Let me tell you about some of my most unsuccessful freelance writing projects.
A company would contact me saying they need someone to write their content. Often times, it’s because they’re a small company, often with a single marketing wearing too many hats.
My response? Great! Let’s chat. When I start asking questions such as “What do we want this content to achieve?” and “Who are we talking to?” and “How do they consume content?”, I’d often get either blank stares or extremely vague replies.
I always use a template to collect all the key information for blog posts I’m writing—a blog post brief of sorts. This is one section of it:
In the example above, I’d get replies from my potential client such as:
- Post title: X tips for successful customer service
- Target audience: customer service teams
- Focus keyword: customer service tips
Although they look good on the surface, these answers don’t really say anything other than the fact we’re talking about a customer service software.
Beyond that, it could be any customer service software, targeting any kind of customer service team within any company size and type, trying to rank for generic customer service keywords.
When companies are in stage when their business or marketing goals are this undefined, they rush into hiring in-house or freelance writers. Then, a few months down the line they wonder why they spent so much time and money on content when it brought them zero results.
It’s why content gets a bad reputation.
Why well-defined freelance projects can bring you success
Let’s look at the above case of a customer service software and flip the script. What would a good brief look like?
It would be focused on highly specific search intent. For example:
- Post title: Customer Service Cheat Sheet for Live Chat Operators
- Target audience: live chat teams of 5-10 people
- Focus keyword: customer service live chat tips, live chat scripts
Freelance writer pros and companies that are able to create well-defined briefs win in tandem.
Here’s an example of a blog post that stays at #1 spot on Google for a high-volume, specific keyword that I wrote for a client of mine, all thanks to specificity:
It feels like a no-brainer:
Hire content marketing help when you know exactly what you want to achieve with content beyond just page 1 rankings.
Likewise, don’t hire content marketing help before you have your audience definition and overall business strategy ducks in a row.
But if you’re past that point, how can you be sure you’re not hiring too early or that it makes sense for your specific marketing processes and your existing team?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all checklist, I’ve identified some of the most frequent use cases you may recognize as your own. If you fit into one (or more) of these, it might mean it’s time to get more writer hands on deck!
Use case #1: The content you’ve created isn’t performing as you expected it to
You know your audience. You know your stuff. Your company is the leader in the field—so you’ve turned that into content.
So why isn’t that content working for you the way you wanted it to?
I found that there are often two underlying reasons in this scenario, and often in tandem:
- You’re too close to your business, and
- Writing is really hard
Although it’s hard for most people to admit, they’re not great writers. They’re great at a lot of other things: managing projects, inspiring people, coming up with ideas, and so much more.
But the reality is that if you’re not exclusively focused on becoming a better writer day after day, you’re better off handing that job over to someone who is. Bad writing will deter even the most relevant audience from you.
On top of that, there’s a simple thing of looking at your day-to-day work, including your writing, from too close of a spot.
Bringing in a freelance content writer means you get a second pair of eyes. Peep Laja, ConversionXL’s founder, covered this exact thing in one of his recent newsletters:
If your content has been bringing underwhelming results, it’s time to ask yourself if it might be for one or both of these reasons.
Use case #2: You want to hire in-house content writers, but struggle to find expert writers in your field
Hiring generalists versus specialists has forever been a discussion, and the answer is often: it depends.
But if you’re looking for a writer to convey your knowledge, expertise, and helpfulness on a range of detailed topics in your industry, specialist is the right way to go—always.
The issue? It’s often to find an expert writer in your field!
More specifically, if you’re only hiring in-house and without an option to work remotely, you can only choose from a small pool of writers based in your location.
If they’re not experts in your field, you’ll spend significant time training them. You’ll also risk having them leave you down the line if they’re not a fit or don’t like the writing style or topics. That’s costly, both from a time and money perspective.
With a freelance content writer, you get to choose from the entirety of the internet. You can vet writers based on their already published work on such topics and find those whose style suits you the most.
Then, make the most out of the wide range of options and hire a freelance writer specializing in your field instead of a generalist one.
A generalist writer might write for all types and sizes of companies, as well as industries. They might write about law for B2B companies and then about fitness for a sports gear brand. They’re good at a lot of things, but they’re not the best at any of them.
A specialist writer will:
- Identify and solve problems around your area of expertise and create in-depth pieces of content on them
- Interview experts in the field to get the most relevant and unique quotes and tips
- Look for examples, screenshots, and applications of the advice they’re adding to their content
This will add value to your content and bring consistent results from your overall marketing strategy.
Use case #3: You don’t have a content-specific marketing team, but you have clear goals and processes
Here’s a jackpot position: you have a small team of marketers, which can be quite limiting from a growth perspective, but they know exactly what they’re doing and how to get your company to the next stage.
It means they:
- Know their audience inside out
- Consistently conduct new audience research and interviews to master their audience’s pain points
- Have well-defined editorial guidelines
- Know the content formats, length, and tone of voice their audience enjoys
When you have these elements figured out, hiring a freelance writer becomes not only easy, but needed. A high-quality blog post may take anywhere from 3 to 10 hours to create, and hiring a freelance writer means you can onboard them and let them run with it.
All it takes is a powerful, clear brief for your freelance writer.
The hard work you’ve already done can pay off exponentially because now you have someone to rely on and make the most of it—and you spend 0 extra hours making it happen!
Use case #4: You have a smooth-running content team and want to scale
Finally, if you have one or several content writers, editors, and managers who work in sync and you want to take your content marketing efforts to the next level, outsourcing may be the way to go.
Just like in an earlier example, with an expert freelance writer, you know you’re already working with a professional that nailed down their research process. They also write efficiently and hand over drafts that don’t require much (or any!) editing.
In other words, you can extend the power of your in-house team. If you tried to do the same by hiring in-house, you’d face the same challenge as before—you may not find writers who are expert enough.
They’d also potentially take weeks or even months to get settled into your team and its processes.
With a freelance writer, you can avoid the wait. Not just that: you’re paying per project instead of a monthly salary and employee benefits.
In other words, you can truly scale: you’re investing into content rather than the overheads of hiring more people (and adding more tasks and responsibilities to your plate).
That’s it! Do any of these scenarios apply to you? Is it time to grow your content marketing efforts by working with an external, expert writer? If so, hire a writer for one project and test the waters—it may be exactly what your marketing team needs.