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How to get hired writers to deliver great content
If you’re a blogger, you probably know how to write great blog posts in your niche. But how can you teach others to do that for you? How can you outsource posts and still get quality content for your blog?
I currently have a team of 10+ freelance writers who produce content for my sites on a daily basis. In this post, I’m going to share what I do towards getting the best possible content from the writers I hire.
Why outsource content writing?
Any web publisher who wants to scale will find herself (or himself) having to outsource content writing.
Once they have a niche set out and a blog installed, successful web publishers usually focus on doing the following –
- Finding the right topics to target and write about (aka keyword research) and creating a solid content plan.
- Publishing, promoting and monetizing the content.
What they don’t do is actually write the content for the posts. Pretty much every successful web publisher outsources writing and formatting of at least most of the posts because it’s the most time-consuming part of the process on a per-post basis.
If you want to produce dozens – or hundreds – of posts every month, you simply can’t write them all.
The challenge of getting top-notch content
Most web publishers start their journey as bloggers. In other words, they write their own content.
Their content is so good that over time it gains popularity and generates a significant amount of traffic to the blog. That traffic is then monetized and the blogger is happy.
Now they want to get even more traffic by producing more content by outsourcing the writing. The problem is that this content should be as good as their own writing.
Which is seldom the case.
I’ve heard Jim Harmer from Income School mention in a video how their best ranking articles are the ones he wrote himself. Jon Dykstra from Fat Stacks Blog says something very similar here.
I can relate.
The first posts I outsourced were a far cry from anything I would have written myself. In fact, it was so frustrating that for a while I thought I may have my standards set too high. Maybe I just needed to learn to live with sub-par content?
I found myself extensively editing posts. I had to spend 1-2 hours on some of them which really defeated the point of outsourcing. It often felt like I would have saved time by writing the piece myself.
I’m happy to say that things have changed over the past few months.
Why I’m happier with the recent crop of outsourced posts
Having outsourced and published hundreds of posts over the past few months, I really feel like the quality has improved.
I would say that about 90% of the posts that I get now require close to zero editing. I spend five minutes reviewing the text, possibly adjusting a word here or there and that’s it. About 10% of posts still require more extensive editing but even there, with almost all of them I’m down to an average of 10-15 minutes.
Minimizing editing time is crucial
This may be self-explanatory but worth mentioning because it’s so important.
My business model relies on keeping the time I spend on each post to the bare minimum. Otherwise, scaling up becomes impossible.
I have a spreadsheet where I try to predict the overall profit from my websites. The key parameters there are –
- My time spent on each site globally (choosing the niche, monetizing etc)
- The average number of pageviews each post will generate
- Revenue per 1,000 pageviews
- Production cost per post (paying writers, buying media etc)
- My own time spent on each post
The final outcome of the spreadsheet shows me how much money I’ll end up making for each hour I put into the project as a whole.
I calculate half an hour of my own time into each post. Those 30 minutes include:
- Keyword research
- Competition research
- Deciding on a title
- Entering the task into Clickup (which includes special comments or outline instructions)
- Reviewing the final product
On average, I expect the first two stages to take up to 10 minutes per content item. Number three and four should take up to 10 minutes as well. That leaves me about 10 minutes to review the final product and publish it.
If a writer submits a piece that requires me to re-write portions of it, I have a problem. My own time is very limited. I can scale up by hiring another VA or more writers. I can’t scale up by hiring another me.
(I realize a content manager may be the answer to that specific problem but a. It’s too early for me to get one and b. Content managers are paid by the hour, so I would still want writers to submit a piece that requires very little editing.)
My method for scaling content production
As I said, I became quite good at cutting down on editing time. I do that by –
- Creating content formulas
- Providing training for the writers
- Establishing a personal connection each writer.
Here how that works.
Creating content formulas
Content formulas or recipes can help you control the structure of a post. More than that, you can write them down once and then refer to them when you allocate the topic to the writer.
The most basic content formula is one we use for informational posts that answer a specific query.
Jim and Ricky from Income School call this a response post and talk about their recipe here –
I use a similar concept, with some tweaking.
In addition to the response post formula, I have several other post formulas that I prepared for my writers. Right now, I have formulas for the following content types –
- Tip list
- Buying guide
- Inspirational image list
- Travel destinations post
- Response posts
Training writers to use these formulas
For each type of post, I personally created 1-2 posts that serve as examples. Based on these, I created detailed tutorials for the writers. I have both written tutorials and video tutorials for each type.
Yes, that means the writers have a small learning curve when they first take on a new type of post. They’ll need to spend 10-15 minutes learning what is needed.
Some writers get it right away. They pay attention to the instructions and deliver an optimally-crafted post almost right away. That’s great, of course.
Some writers need more feedback. At first, I was too lazy with giving feedback. It was simply easier for me to correct whatever needed correcting and move on. I hated the thought of having to spend time on revisions and just wanted to get the post published as soon as possible.
That has changed and I now provide detailed feedback as may be necessary. I still very rarely ask for revisions though.
Here’s how this works.
I have a workflow set up in Clickup. I described my workflow in more detail here. Basically, it involves managing each content item as a Clickup task that’s moved between the writer, my VA and I.
Once a writer has finished writing, they assign the task to me. They also provide the number of words in that Clickup task. The first thing I do every morning is to go over my Clickup tasks and pay each writer based on their word count.
When I edit the post I write my feedback in the task. I focus on things that they need to improve and ask that they do so in future posts of the same type.
That’s it. Sometimes, I need to repeat the same feedback twice. When that happens, I make it clear that I expect the issue not to repeat itself a third time. If it does, then we part ways. This has happened twice already and I’m ok with it.
This process means that when I bring in a new writer to the team, I have to spend some time on training him or her. Essentially, that means spending an extra 5-10 minutes per post on providing feedback. However within a couple of weeks, things improve and that writer becomes an integral part of the team.
Establishing a relationship with each writer
One of the most important things for me is to establish and maintain a good working relationship with each writer.
This begins with the hiring process. I follow a process similar to that Gael from Authority Hacker describes here. In the interview form, I ask applicants to tell me a little bit about themselves. I leave that open on purpose as it also allows me to assess their writing.
I then reach out to the writers who pass the initial interview and tell them about myself and my workflow. I suggest a paid test post and follow up on that. Like Gael says, this is a funnel – I lose some applicants in every stage which is to be expected.
The writers are all freelancers. I pay them per word and they’re free to take on as many – or as few – assignments as they want. I do expect each writer to take on at least one post per week – just to make it worth my while to train them.
Here’s what I do to establish a good relationship with each writer.
I offer long term employment – and flexibility
I encourage writers to take on as much work as they can, as long as they deliver the results I need. I do ask them to assess how many articles they think they will take on each week but they’re not held accountable for that.
The writers can assign topics to themselves via Clickup. I don’t limit them but I do require two things –
- No writer should assign more than two tasks to himself/herself at the same time.
- They need to deliver the article within a set deadline.
This means a writer can in theory write 10 posts a week, as long as they take them on consecutively and not all at once. This helps make sure no one “squats” on topics.
I pay on time
Paying for articles is the first thing I do every morning. When hiring, I tell writers that I’ll be paying for content within 3 business days, just in case something goes wrong. Also, I prefer to overdeliver.
In practice, they get paid within 12 hours, or 24 at most.
I pay them based on the word count which they mention in the Clickup task. I do that prior to editing.
As I said, I rarely ask for revisions. Even when I have significant feedback, I just make the changes myself. Sometimes the result is a lower word count and I’m ok with having paid for a higher number.
I’d rather pay an extra couple of bucks and keep my writer focused on improving the quality of the post, rather than the word count. It also means I strengthen our working relationship by showing them that I trust them.
I try to be nice
I like to think of myself as an overall nice person, so this comes easy to me. I try to be nice to the people who work with me.
I don’t befriend the writers per se, but if they’re asking for an extension of a deadline because of some trouble, I will almost always say yes and be nice about it too.
A friend of mine is an experienced contractor. He once told me how contractors assess the client before giving a quote for a project. If they feel the client is an asshole who will be difficult to work with, they factor in “an asshole tax”.
It’s a good idea not to be an asshole when doing business. It allows the people I work with to give me more for my money, rather than “spending” that money on the aggravation of having to work with a jerk.
Why I now stay away from content brokers
Clearly, content brokers are an option when you’re looking to increase content production on a blog.
I have so far tried Writers Access and Textun. While the content delivered wasn’t terrible, this isn’t a good option for me. My main problem is that I couldn’t establish a good relationship with the writers.
With Textun, you don’t really get to “meet” the writers. The quality of the text was actually surprisingly good for the pay scale (I went with their upper tier and that only costs 2.5 cents per word).
However, at these rates and without the ability to create a long-term relationship with specific writers, there was no way for me to close the feedback loop and gradually improve the quality of posts delivered.
With Writers Access, I had two problems. First, the service is expensive. I currently pay my writers 3 cents per word. Writers Access charges 4 cents per word and that only gets you the lowest tier.
Not only would it have taken me far too long to find great writers at 4 cents a word – these would probably have been the writers who would have soon become 6-cents-a-word writers.
Also, with the platform brokering between myself and the writers, it’s just harder to build relationships.
On top of everything else – content brokers send me text documents. My writers have direct access to my blog installations and deliver their work in the form of a formatted WordPress post.
Instead, I use Upwork and – more recently – Problogger, to find freelance workers with whom I can work directly. I’ll probably share more on that process in a separate blog post.
I hope you find this post helpful! If you have any questions or feedback, do leave me a comment!
Hey Anne! I stumbled on your blog through the Fat Stacks forum and just wanted to say that you’re my new role model! 🙂
I have a newish travel/digital nomad blog and I hope to follow in your footsteps. Still fighting an uphill battle through the learning curve though.
Do you mind if I pick your brain real quick?
Do you have some sort of system for deciding which posts you outsource and which you write yourself on your travel blog? Or any insights on how you would start outsourcing if you were starting from scratch and could only afford a couple posts per month?
Thanks, Anne! You rock!
Thanks Mitch! I’m not sure I’m experienced or successful enough to be anyone’s role model but I do appreciate the sentiment.
Great question about the travel blog!
Let me start by saying that the way I see it, there are two kinds of travel blog content. There those who blog about their own personal ongoing travel adventures and have their regular following. Those blogs are usually supported by real-time accounts on Instagram and/or Twitter. Then there are blogs that are more “editorial” in nature and usually post things like “top things to do in”, or “top 10 destinations in”, or answer questions relating to specific destinations or to travel in general.
I think the first type of blog is definitely an option but harder to maintain and requires that you a. travel a lot and b. have good social media skills. Unfortunately, our trips – while long – are not very frequent. I also can’t be bothered with building a following on social media. So, for me, it’s an informational travel blog that relies on our experiences but only to some extent.
With that in mind, I try to avoid “Trip reports” and focus on creating guides that help travelers. So, instead of blogging about our own experiences in a destination, I would write a guide to that destination and mention that we’ve been there and how the tips rely on our own experiences. That makes outsourcing easier too. I write the outline of the guide, have the writer do the research and fill in the data and then wrap it up with my own introduction where I either mention our own visit to the destination or explain that we want to see it in the future.
If I had to start from scratch, I would write my fingers off. For me, outsourcing two posts per month would make much of a difference, really as I play the large volume game. A blog needs to have at least 100-150 posts in it to get some traction. At the rate of two posts a month, it’s just going to take too long to get there. So, IMHO either write the posts yourself shooting for 15 posts a month or focus on fewer very high-quality authoritative posts which you’ll then work hard to promote. Good luck and thanks again!
Hey Anne, thanks for such a detailed response! (And sorry it took me so long to read it! I didn’t realize you responded, maybe it’d be better to chat within the forums in the future 🙂). Yeah I definitely am planning to focus on only article that are helpful to readers using my own experience (vs. a journal type blog).
That’s really insightful about your volume advice. Up until now I’ve been spending a lot of time on each post, but at the rate I’m going, I’ll never make it to 100 posts. I have to figure out how to speed things up a bit – maybe shorter, simpler articles are the way to go (vs. ultimate guides).
I also see some newer travel bloggers crushing it on Pinterest, but I have yet to crack the code.
Anyway, hope to see you around the forums. Thanks again for you help!
I just checked out your blog, Mitch. Love your writing style! I’m sure you’ll do very well! And feel free to leave me questions here, I actually prefer that (adds content to my blog 😉 ). Thanks!
Hi Anne! Many thanks for this massive resource! I just started monetizing my first niche site (a bit late 😀 as it is 8 months old) and now I start looking to outsource my content to 1-2 writers. Your website is a gold mine. Thanks again.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I’m so glad you found the post helpful – good luck with your site!
I am glad I have found your blog. Very insightful. Can you briefly describe your work schedule? I.e. how many hours per day do you spend on this business? Do you work 5 days a week, at home or office? Do you have to be highly available for your team at all times to keep things going well?
Hi Thomas, so glad you like the blog!
This is a good question and probably worth a post in its own right. Generally speaking, I work from home 6-7 days a week, taking days off only when there’s something scheduled, like a hike with the family. I almost always check-in online in the morning, even on so-called “days off”, and spend at least an hour going over emails and Clickup notifications, and touching base with my Chief VA.
This is also me being available to the team. They get in touch with me via Clickup, leaving comments and questions on specific tasks. I answer there, so it’s all very organized and stays task-specific. If I’m in a rush, I can get through most things in half an hour, but usually about an hour. That’s also when I pay writers and move tasks around as needed (from editing to adding media etc). The rest of the day is flexible and depends on my Clickup tasks which are placed there in advance. Today for example, I have to deal with our Pinterest strategy, fix a logo issue with one of the sites, and work on a new post for Yeys. Two days ago, I was busy editing code for a set of a/b testing experiments we’re running this month.
It’s all very flexible though. I do have a great Chief VA and a very good server admin service, they have my phone number and can reach me any time in case of an emergency. They can also reach one another. So, in case of a server/site crash (very rare), they can fix things without me, but can also get a hold of me right away.
Thanks for this! I’ve been following along with you since the Jon Dykstra AMA and trying to copy some of your systems for scaling content. We did a round of hiring at .03 per word and my editors have identified a few standouts that are really good writers.
I thought I’d read something where you were either doing bonuses or even brining writers on full-time, but I can’t find it anywhere – so I’m wondering if I’m remembering wrong 🙂
Anyway, what do you to hold onto your best writers that are at the .03/word level?
So glad you managed to find good writers! I don’t have any magic formula for retaining writers – I wish I had! We do have a few offshore full-time writers, and we also work with freelancers in the US. We generally try to be nice to everyone, pay on time and create a positive work atmosphere and that’s about it. There are no bonuses for writers, except when we run a “content push” on a specific site. We may offer a small bonus per post on that site when that happens.
If you can figure out methods that work for you, I hope ou’ll come back and share them with me 😉