3 Reasons I Never Hired This Freelancer

A hand drawn image of a hand with a thumb upside down

I want to work with a freelance writer – but this one wasn’t as good as I first thought

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been putting the word out there that I’m potentially looking for a few people to pass on some work to.  I haven’t advertised this massively, as I’m conscious of being bombarded with numerous phone calls and e-mails, but if it has come up in conversation, I’ve mentioned it and passed on my contact details.

I’ve done this before and the response was mixed, but – unfortunately – largely negative.  I received a lot of responses, but the majority of writers were simply not suitable for a variety of reasons.

Recently, I received an e-mail that initially made the writer look fantastic.  When I went back to read through their e-mail properly a second time, however, I realised that there were some glaringly obvious ‘mistakes’ that made me confident not hiring the writer was going to be the right decision and the following three reasons are some of the primary points.

1.  Their prices were too confusing and not justifiable

Setting your rate card is arguably the most difficult process any freelance writer will do.  Generally speaking, you will continually tweak and adjust it, whether that’s every few weeks or every few years, but getting a basic rate structure down to pass on can be extremely difficult.

With the e-mail I received from this freelancer, whilst their rates were what I would consider to be middle of the road (they weren’t cheap, but I’ve seen higher), the writer provided almost no evidence that they deserved to be paid that amount of money for their writing.

No explanation as to where their previous work had been published.  No details of their past writing experiences.  No information on how long they’d been writing or who they’d written for in the past.  There were a few examples of their writing and although this can be enough to ‘convince’ someone of your worth, I’ll explain more about this below.

What’s more, the writer provided almost a dozen different prices for their writing.  Blog posts.  Articles.  Website content.  Press releases.  And then an hour rate and day rate for ‘general copywriting’.

Yes, you should be able to give you your potential clients an idea as to how much a certain piece of work could cost them, but shouldn’t there be a difference between a 200 word and a 2,000 word blog post?  The same goes for website content – can you really charge by the page?  What constitutes an article and what makes it different from a blog post?

And what’s the difference between these individual prices and ‘general copywriting’?

I could of course get back in touch with the writer, but if I’ve got a few dozen potential writers to choose from, the simple fact is I’m more likely to just move on to the next writer.

2.  Their writing examples weren’t up to scratch

Attached to the e-mail were four writing examples.  The writer had explained they’d attached different pieces to showcase the different styles they’ve produced in the past.  Great.

But what they hadn’t done was double checked the pieces.  Spelling mistakes.  Grammatical errors.  Not many, granted, but still.

I’m not a stickler for grammar or typos – we all make mistakes, it’s just something that happens occasionally.  But whenever I’m trying to impress a new client, I always do my utmost to ensure the pieces are as perfect as they can be, even if that means spending just as much time – or more – proofing and editing as it does writing.

3.  They were overly formal

There’s a very good chance that this is a personal preference, but when people get in touch, I like to feel as though I’m hearing from someone personally.  I don’t want a generic e-mail or one that is so formal it makes me feel uncomfortable.

If you know my name, say so when you start the e-mail.  Explain where you’ve got my contact details from.  Give me a little information about you.  I don’t need to hear your life story, but if you’ve got an interesting link to the person who gave you my contact details, tell me it.

Saying ‘Joe Bloggs gave me your e-mail address’ will make me take notice, but saying ‘Joe Bloggs passed on your e-mail address at the weekend – I used to do a lot of writing for him when he worked at XYZ Ltd and we became good friends’ will make me think that not only does Joe believe you’re a great writer if he’s worked with you a lot in the past and felt it suitable to give you my contact details, but he must believe you’re a good, reliable person to take your working relationship to a personal one.

With the e-mail I received, it may as well have been an e-mail to their bank manager.  Dear Mr Smith.  Yours sincerely.  Direct, straight to the point information.  I understood who the writer was immediately, but the e-mail had no passion.  No personality.  It was, unfortunately, boring.

Maybe I’m too picky when it comes to hiring other freelancers, but first impressions really do count and if you get in touch and something isn’t up to scratch, what type of reflection does this have on your skills in general?

I’ve got to point out this writer was supposedly an experienced one – their portfolio could have potentially spoken for itself, but the things they put in their e-mail, when I read it again, made me realise not everything was as it seemed.

Maybe they just got a little lazy, but maybe they weren’t the writer they wanted others to believe they were.

When you’re contacting potential clients, don’t discount the value of your first e-mail or phone call.  It might only be a couple of sentences, but get those right and it could lead to a whole bunch more.

About Dan Smith

Dan Smith is a seasoned freelance writer, currently working as the SEO Specialist for digital media agency Zine.  With a strong focus on developing strategies that are based heavily on high quality content, Dan always has one eye on the customer experience and has a distinct (dis)ability of being unable to say no.


  1. Your last point, Dan, is very interesting. It has me smiling. It shows how much the business world has changed. I remember (because we all know I’m old enough 🙂 ) when a personal approach in applying for a position would have been the faux pas. 🙂

    But, I do understand – especially when it’s your work you’re passing on. Good points, Dan.

    • I think it’s a matter of finding the right balance, Cathy, largely depending upon the project.

      If, for example, you approached me asking for some work, I’d find it a little, well, odd, if you said ‘Dear Dan, I have recently discovered that you have a vacant position….’. In my eyes at least, it would be much more suitable to say ‘Hi Dan, hope you’re well. I’ve heard you might need some extra writers at the minute – is there anything I can help with?’.

      Your last point definitely summarises the aim of this post – the work another writer produces could essentially be particularly damaging to your reputation if they (or you, through hiring them) don’t get it right.

      • Good morning, Dan!
        The whole issue of the formality – or informality – of how one addresses another person these days, is a minefield.
        Being in my ‘mature years’, I would be most comfortable writing to you as ‘Dear Dan..’, but would be most hesitant about a ‘Hi Dan..’ approach. It would feel – and I have to say, would be -contrived. Not the best way to showcase one’s writing!
        I’m guessing you’re from a younger generation than me, where ‘Hi Dan..’ feels OK, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean we couldn’t work together in mutual comfort. I habitually call my marketing mentor ‘Mr Connolly’,when he is known by most as ‘Jim’. I know this caused some tension initially. Once we had got past the ‘getting to know you’ stage, it was no longer a problem. I think we work quite well together (well, it’s good for me at least!). Had he discounted me on the basis of my particular quirkiness – as might be the case in a ‘Dear Dan..’ situation – we would not have arrived at the point where we now enjoy working together…. well, I enjoy working with him, I guess you would have to ask Mr Connolly if he enjoys working with me !(jim@jim’smarketingblog.com)
        I suppose my point is that we need to remain open to differences in approach and give each other the benefit of the doubt in the first instance. I’m too old and stubborn to change my ways – even my close friends get called ‘Mr’,’Mrs’ or ‘Miss/Ms’ – but that doesn’t mean such terms can’t be also ones of affectionate respect as well as formality.
        So sorry if this is somewhat ‘off topic’, but thought I’d just get it in there in case I do decide to write to you….
        Kind regards,

  2. Passing work to another freelancer is quite similar to giving a referral, and I have found giving referrals to be a sticky problem. No matter how much I like someone on a personal level, I have to have the utmost confidence in their work, professionalism, and attitude in order to recommend them to a client. I need to know they will do a job as well as I would, or better.

    You are right to be picky, and it speaks to how much you care about your clients that you are.

    • Exactly, Dava. Just as I said to Cathy, you need to be certain the writer you hire is the right one, otherwise it could prove to be extremely damaging to your career.

  3. Very interesting post, Dan. Cathy’s comment resonates with me, because it depends who you are talking with. The more casual and personal tone is something fairly recent. My college coursework emphasized very formal queries that were highly formatted. Now I can email an editor or business owner and have it be more conversational. How we come off through our correspondence is tricky. Our own perceptions lend meaning to text even when not intended.

    • And I think that would still be the same today, Wade, as some queries do have to be particularly formal. But, like you said, an e-mail to an editor or even a business owner can be more conversational – and to a certain extent, I think this is more suitable, particularly when talking to small business owners.

  4. Now watch as your inbox gets deluged by people following these pointers, with varying degrees of subtlety 😉

    I agree that you’re right to be picky, and it might take you a little while, but that’s how you’ll get the right person for the job.

  5. LOL at the “Overly formal” part. It reminds me of freelance sites and the many cut and paste replies I get all the time. You know, the ones that say “Yes sir..” like 5 or more times!

  6. Candace nicholson says:

    Now, I don’t feel so bad about agonizing over my LOIs and queries. 🙂 I try my best to find just the right phrasing and make sure it falls somewhere between the not-too-long and not-too-short category.

    It’s interesting point though in #2. I don’t know if I’d necessarily hold it against a freelancer if one or two of their clips had minor typos, especially if it’s a published piece because those typos may not be their own. Speaking as someone who’s had typos show up in published pieces that weren’t there when I submitted them, I’d hope some hiring managers and prospective clients would consider that possibility.

    • If this were the case, Candace and my best, published clip had a typo that wasn’t my fault, I think I’d mention it in the query. You’ve often only got one shot to impress someone, so it’s important you don’t assume they’ll think the opposite to what you want them to – play it safe and spell it out to them.

  7. Good article. I used part of your post to develop my own take on why copywriters may not want to work with a client.

    I agree with the “first impressions” part. When a person ruthlessly edits their own work, it shows. It definitely communicates a level of commitment and attentiveness to detail.

    Finally, I’m with Cathy. Those of us who are of a “certain age” remember when business correspondence was much more formal. It communicated respect. However, today we can see “text-speak” enter into business communication, which to be honest, baffles me. The first word of a sentence should be capitalized. Use “you,” not “U.”

    Then again, I’m an old fart, I guess…. 🙂

    My post trackbacks to yours. (Why a Copywriter Doesn’t Want to Work With You”)

    • The more common use of text speak is something I’ll never agree with, but then again I don’t even use text speak when I’m sending a text message to my friends.

      There’s also a difference between informality and poor copy / speech – I’d never approach an editor who I hadn’t worked with before by saying ‘lol’ or not using commas properly.

  8. Well, the main reasons I have come across on why so many business owners do not want to work with freelancers is because of the writers’ high rates, and that they are not in the office, where the boss can talk to them right then and there while the projects are being worked on.

    • Perry, I admit some copywriters can be a wild bunch. The fee variance depends on many things and is known as one of the toughest parts of building a freelance business. Web page copy for a technical company is not going to be the same as for a pizza parlor. There are varying amounts of time that go into researching the target audience. For the tech company, they have several audiences: CIOs, CEOs, CFOs, and senior administrators, to name a few. Each have their own set of concerns, which must be addressed in the copy.

      A great deal of research goes into crafting the right kind of message, which is why the fee for that company is going to be higher than a pizza parlor wanting to promote their world-class, Chicago-style pizza.

      The other “hidden work” for copywriters is the constant amount of training that goes into being a top-flight copywriter. There is training out there and it isn’t cheap. Just as any other professional charges certain fees to cover the cost of their training, so do copywriters.

      Finally, as I mentioned in my post, what you’re really paying for is the value the copy brings to your business. Copywriters are salesmen in print. Sales reps get paid good money because they’re bringing in the business. Copywriters are the same except they use words to persuade since they’re not there in person. Perhaps it may surprise you to learn that direct response copywriters (who write those thick “magalogs” or multiple-page sales letters to sell a financial newsletter), get paid thousands of dollars for one package (a large sales letter) AND royalties, which can range from 2% to 5% of the paid orders.

      Ask any business who was lucky enough to find a good copywriter and they’ll say they don’t have a problem paying out those fees because it is a fraction of the profit they’re making because of that copy.

      Many copywriting fees are priced for corporations, not entrepreneurs. I’ve seen web copy projects run from $150 to $1200 per page. I’ve seen higher because often, the price depends on whether it’s simple or complex copy (such as technical or medical copy). And then finally, most freelancers tack on an extra fee if it’s a “rush job.” If someone expects a copywriter to turn around copy in less than two weeks, it’s commonly considered a “rush” project. Again, research takes time. Defining the value proposition, the target market, the emotional triggers of that market, and evaluating the competition’s sites takes time.

      Sites such as oDesk and Elance can provide copywriters who will work within a client’s budget. I’m with oDesk right now and many clients will quote their budget. It’s up to the contractor bidding for the project to agree to it or not.

      Finally, here are some common editorial rates, from the Editorial Freelancers Association: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php

      Sorry for the long-windedness. I hope something I said helped. 🙂

  9. Well, the main reasons I have come across on why so many business owners do not want to work with freelancers is because of the writers’ high rates, and that they are not in the office, where the boss can talk to them right then and there while the projects are being worked on.

  10. Sammie@AffordableSEO says:

    Good post, and good points. Especially interesting is the mention of the many different rates…I can see where that might be confusing to a client– though I think that being transparent about what the charges are right upfront is a great way to start a relationship. Clients, though, need to keep in mind that like everything else in the world, those rates are negotiable. For instance, I often discount rates when a client gives me a long-term assignment–which also cuts down on the time I have to spend marketing to find clients and additional work.

    • Definitely agree about being clear with your rates, but my reply to Candace applies here, too – don’t just assume an editor is thinking the same way you are. If there’s any chance your rates could be confusing, clear them up and make them more understandable.

  11. I think the no 3. is a very good point. A writer must have their own personality and if this doesn’t come across in their writing, even in an introductory e-mail, well then they’re not for you.

    • Exactly! Chances are if you’ve got personality in your e-mail or conversation, you’ll be able to bring that personality to your writing.

  12. Good points Dan. First impressions do really matter. It doesn’t matter whether the applicant is experienced, they have to convince you in the application and create a rapport that will make it easier for you to work with them.

    • They do and I think it’s something a lot of new writers especially forget – one query that’s well thought out could prove to be much more beneficial to 10 ‘cut and paste’-style queries.

  13. Hi, Dan!
    Now I’ve read to the bottom of the comments, I see I’m not the only one from an ‘old school’ education who might use a ‘Dear Dan..’approach. And I’ll admit I lied. I’m quite happy to be informal when the time is right!
    Thank you for such a thought provoking post – lots of useful information both in the content and comments. I am 100% with you about the need for writing examples to be ‘up to scratch’ – I recently visited the Knights Lounge at Manchester United Old Trafford Ground and was horrified to see huge wall plaques likely to have cost thousands with both spelling and grammatical mistakes. The content was good, but the overall impression was ruined – not to mention it was a poor testimonial to the author of the work.
    Happy sunny Saturday!