though, Fio says she didn’t always feel she had the vocabulary to explain to a writer the rationale for their rejection. “When we didn’t have it, it was hard to say why somebody wasn’t working out,” she says.

The checklist, however, eliminates the more difficult aspects of negotiating the rejection process. And it’s the word “process” that’s key. Rejection, however emotional it may be, is still necessary. “It's part of the role to know what's right and what isn't,” Fio says.

Protect Your Audience

While Hotjar’s submission process has brought some objectivity to the inherently subjective art of judging writing, Fio says she doesn’t just see it as a tool to make her work easier. “It’s about protecting the brand, but it’s also about protecting the audience,” she says. “My first thought is for the person who’s reading.”

Hotjar maintains a busy editorial schedule, but Fio says pumping out content for the sake of content isn’t the goal — maintaining consistent standards is the primary focus. Hotjar aims to ensure that all of its content is actionable and brings people closer to understanding their customers or users — “because ultimately this is what Hotjar is about,” Fio says. “The idea is that every piece that gets published inspires the readers to do something that they couldn't do before reading the article.”

And when she can’t find content to meet Hotjar’s standards, she says, she waits until she gets the expected quality. “I’d rather miss the publication cadence rather than just putting something out just because we have to,” Fio says.

Lee Price is managing editor of Managing Editor and content marketing consultant at Rep Cap. She's a proud University of Virginia fan, Twizzler enthusiast and feminist. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two young daughters. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her on Twitter @leevprice.

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