Good quality writing can be a powerful, all-purpose tool that drives everything you need to have going on for your business. That includes sink-or-swim activities such as generating leads, building a brand, increasing authority, retaining customers, and driving growth.
In fact, if you make a habit of studying winners, you’ll find that in any industry, the leaders are very skilled at putting words to screen and making it work for their business goals. That ranges from website pages to emails to blogs and everything between.
Words are the new currency of success in the highly visual online world where commerce now exists. To illustrate: right now, an overwhelming majority (86%) of B2C marketers say content marketing is an important part of their overall marketing program. And more often than not, content writing is a significant piece of most content marketing strategies.
And on the flip side, 90% of consumers find custom content to be useful on the business websites they visit.
Why, then, do so many businesses fail at writing? From website copy that’s full of off-message blathering and typos to unintelligible instruction manuals or aimless blogs that don’t inspire anything at all, we can all come up with more than just a few examples of cringe-worthy writing on the web. And it’s usually put out there by businesses who’ve paid good money to people who just haven’t mastered the form (or even come close).
All this points to a serious disconnect between business owners, marketers, and writers. Funny thing, too, since effective website writing stems from the minds of people who can manage a blend of all three roles, the holy trinity that makes up great business writing.
So, who’s producing the content that’s used by businesses? Increasingly, it’s an outsourced job. According to Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2016 Report, 23% of businesses hire freelancers to write their business content. That’s up significantly from 2015, when it was just 13%.
If hiring out for content is on the rise, it stands to reason that managers out there could use some help in getting what they need from their freelancers. That’s what this guide is for.
First, though, I’m going to demonstrate why companies keep producing online business content that doesn’t make the grade. Then, I’ll show you how to avoid duplicating their mistakes.
Here’s What Content Writers are Getting All Wrong
The main problem with the bad writing featured on business websites is one of three things.
- It was created by someone who knows little or nothing about marketing.
- It was created by someone who knows little or nothing about writing.
- It was created by someone who knows little or nothing about the business.
Good writing – truly good business writing – is created by a writer who has in-depth knowledge of modern marketing techniques. Then, to cap it off, that writer must have an insider’s feel for the business as well.
And of course the real icing on the cake is when your writer is actually good at writing. For these reasons, when you hire someone to write for your business website, don’t just look for a writer and don’t just hire a marketer. Look for someone whom you could justifiably call a “content marketing writer”, savvy in all three areas mentioned above.
Finding writers with all three capabilities is tough. Finding one who doesn’t charge a king’s ransom is even tougher. That’s why lots of marketers and business owners turn to either a blog writing service or a ghost writer for hire for their written content.
The Problem With Website Content Writing Companies
Most content writing companies offer varying levels of quality of SEO content writing, ghostwriting, or blog content writing, but rarely do you find a perfect blend of great writing and savvy marketing.
That’s because when a good ghost writer is spotted, they’re often snatched up for work right away and quickly find themselves with more work than they can even handle.
That’s doubly true for the best of the blog content writers. To truly finesse a great business blog, you need tons of skill and experience. Any blog post writing service struggles to keep writers who can produce great posts on a consistent basis for a variety of tough customers.
Besides, most content writer services know a good thing when they see it and will price things out accordingly. After all, they know that companies want better quality writing these days than before. Ghost writer fees have jumped, accordingly.
Businesses now want better ghost writing services and they want the whole process of obtaining good writing to be more efficient. They’re finally seeing results from their content marketing efforts, and they want to keep the ball rolling. In fact, almost two-thirds (62%) of B2B marketers report increased success over last year with content marketing. Of those marketers, 85% say it’s due to higher quality content creation and increased efficiency.
So when a ghost writer is really good, why would he stick with a content writing agency anyway, when he could strike out on his own and not have to share the profit with the agency?
That brings me to another potential issue with the article writing companies out there. By their very nature, you’re dealing with a middle man who has to make a living, too. Therefore, you’re paying a premium for whatever article writer you end up with.
Now, this goes against my own personal business model, but very often it’s extremely worth it to deal with a middle man instead of the ghostwriter herself.
As for my reasons, keep reading and they’ll become very clear to you. Suffice it to say for now that when you hire a ghostwriter, you want to be working with someone who’s reliable and professional. Writers do tend to be all over the board on these qualities (and as I say this I am betraying my own colleagues and belittling my own profession… but I have to be honest here).
What all this amounts to is stiff competition for the good ghost writers for hire who know about marketing and who truly understand research and business culture.
This Guide is a Solution for the Abysmal State of Affairs of Content Writing
Luckily, there are solutions for this sad state of affairs, which is why I wrote this guide.
This guide teaches you exactly what to look for when you hire a content writer. You’ll also know exactly how to get what you need from ghostwriters for hire, too.
And for those who need the quick-and-dirty lowdown in a 1-minute read, there’s a handy checklist at the end, outlining what to look for when hiring a writer.
It’s a flexible checklist that’s useful whether you’re hiring your own web content writer or you’ve chosen to outsource all your business writing to a website content writing service. For everyone that’s too busy at the moment to take in this whole guide, you can skip ahead to that checklist now.
For the rest of you, let’s get started on hiring the perfect professional ghostwriter or content writer for your website.
The Problem With DIY Content Writing
One of the bloggers I enjoy reading is Neil Patel- he’s been at the forefront of content marketing for a long time, and he writes well. I almost always agree with what he’s saying and I think he makes his points very well.
However, there’s one topic on which I think he misses the mark: choosing the DIY route rather than hiring a content writing service.
Neil wrote a post encouraging business owners and marketing professionals to do their own content writing. “Writing for the web is nothing like writing a university style thesis…” he writes. “It’s a lot easier and it doesn’t take much talent or time…”.
While those are very subjective statements and it’s all relative, I find it hard to imagine many scenarios where business owners find the time, much less the inclination, to write their own content on a regular basis.
And sure, it’s a heck of a lot easier than writing for grad school, but you’ll find very few business owners and marketers who are willing to put in the hours week after week, year after year, to produce writing that’s effective.
To illustrate, I will compare Neil’s DIY writing approach to an experience I had with the stock market. About ten years ago, I became obsessed with Jim Cramer and his incredibly exciting TV show Mad Money.
He had a no-nonsense, anyone-can-do-it philosophy about buying and selling stocks that made just about anyone with half a brain think they could do great on the market.
I bought all his books and once spent an eight-hour layover in the Charlotte, NC airport reading up on how to invest, Cramer-style. His reasoning was, as long as you understand what you’re doing and as long as you put in the time to study each company in which you invest, you’d be fine. It’s all about doing the homework, he’d say.
The problem was, as fanatical as I was (not to mention motivated by all the cash I was sinking into stocks), my passion fizzled as life’s other duties and diversions slowly took over. Suddenly, researching companies was a chore and I stopped doing it.
I had never really found balance sheets to be particularly exciting, and even when my own money was invested in their stock, I still found the financial dealings of companies to be incredibly mind-numbing.
It’s the same for business owners/marketers who try to become their own in-house blog posting service. If they weren’t already doing it, what will change?
Unless a business owner or marketer is already in love with the process of writing (and the right kind of writing, too… poetry and vampire novels have no place in most businesses), how will they be able to sustain the DIY method of generating writing for their business?
Then There’s the Time Element
Plus, there’s the time element. Most marketers and business owners simply don’t have enough of it.
In fact, almost half of B2C businesses report that one reason for their stagnant success with content marketing over the last year was lack of time.
This is why, of all the pieces that make up your content marketing plan, writing is probably the most likely candidate for outsourcing. If you’ve tried to wing it by taking the DIY route, I’m guessing you quickly discovered it’s not that easy. Descriptions that come to mind are time-consuming, laborious, draining, and hard to get right.
“Time-consuming” is an understatement. A majority of marketers report that it takes them one to three hours to create a single short blog post!
Plus, from a purely pragmatic perspective, it’s often more cost-effective to hire out anyway.
If you’re a lawyer or let’s say an in-demand financial advisor, aren’t you drastically reducing your hourly rate when you spend time writing for your blog?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average hourly rate of a personal financial advisor is around $57. Considering that it takes well over 2 hours to write 1000 words, it’s going to cost an advisor at least $150 per thousand words. At half that rate, you could hire a top-tier freelance writer.
Another way to look at it: yes, you could do your own writing. You could also do your own landscaping if you put your mind to it. You could also make your own yogurt, bake your own bread, change the oil in your car, or do your own manicures.
But most people are far too busy (disinterested?) to take these DIY routes and choose instead to “outsource”. Because let’s face it: we are not a DIY culture at this point.
Even More Reasons to Outsource
Summary so far: writing is key, but it isn’t necessarily a DIY endeavor when it comes to achieving business success.
As so many marketers have already discovered, the very same reasons writing is hard for them to accomplish also make writing the one aspect of content marketing that’s so hard to outsource!
It’s a frustrating paradox, which is why you’ve seen so many content writing services setting up shop in the past 5 years. Catering to busy marketers and overwhelmed small business owners, these companies serve as clearinghouses for truckloads of content writers for hire.
And as you might guess, they do this to varying degrees of success. Some are truly fantastic while others run the gamut from disappointing to shockingly bad. Some ghostwriting services pass off writing so bad it would be funny if you hadn’t just blown part of your content budget on it.
So, what’s a modern marketer to do?
If you outsource, do it wisely. The rest of this guide is dedicated to showing you exactly how to do just that.
How to Win at Outsourcing Your Content
So far I’ve focused on what’s wrong with many content writing services, why you shouldn’t DIY your content, and the problems with much of the website content writing out there.
But I haven’t really delved into the professional content writers themselves, or how to find a good one that you can work with to improve your business.
For insight on this, I draw upon my experience working as an editor at a content writing agency. I was there from the beginning when the company offered mainly very cheap SEO content writing services to flash-in-the-pan affiliate marketers who needed fast, cheap, SEO article writing.
Don’t judge- there’s a place in the world for everyone and I’m proud to have been a part of that very exciting world. I actually credit much of my business acumen and marketing knowledge to this so-called bottom-rung writing work.
Now the company offers mostly article writing and blog content writing services to higher-paying clients but the concept is the same: hire good writers, train them well, treat them well, and keep close tabs on everything so everyone gets what they want and everyone is happy on all sides.
So, what did I learn?
- The freelance content writer you hire must have experience writing for the web.
- The freelance content writer you hire must possess professional acumen.
- The freelance content writer you hire should have a web presence.
In the agency I’ve been affiliated with, if a writer did not apply with all three qualities intact, they were immediately rejected. You should do the same. Please trust me on this.
These aren’t just arbitrary rules, either. They were painfully and gradually derived through many long months of bad experiences with bad and bad-acting writers. Let me explain with a few examples. As painful as it is for me to dredge them up again, I will so you can learn.
Hiring Criterion #1: Experience
There are certain hard-fast rules for web writing that may or may not apply to other types of writing. For example, it’s universally accepted that short paragraphs are easier to read than huge blocks of text. Web writing requires a certain style that makes the writing visually appealing as well as engaging and conversational. A few basic guidelines:
- use short paragraphs
- use lots of bullets and numbered lists
- use headers to break up the text
Then there’s the whole readability angle: what makes writing that’s engaging? A natural flow is a good starting point. Vivid examples, savvy use of idioms, and references to current trends and events help, too.
All that is pretty easy to mess up if you’re not experienced. One corny turn of phrase and the whole piece is soured. One fluffy phrase and the rest is completely discredited. Stating the obvious, using tired phrasing, or simply not possessing a very large vocabulary are all signs of inexperience.
To the world you are one person, but to one person you could mean the world!
For the visual aspect of web writing, these rules are pretty straightforward. As a writer myself, I had to learn them, so I know they’re very easy to adopt and make habitual. Even back in the old days when I was writing content for SEO, I had to keep those rules in mind.
Therefore, when a writer submitted walls of text with too few paragraph breaks and no headers, we knew right away we were dealing with a newbie.
And finally, proofreading always becomes an issue. While writers may proofread the first few articles they submit, that initial diligence tends to fall off as time passes.
A good writer will always proofread everything carefully. Never stop checking up on that, either. Spot check everything that comes in and never let up. 59% of people would not do business with a company that has poor grammar on its website, so stay on top of this with your writers.
Training? Guidelines? A writer’s guidebook? Sure, we wrote ’em. We sent every new writer a nice, branded PDF with everything they needed to know to work at our company. Didn’t help.
That brings me to Hiring Criterion #2…
Hiring Criterion #2: Professional Acumen
Oh, the zany life of a writer. They’re such loopy, wonderful artistic types! You can’t expect these creative souls to know anything about business. They’re not corporate types, so you can’t expect them to behave like the rest of the business world. Deadlines? Reliability? Consistency? Not them!
If this is how you imagine the writing profession to be, then I’m willing to bet you’re not making good progress with your freelance content writer. I’m saying right now: demand professionalism or move on to someone else. It’s completely reasonable to expect an online content writer to behave professionally. You demand professionalism from your accountant, don’t you? Why not your writer?
What is “professional acumen”? It’s something one possesses when they understand business. They understand your value as a customer as well as their own value as a freelancer. They get that you have a goal when you hire them, and they comprehend the marketplace and their position in that marketplace.
They follow directions, they respect deadlines, they don’t give excuses, and they generally behave as if they’ve held a job in the real world before and they know how to get along in business. Many writers do not possess business acumen. Here’s my advice:
If a potential hire submits to you an application that’s incomplete, late, or in the wrong format: zing! They’re out. If something seems “off” about their communications: zing! They’re out.
Because if they can’t follow directions when it really matters (when they’re applying for a job!), then how will things go when you give them a writing job with specs they must follow? I can tell you how it will go because I’ve seen it happen over and over: it won’t go well.
And if they’re quirky and confusing with any of the pre-hire negotiations, zing! They’re out. Because communication is half the battle when it comes to article writing, ghost writing, or any other type of content writing you need done. And these traits rarely improve: they usually get worse as your relationship evolves.
So if they don’t answer emails quickly when you’re negotiating a job for the first time, that’s a clear warning sign. And if they’re late for their very first job, it’s a very bad sign. Seems obvious but even we needed to be reminded of these hard-fast rules over and over again until they finally stuck. Make no exceptions!
Hiring Criterion #3: Web Presence
Writers need to exist in the digital realm. If they don’t have a website, a social media presence, or at the very last some by-line examples of their work online, then there are two problems:
- It’s hard to take them seriously.
- It’s hard to imagine they know much about marketing.
Since you want a dedicated professional who knows about marketing, someone who doesn’t have any sort of online presence fails on both accounts.
Now for the Real Fun: Finding a Good Writer
Believe it or not, I’ve so far only covered the bare minimum of what’s required when you need professional content writing. The three criteria will get you a freelance web content writer who won’t drive you crazy.
But if you want more than that, if you want a professional ghost writer to pen your personal business blog, for example, you’ll also need a writer who’s actually good.
Instead of trying to convey what makes a good writer and how to identify one when you see one, I’m going to tell you what sort of knowledge touchstones she should have tucked away in her professional toolkit.
Good Web Writers are Also Marketers
Circling back to the beginning of this guide, here’s where marketing comes in. In my opinion, any good copywriter is good because he or she knows about marketing. Without proper knowledge of the following important aspects of copy writing, a content writer for website simply isn’t worth her salt:
- Writing to a target audience
- An understanding of tone and style
- The psychology of selling
- Skill with persuasive writing
- Thorough comprehension of the unique goals of each piece
At the first inkling that your possible new writer doesn’t know about marketing, bail and keep looking. Want to know how to tell? Just take a look at your email correspondence with that writer. View it from a marketing perspective, and you will probably be able to tell right away whether this person truly understands marketing.
Next, let’s expand on Criterion #1: Experience.
Good Writers Have Broad Experience & Intense Curiosity
A good writer should have breadth and depth of experience from which to draw upon when covering the various topics you may dole out. That doesn’t mean he needs to have a few years of med school under his belt in order to write about medical topics. It simply means he should have feelings and original thoughts towards the issues and topics you give him, so that he can produce original, engaging, fresh content that’s from the heart and truly thought out.
Good writers are by default very curious people – they love research and the good ones will do more than simply rehash a few facts they find on the web. They’ll delve into niche forums to find out the sub-cultures that exist around a given topic. They’ll search out the obscure blogs written by aficionados on the subjects you give them. They’ll consult their favorite magazines to see what they have to say about the matter. They’ll dig back into the news archives to see what has transpired.
Research is often misunderstood as rehashing other people’s words or assembling a bunch of facts, sprinkled with some worn-out phrases to make them read better. The end product of true research is fresh insight. It’s what your ghostwriting fees are paying for, so you’d better be darn sure that’s what you’re getting: demand the best.
Communicating With Your Writer
Finally, a word of advice for anyone who’s looking to work with a ghostwriting service. Your writer can only write to the level of clarity of the instructions she’s given. No matter how good she is, she will do a better job with clear instructions and good communication. Prompt payment helps, too.
When there’s a list of tasks on her to-do list, guess whose project gets worked on first? The one that’s easy to understand and the one that’s either paid for or will be promptly upon invoicing.
Ghost writer services and website content writing services can be a great boon to your business. You might be holding back on outsourcing your content writing, but if you’re like most marketers and business owners, doing it yourself is a short-sighted plan.
You’ve seen how important it is to have great writing on all your web properties – the hard part is finding website content services that measure up to the standards you need to be upholding.
Now that you’ve read this guide, nothing should be blocking you from taking the plunge and hiring a ghostwriter or a web content services professional who can do all your writing for you. Once you find a good match, there’s no telling how far you’ll go. Good luck!
Handy Checklist for Hiring a Freelancer
- Be ruthless in your vetting process. There are a lot of posers out there.
- When hiring freelancers, look for a healthy, strong online presence. It signals professionalism, dedication, and marketing savvy.
- Look for published work and tons of great samples.
- Don’t ask a freelancer to write you something on spec. Is there really any profession where this is appropriate?
- Look for business acumen: good communication, professional behavior, and familiarity with modern project management platforms and document sharing choices.
- Look for marketing savvy.
- Give clear instructions – if you’re not good at this, have a friend or colleague read over your instructions for clarity before sending them to your writer. You’ll increase the chances of getting what you asked for.