The complete guide to outsourcing your content marketing

Content marketing today diverges from traditional marketing. Consumers are looking to build relationships with brands they trust, and that requires an ongoing conversation -- one that continues on your company blog, in your social feed, over email and beyond.

The conversation, though a high-value one, is never over when the lights turn off at night. Many businesses and marketers struggle to keep up with the demand for new content. Outsourcing that content's creation is one solution to continue building customer relationships while keeping your wits about you.

According to the content marketing software Curata, 35% of marketers in 2016 didn't outsource any content. Of companies Curata surveyed in its Content Marketing Staffing and Tactics Barometer, 75% were increasing content marketing investment in 2016 yet only 43% were increasing content marketing staff levels.

Know what that means? A bigger budget for content generation without a matched level of manpower/womanpower.

Enter the outsourced content marketer. You'll be in good company: 64% of B2B marketers outsource their content writing, according to TopRankBlog.

(Scroll to the bottom for the Complete Guide to Outsourcing Your Content Marketing in a shareable PDF!)

Consumers look to build relationships with brands they trust, and that requires an ongoing conversation -- one that continues on your company blog, in your social feed, over email and beyond. Many businesses and marketers struggle to keep up with the demand for new content. Outsourcing that content's creation is one solution to continue building customer relationships while keeping your wits about you.

Should you outsource?

"Traditional marketing talks at people. Content marketing talks with them." -- Doug Kessler, creative director and co-founder at Velocity Partners
64% of B2B marketers outsource their content writing.

OK, friend. You of course need to figure this out first: Should you even outsource this content work? If it:

  • causes you anxiety or stress
  • is outside your realm of experience
  • calls for a research/learning period you don't have time for
  • means you'll have to figure out how to log into and update your dated website
  • requires a deadline you can't meet

then outsource this shiz. You'll quickly scale your content output without hiring another full-time employee.

Your role vs. your content writer's role

First brainstorm your project goals, not the creative. That's the writer's job. She will also research, write and copyedit. If you want her to write blog posts based on company surveys you've generated yourself, by all means, do that legwork. But know that mega-big benefit in outsourcing your content marketing is she can write that for you.

Huzzah!

Looking for a survey to popup on your landing page? Have her write it.

Need a five-part email automation series? Have her write it.

Want a weekly customer case study to regularly include in your blog? Have her write it.

See what I'm getting at here? You do what you do best, and trust your writer to take care of the content.

Using a freelancer or an agency

"Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department." -- David Packard, co-founder of HP
45% of marketers call blogging the most important piece of their content strategy.

In the end, it's up to you whether you want one person or a team to handle your content marketing needs. Only you know the type of relationship you want to have with the person/people developing your marketed content. As a freelance content marketer myself, I of course favor working with freelancers over outsourcing to marketing agencies. That isn't only because I want the work (shameless plug here) but because my clients' budgets are really important to me: I work with loads of entrepreneurs and independent businesses who simply can't afford multi-person agency teams. When you work with one person vs. a team, you're obviously paying for one person vs. a team. What I'm getting at is that it's frankly cheaper, without suffering quality.

Here's the comparison I've noticed when deciding between the two:

AGENCY

  • Tends to charge a monthly fee
  • Often follows regular business hours
  • You're communicating with a team's point person
  • Works on multiple projects, so last-minute asks are unlikely to be met
  • Can cover a breadth of needs, like SEO, digital media and PR

FREELANCER

  • Tends to be less expensive
  • Often works outside of typical business hours
  • You're communicating with one person
  • Works on fewer projects, so yours is prioritized
  • Usually has a specialty, like content marketing, so you can hire niche freelancers

Tip: More and more Millennials are leaving their corporate and agency jobs to go it alone, and personally, I like to support indepdendent ventures. They're often fresh out of undergraduate or grad school, more tech-savvy, follow work hours more conducive to when I also prefer to conduct business and (this is a big one) have giving-back initiatives built into their pricing. Mission matters to me. If it's important to you, too, be sure to ask the freelancer or agency you're consulting how she contributes to her community.

I'm going to continue as though you've chosen to work with a freelancer, as that's my expertise.

Establish a budget

Long-form blog posts generate 9x more leads than short-form.

If you use lead conversion or management software -- like Salesforce or Marketo -- or simply Google Analytics, you can easily find metrics that speak to your ROI, helping define the budget for outsourced marketing projects.

Figure from which of your marketing sources -- white papers, email series, blog posts, social media ads -- you're getting the best results, and focus on ramping up those efforts. It's worth taking the time to learn the ROI so you immediately know where to direct your outsourced writer. That way, she can hit the ground running, creating brand-new content for you to implement into your marketing efforts.

Since we're seeing companies up their content marketing investment, you may find there's more wiggle room in your budget than you thought. Talk to your manager, C-level colleague or the mirror, if you're the business owner (your hair looks great today), to determine how much you're willing to spend on expert content writing + peace of mind.

According to Business2Community, 23% of CMOs think they're creating the right content in the right format for their audience, though brands are spending 25% - 43% of their budget on content creation. A strong strategy paired with clear metrics will help your writer make sure the content pays off.

Tip: Pay your writers what they're worth. Market value for content copywriters is not $10/hour. If a writer you've found on Upwork or another freelancer website is asking for such little money, this is not someone who respects his/her talent -- or even has talent. My current copywriting rate is $90/hour, and that comes with years of experience writing clear, persuasive content in other brands' voices. Nimble adaptability and self-respect? They have value.

Create the job ad

"Behind every tweet, share and purchase, there is a person. Care more about the person and less about the share." -- Shafqat Islam, CEO and co-founder at NewsCred

You want a writer who is:

  • Curious
  • Empathetic
  • Clear
  • Persuasive
  • Concise

Notice how none of those qualities are heavy on the math and analytical side? That's because writers include research to adapt their findings for people. Real people. (Remember, always, first and foremost, that we're people marketing to people.) Any writer worth her salt speaks directly to readers, partnering with them on tailored solutions.

Journalists are great at this, and many content marketers (including yours truly) are former journalists. (And considering that blogs are getting longer -- the average blog post is about 1,050 words long -- journalists are well-versed in creating and sustaining a compelling narrative.) We reap what we sow, so create an ad for this role that reflects the above qualities while keeping in mind that the research itself is learnable. (Research is research, no matter the subject.) These qualities? You either have them or you don't.

In your job post, ask helpful, leading questions like:

  1. Will you describe how you determined a client's brand voice for a recent project?
  2. How do you get to know a client's audience without directly contacting them?
  3. What's your writing process and turnaround time?

The top question I loathe seeing in job ads: What do you like about writing?

Because, do you really care? What value does the answer add in helping determine whether a content writer is the right fit for your marketing needs? Are you truly interested in a story about how her second-grade teacher instilled a love of the written word?

Instead, let this be a question that comes up organically during a phone interview with the writer.

The parts of a typical content writing job post:

I. An introduction to your business (its name, what it produces, who it produces for) and the role you're seeking to fill. Example: FreshOat is an organic oatmeal blended in the heart of the United States for gluten-free breakfasters. We're looking for a part-time freelancer, 15-25 hours/week, with the possibility for long-term work.
II. Description of the perfect fit. Example: A B2C content marketer available immediately to create an external five-part email series to onboard new customers funneled to us through our website. We'd also like one 500-word blog post each week about clean eating, American farming and agriculture news. We use XYZ as our email service provider, and experience with this platform, while not necessary, is a plus.
III. Essential duties and responsibilities. Example: Coordinate with website manager on publishing efforts. Develop a content calendar viewable to stakeholders. Follow SEO and email best practices.
IV. Requirements. Example: Bachelor's degree in English, Journalism, Marketing or Communications, or similar experience. 4+ years writing for the web and email. A naturally inquisitive person with an empathetic voice who crafts error-free content.
V. Contact info. Example: If interested in this opportunity, email your cover letter and CV to our Web Manager, Sally Forth, at sally.forth@FreshOat.com. In your cover letter, please answer these questions: 1. Will you describe how you determined a client's brand voice for a recent project? 2. How do you get to know a client's audience without directly contacting them? 3. What's your writing process and turnaround time?

Ask for writing samples

"Content marketing represents the gap between what brands produce and what consumers actually want." -- Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group

Many clients opt to work under non-disclosure agreements, so don't be surprised if freelancers note this to you. What they're saying when they say this is that their high-profile clients and the big-budget content work they've done for those clients can't be shared. What's a bummer is that this is most often their best work.

That being said, they should have some public work examples that will be of interest to you. If you already know the specific writing projects you need, as for writing samples that match these needs, like a marketing brochure or blog post.

When prospective clients ask for work samples from me without specifying the type of work they're outsourcing, outside of "content writing," I tend to send them these four as examples to cover more breadth:

(More of my work examples can be found here, if you're interested.)

Tip: Request samples related to your project -- like other About Us pages or an email autoresponder -- but don't get as specific as an example in your field unless it's absolutely required that the freelancer be an expert. While possible, it's unlikely you'll find the perfect, available (this is key; they're often in high demand) copywriter with B2B experience in midwest health care management. A good writer deftly creates content across verticals. In my career, I've written about politics, medicine, farming, race relations, parenting and more.

Clearly communicate your goals and needs

"Behind every piece of bad content is an executive who asked for it." -- Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group

Content writers are terrific at their craft. Where they have less talent -- where we all have less talent -- is in reading minds.

The average blog post is about 1,050 words, and the average readers spends 37 seconds reading your content.

When working with a writer, arm her with everything she'll need to succeed. That usually looks like:

  1. A white paper or one-sheet about your brand's voice and tone
  2. The company vision and mission statement
  3. A style guide (do you follow Australian spellings? do you use the Oxford comma? does each tweet need to include a specific hashtag?)
  4. A clear set of instructions

If you don't have the first three, I strongly recommend you hire a writer to compose them. They've pivotal when working with those outside your company as well as so helpful for you and your colleagues to have documents to refer back to when you drift from your company's mission.

(Don't give her every piece of marketing the company's ever produced. She doesn't need that, and what you're actually doing is giving her more to read, which equals more research time, which means you're paying her more than is necessary for unnecessary research reading. Got it?)

To clearly communicate a project's goals, here's a template I like to use:

  • Project
  • Milestones
  • Due date
  • Company contact

Those four simple bullet points give enough instructions for a writer, assuming you've provided her with the brand materials we talked about above. Here's how this template might look with real details:

  • Project: Revise website content to remove old products and include new staff. Please create a shared Google doc and give Sally editing privileges so she can share feedback. Let her know once each page's draft is complete, and she'll check in. We understand that this project includes two rounds of revisions, and we'll have that feedback within three business days of your completion.
  • Milestones:
    1. About Us page (tighten company story and add new CEO's bio)
    2. Products page (remove products with almonds)
    3. Recipes page (needs broken links fixed)
    4. Partners page (this is a new page we need created based on the included partner list)
    5. Wholesale page (this is another new page, and we'll have the info to you by Friday)
  • Due date: Monday, Aug. 14, by EOD
  • Company contact: Web manager Sally Forth, sally.forth@FreshOat.com

Daily or weekly meetings with your content marketing point person are considered more valuable (70%, vs. 49% who meet biweekly or monthly), and 61% of B2B marketers make daily/weekly meetings a goal. These check-ins can be in person, on the phone or online (Google Hangout, Skype, etc.).

Related: Why your emails turn people off

Tip: Remember that there's a learning curve when getting to know any business and writing in its brand voice. If your writer has missed the mark in some way -- maybe she's writing less formal than you prefer or you like more pop culture references included -- simply let her know. Writers want to do their work well and please their clients. They're on your side! One part of arming her with the tools she needs to write well for you includes providing this type of direction.

Treat writers well

If you're happy with your content marketer's work and trust her ability, refer her when you're asked for a writing contact. Freelancers rely on referrals to build their business; in fact, 90% of my résumé and cover letter projects are generated solely by referrals. You want a writer who works so collaboratively, kindly and efficiently that you can't help but share her name with others.

Here's a referral template you can use (and of course tweak in so it's in your voice and reflects the project!):

Hi [NAME],

I want to pass along freelance content writer Sarah Smith's information for any upcoming projects you might have. She revised our website content this summer and is maintaining on an ongoing weekly blog for FreshOat. She has also interpreted our brand's voice and style into shareable documents for our internal and external teams -- we finally have a style guide! She's easy to communicate with, organized, skilled and reliable, and she'd be a tremendous asset for your content marketing tasks, which you mentioned the other day you're looking to outsource.

You can see some of her past work at [WEBSITE GOES HERE] and reach her at sarah.smith@example.com. Let me know if you have any further questions about her qualifications, and I'm glad to help!

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