Yes, you read that title correctly. We interacted with 4,057 candidates to find people with the right skills to deliver high-quality content. Admittedly, many didn’t get past the first step of our hiring process, but a good number made it through our initial screening.
Just in case you’re strapped for time, here’s the too long; didn’t read (tl;dr) synopsis: It’s incredibly challenging to find a skilled content writer that has enough availability to make it worth your while, but doesn’t charge an arm and a leg.
Why Hire Freelance Content Writers?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a business owner who’s heard about the magic of content marketing—or what we call growth content—and how it can help with brand awareness and, more importantly, lead generation.
Want to see examples of content that has produced amazing results for our clients? Download the Nectafy Growth Content Portfolio.
Of course, you need someone to produce this content—hence why you’re looking for a full-time or freelance content writer. Not to burst your bubble, but a writer isn’t the only resource you’ll need to achieve amazing results from growth content. Strategy is a huge piece of the puzzle, and hiring a content strategist is its own challenge—one we’ve overcome before.
As for our writer woes, we had three full-time writers who were working at max capacity. We needed to expand that capacity, but we also wanted the ability to scale. So we decided it would make more sense to hire contract or freelance content writers instead of more full-time staff.
Did we have concerns about this decision? Absolutely. It was important that whomever we hired represented the company well and stayed around for the long term. After all, no company wants to deal with reputational damage and high turnover.
Traditionally, these aspects were distinguishing characteristics between full-time and contract workers, but today’s business landscape is not so black and white. So we moved forward with a positive outlook, focusing more on finding the right person than thinking about their IRS classification.
Our Journey To Hire Content Writers
Note that our journey started nearly two years ago and is still ongoing, so keep that in mind as you review the following sections.
As we scoured the internet for marketing content writers, we considered important aspects that would determine whether candidates would move forward through the hiring funnel:
- Pricing. Does the candidate’s rate fit within our budget?
- Availability. How much work can the candidate take on right now vs. the near future vs. an ongoing basis?
- Expertise. What subjects do they write about? Do they only write about certain industries? Can they grasp and write about technical topics? How good are they at interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs)?
As a team, we decided on the minimum requirements for each of the above areas. For example, we couldn’t afford a website content writer who would blow our budget—even if they were available and highly skilled. Similarly, we didn’t want to hire a content writer who was skilled and fit in our budget but could only take on a few articles per month. We were looking for the content writer trifecta!
So where did we look for web content writers? We used a mix of outbound and inbound techniques across a few channels:
- Search engines. Like everyone else, we turned to keyword searches online. We used a multitude of search terms, from the simple (content writer) to the complex (best technical B2B content writers). We then found and reviewed the writers’ websites before reaching out.
- LinkedIn. Similar to the above, we searched on LinkedIn to identify potential candidates, and then reached out to those who fit the bill.
- Workable. We posted a contract writer job on this channel, which pushed out to job boards like Indeed, where we sourced 90% of applicants.
- ClearVoice. We paid a monthly fee to gain access to what the platform claimed were vetted content writers.
There were benefits and drawbacks to each approach and channel. Taking the outbound approach with Google and LinkedIn resulted in higher quality candidates but it also required a lot of time. Plus, since we were reaching out to them, we couldn’t be sure if they were even interested in working with us.
The inbound approach seemed easier since applications simply rolled in regardless of our efforts—and there were plenty. However, it often felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
As for ClearVoice, it didn’t work out as we hoped. We wanted to try a different avenue, but the platform’s promise didn’t deliver on writer quality, and didn’t align with the price point. Money spent here could have been spent on more relevant areas of our hiring process.
To ensure we found the right content writers, we developed an extensive hiring funnel:
- Application. Candidates submitted their applications through one of the above channels—or we found them ourselves and reached out.
- Interviews. We interviewed candidates twice: once to evaluate their fit with our core values and once to assess their knowledge and skills.
- Test project. It was extremely important to see the candidates’ skills in a real-world format, so we asked them to produce an article from interview to draft. (All writers were paid for their work!) Then we assessed what they created.
- Offer. Assuming our evaluation of the candidates’ interviews and draft was favorable, we extended an offer.
- Hire. Not everyone accepted the offer. But for those who did, we made it official by hiring them as a contract content writer.
Beyond hiring, we were looking for candidates to stick around for the long haul—at least one year. Unfortunately, even after going through the entire hiring process and working with some of our clients, some writers didn’t quite make it to the full year.
Data & Visuals Around Our Hiring Process
Now for the fun part of this article—the data. Check out the visual breakdown (with commentary) below.
Sourcing: Where did candidates apply?
Overwhelmingly, candidates came from Indeed, with a small amount coming from a few other channels.
Sourcing: Which channels produced candidates who moved forward?
Again, Indeed is the clear winner here—most candidates that moved forward were originally sourced from this platform.
Hiring funnel: How did candidates fare throughout the process?
- Despite receiving over 4,000 applications, only about 5% were given an interview. While some candidates were simply unresponsive to our outreach, the majority just didn’t meet our criteria.
- Less than half of interviewees made it to the test project (about 2% of applicants), whether due to misalignment with our core values or lack of skill.
- We only extended an offer to about a fifth of candidates who completed a test project (about 0.5% of applicants).
- Lastly, we hired nearly all candidates who were extended an offer (about 0.4% of applicants).
- The last data point is the most interesting—only about half of the content writers we hired made it to the year mark. That’s eight out 15 hires, and eight out of 4,000+ applicants.
- It took about 30 days to hire a writer from their initial application.
- It took 270 content writer applicants to find one to hire.
- It took two hires to find one long-term partnership (defined as at least one year).
The takeaway: You may need approximately 270 applications and 30 days to hire one writer who has about a 50% chance of being a good, long-term fit.
After addressing over 4,000 applications and hiring only 15 content writers—of which only eight made it past the first year—what did we learn?
- Outbound hiring takes a lot of time, but can produce better quality candidates.
- We might have been (a little) too picky with our criteria, meaning we may have missed some good writers along the way.
- In general, finding good content writers with the right balance of pricing, availability, and expertise is extremely difficult.
- Pricing presents a challenge when comparing content writers due to a lack of uniformity. Writers may charge by the hour, the article, or the word. They also may adjust their pricing based on a number of factors, such as length, difficulty, number of keywords, subject matter, and so on. In addition, what they offer as part of their fee structure varies, and it may include services you don’t need.
- Expertise also presents a difficult point of comparison. There’s no barrier to entry—anyone can say they’re a content writer. Plus, even if they’re skilled in general, a content writer may fare poorly with certain subjects and excel with others.
- It’s better to address pricing, availability, and expertise upfront. We had too many interviews where pricing and availability presented clear disconnects. Addressing these items prior to an interview saves everyone time. (You can ask for samples to get initial evidence of skill.)
What does our team look like now?
As of October 2021, we have eight stellar contract writers. Each of them has been with us between one and three and half years. On average, each writer has two or three regular clients and produces 10 to 12 blog posts monthly.
We found the best of both worlds—we have writers that meet our discerning criteria and we have flexibility in our business. We can onload or offload work across writers as needed. For example, if one writer needs to free up time to, say, have a baby, we can offload that work onto other willing writers in the meantime. Then the original writer can resume work with their client after returning.
We’re continually refining our hiring process, including budgeting for aspects such as hiring channels and test projects.
If you made it to the end of this post, you’re now keenly aware of all it takes to hire a content writer. Keep in mind, we handled all the above as a team that does content marketing for a living. If you could use some help developing content strategy and producing lead-generating content, drop us a line.
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