My Review of for Hiring Blog Content Writers (After 2 Years)

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I’ve used Upwork to find freelance writers for the past two years. It’s my go-to medium for outsourcing written web content.

In this review of Upwork, I want to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m a fan, obviously, but the marketplace isn’t perfect. Sometimes, I get frustrated.

Let’s dive in.

Um … What Is Upwork?

Don’t kid me – you almost assuredly know what is! It’s the baby of Odesk and Elance, and is one of the largest freelance job boards in the world!

If you’re new to outsourcing written content, your best bet is a job board like Upwork. When you post your gig to a job board, writers can apply for the position. You vet the writers, pick a rate and pay schedule, and work with them one-on-one.

There are other ways to outsource content, as well. Here are two other popular options (why I don’t normally use them).

  • You could use a freelancer marketplace, like Fiverr. However, the onus is on you to sift through public profiles and pitch the writer of your choice. Lots of people have found success on Fiverr, but I prefer writers come to me, not vice versa.
  • You could also post your pitch to a content mill, like Textbroker. While this is the easiest option, I don’t recommend it. You don’t get to pick who writes your content unless you set up a Direct Order. You’re basically throwing a bouquet backward and the first writer who stretches out their hand snags it. Not a great solution if you’re looking for a long-term relationship!

P.S. I’m assuming you’re looking for independent contractors, not employees. If you want to officially “hire” a writer as an employee, you’re in for a world of hurt: worker’s compensation insurance, payroll taxes, extra bookkeeping, tax withholding. Yuck.

Upwork – What I Like

Quality of Written Content

I am consistently impressed with the quality of work on Upwork. I’ve worked with writers in the U.S., Pakistan, Spain, Albania, the UK, Australia, Germany, Slovakia, and several other countries. I’ve found most writers to be professional, dedicated, and easy to work with.

This is because Upwork has a public review system. You review your writers at the end of every contract, and they review you. When your gigs show up as job postings, your rating as a “company” is made public. So be nice!

On Upwork, I get to hire people, not positions. I’m not hiring a faceless “freelance writer, anonymous;” I’m hiring Steve, or Khadija, or Lauren. These are people with profile pictures, cover letters, resumes, etc. I can easily re-contact writers I like in the future (or red-flag writers I didn’t like).

Convenient Job Postings

I like that you can reuse job postings. Saves a lot of time! When I post a job, I only get candidates for 1-3 weeks afterward. If I want more applicants, I have to repost. So somewhat of a short half-life.

Upwork allows you to attach files to messages. That may sound a no-brainer, but many job board messaging systems don’t allow that. I like this feature because a writer can submit a file in my preferred format, and they can even append pictures or PDFs.

Filters for Finding Talent

I like that I can pick US-only or international writers. Actually, Upwork gives you A LOT of options when it comes to specifying talent. You can list preferred countries of origin, level of fluency, top-rated plus qualifications, profile hourly rate, etc. You can really winnow down the talent before you even post the job! This saves you a lot of time sifting through unqualified candidates.

I like that Upwork isn’t ONLY for writers. This might sound strange, so let me explain.

When I outsource content, I only hire “writers” with first-hand experience. I’d rather work with an unpolished writer with lots of experience rather than a wordsmith who can only draw on their research.

So I haven’t had much luck at other job boards that super-specialize in blog content creators. However, because Upwork attracts so many types of independent contractors, I get applications from all backgrounds.

Expected Pay Is Reasonable

I like that the expected pay is reasonable and competitive. Here’s a quick summary of what “going” rates are for US blog content, IMHO:

  • <2 cents/word: Garbage. Absolute garbage. Not worth your time. These are the people who write product descriptions for knockoff Amazon products.
  • 2-5 cents/word: Entry-level writers or overseas ESL authors. Will occasionally find a diamond in the rough. Hire three, because you’ll have to let one go!
  • 5-15 cents/word: Good-quality blog content, often written by professionals. Will require some light editing.
  • 15-30 cents/word: Elite-level content. Not worth paying for unless writer has extensive personal expertise!
  • >30 cents per word: I hope they’re writing for the New York Times!

I pay 3-10 cents per word depending on the level of experience, and I haven’t had a problem receiving applications on UpWork. At these rates, I don’t expect polished-and-gift-wrapped-with-a-bow-on-top content, and that’s okay. What I receive is fair for what I pay.

Upwork – What Could Be Improved 

A Variable-Rate Payment Structure, Please!

I wish Upwork had a third payment structure.

Currently, Upwork offers two methods of payment:

  1. Hourly
  2. Fixed-Price

And I don’t find that either method works perfectly for me.

Paying Per Hour with Upwork

When I pay per hour, it’s not an actual hourly contract. I only ever pay per article. So I might assign an “hourly rate” of $30, and then I tell the writer how much time to manually submit for every article. They ignore the Work Diary completely.

For instance, if a writer does a great job on the first draft and no edits are required, I always award a bonus, say, $10. If the base rate is $30/hr, then the freelancer would submit 1:20 for a total of 30 x 1.33 hours = $40.

What I like about this is the ultimate flexibility. I can award bonuses at will: for longer articles, for great performance, for original images, for unique research, etc. Instead of assigning articles as milestones, I simply assign them as To-Dos in the contract. And I can edit a To-Do whenever and however I want.

Also, the billing is simple. I am billed every Monday. That makes my bookkeeping easier.

The problem, obviously, is that I’m not actually paying per hour! It’s kind of gaming the system. And it does really confuse some new hires. Plus, I don’t have a very long window to disavow logged hours. But with milestones, I get 14 days.

Paying Per Milestone with Upwork

When I pay per milestone, I have to put my funds into escrow – which I don’t really like! I hate having my money tied up arbitrarily. I understand Upwork just wants me to prove my credibility, but couldn’t this restriction get lifted after, say, a $1,000 payout threshold? 

However, Upwork does allow you to fund per milestone, so if I want 10 articles written, I don’t have to deposit all funds at once. That’s some consolation.

Technically, I can adjust prices on the fly. But it’s a little complicated. I have to edit individual milestones, and then I have to submit the changes to the contract for joint party approval. And that’s … kind of a headache.

Sometimes I pay in incremental wage increases. For instance, I pay $30 the first article, $35 the second, $40 the third, $45 the fourth, etc. I’ve found this to be an effective strategy. It weeds out weak writers after one or two articles, and it encourages the talented ones to keep after the extra money.

But implementing this pay structure using milestones is a hassle. Perhaps I’m just a whiny little brat, but it feels like busywork, and I don’t hire writers so I can spend more clicking buttons.

More Visual Planning Aids

I would love an automatically generated Gantt chart of milestones. Sometimes, I might be working with 5-10 writers at once. Scanning every contract for every milestone is time-consuming, and I often miss one or two.

Less Expensive Fees (for the Freelancer!)

I think the initial 20% freelancer fee is too stiff. Upwork chargesa 20% fee on the first $500 earned. Now, I don’t pay the fee; the freelancer does – but I obviously must increase rates to account for the perceived loss.

(I only pay a 3% transaction fee on all billing processes).

To be honest, 20% seems … excessive. Because I only work with writers with hands-on experience, I typically can’t hire a writer for, say, 50 articles. Most people don’t have that much experience! I can usually get 5-20 articles out of a writer before we’ve exhausted their expertise.

So if I pay $50 an article, then the freelance writer is coughing up 20% of their pay for the first 10 articles (which could be their entire contract). Add another 12% for federal income taxes, and a third of their income just went POOF. Ouch.

I’d be much happier with a 10% flat rate, or a 10% + $1 per payout, or something like that. A 20% “finder’s fee” is a painful pound of flesh. Ultimately, I think Upwork can charge that much because it remains one of the most well-known job boards on the Internet. And that exposure isn’t free.

Do I Recommend Upwork for Outsourcing Blog Content?

Yes, I recommend Upwork for outsourcing blog content. Let me describe who would most benefit from the platform, I think.

  • Looking for personal relationships with your writers.
  • Willing to hire writers from around the world.
  • Wants a wide technical cross-section of applicants.
  • Doesn’t want to break the bank.
  • Wants uber flexibility for hiring and pricing.

And perhaps the best thing about Upwork is that it’s free to get started! So if you don’t like it,  you can tell ’em to take a virtual hike, and try out somewhere else.

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