Creating content in scale is a 2-step process:
- Have a content calendar;
- Have a team of writers.
The first step is rather simple to implement. Take the time to create your personas, make their problems clear, and define the content to create around those problems.
Hiring a team of writers, however, isn’t easy.
But that doesn’t make hiring the right writer for your company any easier.
You still need to make many many decisions before hiring a writer for your team.
Here are the five most important decisions you have to make to find the right writer, plus a brief explanation on how to negotiate with them and help them create great content.
First Decision: In-House or Outsource?
One of the first questions anyone who has ever worked with a content team asks is whether to hire a freelance writer or hire full-time one.
This is no small decision. Each type of writer comes with different pros and cons you must analyze.
Let’s take a look at each case.
Hiring an In-House Writer
Pros of Hiring an In-House Writer
One of the most common challenges among writers, just like it happens with all freelancer, is they usually have an inconsistent work schedule. Sometimes you work +40 a week to fulfill your clients’ needs whereas sometimes you work no more than 10 hours.
This inconsistency can be emotional and psychologically taxing. What’s more, a writer may not feel like he’s taken care of the client; after all, he’s just another contractor.
An in-house writer doesn’t have any of these problems. When a writer feels he’s being taken care of by his employer, it can help increase his loyalty towards the company and increase his productivity.
A full-time writer can also help you find new original content ideas thanks to the face-to-face conversations among the different employees in the marketing team.
Finally, if you run a tech company looking for outside investment, having an in-house team of marketers and content creators can help you push your growth further and convince investors of your company’s potential.
Cons of Hiring an In-House Writer
When you hire an in-house writer, you are hiring a new member of your team. This means there are certain financial and technical complexities that make the whole process more tiresome.
The first issue to consider is finding the talent, which is easier said than done. For example, if your company is based in a small city, talent is likely to be scarce. On the other hand, if your company is located in a large city, you may find all the top talent working for larger companies than yours.
The process of finding, vetting, and negotiating with your candidates takes time. You don’t want to spend weeks and months looking for a writer who you are going to fire rapidly due to a bad job and poor cultural fit. Therefore, you need to take some time to carry out multiple interviews, among other processes.
What’s more, the best candidates may expect expensive perks, such as medical and dental benefits, among other perks. While these perks can help you attract the best writers, all these costs as well as the ones associated with finding, interviewing, and hiring can rapidly impact on your finances.
From a purely financial standpoint, the costs associated with hiring a full-time writer mean small companies may not benefit from hiring in-house. A good compromise is to start with a freelance writer and then move on to hiring one in-house. This is not to say you shouldn’t analyze your situation with your financial advisor (or CFO in case you have one).
[easy-tweet tweet=”The costs of hiring a full-time writer mean small companies may not benefit in-house writers” user=”IvanKreimer” usehashtags=”no”]
The only exception I can imagine in which a small business would benefit from an in-house writer is when the former needs to create vast amounts of content regularly. In the second decision, you will see what kind of content a writer can create (hint: it’s more than articles).
In the meantime, let’s just say if you are a small company with a small marketing team, having a full-time writer may not be the best decision you can make. As a recommendation, start with one or two high-quality contractors, and once you find your content is pushing your growth, hire them.
On the other hand, if you run a large organization, hiring a full-time writer may be a good investment.
Hiring Freelance Writers
Pros of Hiring a Freelance Writer
Freelance writers give companies a lower level of commitment at a lower cost. If the content strategy has been properly developed and you have the right processes in place, you can easily scale your content efforts with a freelance writer.
Hiring a freelancer means there are no perks or employee benefits to offer, reducing the labor costs and increasing the potential ROI.
Smaller companies with low budgets are usually the first to hire freelancers due to the low levels of complexity and faster onboarding time.
Freelance writers can provide companies the same quality of content than an in-house one without the costs and risks it entails.
It’s also easier to find writers thanks to marketplaces and job boards such as Upwork or ProBlogger (although it’s not ideal). In the next article, I will show you an alternative way to find high-quality writers directly and get a response in a matter of hours.
In my personal experience, after I start working for a company, I get their first article done and ready to publish in less than 2 weeks. A full-time writer may need to do a whole lot more of work before being ready to publish anything worthwhile.
Larger companies can also benefit from hiring freelancers as long as they know exactly what they need from the writer. If a company expects a freelancer to be held accountable for the whole strategy, it’s likely it won’t work. But if a company knows it needs a landing page or a few articles about a specific topic, a writer can easily get the job done with little guidance.
Cons of Hiring a Freelance Writer
Some writers can be as expensive as having a full-time employee, without the benefits of the latter. You need to calculate your costs carefully before hiring someone with a high hourly rate.
Another common issue with freelancers is communication. Many freelancers work in different time zones and have different work schedules. You need to be clear on the expectations and the deadlines before committing to a working relationship.
Questions to Consider
- Be clear on what you want to get from your in-house writers. What does success look like for your company?
- How much content do you need right now?
- How has content affected your company’s growth so far? How much traffic, leads, and revenue has content helped you acquire?
- How much are you spending already in content? What’s the ROI?
- If you work with freelance writers, how is the communication with them? How could it be improved?
- Talk to your financial advisor or CFO whether the financials of hiring a full-time writer is worth the investment, given the previous questions.
- Take a deep look at your current content and see if you find it to be representative of your company’s brand and vision. If it’s not, talk to your writer to improve that situation. It’s your job to make him succeed, so don’t blame him.
Second Decision: What Skills Does Your Company Need?
Writing represents a broad set of skills and specializations. The variety of skills a writer has means you must be clear on what you want for your company. Indeed, a writer can easily write about anything given enough time. That doesn’t mean, however, she can write high-quality content in every format.
You need to play to the writer’s strengths. Don’t believe what she tells you; your writer can be the best landing page copywriter but be mediocre at crafting an interesting story in your articles. The same can be said for many other content types.
For example, I love writing articles and related content like emails and ebooks, but I’m not 100% comfortable when I have to write direct response copy for landing pages. It’s not that I can’t write landing page copy, it’s that it’s not my specialization. In other words, I could do it, but you may not receive the best ROI given my skills.
To analyze a writer’s skills, you must start by looking at what kind of content one can create. This includes:
- Articles, both short and long
- Social media updates, especially for Facebook and LinkedIn
- Ad copy, both for Google Adwords and Facebook Ads, and other similar channels
- Landing pages copy for lead generation
- Copy for your website’s pages, including your homepage and about page.
- Ebooks and white papers for lead nurturing
- Video scripts
- Emails, including copy for marketing automation
The best way to assess a writer’s strengths is by looking at his portfolio. “Show, don’t tell,” in this context fits perfect.
Look at what the writer has done in the past; in there you will find not only what he’s most experienced with, but you will also see what he can do with each content type.
Based on his portfolio, you will find great differences among writers. There are writers who have more technical skills, which allow them to take complex topics and turn them into understandable articles. Others, in contrast, can create stories and paint beautiful scenes that give context and emotional intent to their content.
You can also ask the writer. Depending on the writer’s financial situation, his answer will vary. If the writer has a lot of work and isn’t actively looking for a new client, he may tell you straight away what kind of content he likes to create; others won’t. It doesn’t hurt to ask; at the end of the day, the writer will be like another member of your team, so by creating rapport, you will create a better working relationship.
Don’t forget to be clear on what you want before you start looking for a writer. If you want fun and lighthearted content, look for writers that consistently write with those attributes. Take a look at their blog and see how they write there. The same applies with specialties; if you want an email writer, look for writers who explicitly say they are good at writing emails.
Having a clear idea of what you want makes the writer’s life easier and it will create a much seamless experience for both parties.
Questions to Consider
- What are the writer’s strengths? Can you spot it through the writer’s content?
- What kind of content do you need? Take the list from above for inspiration.
- What’s the writer portfolio?
- What do you want from the writer? It can be a goal (increase traffic) or it can be a more broad aspiration (become a leader in your space). Whatever it is, write it down, visualize it, and communicate that to the writer.
- Talk with the writer about his strengths. If he’s not sure what to say, make sure not to get a broad answer (I can do anything) or a sales-y answer (I’m the #1 at social media content). Get a real answer that comes from the writer’s heart. If he doesn’t know how to explain his strengths with words, it’s fine. At least you want to get to know him a bit better.
- Write down what kind of content you need. It’s OK if you want multiple types of content and the writer you found only specializes in one.
- Ask the writer for a portfolio. Make sure to take your time to analyze it. You want a writer who can communicate what you want. If you are on different pages, move on. Later you will thank me.
- Write down what you want from the writer as explained in the question above.
Third Decision: Expert Writer or Writer Expert?
Previously, I mentioned the different kinds of content writers can create. As a result, you will be able to find many types of writers.
Some writers specialize in writing landing page copy, regardless of the company’s market, while others focus on specific industries. Some even focus on specific types of content and industries. Finally, there are writers with many writing years under their belts while others are part-time writers with a full-time job unrelated to their writing gig.
With so many options, you end up in a conundrum. In most cases, companies end up doing what they always do when they don’t know what they are doing: they hire based on price. Whoever is willing to work for a given price, takes the job.
This ain’t smart at all, my friend.
I want to offer you a simpler way to overcome this issue: you can either hire an expert writer, or you hire a writer expert.
I know this sounds like a riddle but I guarantee you it’s not. The idea of a writer expert or an expert writer is simple:
An expert writer is someone who has extensive experience on the subject topic and can create content based on his own experience. Expert writers are usually more expensive given their vast experience in the field.
But the higher price comes with a higher reward due to the halo effect of the writer: if an expert writes for your company, you can expect her fame to bring attention to your content. As a consequence, you will be able to drive more shares and links due to their fame. This is not to mention the brand boost you get by being associated with an expert.
A writer expert, on the other hand, is someone who’s experienced in writing about a specific topic. Writer experts achieve their experience after digging into research data, interviews with experts, and reading extensively about the topic.
The time these writers have been writing for about a specific topic or industry is the reason why it’s better to focus on the years of writing about a given topic a writer has before than focusing on whether that person has direct experience in that industry.
I like to distinguish these two types of writers because they allow for a simpler decision. Instead of looking for multiple sets of attributes, you simply look to see if the writer has experience in the industry or experience writing about an industry.
The best part is, whether you hire an expert writer or a writer expert, you will end up working with a great writer who’s going to help you grow your business through content.
Questions to Consider
- Are you willing to spend more money on hiring an expert writer? If so, why? What results do you expect to get?
- Do you prefer hiring a writer expert? If so, why? What results do you expect to get?
- Decide which of the two types of writer you want to work with for your projects.
Fourth Decision: What Questions to Ask?
Once you have found a writer you like, you need to schedule an interview to get to know him (or her) better. In the interview, you need to make sure to ask the writer a few questions that will help you understand if it makes sense for both of you to work together.
In my experience, there are 9 questions you should ask your writers before deciding on hiring them.
Note: It’s not mandatory you ask all of the following questions. You can answer some of these questions by taking a look at the writer’s portfolio and personal site. But I’d recommend you ask at least 3 or 4 of them, just to test the writer and see how he reacts under pressure.
What type of content do you prefer to develop?
Writers can write, whether that’s on an email or a Facebook update. But that doesn’t mean the skills of the writers will shine in both mediums. You want to know what content type the writer has the most experience on and what content type she prefers.
Cheaper and inexperienced writers tend to fall into the “I’ll do anything for money” trap. This can end up with the writer creating mediocre content in most of the mediums she has to write for.
Remember to play to your writer’s strengths. Even if you end up asking your writer to work on different content types, it’s best if you know beforehand what she can do best with her skills.
- I specialize in long-form article writing, although I have written some email campaigns in the past.
- I’ll write whatever you want me to write about.
What industries do you write about?
Just as writers work best under different types of content, they also work best when they have to write about specific industries. This goes back with the idea of a writer expert; if someone has enough experience writing about a subject, you can expect faster lead times and higher quality of content.
Someone who has little experience in an industry will have a hard time figuring out what to write about because he has to spend more time to understand the nuances of that industry.
To back the writer’s claims, you should also see his portfolio and find out what topics come up the most.
- I write about content marketing, SEO, and social media.
- I write about whatever topic you send me. In the past, I’ve written about pest control, fitness, and civil engineering. Did I tell you I’ll write about anything for money?
What’s your research methodology?
All writers need to research each topic thoroughly before writing a single word. You want to know what they do to find the idea and angle of a content piece, the main points in which the content is based on (i.e. the thesis), and anything else they use to make the content good.
Experienced writers will need to do less research than less experienced ones. This doesn’t mean, however, they don’t need to do any research. Experience affects the ease in which a writer can find the angle and main points of a given piece of content. Experienced writers still need to find good stats to back their ideas up as well as examples to give better context to their pieces.
- First, I find what’s the angle of the article; the hypothesis, if you will. Then, I start analyzing what points need to be made for the article to stand. Once I’m done with that, I research for examples and stats that prove each point. Sometimes I look for competing results to see what they say about a topic, so I can know what to say that hasn’t been said and what’s it’s an idea that’s been repeated to death.
- Research? Umm, I Google a few articles and that’s it.
Do you know how to optimize content for search engines?
In the past, optimizing for the search engines used to be a big part of the writer’s work, due to the spammy nature SEO used to have. For example, writers used to calculate how many times they repeated a keyword within a text, how many variations of the keyword they had used, and many more things.
These days the situation has changed. You want to see if the writer knows what SEO is all about and how important it is (hint: it’s really important), and how they can do some basic optimizations. These optimizations include:
- Knowing what keyword they are targeting
- Adding the keyword in the title of the article
- Linking to previous articles with good anchor text
- Adding the keyword to the URL
- Adding the keyword to the alt-tag
It’s not a big deal if the writer isn’t an expert in SEO. You only want to know if they get the basic concepts of SEO and if they can implement the basic optimizations themselves.
- I define what keyword to position for with the help of Ahrefs. Then, I optimize the results for the main keyword adding it to the title, to the alt tags, and within the article a few times. I don’t focus on the exact match keyword, but on variations from it to make it look natural. Finally, I put the keyword to the URL to give it a final SEO boost.
- SEO is dead. So is my bank account.
What’s your content writing process?
Writers have different writing processes. Each writer has her own way to brainstorm ideas, research, outline, write, and edit their content.
At the end of the way, you shouldn’t care much about their processes, as long as they develop high-quality content within an acceptable time frame. You just want to understand how they create content so you know what to expect from your writer.
- First, I like brainstorming ideas with the help of Buzzsumo. Once I have found an idea doesn’t have too much competition and has good SEO value, I look for points to give the article substance. Then, I develop the outline adding everything I have in my hands: stats, examples, ideas, etc. Once I know I’m ready, which usually takes 1 day after I have defined the article, I get started on writing the article. That takes me 2-3 days depending on length. Finally, I edit the article to make it shine. That includes adding relevant internal links with good anchor text, formatting, images, and SEO optimization. I also run the article with Grammarly to make sure I haven’t made any grammatical mistakes.
- Umm, I just put words on paper. What was the question again?
Do you suggest content ideas to us or do you expect us to tell you what to write about?
This is a simple question whose answer depends on the quality of the writer. A low-quality writer will likely tell you he expects you to tell him what you want to write about. They behave like cogs in a machine; they just get the content you ask them and they create it. This can be time-consuming, but if you have a specific content strategy, you will be able to follow it without any distractions.
High-quality writers, in contrast, will likely want to propose their own ideas. Remember that writers, even those who focus on niches like business or finance, are creative people. We like to put our own creative input in every content piece we develop. If you deprive us of this, we’ll likely feel demotivated and create lower quality content.
Letting the writer propose his own topics can also free your time from this mundane task. As long as the writer proposes relevant topics, your content strategy won’t be affected by this.
- Although I can accept your content ideas, I prefer to suggest my own ideas. But first, I want you to give me your blog guidelines to get a better feel of your strategy.
- I’m just a writer, why do you want me to suggest ideas?
Do you need help with research?
All writers research about a given topic before they write a single word. If they don’t, run for the hills. Even a writer expert has to research to back up her claims.
What you want to know is they need help with research. If the writer has experienced with the industry you are in, it’s likely he won’t need much help from your end to research. But in some cases, especially when it comes to developing case studies, ebooks, white papers, and interviews, he may need some help. It’s good to know this so you can help your write give its best with your content.
- I’d be good to have a conversation with one of your company’s experts to discuss a new idea I have in mind and for which he could help me. Also, can you send me any case studies and statistics from your company you may have?
- Don’t worry, whatever I need I will just Google it. I’m kind of a big deal, you know?
How many revisions do you accept?
Shit happens. Yup, I know, I said “that” word. But deep in your heart, you know it’s true. Your writers, especially when they first start out working with you, will make mistakes. They will use a tone not appropriate for your company (like the one I’ve just used), or they will link inadvertently to a competitor of yours.
As a consequence, you will have to make edits to the content your writer gives you. The writer knows this and all of them are willing to accept revisions. What you want to know is how many they like.
Writer’s truth: At first, all writers say we are OK with “as many revisions as necessary“. The truth is, we accept revisions as long as they make sense. That’s usually between 1 to 3; up to 5 in some extreme cases. More than that and it’s likely one of two things happen: the writer made a terrible work or you are a complicated client.
If the writer made a terrible work, give him a second chance. You never know, maybe the writer had a bad day. But if he keeps screwing things up, dump him; you deserve better.
On the other hand, if you have accepted a specific article with a given angle, and you then decide it’s not good and you want to start from scratch, don’t expect the writer to be happy. That’s not a revision, that’s a completely new article. That’s rude, so don’t do it.
- I accept revisions as long as they aren’t complete rewrites. Things can go wrong, so it’s fine if at the beginning there are more revisions than usual. But I just want to be clear I don’t accept complete rewritings if the topic and the angle of the article was previously accepted.
- None. You can edit the content yourself, buddy.
- Unlimited, I can rewrite the article as many times as you want. I need the money so badly.
Do you add images on your own or do you expect us to add them?
This is a really simple question. In most cases, the writer needs to add the images himself. In fact, you should ask for at least one picture per article. If the writer can’t do it, it’s because he’s lazy. That means, leave that writer and move on to someone else (like me, for example).
- Yes, of course!
- What do you need images for?
- Answer each of the questions laid out previously and be sure to use them when considering which writer to hire.
Fifth Decision: What’s Your Budget?
This is one of the most important decisions you must make before you even approach a writer. You must know what results you want to get from your writer and how much these results mean to your business. From there, you can decide how much you are willing to invest in content marketing.
This is a really important topic which I will cover in another article. In the meantime, I will briefly explain what you need to do to define your budget.
One common mistake many companies make when hiring a writer is deciding beforehand what their budget is without taking into consideration what they can actually get from a writer at a given price range. Remember, content on its own is worthless. You want the right kind of content to help you grow your business. Therefore, if you hire the right writer, even if he’s expensive, you will get a great return on your investment.
Here’s a simple set of price thresholds with their respective qualities based on my personal experience (which means, they are not to be taken seriously but rather as an opinion):
- Less than $0.10 per word: Low to mediocre quality, unless you do all the leg work, like finding ideas, researching, outlining, and editing. Otherwise, expect little attention and a low ROI.
- Between $0.10 to $0.19 per word: From mediocre to good quality. Here’s where you can find great deals if you are lucky. Some writers don’t have the courage to charge what they should, so you may find some great writers at a low price which could help you offer great content to your audience and clients.
- Between $0.20 to $0.29 per word: Overall great quality. In this threshold, you will find great writers (ehem, like me) with a capacity to bring amazing quality to their clients. They are experienced and knowledgeable in their specialized industry.
- Above $0.30 per word: Great quality. In most cases, these writers have a huge amount of writing experience, which gives them a leg up in the capacity to craft viral narratives and drive results. Still, most of them may be just a bit too much for most companies.
Based on these prices, you need to consider the following aspects of your content strategy:
- How many articles you need to publish
- How many words on average per article
- How much money you can allow your company to spend
- What return you expect to get from each article
This is a basic ROI analysis: first, analyze your costs, then your expected results, and see which set of variables work best for you.
Questions to Consider
- How much money are you already making from content?
- What’s the expected increase in revenue from content? How are you going to make it happen?
- How much money do you spend on content? What’s your ROI?
- Define a maximum acceptable budget and look for writers below that. If you find one that’s great and it’s within your threshold, great. If the writer is above it, move on.
How to Negotiate with Your Writers
Negotiation is a key skill you need to develop to attract, qualify, and hire any employee or contractor, including your writers. There are many things you could negotiate with your writers depending on whether you are hiring an in-house or a freelance writer.
If you are hiring an in-house writer, your negotiations will touch on legal and financial aspects which are beyond the scope of this article. I’m not an HR expert, so I can’t tell you much about the legal details of hiring a new team member. You can still take some of the insights I’ll show below from hiring a freelance writer.
If you are hiring a freelance writer, the most important aspect you will have to negotiate is the price. I’ve mentioned before how much you can expect to pay for a writer, so that can guide you on your pricing discussions.
Negotiating price is a delicate topic. You need to know how to do it right.
To save you from lots of unnecessary discussions and frustrations, let me tell you a little story.
Imagine you are a man, and you take a woman you like on a date. After 30 minutes, the woman tells you she’s not interested in you as a romantic partner. What would you do? You could try many things, like making her laugh more or being more interesting, but it’s unlikely you will change her mind. You are simply not meant to each other. You have to walk away and move on.
What if you grabbed her hand, looked at her directly into her eyes, and told her:
“Honey, you are really sweet, but you need to lower your expectations. I’m no Brad Pitt, but you ain’t no Angelina Jolie either. I’m the best you have, so you will have to settle for me.”
That’s ridiculous. For Christ sake, never say that to anyone, not even your mom (who we all know is the most awesome woman in the world).
If you wouldn’t say that to a date, why on earth would you say that to a writer?
A writer is worth as much money she thinks she’s worth. Like it or not, that’s her decision to charge whatever she wants. If you think she’s overpriced, so be it.
But let me be clear:
NEVER NEGOTIATE LOWER RATES.
Sorry for the all caps, I didn’t want to scream at you, but I didn’t have any other option.
If you want to negotiate the rates of a writer, you have many options; lowering their rates isn’t one of them.
[easy-tweet tweet=”To negotiate a writer’s rates you have many options; lowering their rates isn’t one of them.” user=”IvanKreimer” usehashtags=”no”]
If you want to get a good deal, you can discuss a monthly retainer, where you pay the writer up front for a few months, and she charges you less per article. That’s a win-win for both parties. Otherwise, you are simply spitting on their shoes (or hands, in this case). It’s simply wrong to ask for less money just because you feel like it’s too much.
Walk away, baby, or let it be.
Questions to Consider
- What terms are you willing to negotiate?
- Write down what aspects of the negotiation can be discussed and which ones are can’t.
- Be ready to negotiate with your writers. Respect the writer’s fees and terms. If you feel they are beyond what you can tolerate, move on.
How to Help the Writer
The writers you will hire are professionals who know what they are doing and need little guidance to do their job. This doesn’t mean, however, that in some cases they won’t need any help from your end.
To start, your company is unique. You have a brand that you own and which the writer must represent with her content. Your company’s needs and goals are also different in every way with any other company, so your writer must understand how she can help you achieve them.
For this reason, you can’t expect to hire a writer and expect her to know everything about you. You must onboard her by:
- Sending the writer a blog guideline with information about your brand’s tone and voice.
- Sharing your story and purpose.
- Giving the writer a list of examples you’d like him to emulate (this includes articles, ebooks, case studies, etc.)
- Having a call to discuss what your expectations with content are.
- Showing the writer what your writing process is.
- Explaining who your personas (i.e. target customer) are.
At first, the writer may also need some help to find better topic ideas, craft better stories, and edit the content to make it look like your brand.
You also need to give the writer feedback so he can improve throughout the whole writing process.
All this process usually takes place at the beginning of a working relationship. After a few weeks, once you have received the first deliverables from the writer, the process of helping the writer will slow down and he may not need much more help from you. Eventually, the writer will know what you want and how he can give it to you.
Questions to Consider
- What things could the writer need from you?
- What does the writer need to know about your company before writing a single word?
- Ask the writer how you can help her create great content. Put it into a win-win perspective; you are trying to make her content shine so you can shine as well.
- Give anything the writer needs to create great content.
Here’s What You Need to Do Now
OMG, this has been another beast of a post. How are you holding up?
I know I write really long content, so if you have read this far, you are clearly on the path to hiring the best writers for your content marketing team.
Now it’s time to get started:
Start with the first decision, answer the questions and follow the action steps, and move to the next one.
If you follow the advice laid out in this article, you will be able to hire the best writers for your company.
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