How to Hire and Manage Freelancers for Your Content Marketing Campaign
If you’ve decided to move into content marketing, one of the facts that you quickly learn is that it requires hard work – a lot of it. Doing the background research, developing your content calendar, writing or producing the content, optimizing it for publication, getting it published, disseminating it, engaging with your readers, and measuring your results is no small feat.
Many businesses use freelancers to accelerate some or all parts of these processes. I’ve worked with freelancers throughout my career for various projects, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are my top tips for ensuring you hire the right people for the job, building your relationships with your freelance team, and getting the most value out of these relationships
Crafting the Job Advertisement
For purposes of this article, I’ll use the example of hiring and working with a freelance writer. Everything outlined in the attached is applicable to any freelancer you’ll work with. The first place to get started is with defining the role and articulating those needs in your job description. If you need more ideas on the kinds of writing required for a content marketing strategy, I recommend reading “How To Build Your First Content Marketing Strategy.”
There’s a wide variety of writers on the market. Skills range from beginner to advanced, as do price ranges and professionalism. The best way to vet your pool of candidates is to start by being very thoughtful in terms of how you structure your job ad.
Start by sketching out a list of the deliverables that this person will handle: blog posts, guest posts, and articles, for example. How long do they need to be, and how frequently do you need them written? Different candidates will be drawn to one five hundred word post per week versus and two fifteen hundred word posts per day, for example. The more clear you are about your needs, the more candidates will self-select during the application process based on quality, pace, and topics required.
Next, think about the kind of voice or function you want these pieces to have for your business. Are you looking for a journalistic voice that can help you educate readers about your space, or someone that can make the hard sell and move people toward a purchase right away? There’s no right answer, but it’s important that you consider the voice you’d like to use for your business. Versatile writers can often communicate in multiple voices, but specific candidates are also likely to have strengths.
Finally, consider the work style that you’re most comfortable with. Do you need someone that’s very independent, who is comfortable developing and pitching topics? Are you looking for someone to deliver finished products that you can just publish? Or are you looking for a collaborative writer that can breathe life into your ideas, that is willing to conform to a strict style guide, and can run with your article titles or outlines? Once you’ve gotten clear on these points, you’re ready to draft the job description.
Here are a few tips to take into account when writing the job description:
- Be very clear about your required experience: Can anyone smart and willing to research write these pieces, or does it require a certain level of area expertise or writing finesse?
- Use clear criteria to define the way that you’ll measure that experience: For example, if you’re hiring someone to write guest posts that you hope to publish on high-end tech blogs, one reasonable measure would be to ask for published examples from blogs such as Mashable, VentureBeat, or other well-known publications with strict quality guidelines for guest authors. If your goal is to write white papers and other content geared toward ethanol engineers, ask to see writing samples that demonstrate their expertise in that field.
- Always ask for examples: Whenever possible, ask to see at least five samples of someone’s work. If you’re hiring a less experienced person, it’s possible they won’t have a strong portfolio yet. However, seeing five samples of solid work on different topics or from different clients or publications can confirm that this is a person that can deliver a quality product that doesn’t require excessive editing.
- Request some background information: When you’re hiring a writer or creative, it’s unlikely that you need a detailed resume (but you should request one if it makes you feel more comfortable). What you do want to understand is their general background, the basis of their expertise or interest in your field, and what kind of writing career that they’ve had to date.
Once you’ve written the job description, test it with three trusted colleagues, advisors, or friends. Ask them to give you feedback on clarity. Can they describe the role? Is the profile of person you’re trying to hire clear? The combined feedback of a few people should ensure that what you’re putting out there is attracting the right kind of candidate.
Managing the Publishing Process
Once the job description is written, it’s ready to be posted. There are a number of places on which you can post freelance work. Here’s a quick look at different options and their pros and cons.
Bidding sites, like Elance or Guru: Sites like Elance allow you to post jobs in a variety of niches and get bids from vendors around the globe. The advantages are simple:
- access to a pool of professionals;
- a single interface to hire and manage projects and payment;
- access to past performance data of each freelancer to help make your decisions.
The downsides typically relate to quality: these sites are often a stepping stone for professionals that are building their careers. The most accomplished individuals usually look elsewhere for work.
Your own networks: Don’t overlook the power of reaching out to your own networks. If you’re hiring, post a link to the job description on your social media networks or email it to trusted colleagues. Many times, someone you know has a person that they use for this specific service or a contact that’s seeking new clients. Pay extra attention to candidates that come your way via referrals.
Specialty sites: Depending on which niche you’re hiring for, there are likely to be specific sites where you can connect with freelancers. For example, if you’re hiring writers you’d likely consider sites like JournalismJobs, ProBlogger, and Freelancewritinggigs. Hiring coders? Sites like Dice.com and Sologigs are the right places to start. Find a few of the top sites in the niche where you’re looking for talent and evaluate the quality of ads there. It may cost you a bit more in the beginning but you’re more likely to get responses from a highly qualified customer base.
How to Vet Freelance Writers
Once you’ve developed your pool of likely suspects, do a paid test article. There are three ways to approach this: none will always going to be the right approach, but each will give you slightly different insight to your candidates.
Pitching: Ask your candidates to get to know your business a bit, and then have them pitch topics that would be good fits for your company, audience, and marketing goals. This approach gives you an instant understanding of how well they really get your company’s unique positioning, your audience, and what you’re hoping to accomplish with your content. It’ll also allow you to take a deeper look at the content they produce and their overall writing ability.
Assigning the same article to different writers: To do more of an apples to apples comparison, take a specific topic (e.g. “The Top Things Entrepreneurs Should Know about Google Analytics”) and assign that to each of the finalists from your applicant pool. Seeing how the writers each tackle their assigned subjects will give you an excellent perspective on whose work resonates the most with your voice and style.
Assign specific but different content pieces to your writers: There’s a good chance that you’ve got a looming pile of content ideas that need to be written. This audition could be a practical way to identify your new writer and make a dent in what you’re hoping to accomplish with your content marketing strategy.
Ongoing Communication and Management
Once you’ve found the right candidate, it’s time to put your communication and management plan in place. Every entrepreneur-writer relationship is different. Your ongoing communication and management should reflect a work style that keeps you informed and on track and syncs with what your writer needs to accomplish the most for your business. Here are a few recommendations that work for me or that my colleagues have mentioned as best practices that help them collaborate with freelance writers:
Use a content calendar: Use a weekly content calendar that shows your specific campaign milestones and the writer’s deliverables. For a guest posting campaign, for example, you might list each specific venue and due date in a Google Calendar or Basecamp format. Having this guideline will keep your writers writing and allow you to gain steady traction over time.
Monday pitch letters: Whether your writers are pitching topics or whether you’re assigning specific titles based on keyword research, consider using a Monday check-in letter as the basis of that week’s communication. Whoever is in charge of outlining titles should do so, along with publication targets and deadlines if appropriate. If you’re just beginning to work with a writer, consider asking for a title and a two to three sentence blurb that fleshes out each idea. You can then offer feedback and adjustments that meet your goals.
Quarterly big trends and goals updates: Content marketing is only effective if it serves your business. In today’s environment, the reality is that a company’s needs and goals often shift frequently. Keeping your writers focused on your top yearly, quarterly, and even monthly goals will help them craft more effective content for your campaigns. For example, in a specific month, your goal might be to get articles published on as many new publishers as possible, or it might be to educate a specific demographic about your company. Whatever the objective, the more you communicate, the better the results you’ll achieve.
Share periodic feedback: For many entrepreneurs, the idea of doing detailed line edits and sharing that feedback is daunting. Your role isn’t to be your writer’s managing editor (although it can be if that’s your approach). However, sharing periodic feedback is absolutely critical. Are certain topics or types of content getting real traction? Let the writer know. Are you seeing more success when you feature your links in a specific way? Send a quick note to share these insights. Did you really have to cut into a piece to make it fit your voice? In that instance, sharing detailed edits and asking the writer to review the changes can save you time down the road.
Show appreciation: Last but not least, if you find a writer that gets your business and makes your content marketing job easier, take the time to let them know. Whether they get your voice better than other writers you’ve worked with or make it easier to hit your deadlines, sharing occasional praise will make you a valued client. Writers, especially freelance ones, work in a highly transactional context. Client request, write, rinse, and repeat. Taking the time to recognize their contribution will help ensure that they want to do their best to help you reach your goals.
For more tips on hiring, see my article 10 Lessons That I Learned from Launching a Startup.
Identifying the gaps in your own ability or in your existing company’s talent base can help you create a roadmap for hiring freelance talent. Freelancers – whether we’re talking writers, coders, designers, or process consultants – can help you reach your business goals effectively and with less stress. Do you have tips for hiring and managing freelancers? Let me know in the comments below.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.
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