How I hire writers for my niche sites on Upwork

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  31/07/2022

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I hope you haven’t given up on hiring your own team of writers yet, I know I’ve thought about quitting and just using text brokers to be done with the hassle.

But please, don’t stop just because of a few bad hires. I’m here to tell you that you CAN improve your hiring process and find the right writers for your niche sites.

Working with my own writers has allowed me to grow much faster, AND train them and give them my own templates to use, something I was never able to do with different writers from large text brokers.

It is worth it, and here’s how I perfected the hiring process, so you can too.

Here in the article I’ll explain how I use my templates to hire the best writers on Upwork for affordable rates, and you can grab in the templates in my Google drive here:

How to hire writers for your niche site on upwork

When I first started hiring, I couldn’t figure out why writers didn’t give me the content I was looking for, or why they billed me for 10 hours for an 800-word blog post.

It was because I wasn’t clear with them.

Not clear about my expectations and not clear about the guidelines, restrictions, and scope of the articles I was asking them to write.

I wasted a lot of money in the hiring process, and I wasted even more money on keeping the wrong writer on for too long, hoping they would get better (which they never did).

I realized there were a few things that are hard to learn:

  1. writing in a familiar tone, like you’re explaining a topic to someone in a bar. This turns out to be especially hard for non-native English speakers
  2. answering a question concisely for an answer target
  3. being able to understand and use tools to assist, not take over your work
  4. being able to understand search intent and what the scope of an article should be

I think these things are essential to a good blog post, at least to be able to work on our processes and what we want out of a blog post.

So I’m a pretty demanding employer, but I want great blogs that people will want to read.

This is how I find the right match for us on Upwork:

Getting the job posting right

The job posting is all important, because it is the first thing a freelancer will see before applying.

The right won’t stop the totally WRONG people from messaging you, believe me. The strangest applicants have come across my desk who totally didn’t read the job description with kind of a generic request for proposal.

But the right job posting text WILL allow the right freelancers you invite to your job post to see if it’s a right fit for them.

I will use the text to let them immediately know that this is a job for the long term.

I need a quality web content writer for my BBQ blog. The first job would be a paid test article. If satisfactory a long-term relationship can be established within a lot of niches and 5* reviews.

I focus on one job first, for my BBQ blog, but let them know there’s a lot more work to be done.

I also let them know what my expectations are towards the use of tools, because that frequently became a stumbling block later on in the hiring process, which led to a lot of hires ultimately not making the cut.

You should be able to write American English and preferably have some sample work of one or more blog niche sites that you wrote for. I also like to use the top tools of the trade like AI keyword suggestions and writing assistants and stay current with developments, so if that’s something that interests you, I would love for you to apply.

Start looking for the RIGHT freelancers for your job

There are a million freelancers on Upwork and other platforms, so it’s not a question of “is the right person out there”. It’s more about how can you find them in this ocean of mediocre talent.

We only want the best researchers, who write entertaining and well-researched content.

So it starts with finding talent that looks suitable.

But you can’t leave it up to the freelancers to find your job post. I have NEVER found a good hire from the pile of applicants that found a job post and applied themselves.


So it’s up to you to find the talent with Upworks great search functions and invite them to apply, and here’s how to find the right ones.

I look at it like this: if you can’t (or don’t take the time to) write a compelling bio on the platform, you probably aren’t going to write amazing things for us. And at the very least not constantly high-quality articles.

I look at the bio way more than I look at writing examples because the employer often taints those examples, either they have already edited it, or it’s in a style that’s just not my cup of tea.

Then I look at how many jobs they’ve completed for similar tasks and if there are any negative comments.

Negative comments are fine, some employers are just hard to work with, but you can check for patterns or remarks that you dislike as well.

Invite with a personalized message

Once you’ve found a writer that could be a good match, I suggest writing a personalized message for each invite, instead of the default message “I invite you to respond to my job posting”.

If you’re looking for any old writer, that might suffice, but if you want to hire great talent, it might be that they’re booked pretty full, so just as they need to stand out for you, you also need to put in some work to get talent.

Now, this does not always mean it should be the most expensive person mind you. Sometimes talent is cheap, living in a low-cost country, or traveling the world. Or just a rising star not on the top of the ladder yet.

But remember, you want to start a meaningful working relationship here and keep them on for a long time if they’re good.

A good working relationship and the prospect of a longstanding contract can help snare the best of the best.

So please make a good impression and write something personal, like about what you liked in their bio and why you think they’d be a good fit for the job offer.

Hi Ian, I saw your bio and really liked the way you listed your hobbies. Pretty funny, and it made you stand out to me. Please take a look at my job offer, I think you’d make a perfect fit. Thanks, Joost

This will separate you from the other job openings, and it’s a perfect first step to a good relationship.

Sifting through the responses

Not every freelancer you invite will respond, that’s just how it is. But a good 60-70% will, depending on how narrow you’ve searched with “top talent” and current “rising stars”.

In their responses, you’ll usually get a few writing examples to go through, because of the way we worded the job proposal so there’s already quite a lot there to base your decision on.

If you’ve done the searching the right way, most of the applicants will be of good quality, but if there are some that after closer inspection don’t live up to their bios, don’t hesitate to thank them for their application, but that you’re going in a different direction with this one.

Don’t make the mistake of hiring only one of the applicants that looks the best and discards every one that looks slightly less promising.

Only 1/4 of writers I let past this point ultimately make it into my team. It’s a numbers game. You have to invest a little here and hire as many promising writers for a paid test assignment as you can.

The first test assignment

For the writers I want to do a first paid test assignment with, I have a standard message to see how they’ll respond and to make everything perfectly clear beforehand.

Hi Annia Claire. I like the writing style in your pitch. You really stand out doing that, and I would love to try out an article with you, and if satisfactory more work can definitely follow. The article I need at this time is for and it’s about “Can I use my smoker in the sun?” (can you, are there things to consider like temperature, is smoking in the sun better or on a cloudy day)

I like to use this structure for a Q&A type post like this:

Please try to use it in your article. I don’t really give a maximum word count, just as much as is needed to cover the topic fully, and of course you can write your time on upwork. Most writers take between 1.5 and 2 hours for a post like this so let me know if you go over that. Can you get this done before thursday evening so I can take a look and see if you could be a good fit in our team? Thanks!

I like it light and a bit witty if you can, it’s American English with the Oxford comma. Keyword research won’t be part of your job, although I work with SurferSEO which tells you what keywords other sites are using that are ranking for this topic. You still have to use some common sense on what to include and what not to include, but let’s do this first article together and we can get into all that.

Hope we can work together and create some great content!

I let them know:

  • what I liked about what I saw in their work or application so they can do more of that when writing for me
  • that again, this is a first test for a long term gig
  • what the article is and some tips to get started writing it
  • my entire post structure my team uses for Q&A posts like this
  • what timeframe is expected of them
  • when the deadline is
  • what writing style I like

By the way, you can get all my content templates like the Q&A template and all of my blogging tips in my secrets vault

After this email, almost all writers will accept and start the task.

I always pay by the hour, but I set a maximum of 5 hours when starting this contract. You should ALWAYS do that, because I was once charged for 10 hours for an 800-word blog post, because they just kept editing and editing because there was no timeframe set.

That’s also why I now really explicitly say both deadline and expected amount of hours worked in the test assignment.

After this assignment

  • 1 out of 10 test articles will be unusable for the site, just better to scrap them altogether. Really a shame
  • 5 out of 10 test articles are okish but need so much editing that I could have written them myself in the same amount of time, and it’s clear that not going to work out
  • 4 out of 10 are pretty great, need some polishing up but are very promising

Oh, and by the way. I know some will advice you to give everyone the exact same article to write so you can compare, but I don’t do that.

I think you can judge well enough if an article is good or not to have someone go through to the next phase in hiring them, and this way you at least get a few good articles out of it for your site.

You are paying for them, so why not use them? Only 1 out of 10 is absolutely unusable, the rest are perfectly good to put onto your site and grow your content base while you’re hiring.

Bring in the tools

Before I was using tools more and more, the first test article was the last stop before deciding really if a writer would become a hire or not.

Than I started to let my writers do more and more with the tools themselves, give them a little more freedom to experiment and craft great posts, and their really happy they can put so much more into the articles.

But it also caused a lot of the hires to ultimately not be a good fit for us anymore, because they didn’t really handle the tools all that well, and that’s hard to teach getting a feeling for new technologies.

So I decided to add an extra test article in the hiring process, and now almost every writer I ultimately hire stays with us for more than two years.

That’s a long time for an industry that sees such low employee retention rates.

I first give a few tips on the first test article. Almost always on

  • how to write a better title
  • how to shorten the intro
  • how to craft an answer target for the main question so it could be a featured snippet

I introduce these critiques as helpful and immediately let the writer know I want to do more work:

I’ve changed only a few things, and I’m sharing them with you because I ‘d like to do more work with you and wanted to let you know how I like the articles to be structured.

Then, here’s my second test article invite:

I would love to do more work with you but would like to do one more test article before I decide on adding you to our team. Would you like to try writing them in the tools that we use in our process? That’s and surferSEO. If you’d like to join our team, please share your email address so I can invite you to those and share my video on how we use them in the writing process, and we can get started. If you can handle those tools and the writing is as good as this one, I’d love for you to join us.

After I receive the email address I follow up with this message:

Great, I’ve invited you to and SurferSEO. We like to use an ai writing assistant to help with creating blog post outlines. Some of the writers use it more than others, but it can come up with some interesting ideas and all of our writers say it helps them with their blog outline.

I also have a video where I explain how I work with it

And the training videos from Jasper are good to watch as well once you get started with it, so you know all of the possibilities and background of the tool.

Let me know if I can clarify anything for you and I’d love to get your feedback in using this tool as part of our process.

It might take some getting used to, that’s totally fine. Just play around with it a bit and give it time to figure out how it can assist you in your own process 🙂

The article that you can work on is: “Can you use a smoker under a tent or canopy?” Can you get this done by Monday evening so we can make the final decision on adding you to the team right after that?

The hire

When someone gets through all that and the articles are good, I definitely hire someone, and it leads to real long-lasting relationships.

I hire about 1 in 10, sometimes 2 in 10 writers from the start of this process to the end, so a lot don’t make it.

But, some of my writers have been with us for 4 years, and other newer hires for the past 2 years.

If you treat your team with the respect they deserve and allow them to grow in their role with lots of responsibilities in their writing, freedom in finding the right amicable style, and find a way to make it easy for them to see our other team members and editors so they can socialize a bit, that’s a solid foundation for a real content business.

It’s the people that make the business. I happen to choose freelancers over employees, but that doesn’t mean no one is loyal to one another.

Joost Nusselder is The Content Decoder, a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new tools en tactics. He's been working on a portfolio of niche sites since 2010. Now since 2016 he creates in-depth blog articles together with his team to help loyal readers earn from their own succesful sites.