Define the job that needs to be done. Do you want someone who can start from scratch? Or do you have a sketch, an outline, or even a rough draft that needs a professional to organize, express your thoughts more fully and eloquently, fix the typographical and grammatical errors? Make sure you’re using the correct and consistent tense, punctuation, proper syntax. If the text is meant to be in third person, it shouldn’t stray into first person.
There seems to be a bit of confusion about the differences between editing and proofreading. And sometimes what you think is an editing job turns into a complete rewrite.
Proofreading involves checking for grammatical and typographical errors, subject and verb agreement, being consistent with a first, second or third person narrative. A few changes in word choices might be necessary, adhering to one style and usage guide, such as the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. A proofreader will catch for any words that were meant to convey one meaning but actually meant something else. Proofing is the last checkpoint that your content goes through before it gets sent off to your graphic designer or webmaster for posting on a website, emailing, or printing.
Here are the results of a poll on some of the top frustrating writing mistakes. Which one bothers you the most?
Editing involves more massaging of the text. Sentences might need to be completely rewritten, reworded. Paragraphs might need to be broken up or combined or rearranged. Facts might need to be verified. More research may be needed to expand on a topic or provide source material to support certain statements.
Rewriting involves taking something that has been written and conducting a major overhaul on the text. You may not be happy with the quality or tone of the text. New information or material may make the text outdated or obsolete.
Rewriting might also be in order if you’re repurposing the content for another publication, changing it from an article to a video or audio script, from a news story to a press release, from a resume to a LinkedIn profile. A client may want to incorporate material from a brochure or company profile into the pages of a website, perhaps for a blog, or synthesized into to a Facebook or Twitter post.
Defining the Project
How many words or pages does it need to be? If it’s a blog, 500 to 1000 words is a typical length. If it’s for a website, is it for a landing page or are you creating content that will span all the pages of the website including “About Us,” “Our Services,” “Our Staff,” product or service descriptions, and so on?
What is the intent of the piece? Is it to sell something? Explain how to do something like build a deck or bake a pie? Tell a story? Inspire people to take some action such as making a contribution, volunteering, or writing to your local representative about a political issue?
What tone should it have? Should it sound informal? Clever or creative? Inspirational? Hard-hitting? Are you selling a brand of shoes, a car or piece of furniture? Are you asking for their enrollment in a school or seminar? Do you want your reader to act on a particular piece of legislation?
Depending on your business and what the purpose of the writing is, you may want to excite or inform your reader, or entertain them. Perhaps you want a humorous piece for a blog that will get people laughing. Maybe you want them to be horrified or shocked at some social or political injustice.
One of the things I look for when I’m searching for jobs as a freelancer is the subject of the content. It surprises me how few job postings reveal this. The posting might list the number of words, what format it’s to be in, the date it’s needed, certain keywords to be used, that it needs to be uploaded to WordPress or the client’s website. What is the client is selling or promoting? If that needs to be hush-hush for the moment, how about at least telling us what type of business it is?
It’s also helpful to know who is going to be reading or viewing the content. Who is their reader? Or what different type of reader is the client trying to reach? What’s the message they’re trying to get across? The more information you can supply your freelancer, the better they’ll be able to do their job, and do it right the first time.
Extremely helpful is when the client can supply a link to their website or comparable website, product information, an attached draft, fact sheet or brochure. It’s so much easier for the freelancer to price the job or estimate the number of hours it will take to complete, and determine if they have the necessary skills to get the job done.
Portfolios filled with work samples are a wonderful way for the client to evaluate the skills of a prospective freelancer. I try to supply as many as possible. But in some cases, due to a client privacy requirements, samples of some work can’t be shared.
Some clients try to weed out the competition by listing various requirements. These can be helpful but sometimes unrealistic, such as requiring that candidates write on the level of a Pulitzer prize winner.
Another way to evaluate the skills of your freelancer is to post a test project. Most freelancers are happy to take a test. But please pay us for our time. It can be a modest fee but don’t expect us to do it for free.
I always like to get to know the client I’m working for and for them to get to know me…not discuss our life stories, but a brief chat to put a face to a name, to actually feel like there are two live people here.
A brief phone call or Skype chat can help the client better communicate the project, pass on other helpful pieces of information that were not in the job description, and get both parties comfortable with one another as they work together.
Setting and Agreeing to a Fair Price
Maybe because the competition is so fierce on web-based job marketplaces like Upwork, Elance, or Scribendi or because pay rates vary from country to country, but there’s a tendency as a client to want to pay as little as possible.
I can appreciate searching to find the freelancer with the best work experience for your project at the lowest rate, but it’s also important to understand that freelancers need to be able to stay in business, pay their bills, and get paid for the amount of time, skill, creativity and professionalism they bring to the job. In the end—to use a very trite expression—“You get what you pay for.”
I like to explain fully to my prospective clients how much time I think their job is going to take and what I have to do to get the job done. Granted, I try to work as quickly as I can, but I know my limits. I want to complete the job expertly without having to excessively rush. That’s usually when something gets overlooked, or I’m not able to provide the best quality work.
For example, maybe I need to factor in the time it takes to conduct research, or contact someone for an interview or a quote, get more information, or gather material for a personal profile. That’s the job of an editor or rewriter, not a proofreader, by the way. A different skill level and turnaround is required.
Freelancer rates will also vary based on their skill level and experience. They may have expertise in a particular niche that matches your project. Someone may have just entered the freelance writing field while someone else has been at it for years. Be sure the rate factors in how quick a turnaround is required.
There you have it, information you can use the next time you prepare a project listing. I guarantee it will make your hiring experience go more smoothly, eliminate a lot of guesswork, and you’ll come away a satisfied client.