Know the value of the content marketing, but don’t have a writer? On the Rethink Marketing podcast, Sharon Hurley Hall and Nathan Isaacs outline how to hire the perfect freelance writer for your B2B business.
In our conversation, we cover how to find an above average freelancer, what to look for, how to establish work expectations for both side, and what to expect to pay for a freelancer.
Editor’s note: Transcript edited for clarity. For full measure, listen to the podcast.
Nathan: Sharon, can you tell me a little bit more about yourself and what you do?
Sharon: As you said, I’m a freelance writer and blogger. I’ve been doing it for a heck of a long time. I started out in journalism and then moved online about 14 years ago. These days, I write a lot about topics related to marketing, such as email marketing, SEO, social media, blogging, analytics, and so on. And I also run a writer mentoring program called The Biz of Writing.
What are the benefits that you see to hiring a freelancer?
Nathan: We’re here today to talk about hiring a freelance writer for companies so that they can help scale up their content marketing. I’m just wondering, from your experience, what are the benefits that you see to hiring a freelancer?
Sharon: Well, funnily enough, I’ve hired freelancers myself, because I’ve worked with freelancing teams. The benefits that I see is that you get the services of a professional content creator, which results in better content that when you have someone who might know the business, but not know content writing, created it. Of course, you don’t have to do all the writing yourself. So you’re free to concentrate on other parts of growing your business. Those are two of the big benefits as far as I’m concerned.
How does a company find a freelancer for their industry?
Nathan: I’ve run across this in the past where I’ve gone to events and our customers come up to me and ask, how do I find a content writer for my space? I am asking you that question, how does a company find a freelancer for their industry?
Sharon: One of the best ways to find freelancers is to almost like stalk the ones you like online. Do you know what I mean? I don’t mean this in a creepy way. But say you’re reading a competitor’s blog and you see that they’ve got content that’s authored by a freelancer, and then you have a quick look and you see that that person is also writing for other publications, then there’s a fair chance to that person’s also available to write for you. So, you can just approach them directly. That’s one option.
You can also place ads on job boards, but then it really depends on the ones that you choose. Because some job sites freelancers see as a race to the bottom, and most of the best freelancers won’t look at them at all. From my own personal perspective, if I’m looking for a writing gig, there are only a few sites that I will look at, and I should backtrack to say that what you’ll find is that a lot of professional freelances. Get writing jobs by referral. Another way that you can find freelancers to work with is to use your contacts and say have you worked with any good freelances that have impressed you recently and get their contact details.
But then you can also go and place ads on places like the ProBlogger job board, or Indie Writers, and so on, which writers respect because they know that a certain amount of vetting goes on, and that the gigs are likely to be genuine. You can also follow industry hashtags on Twitter and see who’s writing content in the industry that you want them to write about. Those are just a few ways that you can do this.
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What should be considered as a B2B business establishes a relationship with a freelance writer?
Nathan: When a company’s reaching out to you, or any freelancer, what should they be considering? There are things that maybe you’re considering. Maybe from both points of view, what are some of the things that should be considered as a relationship is established?
Sharon: For companies, they’re going to be looking I think, for writers who know SEO, content marketing or email marketing or the particular area of writing that they want covered. Whether that’s writing white papers, creating eBooks or whatever. But the interesting thing is they you don’t necessarily have to have niche specific knowledge although it’s nice to have, because most pro writers are good at getting up to speed fast and doing research.
Sharon: I always think it’s more important for them to have the writing skills, as long as they’re good researchers, then the rest will follow. Writers on the other hand are looking for reputable companies that look like they have staying power, who are not going to give them a writing job and then disappear overnight, and that they’re going to pay them what they think they’re worth. They’re going to communicate well so that everybody knows what expectations are on both sides and that. That they’ll be able to get in touch with them if there’s something that they need to check about a particular writing job.
What questions should companies ask potential freelancers?
Nathan: What are the questions that you wished companies asked you more during that process?
Sharon: I think that they’re the usual sorts of questions. All companies want to know about your experience, about examples of work, about your availability, sometimes about past clients. One thing that more clients could ask about is the way that you prefer to work. Not just in terms of here’s a writing job and here’s a deadline, but what kind of communication are you going to need as it goes on? What kind of information do I as a client need to provide so that you as a writer can do a better job for me? Those are a couple of questions that more people should ask.
Nathan: I’ve seen where freelancers will ask if at all possible to be given access to the product, say, in the tech space so that the freelancer can dive in as a user and have a better understanding of what they’re writing about, one of the tools in the research. Does that sound right?
Sharon: I think if you’re going to be writing technical content to help others learn to use a particular product, then it can be helpful to have that new user experience and to understand fully what the capabilities of that product are. I think you’ll do a better job if you do it that way.
How should companies evaluate a freelance writer or content marketer?
Nathan: You mentioned writing samples, is there something that a company should be looking at when they’re reviewing writing samples? How could you tell like, oh, this person is a great writer, but they didn’t realize that, and an editor had already gone through that and cleaned up all the mistakes?
Sharon: OK. Apart from great spelling and grammar, the ability to tell a good story and general readability, one of the ways to check whether a writer is really a good writer is to look at samples that have been produced on several different websites. You’re looking for consistency. Do they sound like they’ve been written by the same person? Is there a discernible style? Because if there is, then the likelihood is that that’s the person’s style, and it doesn’t mean that it’s not been created by a particular editor.
What is a worthy reference for a freelancer to use?
Nathan: That’s a really a great tip. Speaking of that though, when you say multiple sites, I guess you have to be able to pick and choose which are reputable sites and not. I see a lot of freelancers, if they’ve written something like the New York Times or Adobe or some reputable brands those speak more than newstartup.com.
Sharon: That is partly true. There’s certainly something to be said for publishing for a highly reputable publication. But it’s also about what you need. If you’re in the startup space and somebody that you are thinking of hiring has done a number of articles for new startups that are similar to what you’re looking for, then that can be as valuable in vetting the writer as something that’s completely unrelated in the New York Times.
What are the best pieces of content a freelancer can produce?
Nathan: Good, good advice there. Speaking of that, speaking of the content, what are some of the best pieces of content that a company should be hiring a freelancer for?
Sharon: That’s kind of a how long is a piece of string question. Because it depends on your needs. We all know about the importance of content marketing. So, you could be hiring a writer to create your blog content, to create a lead magnet eBook, to write case studies about your clients, to do white papers, to create the narrative for an infographic, to create a video script. That really goes back to you having a content strategy as a company and deciding what kind of content is best going to serve your audience. And then at that point, you have to make a decision as to whether you’re going to create it in house or whether you’re going to outsource it depending on the skills, capabilities and timing that are available to you.
Nathan: If best strategy, would that strategy ever involve having the freelancer do a package deal? Where it’s a handful of blog posts related to an act on software, where we’re helping companies automate their marketing and we’re talking about lead nurturing and stuff like that. Maybe it’s a series of blog posts on lead nurturing, followed by an eBook on lead nurturing. Would there be something like that?
Sharon: Freelancers work in a lot of different ways. You can definitely arrange to do a package or a retainer deal that allows you to book out a certain number of hours a month or a week so that a freelancer can meet whatever your content needs are. That’s certainly something that I think most freelancers would be open to.
How do you create an editorial calendar for your freelance writers?
Nathan: In that sort of arrangement where you’re having them on retainer, is the freelancer working with the company to map out an editorial calendar? Like these are some of the topics that we could be writing about this month? Or how’s that work?
Sharon: Well, that depends on the arrangement that you have with the freelancer. As a freelancer myself, I have seen both things in operation. I have worked with people where they say, “Yes, we want to hire you to do a batch of blog posts, but we want to come up with the topics ourselves based on what we know. And then there are others who say, “We want to pay you a little extra as a retainer so you can come up with topics.” It really depends on the individual companies or marketing departments process and ideal way of working.
What are best practices for managing deadlines, editing and so forth with a freelancer?
Nathan: OK. Speaking about that process of working, are there any tips, any advice, any best practices on how the freelancer and the client manages deadlines, editing and just the overall process?
Sharon: Well, it’s all about communication. Communication can be email, a Trello or Asana board. It can be Slack, it can be whatever. But the important thing is for both parties to set their expectations and deadlines early. For example, I’ll give you an example from my own business practice. If I have a phone meeting with a potential client, within an hour of concluding that meeting, I’ll send an email summarizing what we agreed to. And then I’ll invite them to say whether they disagree. If they don’t disagree, that forms the basis of any future agreement. Usually, that email will include details of what I need from the client to proceed, what I have to deliver, when I have to deliver it, what the payment schedule is, and anything else that needs to be sorted out. It’s all about the communication.
Sharon: I personally find it best to ask a lot of questions of the client up front so that I’m absolutely clear on what is expected and that they’re absolutely clear on what I can deliver.
Do you need to have freelancer letter of agreement or consulting contract?
Nathan: Speaking of that agreement, a question pops in my head, should the client or customer, or company have some sort of legal agreement with the freelancer about who owns the content once it’s published?
Sharon: Absolutely. Some clients have their own legal agreements I have what I call a writer friendly blogging agreement. It depends on what you’re doing. Some work is done as work for hire where once it’s paid for, the client owns it outright. Some is done as work for hire but the writer can use it in their portfolio, and some is published under the writers byline, in which case effectively the company has first rights to it. In practice, what has happened with me is that the work stays on the clients’ sites. I can site it in my portfolio. If I want to do anything else with it after that, then I will ask them as a courtesy.
For example, I did some work for the Crazy Egg blog way back, and then I wanted to create a SlideShare presentation from one of the articles. So, I checked in with the editor say, “Hey, do you mind if this article that we published a year ago becomes a SlideShare presentation for my account?” They said, “No, fine. Just credit us.” If you have good working relationships between businesses and freelancers, then, that’s the most positive thing of all. But it’s always a good idea to spell things out in an agreement even if it’s a very simple one.
What should companies expect to pay for a freelance writer or content marketer?
Nathan: We’ve hinted at this earlier in the conversation, but this is a question that I think it often comes down to is about price. Any advice did you have for companies regarding what they should expect to pay for a freelance writer and what they get for that price?
Sharon: So, with freelancing, you get what you pay for. You cheap out on the cost of your writer, and the chances are that you’re not going to get as good a job. If somebody is writing your 1500 word article for $20 or $50, then you can imagine how many of those they have to write just to make a living. If your pro writer says, “OK, I’m going to charge you $500 for it.” Then you know they’re going to spend a couple of days making sure it’s absolutely right, doing all the research, because they’ll have the time to invest.
If you want to hire writers that are good with SEO, content marketing, know how to format, can do your meta descriptions if they’re needed, can work with keywords and keyword phrases while still keeping things readable, while also telling stories and all the good things that we have to include in content marketing these days, then you’re definitely going to have to pay several hundred dollars for a decent piece of writing. If the process involves in-depth research or interviews, then that’s more time and therefore more money.
But of course, I’m coming from the perspective of somebody who’s been doing this for 30 years. You ask somebody who’s a year in, they may have a different perspective. But I think most pro writers that I talk to feel similarly to the way I do.
Nathan: No, it makes sense. I think what’s often lost, speaking as a writer, even though I work for a company, is just if you think about that return on that investment. So, if you spend $400, $500 for a blog posts and it’s well written and it’s optimized for the web, optimized for your business. I can speak about our own blog and website is that we have posts that were published three, four or five years ago that continue to draw 1000 viewers a month and getting people into our funnel. Think about that cost per lead from anything else that you’re doing. Your pay per click or whatever might be $10, $20, $100. Now you’re talking about something that you paid for $400, four years ago that continues to make money-
Nathan: So, pretty cheap in the long run.
Sharon: It is. It’s actually worth investing and doing the job properly.
Nathan: It seems like … I’m sorry to interrupt. It seems like it’s something that you could then, depending on the agreement you had, a company could use some of that information or just have it grow into an eBook or a white paper or something like that.
Sharon: Exactly. I’ve had happen with several companies. They say, “OK, we want to publish an in-depth guide on this. Let’s break it down into 10 sections. Let’s do an in-depth blog post on each of them. And then let’s condense it again and make it into an eBook or an online guide.” That happens quite regularly.
How do we learn more about you?
Nathan: Interesting. Sharon, I really appreciate your time today, and thanks for giving us some insight into how to hire that perfect freelancer. I’m just wondering how do I learn more about you, or how does a company learn more about you if they want to learn about having a relationship with you?
Sharon: Thanks Nathan, happy to be here. People can learn more about me on my website sharonhh.com, on LinkedIn, Sharonhh, on Twitter, SHurleyHall, or Facebook, Sharon Hurley Hall.
Nathan: Excellent. Sharon, thank you very much.
Sharon: Thank you.