First off, freelance marketplaces are underappreciated.
I remember I submitted several jobs for part-time freelance writers on Upwork in 2017 and I received a total of ~20 applications. Most of them were spam and automated bot submissions.
I remember that posting the same job 5 years ago would have yielded 60–100 applications or about 10x what one may expect at the moment. Most people gave up on Upwork while legitimate clients still use it as one of the many channels for finding freelancers (and even full-time employees).
Second, most freelancers applying through different channels are lazy.
We’ve posted three more jobs on different networks and job sites and used an approach commonly used on freelance networks – requesting that a job application should start with a given phrase, such as “I will rock your content” or something like that.
One of the job sites sent us 50 applicants. 46 of them didn’t follow the instructions. 37 of them have even applied for different jobs!
One of them did read the post and applied as requested. He happens to write on Quora as well and noted a few of my answers here. Attached is his portfolio, outlining relevant areas he had expertise in (which were relevant to what we were looking for), and mentioning other areas he could help with, along with his availability and payment expectations.
He was the one who joined the team.
Additional Services A Content Writer Can Offer
We’ve also received a few more applications asking for 25% more than our highest rate. We would have ignored them… but they outlined additional services they offer such as guest posting, submission to directories, cross-linking from other magazines and blogs they own, and so forth.
Now, this is a different story.
Writing a series of blog posts or an ebook is one thing. Combining that with some lead generation, backlink opportunities, and sharing across their popular social accounts brings additional value to the company. This is an “upsell” we would be willing to pay for – at least for a few pieces a month by each of them.
They also asked relevant questions about our buyer personas, what sort of tracking and marketing automation tools we use, do we track conversion rates per post (email signups for example), and generally demonstrated the right type of attitude and notable familiarity of the process.
All in all, that represents about 4% of all job applications we’ve received. Chances are, we will work with most, if not all, of them. Most writers are simply approaching customers way too early or are lazy.
Selling a complete package or upselling separate services is totally doable with the right background and portfolio.
Nevertheless, we always make sure that we don’t just hire plain writers, but actual content marketers who are knowledgeable in digital marketing, particularly content marketing.
The best way to gauge a content marketer is by asking the right interview questions.
What Questions Do You Ask When Interviewing A Content Marketer?
My interviews are hour-long usually, and this is after exchanging a few emails and conducting some due diligence on my end.
This is why there is no simple question that would rule them all. To make things easier, I’ve listed ten on top of my head that I look for (asking explicitly or not) in a candidate.
1. How Do You Measure the KPIs for Your Content Marketing Campaigns?
Producing content blindly is extremely common for less experienced candidates. Especially college graduates or bloggers writing on emotional, lifestyle topics, “from their heart” — and there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just a hit-or-miss and not a great investment for a business.
Covering particular areas outside of traffic or shares is always handy. Not easy either, and conversions aren’t always there to measure, but other social mentions, personal emails, subscriptions, backlinks, and other conversations related to pieces of content help.
2. Explain the Process of Doing Your Due Diligence Before Jumping into Writing
Research is paramount for extraordinary content. Some take it a step further with interviews, gathering mentions, using HARO for quotes or scheduling meetings within the team.
Either way, it’s not an easy “I just get started” answer. Unless they’ve spent 20 years in the industry and decided to convert to an employed full-time writing job.
3. How Do You Decide What Topics to Focus on and What Format to Use?
In case they are involved ever so slightly in the content marketing strategy process, topic ideation is important. The same goes for figuring out what content matters unless they only do long-form text content.
A great candidate will proactively assess the industry, some of the top competitors, what type of content they produce, whether video or podcasts would be reasonable, or infographics handy for their audience, etc.
4. What Were the Most Effective Distribution Channels for Your Content at Your Previous Job?
Translation: were you aware of what’s going on with your content at all?
Was Facebook the “king” of shares (this is a go-to answer so I’d question it) or other channels worked really well?
5. Do You Run Your Own Blog?
Most passionate writers would maintain their own online presence as prolific bloggers or content creators and content marketers. More importantly, a personal blog will reveal the content they are really comfortable with, outside the boundaries of the corporate style guide.
And it’s a great way to run tests and see what works.
Something else definitely worth checking is how original a writer’s blog posts are. This is easily done using a free plagiarism checker tool. As you can imagine, content should be 100% unique. Otherwise, the copy isn’t authentic.
P.S. Not mandatory, but often a determining factor of whether this is a job or a way of living.
6. What Was the Most Effective Experiment or Change You Applied in Your Content That Made a Difference?
This showcases proactiveness and measuring results.
A lack of answers from the content marketer applicant would mean strictly following protocol and a limited understanding of results/outcomes within the department.
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t care about either — we just do.
7. What Makes a Piece of Content Successful/What Would the Most Incredible Piece of Content Be for Readers?
This is an open-ended, broad topic, that also assesses creativity and the power of dreaming.
I say “dreaming” because a writer should be striving to be amazing, a real rockstar in their field, a master of the feather in a sense.
And there’s no shame in looking at ways to improve. If an applicant states that their content is out-of-the-world, I’ll probably stop the interview since it’s pointless.
Also, this measures the potential of helping with content marketing strategy or revealing other forms of content that work well.
8. What Is the Difference Between the Top, Middle, and Bottom of the Funnel for Your Readers?
The intent of creating content is often a leading disconnect between bloggers and companies looking for professional content writers.
Content has its own purpose. But at the end of the day, it has to bring revenue (one way or another).
Understanding different types of content and how they incorporate within the marketing funnel is important. Treating transactional intent and informational content differently is one of the factors here.
9. Who Are the Most Prolific Writers You Truly Enjoy Following/Reading?
Name your heroes, in a sense.
I say “writers” since it also allows for book authors, thought leaders, or other influencers.
But writing is a byproduct of tons of reading, coming up with fresh ideas and an enhanced verbal train of thought isn’t quite possible within reading regularly and a lot.
10. What Types of Information Do You Include in Your Pieces for Credibility and Richness of Content?
For most types of content, including stats, quotes, industry data, survey results, and other forms of credibility and trustworthiness is really helpful.
The content marketer applicant should name most of these (and then some) right away if they incorporate them for almost every article. Otherwise, I would be wondering if they just spin off content out of an existing piece or two, or write down the most common ideas without really validating them with the latest industry trends.
On Writing About Technical Topics
This may aggravate a large group of people, but…
It’s usually easier to teach technical people to write well.
1. The More Complex the Technical Topic, the More Important the Subject Expertise
Try writing about the engines of spaceships. Or nuclear reactors. How microprocessors work internally.
Even the more accessible topics like programming or basic computer/smartphone reviews wouldn’t work well enough if you merely reiterate existing stories. It’s easy to make a critical mistake. And omit as many details you aren’t quite certain of.
Engineering background and supporting experience are required to make a justified overview that covers all of the essential points of a product, a tool, an instrument, or a service. There are various nuances that touch on areas around the product space itself.
2. It Takes Significantly Longer to Study Engineering Deeply Than Writing Most Forms of Technical Content
There are quite a lot of engineers who authored books over the years. And probably tens, if not hundreds of thousands of bloggers.
Mastering the art of engineering is a long journey. And CS graduates often lack the skills to describe complex concepts (mostly because there’s a lot to learn still and experience the actual business problem at hand.)
And while writing is a skill we learn as kids (at a very, very basic level), engineering isn’t a required trait many of us grasp by default. The foundations are simply there and a poor writer can still convey important areas of their work. Even a copywriting class can help quite a lot in a short period of time.
Of course, I’m not talking about writing a sci-fi bestseller.
3. Senior Engineers Are Often Required to Maintain Technical Content
Senior developers, technical leads, technical project managers and other leading roles coming from engineering are expected to write a lot.
Write tons of emails.
Sometimes tutorials or other technical guides.
While few truly enjoy that, many have developed the minimum skills to explain complex concepts to others.
The bottom line, most forms of technical content can be produced by technical writers with a bit of editorial help. Asking non-tech copywriters to produce them would result in an expensive overhead unless you are expected to involve an expert group that works closely with the masters of the feather.
Hiring An Individual Writer vs Hiring An Agency
I’m generally not fond of agencies for content writing or when looking for a content marketer. No hard feelings at all, it’s business as usual, and I’m sure that certain companies can vastly benefit from working with agencies.
For me, one of the following two problems occur:
- A freelancer fee is 2x or 3x higher with an agency managing the process.
- Content is produced by several writers — which leads to varying quality or mixed writing styles.
One may argue that the same goes for marketing or development firms. Writers produce content that’s directly visible to customers, requires some familiarity with the business needs (context or market experience) and relies on a somewhat consistent style.
Diversity may be the key perk for agencies. If I’m interested in different topics, writers may specialize in certain areas, whereas a specific writer may do well in some content while someone else excels in other topics.
Check out The Guide to Consistently Producing High-Quality Content that every business can use as the number 1 resource for content marketing.
What other pressing challenges do you need my help with? Let me know in the comments!