Blogging is a lot of work. You have to create and maintain a website, making sure your design works and your platform is secure. You have to market it, anywhere you possibly can. You have to work to maintain your authority, your position, so people know you’re writing from a place of knowledge. On top of all of that, you might still have a day job, a business to run, or a family to love. Oh, and of course, you have to create loads of content. Anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 words per post, ranging from daily to once or twice a week; it weighs on you.
There’s more to creating content than just sitting down and writing. You have to research your topics, to find topics that have available niches or little domination from the industry giants. You have to come up with clever and searchable titles. You have to find a fresh perspective and back it up with data. You have the writing itself, and all of the meta content. You have to find links and images appropriate for your posts. You have to schedule, edit, and post your content regularly. You should even keep an eye on your old content and come up with updates to keep it relevant whenever possible.
It’s no wonder that many of the biggest bloggers out there write very little of their own content. Instead, they hire ghostwriters to turn concepts and data into compelling posts. Writers with command over the English language, with expertise writing for the industry, with the voice and persona necessary to capture the attention of a broad audience, these people are in high demand.
Outsourcing isn’t difficult, but it’s very easy to do poorly.
If you’re going for the lowest bidder, you’re going to receive terrible content, and you’re going to waste time in getting it revised or redone completely. When you’re on a budget – and on a schedule – you can’t always afford that kind of delay. That’s why I’ve written this guide; to help you outsource posts properly, without falling for the mistakes so many novices encounter along the way.
Step 1: Decide on a Topic
Before you can begin to outsource your articles, you need a topic. One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make when trying to outsource their posts is posting an assignment that has too little information. The most talented writers want more to go on than just a keyword. As a consequence, the writers you pick up with overly generic posts are the worst writers.
Ideally, you’ll find a line between too generic and too restrictive for your assignments. Many writers on content mills worry about overly specific posts, because revision requests and rejections hurt their income and their reputations. They’re hesitant to take restrictive posts because if they can’t please you and you reject the post, it can hurt their standing on the site.
The hard part about this is determining how much is too much in context of the site you’re using to outsource. Some sites are more restrictive than others, and harsher on the writers, which makes them more reluctant. You might hit upon a writer who zeros in on your desires unerringly, or you might have to go through several writers just to get something serviceable.
Step 2: Decide on a Format
This is sort of a tertiary part of step one.
You’ll want to have some kind of format in mind. Do you want short paragraphs with subheadings? Do you want minimal subheadings, or none at all? Do you want a numbered list, and if so, do you want a specific number? Do you want a white paper? Do you want a blog post with a casual voice, or a professional voice? Do you want first person references, the royal We, or an impersonal perspective?
All of this matters, but it’s not all relevant to the writer. You don’t need to write a big list of guidelines. All you need is something simple, like “A casual-style blog post from a first person perspective dealing with X topic.” It’s when you start listing specific grammatical points to adhere to that you step over the line into too much information.
This is all a combination of personal experience and conversations with a few writers I know, by the way. Bear in mind that your experience may be a little different. Some writers may be more willing to work within detailed restrictions, and others may prefer the absolute minimum in terms of guidelines. You’ll have to experiment to see who you attract and what quality of work they produce.
Step 3: Decide on a Word Count
Word count is important because it in part determines your budget. It also determines how detailed the content you receive will be.
If your subject is too thin and your word count too high, you’re going to get a lot of fluff in return. If your topic is deep, but your word count too short, you’ll end up with superficial articles that don’t have the space to dig into the subject. Never expect a writer to go over word count; many sites that host writers allow it, but very few writers will exceed word count specifically because the excess is free. If you’re paying for 1,200 words, an the writer hands in 1,400, that’s 200 words they didn’t get paid to write. That’s not a sustainable business model.
Bear in mind as well that most of these writing sites will charge per word rates. The cheapest could be as little as a penny per word, while professional quality writing often runs 10 cents per word or higher. A 1,000-word blog post, then, could run you $100 or more, depending on the quality level you demand from the writer.
Step 4: Determine a Budget
This goes along with step three. Costs can add up very quickly if you’re looking for lengthy, meaty posts on a regular basis. Consider; 7 posts per week, 1,000 words per post, is 7,000 words of writing to pay for every week. At a moderately low rate of 5 cents per word, you’re looking at spending $350 per week. If you find that the quality you receive at that payment level is garbage, you’ll have to find higher priced and higher quality writers, and your costs will go up.
There are a number of factors that adjust prices.
- Time. Most writing sites have a grace period for the assignment to be posted, a time limit for the writer to write it, and an auto-accept deadline for you to request revisions. This cycle, with a writer that gets you and writes high quality content, can still take several days. With a vague assignment, a low pay rate, and revisions, it can take several weeks to get content you’re satisfied with. In general, if you want a quick turnaround, you will want to offer more money.
- Length. The longer your content, the more expensive it is, without exception.
- Quality. Most writing sites sort writers into tiers based on their rated quality on past projects. Higher quality writing costs more. Occasionally you’ll find a good writer in a lower tier, but it’s not something you can count on.
- Frequency. If you want seven posts per week, it’s going to cost more than wanting three posts per week, all other factors being equal. Though, some writing platforms will offer a discount for bulk orders. That’s typically on the order of hundreds of posts, though, not tens.
Figure out how much you have to spend, and see what you can get at various price points and quality levels.
Step 5: Determine Your Desired Writer Relationship
There are a few different levels of relationship you can have with a freelance writer.
- Casual content mill relations. Content mills don’t want writers and clients contacting each other, because if they work out a relationship outside the mill, the mill loses their commissions. This means any relationship you develop with a content mill writer is necessarily filtered and distant.
- Close freelancer work. This is a more direct contact between you and a writer, like what you get from a freelance hub like Upwork or Fiverr.
- Marketplace relationship. Constant Content is a site that writers can post articles on, and you can buy them, without every having contacted the writer. More on this later.
- Close individual hire. Sometimes you can contact a writer outside of the platform you’re using and hire them directly. This could be through the standard independent contractor agreement, or as an actual in-house employee, depending on your situation.
Figure out how much of a relationship you want to have with your writer or writers. Just avoid getting too close before you know them well enough to know their reliability; you don’t want to keep paying a writer who consistently fails to meet deadlines, just because you’ve become friends and don’t want to fire them.
Step 6: Find a Writer
There are a whole bunch of places online where you can find writers, and you’ll often find that writers work through many different platforms. The chances of you finding the same writer on multiple platforms is slim, though, due to the number of platforms and the number of competing writers on each. Here are some of the platforms, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Fiverr – You know this site by reputation, if not necessarily experience. Contrary to popular belief, you won’t be getting an article of any length for $5. Often, you’ll find packages with 50-100 words for $5, where you’re able to buy as many as you want to reach certain word counts for individual projects. Here, you don’t have to worry about a random writer picking up your assignment, but you do have to vet your posts carefully.
- Upwork – This is the current name of what was once the merged conglomeration of elance and odesk. When the two sites merged, they kept their clientele and their workforce, so nothing really has changed but the name.
- Textbroker – This is a stereotypical restrictive content mill. Post your assignment and a random writer can claim it and write it. You have the chance for revision requests. You can also submit direct orders to writers you like, though they always have the option of turning them down. If you like more than one writer, you can create a team of selected writers.
- Constant Content – I mentioned this above; CC is a marketplace where writers post articles and clients can buy them. You can use this to quickly fill out a blog backlog and get generic posts. They also have the ability to post assignments for writers to claim, though it’s not used as much as the open marketplace.
- Freelancer – This is a freelance hub that does much more than just writing; you can also find programming, design, and graphical work on the site, making it a good one-stop shop for everything your blog needs.
- Craigslist – Sometimes, you can find decent success by posting work-from-home writing opportunities in major metro area CL sections. As always with Craigslist, be wary of scammers.
- Personal Sites – Many of the best, high profile writers will have sites of their own. Be aware that they are likely to charge a significant fee compared to most of these other options, however.
- Copywriting Agencies – There are agencies that have pools of writers on their workforce who can write content in bulk for you, possibly at low rates.
Step 7: Pitch or Post Your Assignment
Once you’ve chosen a platform and decided on how long your article will be, write up and pitch your assignment. How you do this will depend highly on the method you’re using, so I can’t give you much advice here. Most content mills will have account reps you can talk to for advice, though some require a premium membership first. Only pay for a membership if you’re sure you want to work with the platform.
Step 8: Wait For Inevitable Mistake-Filled Post
Okay, so this is a little defeatist, but my experience is that a lot of the work you’ll get back as a new client, particularly if you’re looking for cheap writing, is going to suck. It might go off the rails. It might misinterpret your keyword. It might be filled with grammatical mistakes. It might look written by a non-native English speaker. In these cases, you’ll have to send the post back for revision. Most writing sites enforce at least one revision, so writers aren’t screwed by immediate rejections. If you’re not using a content mill, you may have a more personal conversation in store for you when you have to confront the writer about not meeting your vision.
In the event that the content you get back is great, you should immediately favorite that writer and foster the relationship. Content mills especially tend to be filled with the bottom of the barrel writers who can’t cut it elsewhere, so finding a good one is a great opportunity for you both.
Step 9: Check Content for Plagiarism
Any time you receive a piece of content, the first thing you should do is check to see if it’s copied or spun from existing content online. I recommend doing a manual search with both Google and Bing, because one might pick up something the other missed or deindexed. You may also want to use a widespread plagiarism checker like Copyscape, though many of the content mills already automatically run content through the service to make sure the writers are on the up and up.
In the event that you do find a plagiarism flag, review it to make sure it’s relevant. Sometimes the content in question is a direct and cited quotation, or a common turn of phrase. Don’t immediately accuse a writer of stealing content in these cases; it will alienate you and piss them off.
Step 10: Pay for Your Content
Most writing sites and freelancer portals have an escrow service for money; you pay in advance, and can be refunded if you are dissatisfied with the service. However, if you accept content, there’s no option for withholding payment. Writers need to be paid for their services, full stop.
If you steal content from a writer, even a content mill with low quality writers, I don’t know what to tell you. Don’t do it. You can and will gain a massive negative reputation amongst writers, and the last thing you want is to be faced with the sheer bad press that angry freelancers can generate.
Step 11: Repeat as Much as Necessary
Once you find writers who produce quality content, keep buying it. These writers depend on you and clients like you for their living, and steady work is a dream for many of them. It’s also easier for you to budget; paying once each month may be easier to track, but you also want to spread out your assignments so you always have something ready to post.
With all of the time you save not writing, you can dedicate yourself to improving your business, so you can buy more content and pay better.