Content Strategy

Ready to Hire a Freelance Editor? Read This First

Cierra Loflin
July 18, 2022

A few months ago, I cold-pitched a company to create content on a regular basis. The company already had an “SEO guy” creating briefs based on keyword research and provided 15-20 articles per month. The Head of Content suggested I could write 1-2 high-quality pieces per month and edit the keyword-focused, lower-quality articles.

I asked for a link to a sample article, and the draft they sent was beyond repair. It had no thesis, wasn’t structured well, and the writing didn’t flow. As I told the client, the article needed a complete rewrite.

The Head of Content thought he needed a copyeditor who could rework these low-quality articles to be on-brand and with a unique angle. But in reality, the company’s content workflow needed an entire revamp. They were trying to apply editing to the post-production phase rather than the pre-production phase, where they really needed it.  

Many teams bring on editors as an insurance policy—one last check before the piece goes out the door. That can work if your process is sound, but not if your content has unclear weak spots. Hiring a freelance editor only makes sense when you have a solid workflow and know where they’ll enhance it.

Fix your broken workflow first

A workflow is everything that happens from the initial idea to publication. The content workflow at Superpath follows the 30/90 writing model from Animalz with editing, revising, and feedback at both stages.

superpath workflow

It’s better to have the entire content process owned by one or two highly competent people, like a skilled writer and a managing editor. When too many leaders are involved, like a VP of strategy, SEO manager, and content manager, the writing process can get slowed down and the finished product diluted.

Before hiring another person to improve your content, you need to figure out where the editor will come in to enhance the process. As the old saying goes, “don’t throw people at problems”– more people creates more complexity.

Do you need someone to tear up a piece and give detailed feedback at the 30% stage? Ryan Law calls this “a creative sparring partner."  Or do you need someone to fine-tune and ensure everything adheres to the style guide at the 90% stage?

Editors aren’t mind readers. Establish from the get-go whether you want your editor to challenge your ideas or just improve the articulation. In either case, the best writing happens when the writer owns the quality of their work and is prepared to defend their ideas.

Decide if you need a Developmental or Copyeditor

Editing can be tricky or downright impossible when you come into the process too late. Developmental editing is one of the most important types of editing and is rarely outsourced. It involves creating briefs, restructuring outlines, and developing topical ideas and strong thesis statements.

If you’re the in-house marketer doing this, you can set the writer up for success by ensuring the high-level structure of the piece looks good. Editors can use Loom or Zoom to give high-level feedback rather than filling a Google Doc with comments, which can be overwhelming for writers.

“It’s much harder to edit content with structural problems or a piece without a clear thesis or argument in the post-production phase,” explains Kieran Tie, Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Chatty. Those kinds of issues are a lot easier to fix earlier in the process in the brief or outline stage.

Chatty tries to combat this issue by giving clients detailed, in-depth feedback if a piece needs a complete rewrite. But at that point, so much time and resources have been wasted that all parties involved feel quite disheartened.

The copyeditor or proofreader does a final check before publishing. Don’t make the mistake of hiring a copyeditor when you really need a developmental editor. A final-stage edit can’t turn poor-quality writing based on weak ideas into engaging and valuable content.

A copyeditor does the following at the 90% stage of the draft:

  • Adhering to the style guide
  • Formatting & restructuring sentences
  • Checking for punctuation & grammar
  • Fact-checking
  • Optimizing for SEO

Know where to find editors

Once you know what type of editor you need, you can start scouring the web. There are plenty of alternatives to finding a freelance editor on Upwork or Fiverr, which can often be a cheap but inefficient solution.

Sourcing is especially important in a technical industry like software communications or enterprise applications. An editor without experience won’t be able to act as your ‘first line of defense’ for correctness – they will only be able to check for grammar and other small mistakes.

where to find freelance editors

Budget based on pricing and rates

There are many factors that influence pricing, such as how long a piece will take the editor to edit, the quality of the writing in the original piece, and the complexity of the topic. For example, an experienced B2B editor may charge more to edit a blog post on a topic like automation than an editor doing general copyediting.

You can check the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association) as a starting point for rates:

EFA proofreading rates
EFA developmental editing rates
EFA copyediting rates

Hourly

As you might imagine, hourly rates can vary widely. An experienced editor like Afoma Umesi charges a minimum of $60 per hour, but there’s still some complexity within that hourly rate.

“How long a piece will take to edit changes based on how complex the topic is. If I were editing a lighter piece on fashion, I could be done in an hour, but something more complex like B2B sales automation could take two to three hours,” she says.

With hourly pay, there is some level of uncertainty regarding the final price, but a good rule of thumb is that more technical editors will charge higher rates.

Project-based

Rather than paying per hour, you may prefer a set rate for every piece. For example, Chatty charges $80 for editing a 1200-word blog post, while EditorNinja charges $.035 per word, with an average cost of $50-$80 per piece.

With both hourly and project-based rates, the on-demand style means you only pay for what you need. The main drawback is the one-off pricing commoditizes editors and may not really incorporate them into your workflow.  

Monthly

Most marketplaces and freelancers also offer a monthly subscription payment structure for brands or agencies with a high volume of content to edit. Chatty charges $895/mo for 15k words, and Editor Ninja charges $499/mo for 8k to 18k words.

If you’re looking for a developmental editor, both companies also offer a part-time managing editor who can be incorporated into your workflow.

Don’t forget these three things:

Once you’ve decided on a payment structure and the type of editor you need, there are a few things you should do to set the relationship up for success.

1. Run an initial test project

“Do a trial edit because feedback can be so subjective. You might get one editor that leaves almost no comments, and a second editor that completely tears the piece apart and gives you a ton of actionable feedback,” Kieran says.

As I mentioned earlier, content managers and heads of content need to figure out what will help improve their content most – someone who will give a critical bird’s eye view in the initial stages or someone to zoom in on the details at the final stages.

2. Create a style guide

Without a style guide, the copyeditor you hire will have to make educated guesses as they tweak the draft, which won’t help with consistency.

What to include:

  • Types of content your company publishes
  • Your ideal tone and brand voice
  • Customer personas
  • Grammatical preferences
  • SEO preferences

Since this is by no means a comprehensive list, you can read more on style guides if you’re in the process of creating your own.

3. Incorporate the editor into your workflow

Going back and forth with your editor will be much easier if you add them to your collaboration system. We use a simple Airtable grid with a Kanban and calendar view at Superpath to keep track of deadlines, authors, and links to Google Docs.

You can also try Asana, Monday, or another tool. Keeping everything in one place cuts down on email chains and makes your workflow more efficient.

Hire a freelance editor when you know where they fit in your workflow

Before hiring an editor, audit your recently published content and find areas for improvement. If your content isn’t aligning with your brand voice or there are problems with correctness, you likely need a developmental editor to come in at the ideation and initial outline stages.

If there are typos, grammar issues, and incorrect links, you probably need a copyeditor in the 90% phase. Most companies outsource copyediting and leave the earlier stage to an in-house content manager, but getting a developmental editor to come in at the pre-production stage might give your content the lift it needs.

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