Dr. Shelby Starr received rave reviews for her ingenuity and excellent care when she opened her private practice. Two years later, she’s struggling to grow her business. Medical school taught her how to keep people healthy, not how to be a content writer or create click-worthy social media posts. She can do an emergency tracheotomy at 35,000 feet (fun story, btw). However, if she had to choose between performing a colonoscopy or writing a landing page… you know where this is going.
Dr. Shelby is not alone. 63% of businesses claim generating traffic and leads is their top marketing challenge. Everyone wants to be on the first page of a Google search result, but it’s not easy. If you want to be discovered as the awesome thought leader you are, then it’s time to hire a content writer.
When it comes to blogging alone:
- Small businesses that blog see 126% more lead growth compared to those that don’t
- Marketers who prioritize blogging efforts are 13x more likely to see a positive ROI
- The average company that maintains a regular blog generates 55% more website visitors and 97% more links
Content writers create so much more than blog posts. We tend to have a diverse list of specialties. Some content writers are social media mavens, video scriptwriters, and white paper and ebook experts. Some even double as content strategists and can help you outline a plan and goals for your business!
For that reason, if you asked five different content writers what they do, you’ll get five different answers. Most content writers perform multiple jobs, which makes finding the right one important. So let’s get started…
What Does a Content Writer Do?
Content writers are professional writers who produce engaging content for (primarily) use online. This content is often used to educate and engage a target audience while also fitting with the tone and voice of the brand it represents. Content can take many forms, including but not limited to:
- Blog posts
- Social media posts
- White papers
- Case studies
- Email marketing
- Video scripts
- Landing pages
In addition to creating content, content writers are excellent researchers, understand SEO, and have editing expertise. While many can write about a wide variety of topics, they often specialize in 2-3 niche subjects, such as finance, healthcare, or travel writing.
When Do You Need a Content Writer
There’s an irony associated with entrepreneurship: going out on your own is when you need the help of others the most. Great business leaders have to appreciate the value of their time and when it’s necessary to hire help. This is especially true if the task requires skills you haven’t mastered.
Entrepreneurs wear many hats, but not all of them will fit well. Would you want Captain Jack Sparrow as your financial adviser or Miranda Priestly as the head of HR? Probably not. Should they spend significant chunks of time as a deckhand or a seamstress? No, because their skill sets are more valuable than that – and so are yours.
Like Jack and Miranda, you’re a pioneer! You’re an awesome _________. Unless you’re filling in that blank with something content-related, your time is better spent doing something other than trying to support your blog, newsletters, and social media profiles.
Here’s another way to think about it: would you do your own bookkeeping if you weren’t great at tracking your business revenue and expenditures? Probably not. If you’re not Dr. Shelby, you probably don’t even have time for that! This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a bookkeeper. Blogs are the same way.
Think of content writing the same way. Sure, it costs money to hire someone, but hiring the right someone often results in a huge ROI. In fact, 55% of marketers say that blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority. If this wasn’t the case, then 81% of businesses would state that their company blog is “useful” or “critical” for their business. This is particularly true for small businesses, which often have limited budgets and steep competition.
So when do you need to hire a content writer? When you’re ready to continue growing your business.
Where to Find One
Now that you know you need a content writer, it’s time to find one. Here are a few ways to do so:
Many of us start within our circle of trust and ask for referrals. If you’re lucky enough, your cousin Samira might have a former roommate who writes about your niche for a living. You’d be surprised who you may find simply by asking on your social media channels. If you’ve got a dedicated customer base like Dr. Shelby, each of them could be a potential referral resource as well.
Social Media “Groups”
Don’t overthink it – search groups associated around your niche on Facebook or LinkedIn and ask around. Someone’s sure to know someone or know of someone who can help.
Search the Web
A simple Google search for something like “content writer for ______” is a great way to get started. However, be prepared – while the writers that show up here are probably subject matter experts, their rates might be more than you’ve budgeted for. Still, it never hurts to ask.
While you’re searching for your diamond in the rough, I can’t emphasize this enough: beware of content mills. There are some really great writers that regularly use sites like Upwork or Fiverr – and these sites have merit. If you’re offering to pay a respectable rate, you’ll attract some quality writers and won’t have as much of an issue. If you’re one of those companies offering $10 an article or $.01-$.02 per word, you’ll either:
- Get what you pay for, or
- Work with a writer who is newer and doesn’t know where else to find clients, or
- Work with a writer who is looking for a portfolio piece
Either way, these relationships are not likely to last very long.
Content Writers, Copywriters, and Content Strategists – Oh My!
While you’re conducting your search for a writer, you may come across a few terms that intersect with one another. Some of the most popular ones are listed in this headline, so let’s talk about what each of them does:
A content writer educates and entertains readers to strengthen the relationship between a brand and its audience. They tell stories to make points relatable and are always down to come up with new and intriguing ideas. They write content that is compelling and craft it in ways that makes it easy for others to find it (e.g. SEO). Also, they have experience with digital marketing strategies and can create content for multiple channels such as websites, email, and social media.
Copywriters focus on persuading their audience to buy a product or service from a brand by suggesting that it will improve their quality of life. Copywriting is all about understanding the needs of the target audience and convincing them to take action. Like content writers, they can also tell stories, try to build relationships, and know SEO. Copywriters and content writers are commonly mistaken for one another, and some writers identify as both. However, there is a key difference: content writers educate and entertain while copywriters persuade.
Content strategists take on a different role entirely. They take over a brand’s content strategy and direct it so that it can achieve its desired milestones and long term goals. If content writers and copywriters are focused on chapters, content strategies are the ones writing up the table of contents, determining the chapter order, when and where they’re going to publish, and set the style and tone. A content strategist is the one who defines a target audience and ensures that the content is consistent across all channels. Having someone who can do this is incredibly important. In fact, 72% of marketers believe that having a good content strategy was a major key to success.
Some writers do both writing and strategy, but not all of them. If you’re like Dr. Shelby and want an entire content plan and posting calendar, keep that in mind when you’re looking to hire a content writer. Speaking of…
What Should You Look For When Hiring a Content Writer
Every good content writer should have a portfolio of work that they can show you. This is your first indication that they can (or cannot) do the tasks that you require of them. They should also have a website because, like you, they’re professionals and websites are their virtual storefronts. It doesn’t have to be super snazzy (I mean, have you seen mine?!), but all of the basics should be there. Their site should:
- Reveal what their niches are
- Showcase their experience
- Have an about section
- Have testimonials
Good content writers should also be comfortable with SEO. Jackson can be the most profound fitness writer in the world, but if he doesn’t know how to integrate popular keywords into his work, people will never see it. It’s that whole “if a tree falls in the forest, does it land on Rudy Giuliani” analogy. Or… something like that.
The content writer you hire should have a clear understanding of your needs and the needs of your customer. This means that they should have a strong understanding of who your customers are and what language will engage them. They should also be able to match the voice and tone of your brand. Even the best content writers can sometimes struggle with these. Dr. Shelby needs someone who can take medical jargon and make it comprehensive for people with 8th grade reading levels. That’s no easy feat.
You might be surprised to find that the content writer that you’re looking to hire to write web content or social media posts for you don’t have any of their own. Don’t automatically discredit them if that’s the case. Some cobblers’ children don’t have shoes. What’s important is that they know how to make them.
What Should You Bring to the Interview
I use the term “interview” loosely. Hiring content writers – especially for small businesses – is often a fairly informal process done via email chains or over cups of coffee (or margaritas, in Dr. Shelby’s case). Despite their casual nature, most content writers are looking for a few key pieces of information when meeting with a potential client.
What are your needs?
Can you define the scope of work required of your hire? Are you looking for a blog writer or someone to revamp your brand messaging and your entire website? You don’t need to know all of the key details, but coming to the coffee table with a few ideas will help get the conversation started. Dr. Shelby knew that she wanted someone to write blog posts for her. By the end of her conversation with a content writer, she was excited by the prospect of having an entire series on functional medicine and the option for an ebook.
What is your brand and who is your audience?
If part of the scope of work involves creating a brand identity, this may be a bit of a difficult question to answer. However, if you’re a commercial real estate firm specializing in purchasing and flipping strip malls, you should mention that. If you can define your brand voice, tone, and what language you use/don’t use, even better!
Is there an editor involved? If so, who?
Even the best writers need editors. Heck, even the best editors need editors. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes on a piece of content to check for rogue grammar, punctuation, or tone inconsistencies before publication.
What is your budget?
In the freelance world, everyone charges different amounts for their services. By having a budget in mind when you first get the table, you will have a starting point when it comes to determining the cost of a project. Ask the content writer you’re meeting with if they have a rate sheet, but don’t be discouraged if they can’t give you a number right away. Every project is different, and they might need to do some research before replying with a fair quote. Don’t forget, you can do the same. Nothing is set in stone until it’s in writing.
Content Writers and Their Specialties
Let’s face it – your writing needs probably extend beyond your company’s blog. To improve your chances of finding the right content writer for you, brainstorm what your needs are. For some help, here’s an expanded version of that earlier list highlighting what content writers do:
I can post blog stats and talk about the do’s and don’ts of blog posting all day. Not only are they a great way to continuously attract your target audience, but the content created from them can be utilized in many ways. Just think, one blog post can be:
- Converted into a video script
- Quoted and used for multiple social media posts (don’t forget your hashtags!)
- Used in case study or white paper
- Its own section in an ebook – we’ll get to that next
- Used in your next newsletter
- Updated, reused, and reposted to attract your target audience all over again
While a single post can go viral – and we’ve all seen it happen – keep in mind that generating traffic and leads takes time. Businesses often don’t see significant growth until their blog hits 20+ posts, but by the time they reach 50+ that growth skyrockets by an average of 77%. With the right content strategy, you’ll likely see results sooner.
Want to be a thought leader? There’s no better way to than being able to claim, “I wrote the book on that.” With the help of a content writer, you can – and it’s easier than you think! If you have a few blog posts that are closely correlated, then you’ve got the main ingredient for your next ebook. Instead of thinking about them as individual posts, think of them as chapters. Sure, you’ll need to edit some of it to make the transitions seamless, but it’s totally doable – especially with the right content writer at the helm.
Digital marketing expert Neil Patel ranks eBooks second on his list of ways to create lead-generating content. Once you have it compiled, it’s up to you what to do with it. You can make it a “freebie” to boost your subscribers or self-publish it and generate an extra revenue stream. If you team up with a content writer who doubles as a content strategist, you can even get a whole ebook series going!
Social Media Posts
97% of marketers are using social media to reach their audiences. In this day and age, most small businesses can’t afford not to have a social media presence. If the thought of routinely posting content while following a predetermined ratio sounds daunting, it’s because it is. At the minimum, a successful social media profile should:
- Maintain authenticity
- Engage with followers/other like-minded brands
- Promote others
- Track activity and determine your level of success
- Test new strategies to boost your influence
Thankfully, there are plenty of content writers and businesses out there that specialize in social media. By developing a schedule for your social media posts, you’ll likely find that building a presence gets easier. Still, it’s time-consuming and requires consistency in order to be successful. Many entrepreneurs are better off outsourcing these responsibilities. Even if you do, make sure you’re checking your analytics from time to time to determine what’s working and what isn’t.
White papers aren’t necessarily sexy, but they are ranked #2 in terms of the most influential content buyers read before making a purchase (just behind product brochures/data sheets). White papers offer in-depth information about a problem in your industry that your target audience is looking to understand. Think of them as the college textbooks of marketing.
When done well, they are able to make your brand more persuasive and bring about meaningful change as your platform an influence increases. For example, Spencer Brenneman’s white paper Solo Identity lays out why having a brand strategy is vital for businesses – even if you’re the only employee. White papers have no time for fluff. They are carefully crafted documents full of quantitative data written in an academic format. They’re not a sales pitch, but by the time the reader finishes one, it’s clear to them that you know your stuff.
Case studies are where marketing meets science. They’re a great way for you to show how your product or service has successfully helped customers. If you have data from a successful marketing campaign or a similar endeavor, then a case study is a great way to showcase your results.
When TDT, a full-service digital agency dominated the food industry with Facebook and Instagram companies for their client, Maille mustard, they created a case study. This case study proved that their marketing strategy was so effective that an average post received 2,900 different forms of engagement on Facebook. Their competitor, Colman’s Mustard, only received 1/10th of that.
Email marketing is one of the most effective ways for businesses to connect with customers and build long-lasting relationships. Unlike social media, your email list belongs to you, so learning how to get subscribers should be one of your immediate priorities. Experts state that email marketing remains the king of the marketing kingdom, boasting a 4400% ROI and $44 for every $1 spent. Thus, you want to make sure that what you’re saying to your subscribers is going to hook their attention right from the headline and that the content is worth their time.
Personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates and emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. If you’re uncertain that your marketing emails say exactly what you need them to, a content writer can help.
Video is huge right now! By 2021, video advertising will grow to become a $22 billion industry. Grab a slice of that pie by hiring a content writer who can convert some of your most popular blogs into video scripts. If you’re not already convinced that the jump into video is worth it, here are a few stats from Social Media Today to get you interested:
- 1200% more shares are generated by social videos than text and images combined
- 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos every week
- 90% of viewers say that product videos are helping in their decision process
Despite what you may think, you don’t need an entire production crew to make a video that can convert. Many of the most-watched videos are made on phones or webcams. All you need is good lighting and an even better script.
Landing pages are standalone web pages made solely for the purpose of marketing or advertising. If you are running a marketing campaign or are looking to sell a specific product or service, then you’ll want (or probably already have) a landing page. This page is meant to highlight your offer and convince your target audience that the product is right for them.
If you’re not a strong writer who can upsell your brand and tell a prospective customer why they should buy your product or service, a content writer can help. With the right messaging and clever prose, you’re well on your way to enjoying a high conversion rate.
What you say in your bio or your “about me” profile is how you’re describing yourself to the world. It gives you the opportunity to prove why you’re the right person to be selling your product or service. It also allows you to showcase your personality so that your customers can get to know you better. They can range from a full page to just a couple of words, but choose them well because those words are meant to reveal the man (or woman) behind the curtain.
The tricky thing about writing bios is that it’s often harder to write your own than to have someone write for you. This is true even for writers! So, if you don’t already have a great bio written – or believe that it can be improved – then hiring a writer to do so is a smart move.
Make an Investment in Your Business
Through her experience, Dr. Shelby learned that content writing isn’t an expense – it’s an investment. While progress was slow at first, Dr. Shelby experienced a 25% increase in new patients after six months. That number more than doubled by the end of her first year. She also now has two ebooks out – one available on Amazon and the other as a “freebie” for subscribing to her mailing list. Better yet, she no longer has to worry about writing her own content and can focus on what she loves doing most: keeping her patients healthy and happy.
As I mentioned earlier, small businesses don’t have the luxury of working with massive budgets or huge departments. Every dollar counts and every minute has value. By hiring the right content writer, you will enjoy an increase in revenue, have extra time to spend with loved ones, focus on other tasks, and continue to grow your business.