Ah, the search for a content writer. Well, it’s less searching for writers and more sifting through masses of them.
It seems there’s an unlimited supply of writers. But the same certainly can’t be said about your resources. And here lies the problem.
So the quest for writers must shift to the quest for quality, adaptable, experienced writers.
When it comes to answering this more specific question, your content goals should inform your choices.
How competitive is the space you’re in? What is the business intent behind the content you need? Does this require a subject matter expert?
Pinning down what works for your company may take some trial and error. Luckily, Brad has experience with a handful of the most popular ways to find writers.
Listen in for insights on how to find the writer of your dreams (or at least one who knows proper English).
- How to navigate (and what to expect) when finding writers via: job boards, referrals, cold research, content services, and agencies.
- Methods to find in-demand writers at the top of their industries (hint: job boards won’t cut it).
- Why utilizing a combination of these sources could be the best fit, depending on the content you want.
- 5 Most Popular Ways to Find Blog Writers for Hire
- When (and When Not) to Hire a Content Writing Agency
Hello there. Welcome to Codeless Radio, your podcast for all things digital and content marketing. And today I am joined by Mr. Brad Smith from Codeless. Hello Brad.
Hello. Good afternoon.
Good afternoon. It is a fine afternoon, fine and rainy here. What’s the weather like in your part of town?
It’s nice. Denver is warming up. It’s springtime. So Denver will get warm during the day. It’s really weird. In the morning it’ll be like 30. By right now 2:00 PM, it’s like 70. And then by like 10:00 PM, it’s 30 again. And then it’ll be 70 for a few days straight, which feels really warm, you know, ‘cause you’re at altitude. And then this weekend it’ll snow for two days straight. So it’s kind of nutty. You never know when it’s going to be here.
Yeah. In Australia, the city of Melbourne, a lot of Americans say Melbourne, but it’s Melbourne. I don’t know why. It’s how we say it. That city is notoriously known for having four seasons in one day. So it’s basically you go there and it’ll be sunny and then it’ll start raining and you know, it’s just really strange. So you never know what weather you’re going to get and it sounds like Denver is the same.
It is. When I first moved here, I couldn’t understand how to dress because I would be freezing in the morning, but then I’d be sweating after like a couple hours then and then it would get cold all of a sudden it’d be windy and that’d be freezing again. And I was like, I couldn’t figure it out. I had like lots and lots of layers.
But, you can look cool. I always find when you wear lots of layers, you look really trendy, you know? That’s a good thing. If you have a look at like Pinterest and I have at those male model dudes, they never have like one layer on. They always have like 17 layers of scarves and ties and stuff. So that’s what I’m envisioning for you in Colorado.
A lot less cool, but yeah. It’s like you don’t see people looking cool in Phoenix in the summer. There’s just one dress code everyone goes by.
Well, there we go. Well that has zero to do with what we’re going to talk about, but there you go, you know the weather in Denver and what Brad likes to dress like and all that. But great to have you here and we’re going to talk about a topic which I know you have had a lot of experience in and is useful for anyone who is at this phase of their business, which is five different ways to find writers for your content because very often I think business owners fall into the mistake of thinking, Oh, I know how to write a text message. I know how to write an email, I’ll just write this myself. And then that works for about a week. And then they just forget to write anything. So using an actual writer, a professional writer would be a great way to move your content forward much faster and be consistent. But the problem is finding them. And that’s what we really want to look a today is the pros and cons of the different methods that you’ve mentioned here. How long now have you been hiring and working as a writer yourself?
That’s a good question. I’ve been hiring writers for eight years. I used to do a lot more traditional SEO where I was farming out the writing, especially if we were doing it for like a small company that’s random that like is a topic that I don’t know anything about. I’m not gonna be doing the writing. After a while, I started writing myself and being hired. So I started freelance writing for a lot of big sites and then when we pivoted the agency a few years ago, we started again hiring writers, but in a much different way than how I did previously in a much more formalized way. And I mean now we work with like two dozen writers probably on a monthly basis and we’ve reviewed something like 4,000 applications. So the way we go about it now, it’s completely different from how I initially did it, you know, just a few years ago.
Yeah. So you are definitely the man to talk about when it comes to hiring writers. You know what works and what doesn’t. So let’s jump into the different ways. The number one way that typically most business owners will find a professional writer is through job boards. So let’s talk about that. Maybe the pros and cons of using job boards, what you’ve found.
For sure. Yeah. So I like job boards overall. I like them because you get scale and you get volume. Hiring good writers is really difficult. It’s kind of a crapshoot too to a degree if you’re looking for a certain type of writer. And so therefore I know if I can constantly look at a lot of writers, then I’ll usually end up finding some pretty good ones. So in other words, it’s more certain that I end up with good writers if I look at enough in total.
And so this is a huge problem people make, even when they’re hiring general roles, not just writers, but people think like, Oh, I’m going to hire, or like I’m trying to hire a new SEO person. So I’m going to interview like five people and it’s like, no, no, no, no, no. You need to look at like 500 people and then narrow that down to five people and then narrow that down to like one or two. That’s typically how you find good people regardless, but for writers, especially this case and job boards deliver that. The other reason why I like job boards mostly freelance or contract oriented job boards is personally I have found that if you’re going to hire a writer for example like an in house staff type writer off of something like indeed and you tend to, you tend to attract more full time in house type of writer and they suck at higher volume publishing. Those people are usually a better fit for being hired in house. Maybe managing other writers and their tasks are split in that they’re writing a little bit, but then they’re also like doing presentations for internally helping people internally like their attention gets diverted a lot. We like to hire more contract or people with freelance experience because they tend to be more in the publishing output mindset, which lends itself better to our business. So that’s the other reason I like job boards.
What are the biggest drawbacks do you think? If there are any.
You have to weed through so much crap, right? Like so much. And so you have to know that going into it and you have to build systems and processes. Otherwise, I would just spend all day hiring and as right now, like I’m not involved in hiring at all and our business continues to function and it’s because I’m not involved. Otherwise, I would be the bottleneck, you know? So you have to set up processes and systems and people in place where you’re able to vet a huge amount of stuff and whittle it down to the top 10 or 20%. Uh, and then you start to really vet those people as opposed to trying to read everyone’s published sample from the get-go. Cause otherwise, it’s just not, you can’t make the math work.
Makes total sense. Yeah. So it’s kind of the thing that is a pro, which is the volume and the variety that you’re gonna get is also a con because you’re gonna have to sift through a lot.
Again going with the pros and cons angle for all these, just know that going into it and approach it correctly and then you can still find success with it. You just have to do it in a certain way.
Definitely. So that’s job boards and that is one way to potentially find a writer. Um, the second way, which you mentioned here is through referrals, which I thought was an interesting way, is actually reaching out and asking people if they know of a good writer.
Yep. So we do that now with our existing team. We’ll ask writers we like that we’ve worked with. Also too, like even people who work in the marketing side or editing side, if they’ve previously worked with writers at another company that’s who we try to have refer. And then we still have them go through the normal flow. So everyone goes into the same hiring system, but we have them fill it out and then email us internally so we can work it out so they kind of jump to the front of the line. And so it’s a way to help shortcut the top 10% of potential candidates.
Yeah, I love in the article this is based on, you said it’s no different than dating. You’ve got a much better shot at closing the deal metaphorically speaking with a friend of a friend than some random schlep down at the local dive bar.
Yeah, exactly. It’s like are you going to meet like some random speed dating person and I mean maybe one out of 10 is a decent hit rate, if we want to call it that. But if it’s someone that knows both of you and sets you guys up on a date, then your hit rate is probably going to be like one in four.
Yeah, absolutely. So there we go. So that’s referrals. Well, that’s the pros. But what are the cons to actually having a referral-based kind of search?
It’s hard to scale. So if you’re hiring one writer a month or one writer a quarter, then it’s probably doable. You could probably get by on just referrals. If you’re hiring a lot of writers over the course of a year. And if you’re trying to look at, like we’re looking at dozens of writers constantly. And we’re supposed to be vetting new writers every single month. So we might vet like 50 to a hundred new writers every month. You can’t generate that much interest with just referrals alone. There are only so many like bribes you can offer and so many times you can bug people cause everyone has their own little sphere of influence. And then once you’ve exhausted that it’s done with, you know, you can’t keep like scaling it into the hundreds of thousands.
Yeah, absolutely. So, okay. So when it comes to referrals, generally the quality is higher. You’re going to find people who maybe who wouldn’t have applied through job boards. At the same time, you’re gonna have that downside of not having the scaling potential if you need more than one writer every couple of months. It’s not like that. Okay. The third idea I thought was a really cool one, which is basically you doing cold research and looking for potential writers that you like, you know, through things that you’ve read. So let’s talk about that.
Yeah, definitely. So let’s say we’re sourcing writers for a new space and we are going to go pick out the top 10 sites in that space and then we’re going to go look through the top content on each site and then we’re going to see who wrote all those articles and who we liked the best in terms of style and potential fit. And then we’re going to try to just get in touch with all of them and see if they’re looking for new work or not.
Yeah, that’s great. So almost like article head hunting in a way.
Yeah, you were pulling a minute ago, but the last group is especially important where in-demand writers aren’t responding to job boards. So, people who are busy and who are really good and in demand, you’re not gonna find them through the other methods. Typically you’re not going to find them through job boards, uh, because they’re already busy and they already have work. So you have to go through a different avenue in order to get in front of them. The other important thing to note here is when you’re scaling content, when you’re doing a lot of volume, you need writers at every level. So you don’t just need cheap writers, you don’t just need expensive writers, you need a couple of all of them so that you’re able to balance the budget, but you’re still able to hit like high growth goal and you’re still able to like kind of pursue everything and not see any major problems at any point.
Yeah, that’s a great point. Now what’s the downside typically to using cold research to actually seeking out people directly
Availability and cost. So generally speaking, if these people are by definition writing for big sites, they’re probably in demand already. So this isn’t original. Other people are also reaching out to them and asking them above and beyond the existing work they already have. So again when it comes back to scaling content. It’s really difficult to go to a writer like that and say, Hey, can you write me five articles a week? They’re going to be like, no, but I could probably be one. So that means you need to find five of those people. When you’re scaling content, you need to understand like how to match all these things up. The other problem is cost. So again, just supply and demand. If someone’s more in demand and if someone has a bigger portfolio of published work and they’re really good, then they can command a higher premium.
And so that’s good. You need that. But it’s difficult unless you have a crazy budget. It’s difficult to do all of your content at that level. So we will source writing teams and build writing teams for clients. And when we’re doing that, we try to balance the A people because we wan’t quality high and we pay those people more purposefully. But we know that there’s only going to be a certain amount that they’re gonna able to do. But then we need to kind of like infill those and balance those out with people who are pretty good but not amazing but not as expensive either. And they could take a greater workload. And so it’s a constant balancing act of all these factors that you have to kind of weigh.
It’s a great point. And I guess, you know, that’s, it depends what you’re willing to pay as well. And so you’ve got to consider. So that’s cold research or maybe even could call that head hunting in a way because it’s essentially what you’re doing is looking at what you like and then sourcing those people directly. Reaching out to them. The fourth method, which I guess has become very popular in the last, let’s say five to 10 years, is content writing services. And I know this is sort of an area of contention for you because you’re kind of adverse to them in some ways, but let’s talk about that
Yeah. So that’s another avenue. That’s another potential avenue. They have their place. Let’s start there. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re scaling a lot of content, you need writers at all levels, and not every writer needs to be an amazing writer and sometimes certain types of topics that you’re tackling or content pieces don’t need to be that amazing either. Getting by on, okay, it’s fine if you’re okay with like a really cheap rate cause it helps you produce, you know, instead of spending whatever, a hundred dollars on like half an article, you could spend a hundred dollars and get like one to two articles. And so if you’re trying to pick off long-tail variations of keywords like a tool you use, then they make a lot of sense because you’re able to like have the good writers do the really competitive stuff and then have like the cheap writers do all the less competitive stuff.
But you just need to do enough of it to build out your topical authority on a certain thing for your site so they have their place. The problem is that the quality is super inconsistent. It’s not good overall. And for us, we’re a production company and so we already have the systems and process and everything else where it makes more sense for us to just hire people and like build our own variation of a content writing service with cheaper writers specifically because you can train them better and keep quality higher versus the typical client or typical company who will just put all their content through those. The vast majority of the time, it’s just simply not good enough to ever get you any significant results in a halfway competitive space.
Yeah. And I would imagine too, with those, it’s, it’s hard to really measure a grade them until you actually see they work. So you’re hiring them, you know, hoping that it’s going to be decent because you’re hiring them through a third party or whatever. And then kind of going, Oh, this isn’t what I wanted. You know. So that’s the other risk as well.
Exactly. It’s a marketplace. So it’s like you post a job. Certain people either bid on it or certain people are automatically assigned to it and a lot of them have different quality scales. So you’ll say, I’m gonna pay three stars, I’m gonna pay four stars. And it’s this rate. And in theory, everyone in the four-star rate range should be of equal ish quality. But they’re not. We’ve tried everything, we’ve done all these avenues. And I’m telling you right now, like even within like the four-star quality or whatever you want to call it, you get people that can like barely write English. And so you’re like like how is this possible? But then you get some others that are halfway decent and it’s frustrating cause it’s just like how do I manage this? I can’t be constantly getting some that are halfway decent and then some that are awful that need to be completely rewritten.
Yeah, a hundred percent. And I think, you know, for most businesses the difference is here you are a writer and you have a team of experienced writers who know the quality of writing and you can measure it. Whereas most business owners cannot do that. They don’t know if it’s good writing or not because it’s not their profession.
A lot of problems too with this is that with a lot of content writing services, you’re not guaranteed to work with the same writer over and over. So that means that they’re not going to learn to get better. They’re not going to learn your style or whatever. Like when we start with a new client for example, I almost even tell them like, look, the first stuff we do for you is not going to be amazing because we don’t know your business yet. We’re learning. We want you to give us feedback. And so we document that and we want those writers to stick with you so they learn your criteria and preferences going forward. So the work product should increase in quality over time. The problem with content writing services if you’re constantly getting stuck with new writers is that you don’t have that same familiarity. And so it’s like a constant learning or relearning process that needs to happen over and over again. And a low cost starts to not look so good when you realize how much more time and effort you have to invest to keep some measure of overall decent quality.
A hundred percent. You get what you pay for, right. There’s no way around that. All right. So that is content writing services, let’s say. And I mean it’s a big umbrella, but it could be full content writing services who hire on your behalf or it could be kind of like your freelance networks or whatever as well. So that’s number four. And then number five is agencies, actual marketing agencies, content running agencies. So let’s talk about that one.
Definitely. So as we talked about in a previous episode, generally speaking, agencies should be providing high-quality stuff. It’s weird though, in that some marketing agencies that offer content aren’t really capable of producing a lot of volume. And the quality can be hit or miss depending on what type of agency it is and if they’ve worked in your space or not before. So we’ve talked about this before, but if they’re a quote-unquote full-service agency, then their content quality is probably not gonna be great. If they’re an SEO agency, then it’s probably going to be a little better. If it’s a content SEO agency or if it’s a content agency that has a lot of SEO experience that would probably be even better yet. But then you need to look at vertical expertise. So have they published in those places or do they have writers already in their network that write on those topics too? Because then that’s like the other potential issue or drawback that we’ve touched on in this episode that you still need high-quality people who know what they’re doing at the end of the day and know what they’re talking about. If the actual writing portion is going to be any good.
Definitely. One of the things I’ve noticed because I’ve worked in house as an agency, a writer, you know in the past. I’ve noticed a lot of clients or business owners who will come to an agency as a client and they will tend to say, oh just write it for me. Totally unaware that we have no industry experience and knowledge. They just expect that we can somehow come up with something brilliant. That I think is a real mistake for business owners thinking that the agency can somehow magically create killer content for you.
Yeah, for sure. Clients don’t believe this, but a lot, a lot of breakdowns with the agency client relationship is because the client thinks that the agency should take on more responsibility than they should. And so what I mean by that is business owners, but marketing departments at large companies are still guilty of the same problems where it’s like you’re not going to take your Ferrari into like a Jiffy lube. You can’t expect like the Jiffy lube to know what kind of like special synthetic BS goes into Ferrari. Like I don’t even know. Like the point of that is you can’t expect someone to come in cold even if they’ve worked in your space before, you can’t expect them to understand like how you see things, how you talk about things, how you’re positioning. All that stuff is like a mystery to agencies. And agencies a lot of times are staffed with a lot of good generalists and that one day they write about medical content and the next day they’re writing about landscaping services and the next day they’re writing about crypto. It’s all over the map and so you need to help.
Let’s take it a step further, even if you have the agency has people that are deep specialists in each space. Like you still can’t just let them run on their own. You need to provide them with enough context and enough help and support so that they start to learn those things. Again, you can’t expect like the local mechanic to understand some really specific high-performance car set up or whatever. You have to take it into the Ferrari dealership and you have to pay usually three times more. If you have a really specialized business, that’s the way it is, you know? Unfortunately, that’s just the way life works.
Yeah, definitely. And if you want to stand out with your content, that’s what it costs. You know, that’s the deal. So yeah, definitely if you’re going to work with an agency, consider checking at least their past experience working in the same industry or the same niche or whatever it is. If they have that. Either that or they are willing to sit with you and really draw knowledge out of you as the client, you know, to put that into written form.
On that point, even with specialists and subject matter experts, an agency might know the ins and outs of Facebook advertising, for example. But they are not going to know right off the street how your Facebook advertising tool is better than the other three out there. So that’s where there needs to be a learning process in place and there needs to be a feedback loop where you’re giving them that feedback and guidance. Otherwise, as you mentioned earlier, with the example, if someone just expects it to be done and just hands it off, that’s usually where breakdowns occur. Because the agency, the outside vendor, whoever the freelance writers even, they’re just guessing.
Yeah, definitely. And the curse, I guess today is that you can go online and research to a point where you somewhat appear like an expert, but you’re not really. You don’t have that industry expertise in those years that business owners do. So agencies can almost get away with it, let’s say, you know, looking like they know what they’re talking about.
Exactly. And it usually comes back to how competitive the space is and everything and what you’re going to invest in all this stuff. Because at the end of the day, it reads like a freelance writer wrote it. It doesn’t read like an expert wrote it.
Yes. Totally. So are there any other cons that come as part of an agency that you noticed?
That sounds like a leading question, Daniel, are there some that I’m not thinking of?
There was one you mentioned that the good ones ain’t cheap. That’s where I’m leading you.
I just referenced my notes quickly too while you’re saying that. Yeah, no, I mean they’re not cheap. So again, generalist, local agencies tend to be less expensive on a per deliverable per engagement rates. The more specialist you go, the more expensive it tends to get. But that’s also because costs are more expensive too. So for example, like our agency, when we hire a subject matter expert in a certain market, like we’re already paying them two to three X, the average, the normal freelance writer, and then we have to mark that cost up to make a profit. So it’s very simple. We’re just going to mark that up 2 or 3x then to the client. So they’re not cheap. Generally speaking with freelance writers and with agencies, the higher pay, the more you pay tends to correlate better with overall better quality. Not always, but generally speaking it does.
That was just a con I wanted to get in there because it’s definitely a big part of hiring an agency. It’s not going to be as cheap as hiring a freelancer.
The other thing to factor into all this as well because we’re comparing job boards, we’re comparing a bunch of different ideas. What an agency is going to charge you for is all the time and effort it takes to do all that other stuff and take that off your plate. So that’s something that a lot of marketing departments don’t factor in. A lot of businesses don’t factor in is like if I told you earlier yeah job boards you can find good writers on job boards for like decent rates. It’s going to take you so much time and effort and energy to find them. So are you prepared to like have someone internally spend almost a full-time wage just sorting through job board people? Because that’s what it’s going to cost you.
So then when you take your writer costs and then you add editing costs on top of that, and then you add account manager or project management costs on top of that and you add hiring costs on top of that, like all of a sudden job boards don’t look that cheap anymore. And so that’s effectively what an agency is charging you for is all that stuff rolled into one versus splitting the cost out independently and probably not, a lot of times clients get into this problem where they’re not factoring in their own time or their own people’s time.
Yeah, definitely. Well, there we go. So that’s the five different ways to find a writer if you’re looking for someone for your business to create content for you. In the conclusion of this article that you wrote, you said that blog writers are everywhere and for that reason, the barrier to entry is fairly low. But the quality is also fairly low for a lot of them. So you’ve got to keep that in mind. I think what I like about the way you present it is you’ve got to have the realistic expectation of sure you can find people, but it’s going to take you either a lot of time or a decent amount of money to get the right person
For sure. And as I mentioned, we do all these methods. We still do all these methods like all five of them. So it’s not like one is good and one is bad. They’re all good and bad in different ways. We use all of them. We’ll continue to use all of them going into the future. You just have to be realistic about each of them and then know how to internally set yourself up to make sure you’re getting the most value for whatever you’re spending on each.
Love it. And as a final point, you said in the article too, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for before you start searching. I think that’s really key as well because if you’re just kind of like, Oh, I just need a writer, I don’t know if they’re experienced if they have industry-specific knowledge or whatever. You’re going to find that you don’t pick someone who’s going to give you what you need.
Yeah, and it usually comes back to some of those things we mentioned. Not just rates. So that’s usually lower on the totem pole in terms of things I’m trying to figure out. It comes back to the content type. It usually comes back to content subject matter expertise or the requirement needed. It usually comes back to something we mentioned in a previous episode of top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, bottom of the funnel content. You can use different types of writers at different scales of the funnel. Business objectives. So if a piece of content has more of a commercial intent and is going to play a bigger part in generating leads, I need a different type of writer to do that. So there are all these different factors that play and if you will, where people struggle is when they don’t think this stuff’s there. They don’t factor those things in. They just approach one of these methods blindly and they think that that’s going to make it all work. It doesn’t usually.
Well sir, you definitely have the experience so we can trust your judgment. And know that, very worst case, you know, if you get really stuck with this kind of thing, reach out to Brad and he’ll take care of it for you. When I say worst case, it’ll probably be more expensive. Very cool. Well, thank you again for all your insights, and for anyone looking for a writer, this will hopefully be of value. We look forward to having you join us for a future episode of Codeless radio.
Perfect. Thank you, Daniel.
Thanks a lot.
Having a large sample pool of writers sets you up for success. Here’s how to avoid overloading yourself. (06:22)
So you have to set up processes and systems and people in place where you’re able to vet a huge amount of stuff and whittle it down to the top 10 or 20%. Uh, and then you start to really vet those people as opposed to trying to read everyone’s published sample from the get-go.
Finding in-demand writers is difficult. So Codeless goes straight to the source to get the cream of the crop. (09:49)
Lett’s say we’re sourcing writers for a new space and we are going to go pick out the top 10 sites in that space and then we’re going to go look through the top content on each site and then we’re going to see who wrote all those articles and who we liked the best in terms of style and potential fit. And then we’re going to try to just get in touch with all of them and see if they’re looking for new work or not.
This is the reason agencies come with a high price tag. And why they may be well worth it. (25:04)
When you take your writer costs and then you add editing costs on top of that, and then you add account manager or project management costs on top of that and you add hiring costs on top of that, like all of a sudden job boards don’t look that cheap anymore. And so that’s effectively what an agency is charging you for is all that stuff rolled into one versus splitting the cost out independently.
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