How to Hire Freelance Writers to Scale Your Content Marketing
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And you’re getting results!
Everyone in the organization is psyched.
At the same time, while you’re excited, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of work that went into getting those results.
Instead of just publishing a blog post, you’re also writing a downloadable checklist, setting up an evergreen series of social posts, adding in click-to-tweets and reaching out to influencers about the blog post.
You’d be forgiven for wondering whether this process is sustainable when resourced with a single marketing manager.
That’s where building out a plan for hiring freelance writers can help you.
When you write yourself, you’re limited by your time and energy. When you hire others, you’re only limited by the return you can demonstrate on your content marketing investment.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can build a repeatable system for:
- Finding the best talent online for your content marketing program.
- Convincing talent to work for you, rather than your competition.
- Keeping track of all the applications.
- Selecting the best talent from your pool of applications.
- Qualifying potential writers.
- Onboarding your writers so they hit the ground running.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to identify and find the best writers for your business with confidence. You’ll feel able to increase your content production safe in the knowledge that you have the systems for scaling up reliably.
Download Your Free Content Writer Job Description Template
If you’re going to hire the best freelancers, you’ll need to start with a good job ad.
And the easiest way to write a good job ad is with this free template. Snag it quick, then read the post to learn how to use it.
Outbounding Recruiting: Reach Out Directly to Writers You Admire
While you’re researching blog topics, you’ll undoubtedly stumble across some excellent writers in your field.
These writers are a great place to start. You can reach out via email or a direct message to ask whether they’re interested in freelance work.
You might find that many of these writers don’t have availability right now, so it can be worth keeping them on a list of potential fits.
For example, I was following a great writer on Twitter for some time. Then, one day she tweeted that she was looking for freelance work, so I swooped in.
Another option is to look on Twitter for who is popular within your field. You can use industry-specific hashtags to find heavily shared writers.
Here’s one way you can find the most popular hashtags in your industry:
1 ) Search for your niche on Twitter - i.e. search for "project management" or "human resources";
2 ) Browse through the tweets looking for common industry specific hashtags such as "#PMOT", which stands for project management on Twitter or "#HRtech" for human resource technology;
3 ) Use these industry-specific hashtags to find writers who routinely pop up in the top results. You can use date operators in Twitter to find the most popular Tweets with in a specific date range such as the last month via a search such as “#pmot since:2017-10-01 until:2017-10-14”.
[Tweet "Here are three ways to use Twitter to find great writers (who can write great content for your brand).:]
You can also use a tool such as BuzzSumo to find the most popular posts for a specific keyword.
Here I searched for “project management” on BuzzSumo, and you can see a list of writers, some of whom may be worth reaching out to:
You also need a steady stream of incoming applications from potential writers. The reason is that you’ll find you’ll lose some freelance writers over time, as they move on to other opportunities. Secondly, if you want to scale aggressively, you’ll need more writers than you can reach out to manually.
These inbound “leads” present a different challenge than the outbound recruiting, however. A large proportion of the applicants will not be suitable, so you’ll have to figure out how to qualify the applicants to focus on the ones that are a good fit.
We’ll dig into how you can qualify applicants, but first let’s focus on your job ad, as it will help you reduce the number of unqualified applicants in the first place.
Write an Amazing Job Ad that Focuses on the Writer
You want to find freelance writers who write amazing pieces of content that generate qualified traffic for years at a price you can justify.
But you can’t write a job ad about what you want. First, you have to tap into the hopes, fears, and dreams of the best freelance writers want.
A good job advert should push the very best to get in touch, while gently deterring applicants will little chance of success.
To give an example, here is a job ad I found on Problogger:
To put it mildly, they are looking for a “unicorn” writer who has experience working in an Agile software development team, yet can also write superb copy and wants to work as a freelance writer.
And prior experience doing so is required.
I think it’s great that this company has a clear idea of what they need, but I think that they could sell the opportunity better.
The only line about benefits was one line on the price they were willing to pay:
Those job ads will get you a large list of unqualified candidates, and a much smaller list of qualified ones.
You’ll get a better quality of candidate if you include a section on the benefits that your writers will get from working with you.
These benefits might be obvious to you, but they won’t be obvious to your writers.
Include examples of benefits you could offer:
- Creative freedom to write evergreen pieces of content that will stand the test of time, particularly if your business doesn’t have an established blog
- Reach and impact, particularly if you do have an established blog
- Insights into how well their writing does
- Opportunities to network with other writers
- Input into content strategy
Here’s a job ad that I wrote that attracted a huge number of highly qualified writers:
In terms of a template, here’s what I’d include:
- A short introduction about your company and product or service offering;
- A line on the ideal client persona;
- A paragraph on the types of content you need written, including links to existing content if available;
- A list of the benefits of working with you;
- A list of the bonus items that you might be looking for (industry experience or access to audience in the industry); and
- Next steps.
This would translate into a job ad that looks like this:
ACME corp is an performance feedback SaaS tool that's used daily by thousands of people in Fortune 500 companies worldwide to them improve in their career.
A key persona is the VP Human Resources in a Fortune 500 corporation
We want you to write articles aimed at pain points in rolling out new HR processes in Fortune 500 organizations, new trends in employee performance evaluation as well as product marketing pieces for new releases.
The long term goal is to increase awareness of our product as well as generate new customers for ACME corp.
How you'll benefit from working with us:
1) Full credit and bio on our website (no ghostwritten articles)
2) Scope to write high quality, original work that will be an asset i n your portfolio for years to come
3) Experience working for a B2B SaaS startup (high career potential)
4) High production values thanks to beautiful custom illustrations for your work from our designers
5) Competitive remuneration on a per-article basis
How you can grab our attention
1) Show how you can bring your article to a wider audience in the HR space after it's published
2) Willingness to learn about and understand our product
3) Attention to detail in following our processes
Fill out this google form and we'll get in touch if we think you might be a good fit: [Link to Form]
Put Your Job Ad in Front of a Qualified Audience
A small investment to get great applicants is worth every cent. For example, if a job advert costs $100 and results in 100 total applicants and 10 highly qualified ones, you’re paying $10 for a qualified applicant.
An ad your own site might net you ten total applicants and one highly qualified applicant.
At the same time, you have to spend further time qualifying and testing out new applicants, so the investment of $100 will pay off.
Sites I’ve found good for advertising:
Sites like UpWork, Fiverr or Craigslist might be a good fit, depending on the type or quality of content you’re working with. You are unlikely to find excellent B2B writers with industry experience on these sites, but you may find writers for lightweight, consumer-oriented content.
Ask Qualifying Questions via a Survey
When it comes to hiring freelance designers, it’s a good rule of thumb that you should expect their work for you to be fairly similar to what you find in their portfolios.
In the same vein, when you’re hiring freelance writers, you’ll be frequently disappointed in my experience if you expect an entirely different style of writing than what you found in the past work.
Therefore, I’d ask for samples of writing in line with the type of work you want them to do.
If you want in-depth case studies with clients, ask them to submit examples of case studies. When you’re looking for industry-specific thought leadership articles, you’ll need a writer who has some experience writing thought leadership style articles. And if you need product marketing style posts outlining how to use your product, I’d look for similar pieces in their portfolio.
Here are a few questions I’ve asked in surveys for applications:
These questions give me:
- a feel for their past portfolio, but not so many articles that I don’t have time to read them all;
- their understanding of what makes an article successful. If they’ll list article reach or generation of qualified leads, they’ll be a good fit for content marketing;
- an idea of how they write their articles in terms of the research process, time length and input required.
Keep Track of Your Applicants
Perhaps you have an applicant tracking system (ATS) in place. In that case, use it!
Otherwise, feeding the applications into a Google sheet will do the trick with minimal effort, and you’ll be able to see all the applications in one place.
My process for assessing the applications is to go through each one, assigning that application a score between 1 and 10 based on whether they’re a good fit or not.
I look for candidates who demonstrate that they have put a little thought into their answers. Relevancy is a crucial part of being a great content writer, so if I see someone has submitted irrelevant content examples, I'll automatically put them at 4 or 5. Then, I'll add on points for each bonus item I'm looking for.
For example, if I'm looking for a writer with a large audience, relevant industry experience and experience in long-form content, I'll give an applicant who has two of those bonuses as well as relevant responses a "9" on the scale.
Once I’m done, I’ll filter the applications to get the applications with the highest score. Usually, I’m looking for 10-20 applications with a score above 7.
These are the application I’ll proceed with to the next stage.
How Do You Know If Someone Will Be a Good Writer?
Now that you’ve gotten a collection of writers who seem promising, the next task is to assess who will be a good fit for your content program.
Some applicants who are great on paper won’t work out in practice. At this point, there’s only one way to find out: get them to write a test piece.
Provide Editorial Guidelines
At this stage, you’ll have a good idea of the type of content you expect from your writers. Scaling your content productions means putting these ideas into words in your editorial guidelines for writers.
You can handle the trivialities that keep your content consistent: US or UK English, title case or sentence case for headings, size of images, etc.
But you should also demonstrate the type of content you are looking for with examples from your own content or articles from around the web, detailing what makes them special.
By giving your freelance writers this information upfront, you’re maximizing their chances of success.
Now, you can give your writers this information along with a request to write a single post and see how they do with the challenge.
Judging the Test Piece
Your standards for the test piece should be very high. After all, the test piece is probably the best writing you’ll see from them because the writers want to make a good impression.
If the writer returns the piece late or doesn’t follow your style guide, I’d move immediately onto the next candidate.
Secondly, if the writing itself isn’t up to scratch, I’d also move on quickly. You’re unlikely to have much success coaching a poor writer. Your time is better off spent helping an “A” writer move to an “A+” writer.
This is also the reason why it’s important to have a steady stream of inbound candidates.
Onboarding Your Writers
Once you have writers who produce amazing content, you want to keep them onboard.
One of the big pieces of information any writer wants to know is how their writing went down.
Therefore, sharing stats such as Google analytics reports about how many people read their content is a great way to give them an insight into what’s working and what’s not.
Secondly, giving them input and ownership of the content schedule will not only help them feel empowered but also take some of the work off your shoulders.
Finally, some writers enjoy putting a face to a name and networking with your peers. You can consider having monthly Google hangouts where you discuss what happened last month, go over analytics reports and share ideas for the upcoming content calendar.
Creating Systems Instead of Campaigns
Putting in place the systems for hiring writers takes time and effort. You’ll have to make adjustments over time to suit your individual situation.
The payoff, however, is that you’re building a system that can be scaled on demand. Instead of randomly hiring writers, you’ll be able to find the best writers repeatedly, no matter your industry or content style.
If leadership asks whether you can hit aggressive goals for your content marketing, you’ll have a system you can trust in, rather than just aspirations of “working harder”.
Have you hired writers? What went well? What didn’t?
February 7, 2018