What do content writers and cable companies have in common?

Answer: Low expectations.

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. You rearrange your whole day so you can be home during your assigned four-hour window…and then the cable guy is either an hour early or five hours late. And, once they do show up, things like being polite and actually fixing the problem are considered bonuses.

There’s a stereotype about the “creative personality” that leads to similarly low expectations. It’s just assumed that deadlines are suggestions and returned calls are bestowed only upon the very worthy.

Honestly, though, the stereotype of the “creative personality” is only part of the problem. The rest of the blame goes to the proliferation of low-paying online writing gigs. It’s commoditized content to the point where a lot of clients think that a writer is a writer is a writer — and that holding out for a good one is about as hopeless as expecting the cable guy to show up on time.

I call BS.

When I first started my business, I did two things that blew my clients away: I always met deadlines, and I submitted clean copy that needed little, if any, editing.

It’s pretty sad when freelance content writers are evaluated by the same standards as the cable company, with clients being pleasantly surprised by what should be the bare minimum.

While it’s true that you get what you pay for, there are some things you shouldn’t have to put up with, no matter what. Because professionalism and responsibility shouldn’t be optional.

Missed deadlines

Sure, anybody can have the occasional emergency. But I’m talking about freelance content writers who treat deadlines as suggestions.

Unfortunately, some people have dealt with so many unreliable writers that they think missing deadlines is the norm. It’s not. If you can’t count on your writer, find a different one.

Slow response times

There are two types of freelance content writers (well, probably more, but let’s keep things simple): Those who do it because they want a carefree, unfettered lifestyle where they answer to no one and can work in their underwear, and those who realize they’re running a business.

You want the latter. Don’t put up with a slow response time just because the person is a writer; if you wouldn’t take it from your accountant, don’t take it from your content writer.

Annoyance at reasonable revision requests

I’ve worked with clients who completely change the parameters of the project midstream and call it “revisions.” Writers who want to stay in business have to know where to draw the line. But if you’re working with a writer who moans and sighs at reasonable revisions…just stop.

You don’t have to put up with that. You want a writer who sees their content as a product and is committed to providing you, the customer, with exactly what you want.

Not following directions

Full disclosure: There have been more than a few occasions when I didn’t follow directions. But that was when the directions didn’t make sense — for whatever reason, the content just wasn’t going to work that way — and I always either got permission ahead of time or provided an explanation as to why I veered away from the directions.

That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a consistent pattern of wondering if the writer even read the content brief.

No, that’s not typical, and, no, you don’t have to put up with it.

Lack of initiative

This may seem kind of contradictory, but bear with me. Unless you’re the only perfect person on the planet, you’re eventually going to ask for something that doesn’t quite make sense. You don’t want a writer who will deliver dumb content just because you gave dumb directions.

You want a writer who will point out the problem and, ideally, suggest a way to overcome it.

Persistent carelessness

I’m not immune to typos; no matter how many times I proofread, one does slip through occasionally. But carelessness and sloppy work are a whole ‘nother thing (that’s Southern-speak).

If you’re constantly having to correct your writer’s copy, you need a new writer (one who responds to a typo with abject mortification).


This should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. There is no excuse for plagiarism. Ever. When you start working with a new writer, run everything through Copyscape until you’ve established a level of trust.

Fixation on word count

Unless you’re Twitter, word count should be a target, not an inflexible rule. You want a writer who writes what needs to be written.

What you don’t want is a writer who pads with useless fluff just to reach a minimum word count — or a writer who leaves out important information so as to not go over the word count. This is why I recommend hiring writers who charge by the project or retainer rather than by the word or by the hour.

When you charge by the project, the content is as long as it needs to be — no more, no less.

Using unreliable sources

In many cases, I spend more time researching my content than I do writing it. Depending on my familiarity with the topic, it could be as much as 75/25. That’s huge. But one reason it takes so much time is because I’m committed to using only reliable sources. No Wiki, no sources that are clearly opinionated or biased, etc.

Sure, sometimes I find just the bit of info I need on an iffy source. When that happens, I try to verify it through a more credible source. If I can’t do that, I leave it out. Don’t put up with a writer who seizes on that first source, even the author is clearly bat-### crazy.

Writers come at all different price ranges and levels of expertise, and you really do get what you pay for. But if you’ve gotten to the point where the things on this list seem like the norm, it’s time to raise the bar. Working with a content writer shouldn’t be more of a pain than writing the content yourself.


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