Why I Have Changed My Hiring Practices

In addition to being a freelance writer (and recently a published a book author), I have owned a content marketing agency called Coquí Content Marketing, LLC since June 2010. We provide a variety of services (mostly writing and social media management) to our clients, whose companies span a few industries:

  • Addiction and mental health
  • Social services
  • Health

As you can imagine, I get a lot of requests to hire people. Friends, friends of friends, LinkedIn connections, people I know from the many online networking groups I am a member of and strangers. Of course I also solicit and find writers on my own. Over the last six years, I have hired at least a hundred writers. I have learned a lot about hiring in that time and some lessons I have had to, unfortunately, re-learn because I get talked into something or I believe this time will be different.

I used to hire only experienced and/or talented writers and I learned the hard way that this got me into deep trouble. Over time I determined that I could put content writers into four categories (note: this only applies to content writers):

  1. Young and fairly inexperienced, never worked in a corporate setting, and as a result guaranteed to come down with a case of flakeitis—always as a deadline is approaching
  2. Very experienced, with issues (usually emotional) that manifest in the form of flakeitis or worse ... a diva who feels they can call the shots (telling me deadlines have changed, upping the price without notice and holding work hostage until I pay the new rate and other "fun" tactics)
  3. Older, talented, but not a lot of professional writing experience, has worked in an office setting
  4. Very experienced, highly professional and out of my price range

Unfortunately with the highly experienced and professional but out of my price range writers I have to rule them out right away. This writer has been published multiple times and believes content writing pays the same as published bylined writing or technical writing. Quite often there is a huge divide and I have to respectfully decline. They're polished and know how to meet deadlines for sure, but at a dollar or more a word, it's not what most clients will pay for ongoing content work.

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/flakedizzle1/

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/flakedizzle1/

With very, very few exceptions (Cathy Habas, who's been with me over three years, comes to mind), I have lived to regret hiring anyone who's young and inexperienced who didn't come from a corporate setting. Cathy knew when she graduated from college that she didn't want to work in an office and she immediately started freelancing. I think what keeps her from developing a case of flakeitis is that she already owns a home with her mother and knows if she doesn't earn money, she won't eat or pay her mortgage. She's young, but more mature than most in her age group.

Writers from the young and inexperienced category spend a lot of time coming up with excuses why they can't do what they promised to do. My favorites to date are:

  1. "I was bitten by a brown recluse spider and I have to spend the next few days in the hospital." I almost believed her but she forgot she was my friend on Facebook and that she neglected to remove me from her status update the morning that praised her boyfriend for whisking her off to Las Vegas for an impromptu long weekend.
  2. "I broke my back." Is that why you were on Facebook parading around in 4.5" heels at a movie premier?
  3. "My computer came down with a virus, which jumped to my boyfriend's and to both our smartphones." Explain how that works, exactly?
  4. "It's really humid here today and it's affecting my Internet." Honey, you're talking to someone who lives in the tropics. Minnesota may get humid for a few days during the summer, but trust me, you got nothing on the tropics where we hover between 80 and 85% all year round.

Numbers 2, 3 and 4 came from the same 22-year-old. I understand she's now a nanny. She's a very talented writer if you can get her to actually write.

The very experienced, usually with issues is the one I have been fooled by a few times. Seemingly professional, with a lot of experience, with a great writing style and someone I can afford, why wouldn't someone want to hire this person? There are only so many times I can excuse a Diva or someone who feels they're the boss. I keep a pretty relaxed atmosphere around here and see myself as part of a team not like I am the grand dame calling the shots—it's just not my style. I also can't deal with people who have to remind me every ten minutes why I am so fortunate to have found them.

When I started hiring on the basis of personality and talent, but without a ton of professional writing experience and who'd worked in an office setting of some kind, the caliber of writing dramatically increased and I stopped having to deal with flakes. I still have some writers who've been with me for four or more years. Nathan Falde has been with me since June 2010 and he was my second hire. The first didn't work out so well, but we're friends now, which is a good thing.

My problem comes when I have repeatedly made the mistake to hire friends or friends of friends.

Believe me, it's tempting to hire friends and friends of friends. Why not? We're already friends or you've come highly recommended by a friend we have in common—what could go wrong?

With five exceptions: Cynthia Sass, Gwen Mattson, Brandy Miller, Heather Rolland and Miguel Rios de Leon, all other friend or friend of friend hires have been disasters of Hindenburg proportions and I have lived to regret it. What inevitably happens is that I think we can move fluidly from friends to colleagues and when necessary, client / boss and freelancer / subordinate, but I find out the hard way that not everyone can. I am a different person when I am beholden to my clients than I am when we're in friend mode. Cynthia, Brandy, Heather, Gwen and Miguel got this implicitly and working with them was always smooth and my friendship with all five of them has thankfully remained intact. Some did fine in the beginning but as time wore on it became clear that it was difficult for them to maintain the balance and be able to switch from one to the other and back again.

I know it's me. I don't just expect that work be exceptional but that it's on time and that people are accountable. And lines can become blurred when it's unclear which relationship takes precedence—personal or professional.

The problem is that if I am put in a position where I have to choose between a client—especially a long standing one—and a friend who's repeatedly late or being a flake, it's a no-brainer and I end up having to let my friend go, whom I now regret hiring against my own better judgment. Please excuse my language but it fucks me up for a week or two after I have to let anyone go. Needing to let go a friend turned colleague can fuck me up for weeks or a month.

This scenario never ends well and the friendship is never the same—sometimes it's irretrievably lost.

So if you are a friend and you're thinking of hitting me up for a job for yourself, your girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, buddy, daughter, son or cousin, please don't ask. While you may think I am being mean and not thinking about the friendship (don't I realize you / your cousin / partner / child need(s) a job?), you need to know it is exactly the opposite. I am protecting it because I have been here before. Know that I value it too much to mess it up. I don't want to lose it because I have to be a boss during work hours and not everyone can make that leap and it's better for me to make the decision for us. You'll thank me later.