Daniel Burstein

Ask MarketingSherpa: Finding and hiring content marketing writers

August 29th, 2019

We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish edited excerpts of some of these conversations here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.


Dear MarketingSherpa: What factors should I consider when hiring a content marketing writer? Do you have any recommendations for content writing services or other ways of finding content marketing writers? We produce a lot of content internally but are aiming to scale by outsourcing. We’ve used a few providers in the past (freelance writers and an online writers’ marketplace, for example) and currently use a content writing agency, though I’d welcome any other suggestions.


Dear Reader: From our limited experience, there is no content writing service that is head and shoulders above the rest for every industry and topic area that we could recommend without reservations. It doesn’t mean they’re not out there, it just means we haven’t encountered them yet.

The best you can do is try them out and experiment to see what is the best fit for your unique company and industry. For example, you might commission ten articles from ten writers from three different services, and then narrow it down based on their ability and dependability. Obviously, it will be highly variable based on their pay rate.

Here are a few questions you might want to get aligned on internally when outsourcing content marketing writing:

What is your brand voice?

What type of content should your brand be producing and how should it sound?

Can the writer do interviews? Storytelling? Human interest stories? Profiles? Case studies? Entertaining writing? Humor? Technical writing? Work with busy executives? Are they fluent in your industry? Or do they focus just on basic factual information?

Some writers are more flexible than others and can do many things effectively. Others focus on a specific niche and can do an amazing technical white paper but couldn’t do a personality-driven piece well. You’re not just looking for general skills and dependability, you also need the right fit for your brand and value proposition.

How important is the human connection when customers consider purchasing from us?

Consider the importance of the human element when looking at the type of writing the writer does. The human element to content writing can be especially important if you have a services-based business. You need a writer who can interview your subject matter experts and clients well and tell that compelling human interest story, even when talking about basic industry information. With a services-based business, customers aren’t only looking for expertise but also are going to make a human connection with your consultants if they hire your business.

What level of expertise do customers expect from our brand?

One word of caution, for a website or product that requires a certain level of expertise, you may want to be careful about hiring the lower-cost SEO type of writers. I call their style of writing “book report writing” because it’s like a basic regurgitation about a topic, no real insights.

This may not be a good fit if people are buying your expertise, even when it’s just software and not an actual human interaction. The cheaper writers can be better for simple consumer goods products that rely less on an expertise sale, like headphones or mattresses.

You could even see which freelance writers are engaged in true journalism and take a brand journalism type of approach. You can learn more about brand journalism in this blog post (while this post discusses a direct hire, you could do the same with freelance).

What level of content marketing are my competitors engaged in?

Are they producing very basic blog posts? Very promotional content marketing? Editorial content aimed at helping and not just selling? True journalism? Entertaining shows and podcasts? What other content are you competing with for mindshare on your topic from magazines and newspapers to streaming services and journalism podcasts?

Your customers don’t choose your company’s products in a vacuum, and they don’t choose what content to consume in a vacuum either. Conduct a competitive analysis to determine how the sites you’re competing against handle content marketing. Do they have high-quality editorial content or just the basic SEO-focused blog posts? That answer will help you determine what level and kind of writer(s) you should work with.

Do you have a system in place to enable the writers you do hire?

You can’t just hire a freelance writer and expect content marketing magic, of course. After all, they are an outsider to your organization. A hired pen.

Wherever you hire writers from, make sure you have a system in place you can insert them into that will enable them to succeed and for your brand to consistently publish high-quality content. This webinar has a pretty good case study showing how McGladrey did just that.

How good are they at pitching you?

If you’re looking for a content marketing writer, make your needs known publicly through your content and social media and let them pitch you.

While it can be annoying to get constant sales emails from other types of services — like a marketing automation platform, B2B lead gen appointment setters, or cleaning services — a pitch email from a writer is a pretty good instant test of that writer’s ability. No matter what they say they can do or have in their portfolio, if they can’t write a good pitch email to you (after doing some research about you and your company), they are likely not a very good writer.


Dear MarketingSherpa: Thank you very much for this thorough and insightful response — it has me thinking differently about our content strategy overall 😊

Thank you for the excellent resources as well.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.


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Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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