"Freelancers are flakes." How many times have you heard that warning from colleagues who got burned by a project that ended up costing twice the anticipated amount, took a year instead of a week to complete or just ground to a halt mid-job?
People sometimes cut freelancers a weird amount of slack that they wouldn't give their own employees, especially the ones who perform creative work: "Oh, those right-brain eccentric artists, they march to a different drum and we're just lucky they come down to Earth once in a while to help us regular folks." But freelancers aren't flakes, or at least they don't have to be. The successful ones take their freelancing seriously and run it as a business instead of a lark. They tend to stand out, if only by outlasting the dilettantes. Unfortunately, the serious ones still suffer from the flakiness of the less-serious ones who give the profession an apparent case of terminal dandruff.
Watch out for these red flags when dealing with a freelance copywriter:
The unknown price tag. Beware the freelancer who refuses to give you a firm quote for a job before starting work. For many of us who charge flat per-project rates for most of our jobs, this issue never comes up. But even if your freelancer bills by the hour, you should still insist on a realistic estimate of what you'll pay, even if that estimate falls into a range. a freelancer who has no clue what a job will cost probably has no clue how to go about it efficiently either.
Excuses, excuses. There's always a good reason not to get a project done on time, and some freelancers want to make sure you hear all of them. "Sorry this is a month late, but my dog came down with mange and my kid's having attitude problems and I had to get my tires rotated and the recent spell of bad weather has deprived me of Vitamin D and...." Some of these excuses may even be legitimate. But even if there's always a reason the work is always late or sub-par, the end result is still late or sub-par work.
"My way or the highway." Ideally, your freelance copywriter knows a great deal about how to achieve the results your business wants and needs -- possibly more than you do, in fact. It's great when you find an expert who can give you a fresh perspective on your marketing content. On the other hand, you don't want a know-it-all who insists on an approach that simply doesn't feel right to you. Ultimately the client is the boss, for better or for worse. If your freelancer doesn't understand that, go find another one who does.
So what should you look for in a freelancer? A portfolio of strong samples, a solid track record, recommendations from satisfied clients and clear ground rules. Always ask about the freelancer's billing and work processes, turnaround times and availability. If they're booked solid, they should tell you so. (Of course being booked solid counts as another a promising sign, and even if you may have to wait a bit, the freelancer should be able to tell you about the next available opening.)
Get hard numbers and hard deadlines, and hold your writer to them. The good ones will make every possible effort to deliver as promised. As for the flakes -- well, you don't put up with dandruff, do you?