This post is one of a series on my content production system, developed over 10 years and designed to scale content end-to-end in 6 months as an acquisition channel.
Here are the other posts in the series:
- Why the winner takes all in Content Marketing
- What everyone gets wrong about Content Strategy
- Building Your Keyword Universe
- Minimum Viable Technical SEO Audit
- Recruiting good Freelance Writers (this post)
- How to write blog content at scale
- Growth engineering for SEO
- Link building for authority
- Content Repurposing for Social Promotion
Writers are the lifeblood of any content marketing effort - you can't do it without them, but good freelancers are hard to find. There are three kinds of writers, and you’ll use all of them for different things. Freelance writers usually don’t have domain expertise but can write on most topics. They often live in Western countries, so they will charge between 15 and 50 cents per word. Domain experts who learned to write are the most expensive, costing in many cases over $1 per word. There are also low cost writers that live in poorer countries, and can be as low as 5-10 cents per word, or used for virtual assistant-type tasks like research or data-entry.
- Domain Experts - $1+ per word
- Professional Writers - $0.15-0.25 per word
- Virtual Assistants - $0.05-0.10 per word
There’s no playbook for attracting domain experts: you have to be lucky and well networked. Low cost virtual assistants are in high supply, but need a lot of instruction, so you’ll typically only want to use them for structured tasks, long tail copy and gathering research. It’s the first group, professional freelance writers who you can build a recruiting system around, so that’s what we’ll focus on. This is a simple but time-consuming process, but it got me an 80% success rate (from initial outreach to content published) in finding good quality new writers.
A. Read Ranking Content
Let the market do your vetting for you: read posts that have already ranked on the keywords you’re targeting, and note down the authors of the posts you like. This will help to give you an idea of what the competition is like, and also act as a source of leads for writers to contact.
B. Find Authors on Social
Nowadays it’s pretty easy to find people online, particularly writers, because if they’re freelance they want to help new clients to find them. Even if you can’t tell from the blog post or author page, the vast majority of writers don’t work full time at the place you found their post, and are willing to be contacted via DM on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.
C. Offer a 1 Post Trial
Even if the writer does work full time at the place you found their post, the chances are they’re up for some moonlighting so long as you’re not a direct competitor. Most people can carve out an evening or some time on the weekend to earn some extra cash, in particular if you can work with them remotely and without strict deadlines. Supply them with 3x topic ideas within their area of expertise and set a fixed number of words, say 500, that you want the post to be. Ask them to quote you a fixed or per word price for the piece, and give them full latitude to set their own deadline up front. If the post is low quality or they miss their own deadline, do what you can with what they send you, but just pay them and move on. If they do a good job, make a point of publishing and paying as soon as possible, and send them the link with clear permission given to use in their portfolio.
BONUS: Hiring an Agency
If you want to get going quickly with minimal management overhead and have built in quality control, then hiring an agency can be a good option - they'll do all this for you (for a price). You should understand the economics of how an agency works so you’re going in with your eyes open: expect a 100% markup on the cost of producing the content with freelancers, because you’re paying for convenience. Model out the potential cost differences by taking the length and number of articles they’re committing to publishing on your behalf, vs your own costs to doing the same. Even if they won't give exact numbers, you can usually get a 'typical range' out of them and estimate the rest, particularly if you say it's a procurement requirement to close the deal.
Of course you also need to calculate the cost of management overhead, which in many cases can be a 50-100% multiplier on the gross cost of the content published: that’s why agencies need to charge so much. If you decide the economics work for you and you want to go down this route, I suggest you try and hear pitches from 3-5 different agencies. For the ones you like, get references from existing or past clients - search them out through google or via your network, it’s a waste of time talking to anyone they recommend you to talk to.