What Makes Good Freelancers and What Makes Me the Troll Under the Bridge

As many of you know, I own a content marketing agency. I have been in business since March 2010. I have been hiring freelancers since day one. I have learned a ton in these nine years.

In that time I have hired hundreds of freelancers. The overwhelming majority of them haven't worked out for a variety of reasons. I'm going to share many of them because I think you should see how clients see the business of hiring.

I can tell you hiring numerous freelancers who don't work out has me viewing freelancers differently from the way freelancers see themselves and how freelancers see other freelancers.

In order of most prevalent to least, these are the reasons freelancers don’t make it to my team.

  1. Flakey
  2. Late with work
  3. Poor communication
  4. Work is sloppy
  5. Didn’t pay attention to the instructions / brief given
  6. Divas / difficult to work with / not a team player

Here Flake, There Flake, Everywhere Flake Flake

In the 9 years since I started my agency, the number 1 reason I let freelancers go is because of they come down with repeated bouts of flakeitis. They take work and either don’t turn it in or they turn it in days, even weeks late.

And I have heard every excuse in the book to explain away the flakiness. I am rarely moved by the reasons freelancers have given me over the years because I’ve heard them before. I only pay attention after they’ve proven themselves to be reliable.  Of the hundreds of freelancers I have let go, easily 75% of them were due to being flakes.

Late ... Again

Late with work isn’t the same as flakey. Some freelancers are habitually late. In the same way I have adopted the Puerto Rican approach to being on time to parties (we are notoriously late everywhere), some freelancers take the same approach to turning in work. If I like the freelancer, I will purposely move the deadline to keep them from being late. If I don’t, bye bye!

Poor Communicators

I don’t get how a writer is a non-communicator. We’re communicators by default so when a freelancer doesn’t communicate with me, I’m left to scratch my head. I am quite literally baffled. If an assignment doesn’t work for you, talk to me! I’m not an ogre. I am actually extremely nice—until I get jacked by a freelancer who pulls one or all of these infractions. Just talk to me!

Sloppy Work

I can forgive a lot of non-writers. Call me nuts but I have extremely high standards and expect exceptional writing, grammar, punctuation and syntax of writers. I don’t think I need to explain this further, do I?

Can You Follow Directions?

Not paying attention is irksome. Clients write briefs so they’ll be adhered to. It’s a pain in the ass when the article is completely wrong and had the freelancer bothered reading and paying attention to the brief, it wouldn’t have happened.


Photo credit: Ross Hawkes

Miss Piggy is a Beautiful ... Flake

I don’t appreciate it when someone I’ve hired to complete a job becomes a diva, is difficult to work with or can’t work well with a team. I own an agency. We all work remotely and we rely on each other to do their part to get things done. One weak link fucks up the entire line. I check in once to see what’s going on and why a freelancer isn’t working well with the team and if I have to repeat myself, bye bye.

It's great to be as beautiful as Miss Piggy but don't emulate her divaness. 🙂

As an agency owner I have two huge commitments:

  1. Keeping my freelancers happy, feeling respected and listened to because my business is nothing without reliable and talented freelancers
  2. Keeping my clients happy, which means we have to work together as a team to turn in flawless work on time or early

I am sharing this with you as a courtesy. I am a freelancer, and I get how freelancers work but many clients don’t get it. Clients hire someone and don’t understand why they are dealing with any of the five issues I raised. They haven’t worked with freelancers long enough to know this is how most freelancers are.

I pose this question to you. Don’t you want to be the freelancer who stands out and delivers excellence all the time? There’s so much debate about rates but less attention is paid to the real reason freelancers have a hard time commanding the higher rates. Talent alone doesn’t get the job done. You must bring your A game each and every time you accept a freelance assignment.

I have hired several freelancers from this binder and most of you haven’t worked out. It pains me to the core when I have to tell a freelancer I am letting them go—mainly for reasons that are completely within their control.

It's a pretty simple concept: Don't be a flake, turn in your work on time, follow directions, don't come up with elevendy million excuses and don't be a diva. Don't do those things and it's all good. Be that freelancer who gives us all a bad name and I'm that troll under the bridge.


Photo credit: Tara Hunt

I started freelance ghostwriting in September 2009. A little late by some standards, given my age at the time (42) but I was reinventing myself after serving a 20 to life sentence in corporate America. I didn’t have any professional writing experience when I started and I had to do a lot of on-the-job training. Every time I learned something, I made note of it and tried not to make the same mistake twice.

While I was registered with Elance (an online bidding platform that matched clients with freelancers that no longer exists) I was very active and visible. I was a member of their 10-person panel they tested new features on before they rolled them out site wide. I wrote a regular column for their blog designed to help freelancing newbies.

I established my content writing agency a year after I started freelancing and went from a freelance force of one to an agency owner.

None of this means I'm an expert. It just means I have many years' experience as a freelancer and I'm hoping some of my advice can be helpful to you.

If you have a question ask here.