How to Hire Freelance Writers that Magnify Your Inbound Marketing Results
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: Factors to consider before hiring freelance writers
Chapter 2: The 4 Qualities of the Outstanding Content Marketing Freelance Writer
Chapter 3: Shop for Your Content Writing Options
Chapter 4: Testing the Waters When Hiring Freelance Writers + Building the Relationship
Chapter 5: Spotlight on Six Freelance Writers
Creating content is the hardest part of inbound.
ANGELA DEFRANCO HubSpot
You’re probably here because you’ve realized you need help with creating content to power your inbound marketing strategy, and thereby need to hire freelance writers.
That realization can feel good—after all, creating content is hard. When a content marketing expert like Angela DeFranco says it’s hard, you know they’re not messing around.
And to make matters worse, it doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner, an in-house marketer, or an agency marketer, you may lack the time or the long- form writing skills to create all the content you’ll need for inbound yourself.
You might also feel overwhelmed—how can a freelance writer who doesn’t work with you full-time possibly tell your story or your clients’ stories as well as you can?
With our collective experience at Verblio (where we help agencies and businesses find and manage freelance writers) and as freelance writers, we believe we can help answer this question. While we’ll draw from our experience, we’ve kept this information platform-agnostic. It’s designed to be helpful regardless of how you choose to work with a freelancer.
We hope you find this useful. If you have questions, just reach out—we love this stuff and would be happy to chat.
Editor's note: We’ve also taken the time to update this guide from its original state to add relevant, timely information. The internet changes every day, and we keep our ears to the ground. This guide is a living document, and we’ll always keep the information fresh so you know you’re getting the best and most timely advice.
– Caroline, Kali, Molly, Simon, and Paul
FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE HIRING FREELANCE WRITERS
As marketers, you know the powerful, positive, long-term impact content marketing has on a business and, perhaps additionally, an inbound marketing strategy.
On top of all that, you may be a great writer. But you also might not be.
Luckily, being a great writer yourself isn’t at all a prerequisite to dominate at content marketing. And even if you are, when you’re running a business you swim in a daily frenzy of competing priorities—all of which vie to distract you from reflecting on and putting words to a page. It's a fact among content marketers that writing is hard and time-intensive, no matter who you are.
Which brings us to...
WHY GET HELP WRITING YOUR CONTENT?
You know you won’t be able to tackle all that writing yourself, but you want to further boost your business to success—or maintain some semblance of sanity without some stepping back and delegating.
If you don't have time to write your own content,
you can't write your own content.
That may sound like a truism at first glance, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. Even Batman takes off the cape to sleep.
And like anything worth doing—eating veggies, exercising, or meditating—content development must be done consistently for it to be worth it and meet your marketing goals to pay out down the road.
Here are some quick reasons why:
- SEO rankings improve with a more robust online presence made up of many unique pieces for the web crawlers to associate with your site
- Overall SEO keyword profile is enhanced greatly with keyword-rich, quality content to express those concepts/themes your business is authoritative about
- Fresh content powers social media, research has shown & continues to reflect at increasing levels
Educate, stay in touch with, and answer the questions of your readership, keep a pulse on your website and build credibility with prospective customers or readers
Hired help exists for a good reason. It makes your life easier by ensuring critical tasks are accomplished and frees your time to focus on other high-priority tasks that only you can do.
Hired help exists for a good reason. It makes your life easier by ensuring critical tasks are accomplished, extends your ability to get stuff done, and frees you to focus on other high-priority tasks that only you can do.
Outsourcing is a tried-and-true solution for accomplishing business goals in areas like IT support, customer service, law, accounting, and marketing agencies. Same goes for your consistent content writing as well.
You can’t outsource aspects of your life—sorry, you’ll still need to eat your veggies—but your business will still reap the benefits of content marketing when the writing is done by someone else. Plain and simple.
That said, keeping your inbound strategy on track will require reinforcements.
To figure out what form your best reinforcements will take, let’s start with the five critical factors to consider before you determine who you’ll outsource your content to:
- What types of content do you need?
- What are your top business content priorities?
- Do you have a rough content strategy?
- How much time do you/your team actually have to dedicate to content?
- How much can you spend on content?
Stay with us.
1. WHAT TYPES OF CONTENT DO YOU NEED?
What specific types of content do you need written? It’ll be much easier to get on the same page as your future writer when you both have a clear idea of the actual form you’ll need the content to take.
You can probably think of content assets you’ve wanted to write for a long time, and these can take the form of any, some of, or all of the following:
- Website pages content
- Blog posts (weekly posts, ongoing series, evergreen content, comparative posts, etc.)
- Copy for your online ads
- Video scripts
- Social media posts
- E-books or white papers
- Other thought leadership, long-form content, or downloadable guides
- Product descriptions
- Email or newsletter copy
- Customer case studies
- Guest posts (to be hosted on other sites besides yours)
Or, if you’re unsure about some new types of content that you haven’t yet experimented with—like video or longer pieces of content for example—conduct a brief survey (or your own research) to dive into what sort of content formats resonate most with your ideal audience, or what thought leader websites/blogs they prefer or consult frequently.
These types of content will inform a sketch of your content marketing strategy we’ll cover in the next step. But before we get to that, outlining what objectives are top of mind for your business’s content will unify your vision for how to go about prioritizing and accomplishing it.
2. WHAT ARE YOUR TOP BUSINESS CONTENT PRIORITIES?
HubSpot regularly surveys thousands of businesses globally to determine businesses’ top priorities for content with each passing year. We’ve compiled their latest findings here for your convenience.
Other companies (and probably yours, too) see these as their highest priorities for content:
- Grow SEO/organic search presence
- Actual creation of blog content
- Blog post distribution/amplification (i.e. social, newsletters, guest posting, etc.)
- Long-form blog content (1,000+ word posts, white papers, e-books)
- Multimedia blog content (infographics, videos)
- Converting contacts/leads to customers
Our recommendation is to narrow your focus to only 1-3 (and rank in order) to truly prioritize your needs in the context of your content strategy, extending into the writer vetting process. Trust us, you don’t want to make this harder on yourself than it needs to be, so keep it simple.
And keep in mind two more considerations when thinking about your top content objectives as chosen above:
- What quality level do you need? Before you say “the best!” keep in mind that there will be a strong correlation between price and quality, and not everything needs to be top-notch quality. If you need copy for a page on your website that’s necessary but rarely seen, perhaps better to get it done with a smaller budget and allocate your dollars elsewhere.
- How complex is the writing you need? How much interaction will you need to have with your writer? If you need an explanation of common industry terms, you can likely get that without spending immense amounts of your energy interacting with your writer. If you need a detailed explanation of a proprietary product feature, you’ll need to have a detailed conversation with your writer to give them what they need.
3. DO YOU HAVE A ROUGH CONTENT STRATEGY?
This is so, so important.
The first thing we’ll say besides that it’s important is that your content strategy does NOT need to be formal, and it should definitely not be set in stone (you’ll want it to evolve as you learn more about how it’s working).
What we’re most interested in is having some degree of organization that can bring together your team and communicate the overarching goals for content.
A content strategy can, and should, operate as a living, breathing, ever-evolving document for your business as you experiment and collect results to decide what to do more of, what to stop doing, and what to adjust along the way.
What your strategy should consist of at a minimum are the two components we’ll outline below. These will align you and your team on top marketing priorities, provide insight on how those extend into top content priorities, and unify some of your hot-buttons when it comes to next steps and how to vet outside resources.
I. Map out your priorities, goals associated to each, and what measurements of success you’ll use.
Up to this point, you’ve taken stock of the types of content you want to create and noted your business’s priorities with said content. At this stage, you’re drilling down and using these insights to flesh out the strategy we talked about above.
Mapping out your business’s priorities and associating measurable goals is part of your marketing fundamentals toolkit. This framework found in our Agency Content Kit, which you’re free to use, can help you as you think through these dimensions:
- List your top 3 priorities from Step 2 in the table below
- Identify the tactile, realistic goals (short- and long-term) for each priority
- Identify the measurement criteria for determining the success of each goal (could be quantitative or qualitative)
II. Sketch out an editorial calendar.
Now that you understand what you want to achieve and what you need to measure, you can start mapping out the “how” part of your strategy with an editorial calendar. Here’s an easy one to use.
An editorial calendar will keep you and your team focused on what content steps are being taken now to accomplish what you’ve laid out above in terms of strategy. This encompasses a running list of topic ideas, individual content piece titles, what audience and buying stage your reader is in, SEO keywords, starting references, and more.
Again, note that no one is writing anything down in permanent marker or breaking out the chisels or hammers to scribe your strategy and calendar in stone, but getting these things down is essential.
4. HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU/YOUR TEAM ACTUALLY HAVE TO DEDICATE TO CONTENT?
This is a huge consideration that so many overlook. Without mapping the quality assurance layer and content management oversight out explicitly beforehand, this job may fall to someone who has no time to dedicate to managing such an important initiative (best case scenario), or worse—to no one, which is a guarantee that it won’t get done, much less done well.
Your content is too precious to leave it to chance. Answering this question may entail a larger strategic conversation with your team, or perhaps lead to amending some job descriptions. Ensure those who are going to be responsible for quality content in your business know it and own it.
That said, and feel free to pocket this tip for later—you may ask about options with your future freelancers or service to see what other elements of content development they might be able to take off your team’s plate (i.e. SEO optimization, publishing, topic ideation, visuals/illustration development, promotion).
5. HOW MUCH CAN YOU SPEND ON CONTENT?
How much you can afford to pay on outsourced writing, whether that’s a freelancer, marketing agency, or a content writing service, is different for every business. But answering the questions in Step 1 will help you answer this.
If you have at least a ballpark figure in mind, you’ll be much better equipped to evaluate your options.
Here are some numbers to get you started (note huge ranges for some, depending on quality, length, and varied pricing by provider):
- Ad copy: $10 to many thousands of dollars
- Copy for a website page: $50-$1,000
- Blog post: $25-$300
- E-book: $200-$2,000
- Series of posts for social: $5-$25 per post
- Video script: $100-$1,000
You need to parse out how these price variations might work for your company before diving in on a contract or subscription with a freelancer or service. You also need to test them to make sure that you’re getting what you pay for, a practice that’s extremely common in the freelancing landscape and prudent from a business perspective. Again, this can (and should!) evolve over time based on your content needs, the cost of content production, and how much revenue you're earning from content.
Now, let’s move on to what crucial expertise and skillsets a professional, independent freelancer well versed in content marketing will possess to help you execute on your content strategy as laid out in this chapter.
THE 4 QUALITIES OF THE OUTSTANDING CONTENT MARKETING FREELANCE WRITER
Editor’s note: E-books are a big undertaking, and we needed some help. So we decided to outsource some of this content to a freelance writer to show an example of how well content from a freelance writer can be integrated into your own internal content marketing efforts. Besides, who knows better about the nuances of freelance writing and the qualities needed to succeed in online content writing than a freelance writer?
The author of this chapter, Simon Stuchlik, is a marketing professional and freelance writer. In his day job, he works to increase enrollment at a regional public university in Pennsylvania. For the past four years, he has also been a member of Verblio’s 3,000+ writer-strong network of freelance writers.
List your worst stereotypes about freelancers.
They’re probably something like “they are unreliable”, “they’re only concerned with earning some quick money”, or “they don’t have their clients’ best interests at heart”?
Now, throw those prejudices out the window.
Great freelance writers do exist. In fact, they’re more common than you might think.
All you have to do is find a good fit for your business’s content needs. Above all, that means knowing exactly what nuances to look for.
The perfect freelance writer is not a unicorn. They are a talented individual who has a passion for creating great content in the same way that you have a passion for seeing your business succeed.
Look for professionals who combine the prototypical freelancer mindset with outstanding writing and marketing skills. Once you know the characteristics to focus on, you can find a content writer who helps you embrace inbound marketing by creating interesting, informative content.
4 MUST-HAVE CHARACTERISTICS TO LOOK FOR
TO HIRE FREELANCE WRITERS
Successful inbound marketing depends on great content. If you find the right professional, at least half of that equation is taken care of.
The perfect freelancer lives at the intersection of 4 characteristics: outstanding writing skills, industry knowledge, a freelancer mindset, and marketing savvy.
Inside the inner workings of the online writer’s mind
1. EXCELLENT WRITING SKILLS
We know, it’s shocking–your next freelance writer probably should possess some great writing skills. Before making the hire or signing the contract, find some opportunities to evaluate their writing.
Relevant materials to consider include:
- Writing samples, especially if they are within your industry and represent the type of content (such as blog posts or emails) you’re looking for.
- The freelancer’s own blog or website, especially if it’s updated regularly.
- Current and past email correspondence with you.
- References from past clients, especially those within or adjacent to your industry.
All of these help you evaluate not just your potential writing partner’s grasp of the English language but also their writing style and complexity of past projects. With multiple writing samples in hand, you might even be able to tell whether the freelancer is able to change their voice based on client and audience.
2. INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE
It seems to go without saying, but anyone who writes for you needs an understanding of the competitive environment in which your business operates. Marketing writers have to write with their audience in mind, and that can only be possible with thorough industry knowledge.
The National Research Council of Canada has a great definition of industry knowledge that any successful freelance writer should embrace:
A complete perspective of the 'big picture' in a given industry, including (the company’s) competitive position, a thorough understanding all the issues related to the said industry sector and the forces and factors impacting the industry...
Knowledge of social, commercial, scientific, technological and financial accomplishments for players within said industry, in addition to their operations and business strategies and trends.
National research council of canada
How can you find out if the writer you’re about to hire possesses the necessary amount of industry knowledge?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do the writing samples convey expertise in your competitive environment?
- Does the writer have current or prior clients within your industry that don’t present a conflict of interest?
- Are there specific aspects of your industry a writer absolutely needs to know about?
- Can you ask any industry-specific questions before hiring the writer to gauge knowledge?
WHAT ABOUT JARGON?
Jargon has become somewhat of a boogeyman in marketing writing. But especially in technical industries, at least some jargon is important to convey your insider knowledge on a subject.
Think about it: most people outside the digital marketing realm probably won’t understand a term like "lead nurturing". But would you trust a marketing vendor who doesn’t use that term when talking about the importance of automated messages to convert prospects to customers?
Of course, the writer shouldn’t go overboard. Selective use of jargon communicates credibility and expertise, but if your audience isn't very knowledgeable about the topic at hand (or you're looking to make the expertise more approachable), too much industry jargon can be difficult to read or feel pretentious.
A freelancer’s use of jargon, as it relates to your audience, can tell you quite a bit about his or her fit for your writing needs.
WHAT IF I OPERATE IN A NICHE INDUSTRY?
Let’s be honest. Industry expertise is great, but most freelance writers cannot possibly know as much about your industry as you. That’s especially true if you operate in a niche environment.
That’s why a journalistic, research-focused attitude is key for any successful freelance writer. It’s no secret that research skills are consistently named among the most important characteristics any freelancer should possess. If you need content on a topic your writer knows little about, they should be able to dive in and research it quickly enough to come up with great output in a reasonable time frame.
Thorough research, of course, goes far beyond a simple Google search. It involves a strategic process with multiple steps:
- Understand and formulate the core problem requiring research.
- Develop a basic plan that includes potential sources and questions.
- Answer each of those questions through reliable third-party sources or first-hand experience and research.
- Incorporate the research into every part of the writing process.
Find a freelancer who possesses an understanding of this research process, and the benefits for your business could be immense.
You will not only get great content but the writer's output will also improve in quality over the duration of your contract and professional relationship.
3. THE FREELANCER MINDSET
The first two ideal freelancer characteristics seem relatively straightforward. At the same time, most marketers don’t tend to recognize or prioritize this third part—the benefits of working with a professional who embraces the best parts of being a freelancer.
The most successful freelancers are far more than good writers and experts in the field. They have made a name for themselves because they are unique, embracing a number of distinguishing characteristics.
Professionals gravitate to independent work because they value their independence. A great freelancer is able to work independently, on their own schedule, and still get their work done.
Top-tier freelance writers often work more than 40 hours per week. They might be independent, but they’re self-motivated enough to commit themselves until the job is done.
Great freelancers gain their industry expertise over time and as a result of past work. Many of them have specialized in a niche, and will continue to dig deeper into their areas of expertise in the course of their career. Expertise is not stagnant but iterative.
Finally, the best freelance writers exhibit at least some degree of self-assured confidence. They know what they can do, and believe in their work. When that confidence is coupled with competence, magic happens for your marketing content.
4. MARKETING SAVVY
What do you need your content writer to accomplish? The answer to that question should inform what the writer you’re about to hire needs to know about marketing.
Are you looking for more engaging social media posts? In that case, the freelancer you hire needs to understand the networks and your audience.
The same is true for every other piece of marketing content to be produced, from white papers to emails.
The Importance of SEO Skills
SEO is an especially crucial skill for freelance writers in the digital arena. If the professional you look to hire creates web content, they need to know how to optimize it for your core keywords and phrases.
How those keywords are incorporated in the content and how that content itself is structured can make or break your SEO successes. Semrush has highlighted a number of characteristics that SEO content absolutely has to have to keep up online:
- Frequent but natural appearance of the primary keyword without keyword stuffing.
- Use search intent to inform keywords.
- Different semantically related variations of the keywords.
- Thematic subsections organized by keyword topics.
- Scannable content that links to reputable sources.
- Keyword appearances in content title, headers, image alt text, and body copy.
Hiring a freelance writer for inbound who understands the basics of modern SEO and writing for the web will go a long way toward improving your organic search efforts.
From SEO to Inbound Marketing
SEO knowledge is a great start.
Ideally, though, your freelance writer should also demonstrate a fuller understanding of inbound marketing. If your content aims to attract, engage, and delight, the creator of that content needs to at least understand what your audience looks for to fulfill each phase of inbound marketing.
Seven of the top ten skills companies look for in freelance writers can be directly connected to inbound marketing.
If all these requirements are making you feel like you’re looking for a unicorn, consider pairing your freelance writer with a content strategist who understands inbound methodology. Working with a marketing agency or understanding the inbound methodology yourself are both great options.
Find someone who writes for your needs.
To bring it all together, end your search for the perfect freelance writer with a simple question: can this professional help you write the content you need to move your business forward?
George R.R. Martin would probably struggle to write a 100-word email that doesn’t include killing off your primary product before the end.
Not all great writers are great at all forms of writing. George R.R. Martin would probably struggle to write a 100-word email that doesn’t include killing off your primary product before the end. He’s an expert in complicated storylines, compelling long-form narrative, and a plethora of characters. Email writing, on the other hand, needs be short, sweet, and focused.
Nobody will accuse successful novelists of being bad writers, but writing novels is far from an automatic qualifier for writing high-quality marketing content.
What you need, above all, is a freelancer who can write for your exact content needs. That means you have to begin your process of hiring an independent professional by formulating these needs. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can begin the process of finding a partner who can help your business grow through great marketing writing.
And now, to the exciting part—your options.
SHOP FOR YOUR CONTENT WRITING OPTIONS
Now that you know what you’re looking for, the next logical question is, “how do I find this perfect freelance writer?” Selecting a great writer can be similar to finding a great salesperson—there’s often no good way to know if they’re a good fit without bringing them on board first and seeing how they work out.
With content writing, there’s the challenge of finding someone who can write well, understand your business, and be passionate enough about your subject matter to do an outstanding job.
Also, be sure to note that, while freelance contributors may be your ideal candidate, not everybody looking for work is willing to be a freelancer—many people prefer full-time, steady work.
Finding a freelance writer using the traditional process you’d use to find an employee for your business may prove to be very challenging.
As we discussed in Chapter 2, what you’re looking for will ultimately boil down to the perfect intersection of writing skills, industry knowledge (or the research acumen to suffice), a freelancer mindset, and digital marketing knowledge. Finding a freelance writer using the traditional process you’d use to find an employee for your business may prove to be very challenging.
For this reason, we recommend heading to the internet.
WHERE TO HIRE CONTENT WRITERS
Could you virtually hold up your sign advertising ‘writers for hire’ online? Sure. You can also go looking for people who advertise that they are writers. The world wide web is vast, and you’ll be able to narrow down where to hire content writers greatly if you know where to look.
Here’s a menu of some of the options that you will find when you look for writers online.
As you’re reviewing your options, you’ll need to decide if you are looking for an individual or if you’d rather use a marketplace to find multiple writers. Another option to consider is whether you’re looking for someone who does general online marketing (content writing included) or a writing specialist. Finally, you’ll also need to make sure that the writing is free from errors and in alignment with your goals for style and tone.
To help you get started on your search for writers online, let’s break down some popular options:
Craigslist is everywhere or just about. You may have even used the service to hire employees for your business locally, and that is one of the primary benefits of Craigslist—you may find someone local enough to meet you for coffee before getting to work on your writing.
- Potential to find someone local
- Inexpensive job postings
- Prepare to be overwhelmed by a high volume of responses
- You’ll need to do 100% of the evaluation of respondents yourself
- Craigslist is notorious for being full of scammers. Cindy who “lives” across town may actually be Bob across the world and is still learning English
ONLINE FREELANCER NETWORKS
Sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com have vast networks of freelancers of all stripes—you can find freelancers who do everything from business card design to website development to writing.
- A large selection of freelancers to choose from
- Rating system allows you to get a sense of skills from ratings left by previous clients
- Freelancers may post samples of their work
- Payment is securely handled by the company providing the network and platform
- With so many categories of work, it can be hard to figure out how to get exactly what you want
- You’ll have to describe your project in detail, ask freelancers to submit proposals, and sift through them to find the best fit
- Because these networks don’t have a platform that’s tailored to just writing, providing edits, and communicating with your writer may be challenging
- You’ll pay an ongoing management fee to the company providing the platform and freelancer matching
INDIVIDUALS & AGENCIES
A simple Google search for “content writer” or “small business copywriter” will return dozens of results hawking all sorts of writing-related services. These tend to fall into two camps: individual writers and agencies. Agencies may offer specific writing services or more general marketing services, one of which is content writing.
- Can find highly qualified individuals and agencies that focus on your particular industry
- Lots of good independent writers and agencies. A good one will deliver excellent service and excellent results
- The process of evaluating quality is 100% on you. You likely won’t be able to find accurate, unbiased ratings or reviews
- Price, quality of work, and quality of service vary wildly. It can be difficult to tell when you’re getting good work, good service, and a fair price
- You’ll need to put together, review, and sign a contract
- It’s difficult to get variety from single writers or agency writers—you’ll likely be stuck with a single style
FREELANCE WRITER PLATFORMS
UpWork and Freelancer.com are marketplaces for freelance work as a whole, but there are a number of companies that serve as freelancer marketplaces specifically for writing—Verblio, WriterAccess, and Scripted are examples.
These companies have a platform that allows you to find, interact, and hire writers and, in many cases, offers a way to request edits and give feedback.
You’ll note that price varies considerably across these platforms, as does the platform itself.
- Software is built specifically for writing
- You’ll have access to lots of writers, rated by previous customers, to make finding a good writer with experience in your industry easier
- Some platforms allow you to get multiple submissions from different writers, meaning you’ll be able to see diverse takes on your project
- Much of the flow of content is controlled by the system, so you won’t have to deal with inconsistent freelancers, can adhere to reliable timelines
- Payments are straightforward and paperwork is taken care of
- Some platforms make it challenging to develop an ongoing relationship with writers, making the process of creating a writer who is an expert in your business more challenging
- Working on these platforms often involves monthly investment
- This will require learning a new system to get your writing done
HOW MANY CONTENT WRITERS DO YOU NEED?
Before you can decide how to source your writers, it will help to understand the scope of your content needs—do you need one writer or multiple writers? You may not know the answer to this one yet, but consider the following when determining what the headcount of your writing team should be.
Are you most concerned with:
- Controlling the process and final product?
- Knowing and communicating personally with each writer?
- Conducting adequate QA with outsourced writers?
- Having your pick of a variety of tones/styles of writing?
- Procuring the most expert content possible in your industry vertical?
- Getting large projects (and therefore, a high volume of content) completed quickly that are required for your content strategy?
By contrast, if conducting adequate QA and working through multiple internal approvals with your staff (i.e. compliance concerns, highly involved executive team, etc.) are most important to you to get the industry content you need, you should also opt for fewer writers, if not just one, likely an expert freelancer or marketing agency with a sizable hourly rate.
Finally, when you need to knock out a lot of content quickly for large projects, receive variety in tones or styles of writing to choose from, and keep costs down while doing it, you’re going to have to add a few heads (at least!). In order to adhere to tight deadlines, the best option is to hire on an online platform or freelance writing service to get you in touch with several writers quickly, keep projects on-deadline, and (bonus!) remain friendly to your budget.
Up next, we’ll discuss how to test out your freelance writer(s) for the first time, and how to build a relationship to successfully power your inbound marketing.
TESTING THE WATERS WHEN YOU HIRE FREELANCE WRITERS + BUILDING THE RELATIONSHIP
To get noticed in today’s market, your content needs to be personal, engaging, and tailored to your brand’s unique voice. When you build strong relationships with your writers, they can:
- Have a deep understanding of your brand positioning and grow with your brand over time
- Tailor their content to your specific customer persona(s) and audience
- Match the tone and style of your existing content or contribute to building a style that’s perfect for your brand
- Create content story arcs by intimately knowing what you’ve published in the past
- Suggest new topics that appeal to your audience (and help you save time)
But how can a writer do that if they don’t know who you are? Before they can create great content, a writer needs to know some really important information about your business and your goals.
Here are a few key things that a writer needs to know about your business prior to writing their first sentence for you:
- Your brand personality
- Your audience/customers and others you’d like to target
- Where they can find information about your products and/or services
- Much of the flow of content is controlled by the system, so you won’t have to deal with inconsistent freelancers, can adhere to reliable timelines
- Your goals as a business and goals related to your content efforts
Strong relationships with writers certainly don’t appear overnight, and they don’t grow without some upfront investment. If you’re hoping to kick-start this freelancer-company relationship, we’ve got you covered.
In this chapter, we’ll dive into some best practices for building a relationship with your new freelance writer. Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to receiving great content.
STEP 0: START THE JOURNEY WITH MORE THAN ONE WRITER.
Here’s the thing: it is really hard to look at a freelance writer’s profile or portfolio and determine whether they’re going to be great at writing for your client or business. Writing is just too personal—and brand voices too varied and unique—to perfectly extrapolate how a given writer’s style will mesh with yours.
When you're looking at how to hire writers, the operative word here is "writers." Plural.
You should go into this process expecting to audition more than one writer. You may meet a perfectly good writer who simply is not a fit for your team, and that’s going to be extremely tough to figure out ahead of time.
The best way to determine whether a freelance writer will work for your business is to give them a real project.
The best way to determine whether a freelance writer will work for your business is to give them a real project and set clear, concrete expectations for the final product. Even better: have multiple writers complete similar projects. Then, compare what gets written, how closely each writer matched what you were looking for, and whether there were any (positive or negative) surprises. By working with a group of writers, you’ll typically be able to achieve your content goals much more successfully.
STEP 1: INTRODUCE WRITERS TO YOUR BUSINESS & WRITING STYLE.
In order to blend seamlessly with your team, a freelance writer needs to understand your business. Part of this goes back to the process of finding a writer: if you find someone who is well versed your industry, niche, or location, it’s going to be a lot easier for them to understand your business and write for it.
But there is also critical information about your business that you need to provide to the freelancer to even start. Here’s a list:
- Your website. Have the writer poke around, point out their favorite pages (as well as any high- or under-performing pages), and have them ask questions.
- Social media. Another great place for writers to understand the voice of your business. Explain which channels are most critical to your audience and why.
- Your style guide or other marketing guidelines. Many businesses have a style guide or rough guidelines set out by the marketing department which include: preferred writing style, linking/citation practices, dos and don’ts for writing, formatting requirements, etc. If you don’t have this, you can use #4 as a pretty effective hack.
- Favorite pieces of writing. This is a critical, and often missed, way to get good initial results from your freelancers: point them to stuff you love and want to emulate! This can be from your own site or blog to model after, a piece of writing from a source you admire, etc. Send links and explain what exactly you like about it.
STEP 2: GIVE CLEAR ASSIGNMENTS.
In the event that you’re disappointed with the first round of content that you receive from your freelancer, it is actually rarely because the writer has simply ignored directions. You may want to start by considering whether you’ve provided clear direction in assignments.
Here are a few things to consider providing to your writer in your assignment package or ‘creative brief’:
- A subject or headline. Your writer will need a minimum of a one-sentence description of what subject they’ll be writing about. If you have a specific headline in mind, include that too. If not, make it clear to your writer that you’d like them to write the headline based on your subject.
- A content brief. Tell your writer, in a detailed brief, a few paragraphs, or an outline, what you’d like them to write about. What are the key points you’d like covered? The questions the content should answer? For longer pieces, what sections should be used? You should also include a specific goal for what this piece of content should do for your business.
- Keywords to target. For SEO purposes, you’ll want to tell your writer what primary keywords and keyword variations should be used in the content.
- Research links. What resources exist on the web that the writer can use for research purposes? These could be on your own site or others.
It’s also worth noting on this subject that a clear assignment can be short or open-ended, but keep in mind that writers will take more license with what you’ve asked them to do if you provide them less concrete direction.
Letting your freelancers explore ideas using their own expertise can be a really powerful tool, but if you know what you’re looking for, then providing that direction upfront will save both you and the writer time and energy in the long run.
STEP 3: ENSURE EXCELLENT BI-DIRECTIONAL COMMUNICATION AND SET UP A SYSTEM FOR FEEDBACK.
Even with a clearly crafted assignment, your writer will almost certainly have questions, especially if they’re new to your business. Make sure you set up a clear system for communicating with your writer, and let the writer know you’d like to hear from them with questions, ideas, etc.
Building a relationship with a freelance writer takes time. Whatever you do, don’t expect the very first piece of writing you get back to be exactly what you were looking for. Like onboarding any new employee, it takes time for a writer to get to know your business, and it will also take time for you to perfect your communication strategy and trade feedback in a meaningful way on both sides.
Providing timely and useful feedback is the best way to accelerate this ‘getting to know you’ process.
(On a related note, make sure any freelance writer you hire is transparent about how many rounds of edits are included in their pricing package. You’ll want to put all this great feedback to use, and pricing transparency helps avoid unnecessary—and costly—hiccups down the line.)
When you get a piece of writing back from a freelancer, think about your feedback in terms of two categories:
- Overall feedback. What did you like about the draft? What needs to change? Is the tone right? The length and depth? Was the main goal of your content achieved by this writing? It can be easy to just point out what you didn’t like, but adding some positive feedback is helpful, both for your relationship and for the writing.
Line-level edits. Use these to highlight specific things in a piece of writing that need to change. This could include: word choice, typos, links, etc. Specific edits will help you to point out exactly what is and is not working for you.
STEP 4: KEEP WRITERS HAPPY AND
If your writer is happy and compensated in a fair manner, they’re going to produce better content. Compensation is certainly one key to writer happiness, but it’s not the only one. You’ll want to think of your freelancer as an extension of your overall team, and treat him or her with the same fairness and compassion that you would your own employees.
Here’s a look at two key elements for writer happiness:
- Compensation. The goal here is to pay writers enough to do great work. If you’re paying your writer too little, they’re going to have to rush through some element of the project (research, writing, editing) as a way to make up for the fact they’re not being paid enough. In addition, a writer who feels like they’re being fairly compensated is more likely to go above and beyond for you.
- Goal setting. To keep your writer happy, think about their goals. For most writers this includes fair compensation, clear expectations, a process for good, respectful communication, timely and constructive feedback, and reasonable deadlines.
Compensation choices range from a monthly retainer to per project or content piece to hourly. Calculating a rough hourly wage of $30-$35 per hour is a good starting point for thinking about this.
If you’re not sure how to go about doing this, ask the writer how long they expect the project to take them before you ask them how much they charge. It’s also fine to just ask your freelancer what they charge and negotiate a price from there.
Don’t try to negotiate them down too much though—there will be consequences.
TO SUM IT UP
The prospect of using freelance writers to execute on your content marketing strategy can feel daunting: how can a freelancer—an outsider—possibly understand your business well enough to create unique, powerful content?
If you trust in the process and take the time to build a relationship with your freelance writers, it’s possible to do this and generate results. Start with solid freelancer(s) and follow the framework:
- Provide a detailed and useful introduction to your business.
- Give clear assignments.
- Set up a system to allow bi-directional communication.
- Give timely and constructive feedback.
- Keep your writer happy and fairly compensated.
Follow these steps, and you’ll be on the road to creating excellent content to power your inbound marketing strategy.
Next, in our final chapter, we’ll hear directly from a few freelance writers what you need to do in working with freelance writers to get outstanding inbound results.
SPOTLIGHT ON SIX FREELANCE WRITERS
You heard from one freelancer in Chapter 2, but now that we’ve expanded your knowledge on hiring a freelance writer for your content marketing strategy, we wanted to give the floor back to some of the people in the trenches.
We reached out to six expert freelancers from a variety of backgrounds to see what advice they would share to businesses like yours. Their replies are sure to help you in your endeavor to hire freelance writers for your inbound marketing efforts.
GETTING THE FREELANCE WRITER FOR HIRE’S PERSPECTIVE
After reading our previous chapters, you’re probably ready to start the hunt for freelance content writers of your own and want to get a feel for examples. Of course you do! So who all is out there to work with?
In this chapter, we’ll put the spotlight on just a few in a sea of talented writers who work as independent freelancers and potentially write for a few content service platforms as well. By getting to know a group of professionals in the field, you’ll get a better sense of the types of people that you can expect to encounter during your search for the perfect fit.
The writers we’ve interviewed also have valuable insights (and track records to prove it) into cultivating successful client-freelancer relationships. So, without further ado, let’s meet some writers!
HubSpot Content Marketing Certification, B.A. in Media Arts in Animation
Advertising and marketing, restaurants and tourism, healthcare and medical insurance, education, career services, and...a bit little of everything.
What tips do you have for businesses or agencies who are thinking of working with freelance writers?
Having hired hundreds of freelancers in my day, and being on both sides of this transaction, I think the key to success is, of course, clarity. If the client is really clear about who their audience is and what their message is, the writer has a better chance of being successful. Vague goals like “get more traffic” or “become a thought leader” don’t help a freelancer write this specific post.
The best writing topics, in my experience, are specific:
- How AI is changing marketing.
- The role of snails in an aquarium.
- The history of the poop emoji.
When a writer has a topic like that, they can do the research and present the information in an interesting way.
B.S. in Computer Science from MIT, M.S. in Computer Science from Purdue
IT security, managed services, networks, software development, and digital preservation.
Any tips for working with a freelance writer?
Set reasonable expectations for the type of work you’re requesting. Work that requires serious research and expertise will cost more. Respond promptly and courteously.
Sometimes you have to reject a good piece because it doesn’t fit your needs. Say so rather than going weeks without a response. Don’t drive away writers with your comments; if they’re treated with respect, they might produce a more usable piece next time.
B.A. in English and Theatre, Group Fitness Instructor (American Council on Exercise), Yoga Teacher (500 hours, Akhanda Yoga)
Yoga, fitness, health, wellness, senior living communities, meditation software, mental health professionals, gyms, travel, photography, motivation, home decor and repair.
What advice do you have for businesses or agencies who are thinking of working with freelance writers?
Be as clear as possible about what you want. An outline isn’t necessary, but mentioning the key points you want to cover helps me work more quickly and confidently. Offer specific, constructive feedback, not only about what you don’t like, but about what you do like. That way, every post I write gets closer to your voice, until you can read it and think you might have written it yourself.
Stay consistent. Especially if you’re working with a writer you like, provide a steady stream of topics and stick to your posting schedule. This is better for your blog/business, and it allows me to really get to know what you do and keep my focus on you.
B.A. in Journalism from the University of Kansas
Business, finance, marketing, public relations. I also have marketing experience so I have been learning more about inbound marketing and creating posts for my clients.
What tips do you have for businesses or agencies who are thinking of working with freelance writers?
Provide a solid idea of what you expect in a topic and possibly research sources you may already be familiar with. Have realistic expectations about what can be included in a blog based upon the word count you have chosen. Provide feedback to writers so they can improve what they offer you.
B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering from Michigan State University
Most of the clients I write for are in the software or IT industries. I may write about software development, which is what I did at my last job. I also write on other IT topics such as managed hosting, security, operating systems, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things.
What top three tips do you have for businesses or agencies who are thinking of working with freelance writers to outsource content?
- Have a clear idea of what content you want. Figure out what will work well for your situation based on what has worked for others and what your goals are.
- Be sure to be clear in how you tell your writers what content you need. Give the right amount of detail in your requests so the writers can craft a piece that will meet your expectations.
- Be flexible and willing to consider deviations from your original plans. Sometimes you do not know how well something will work until you try it. If you are unsure if a piece of content or an idea is the right one, be willing to try it out. Producing content is a learning process, and you may discover a better approach by trying new things.
You made it!
You now understand how content writing fits into the overall inbound marketing methodology, what makes a perfect freelance writer for content marketing, how to find freelance writers, how to best work with them, and you met some actual freelance writers. We hope that through this journey, the process of working with freelance writers to power your inbound marketing seems a lot more approachable. Don't forget to snag your PDF copy of this e-book so that you can hit the ground running.
At Verblio, we’re building a platform to make the process of collaborating with freelancers for inbound and content marketing easier and more effective. Take a look if it sounds intriguing, but there are lots of good options and great freelancers out there, and we sincerely believe the most important thing you can do after reading this information is to figure out what works for you and get started!
All the best with your inbound marketing.
Caroline Rideout does sales and marketing at Verblio, and was previously a content strategist at a digital marketing agency. With over five years of SEO and content marketing experience, she’s thrilled to be bringing her expertise to Verblio’s diverse base.
Kali Bizzul is Verblio’s former marketing manager and the editor/strategist of Verblio’s own content and blog strategy, where she lives and breathes content marketing while overseeing a team of in-house contributors and freelance writers.
Molly Krumholz is Verblio’s former head of freelance content writers, a position that means figuring out how to empower over 3,000 freelancers to be successful, and match them with customers to write for over 1,400 businesses every month.
Simon Stuchlik is the director of graduate recruitment at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and a freelance writer for the Verblio system, among others.
Paul Zalewski is head of marketing at Verblio, and has been nerding out on SEO and content marketing for more than 10 years.