Content, content, content. Most of us plan to create even more of it this year than last. But keeping up with the content production schedule is the #1 challenge marketers face.
So why not outsource it? If you’ve got a little budget, why not hire a freelance writer to take some of the pressure off? And if you’ve got a bit more than a little budget, why not hire several freelance writers, plus one designer to make it all look nice?
A lot of companies make this choice. Their first hire is typically a writer:
Ah, but not so fast.
Granted, hiring content creators can help if you’re struggling to keep up with your publishing schedule. But it’s not entirely as easy as it might sound. And making it successful is even harder.
Not that it can’t be done. Marketers hire content creators all the time. Often it works out really well. Both the marketer and the people they hire end up happily ever after. But there are a few things to know before you dive in.
1) Outsourcing your content creation isn’t going to help if your content strategy stinks.
More content is not going to fix much if you’re just throwing it into a content strategy that’s basically a leaky bucket.
While this sounds like a problem, it can be a plus. Why?
Because content marketers who have done their homework by defining their audience and their content strategy are more likely to succeed.
They’ll have an edge over content marketers who are just burning through budget to make more and more content. These are the people who create major return on investment for their companies. They’ve figured out how to get big results from small budgets, which often means big results from surprisingly little content.
There’s a deeper truth behind this: If your product or service is bad, publishing more content can’t fix that. As Jerry Della Famina once said, “nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.”
2) Outsourcing your content creation isn’t going to help if your content promotion stinks.
Did you know that 50% of all articles get eight shares or less? That’s according to a study Moz and BuzzSumo did last year. But it’s not an isolated stat. CoSchedule did a survey of their audience and found 77% of them shared their posts three times or less on social media.
This almost makes me cry – or get angry. Either way, one thing’s for certain: Most content marketers are AWFUL at promoting their content. This idea that “if you build it, they will come” is bull*&%#. There’s too much competition for even good content to just “float to the top” anymore. It has to be promoted.
Case in point: Brian Dean. Dean has built a world-class blog in fairly little time. He publishes epic, awesome, must-read content. But even with the quality of what he publishes, Dean still sends out 100 outreach emails for every post he publishes. That’s content promotion. What are you doing?
Here’s some math to show that content promotion can replace content creation (to an extent).
Let’s say you publish weekly blog posts of 500 words each. Each post costs $80. They’re written by a good writer, but not a subject expert. So they never really cover any tips or tricks that haven’t been shared a million times before. But still, these weekly posts net you about 10 social shares and maybe 20 site visits each. You get about one lead per post. It takes you about an hour of your time to review and publish each post.
Then you switch to publishing once a month. You get a subject matter expert to write something really useful. It costs you $300 and comes in around 1,200 words. Instead of just sharing the post once or twice on social media (and getting 10 whole shares), you
- Share the post five times to your social media accounts.
- Have the subject matter expert share to their audience and their email list as part of their pay. That nets you 30 social shares, 45 visits and 2 leads.
- Use a service like JustReTweet or CoPromote to promote the post. That gets you 50 shares, 25 visits and 2 leads.
- You send outreach emails (good ones) to eight influencers. That nets you 50 more shares, 25 visits and 2 leads.
Here’s you net result:
|Writer||Time spent||Cost||Promotion||Social Shares||Site Visits||Leads|
|General writer||4 hours||$80 x 4 = $320||Email and share once||10||20||1|
|Subject expert||1 hour + 2 hours outreach emails + 1 hour other promotion tactics = 4 hours||$300||Email, share 5x, subject expert shares, CoPromote, JustRetweet, 8 influencer outreach emails||30+50+50= 130||45+25+25= 95||6|
That’s how good content and good content promotion can take one blog post and get six times the results.
The upside of this: Content promotion doesn’t have to be hard or that expensive. It can take some trial and error to figure out what works for your content and your audience, but once you’ve got a system going, you can distil your content promotion down to a checklist, then hand it over to a smart intern. Or even… outsource it.
In fact, I run across way too many companies who think they need more content creators, when what they actually need are content promoters.
3) The “I’ll just write it myself” factor.
If you’re a good writer, you may find that it takes you as much time to find, train, edit and chase down writers as it would to just write the content yourself. This is frustrating, but if you’ve got more content to write than you can write by yourself, you’re still going to have to find and work with those writers.
You’ll just have to learn how to screen the writers better. You’ll need writers that don’t miss deadlines, don’t need a lot of editing, and don’t need a lot of handholding. That can be done, but it may mean you have to hire 3-5 writers before you find someone who meets those criteria.
Oh… and they may end up charging more. ‘Cause they know they’re worth it.
The upside to this: Once you have a system for finding and vetting writers, you’ll be less terrified when you lose one. It’ll also give you a stronger negotiating position.
4) You get what you pay for.
ClearVoice did a survey of both marketers and freelance writers earlier this year. As they put it,
“There were two common themes:
- Freelance writers are underpaid
- You get what you pay for”
They also reported “Fifty percent of marketers who commented said they believe writers who charge more produce higher quality work, which saves them money in the long run.”
There’s a belief among some marketers that they can get lucky and hire a cheap freelancer who will produce content that’s “good enough.” 99% of the time, they’re kidding themselves. What they get is just cheap content. Filler content. It just ends up costing them more in the long run.
- We are drowning in content already. There are two million blog posts published per day.
- Do you really expect your audience to read filler content when they have access to world-class content that’s only a few clicks away?
- Do you really expect your filler content to attract new readers – who would want to become your audience members?
- Filler, cheap content reflects poorly on your brand.
- Cheap content actually trains your audience to ignore you.
- Cheap content has a high bounce rate and causes most visitors to not return. Those are all ranking signals. If you wanted any search engine traffic, filler content isn’t going to get it for you.
Okay, okay – you get it. But you can’t afford to pay $300 for a blog post. So what to do?
Get more mileage out of the content you publish. There are a bunch of ways to do this:
- Promote it better (as mentioned above)
- Republish it
- Curate some of it
- Publish less often
- Repurpose your content
If you did all those things, you’d be able to publish maybe one or two original posts per month, and still get more shares and more leads than you were getting before.
Remember: The original purpose of content marketing was not to just pump out content.
It was to get business results. And because good content takes time, and skill, and experience to create, it is expensive. That doesn’t mean you make people work for poverty wages. It doesn’t mean you just cut corners everywhere and hope things work out. It means you need to get more mileage out of the content you do publish.
That’s actually another reason good content is worth its cost – you can get more mileage out of it. Send a thought-provoking, well-written post with original research to ten influencers, and you’ll get a response about 10% of the time. Send a $25 vapid piece of content filler to those same influencers, and they’ll mark your emails as spam.
5) You’ll need to establish a “brand voice” before you get too far.
You’ll get all kinds of variations in the work you get from freelancers – even good freelancers. The tone of their writing will be different, they’ll think differently, they’ll include or not include things you may or may not like.
There’s got to be some control over that if your content is going to have a consistent brand voice. In the trade, this is known as a style guide. It lays down the rules for copyediting, but should also define other issues, such as:
- Which person can your writers write in (for instance, can they ever use “I” in a post?).
- Whether jokes, slang, exclamation marks or any other non-corporate sounding words will be accepted.
- Whether they pitch (soft or hard) your products or services in their content. (Hint: try not mentioning your products or services at all if you want to be trusted).
- Whether they have to cite examples (and sources) in their work, or if it’s okay to just cite “research” show the stat and move on. As an ex-journalist, this makes me crazy… and I consider it a sign of really sloppy work. But some major content marketers don’t seem to be bothered by it at all.
It’s best to have a style guide before you hire writers. Consider creating one about the same time as you plan out your content calendar.
6) Trust, but verify.
Always check new copy in Copyscape. But that’s just the first level. Some content writers have gotten the idea that it’s okay to just find one article they like and rewrite it. Hopefully, that sounds as bad to you as it does to me. But it’s a practice some very widely known bloggers use.
You don’t want this for your blog posts or short content, and you absolutely don’t want it showing up in ebooks. So ask your content creators to list the articles they’ve used to do their research. Even a list of five to ten different posts is sufficient. It won’t take them much time, and it’ll keep you away from copyright infringement.
I don’t mean to bash hiring content creators too badly. They can definitely help. For many companies, they’re a necessity. But too often, marketers just dive and start hiring without much thought. Suddenly, they not only have an intense publishing schedule to keep up with – they’ve got a bunch of untamed writers causing all kinds of trouble.
I don’t mean to say the writers are the source of the trouble either. But if their instructions are vague and they aren’t being paid well, it’s not too surprising that work can start getting turned in late. Research will slack off. And a couple may even start lifting paragraphs from other people’s work.
It doesn’t have to be that way – for the marketers or the content creators. A little planning, and clear idea of what’s expected, and a sane process for producing and approving content makes a big difference. That way you can have the content creation machine of your dreams. And still generate a positive ROI.
What do you think?
Have you hired any content creators? How was your experience? Share your thoughts – pro or con – in the comments