11 Tips to Get Top-Notch Work from a Freelance Writer

A Guide to Getting Optimal Results When Outsourcing Your Blog Content

Are you amping up your online marketing efforts as the pandemic continues to limit in-person interactions with existing and prospective customers?

If “yes,” you might be face-to-face with the challenge of writing high-quality blog content consistently. You’re not alone in your struggle to create content in-house. According to research by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 50 percent of B2B organizations and 55 percent of B2C organizations outsource some of their content marketing activities. Moreover, 84 percent of those B2B companies and 80 percent of the B2C companies outsource content creation.1,2

If outsourcing blog writing is uncharted territory for you, you may have some doubts and apprehension. After all, how can a freelancer know enough about your industry, brand, and your customers to do the job well? How do you even begin to get them up to speed? Won’t a freelancer be less vested in your success than an in-house writer? What should you expect, and what are your responsibilities?

All are valid concerns. In this post, I’ll share some tips to help you develop a successful working relationship with your blog writer. 

11 Best Practices When Outsourcing Content to a Freelance Writer

1. Share information about your business, your products and services, your customers, and your competitors.

Your writer will need a solid understanding of your strengths and what differentiates you from your competition. Discuss your unique value proposition and share any marketing materials, website links, and other documentation to give her an accurate picture of what your company does and stands for. The more acquainted your writer becomes with your brand, the better able she will be to write content that addresses what’s most important to your readers, strikes the right tone, and aligns with your goals.

I’ve always found that a bit too much information is better than not enough. However, carefully choose what you share with your writer. Make sure the resources are relevant and, if you provide any lengthy documents or videos, direct her to the specific sections where she’ll find valuable insight. If your writer has to watch hour-long webinars or read through volumes of material to ferret out what’s important, it may cost you more. 

2. Discuss what you wish to accomplish.

Do you have specific SEO goals that have prompted you to bring a writer on board? Or are you predominantly looking to strengthen your bond with existing customers? Whether you’re looking to attract more website visitors or deepen your existing followers’ knowledge will affect how your writer approaches your blog content. 

Your goals will also help determine whether the writer is the right person to assist you. Some freelancers are adept at appealing to readers but not well-versed in the nuances that make content more SEO-friendly. Others may have proficiency in structuring posts with elements that Google smiles upon, but they lack the knack for writing conversationally to bond with readers. And some writers have mastered both aspects of crafting blog content that will perform well with the target audience and search engines.

3. Agree on the scope of work and pricing.

This ties in with the above point, and it’s a step you’ll want to tackle before you start working with a writer.  Things to consider:

  • Will you or an SEO specialist provide topics and keyword direction to your writer? Or will your writer be responsible for brainstorming topics and proposing keyword focus?
  • What word count range do you prefer for your blog articles?
  • Will you provide key points and details that you want articles to include? Or will you expect your writer to figure out all of that via online research or interviews, etc.?
  • How many people within your organization will have to review and approve the content?
  • How do you want the writer to submit the content to you? (e.g., in Word documents via email, in a shared folder in Google Drive, or some other way?)
  • Do you want the writer to write your posts’ meta descriptions?

All of the above will affect how much time and work a writer must put into your assignments. Naturally, they will influence the writer’s rates to you and billing methodology (e.g., by the hour, per post), too. 

4. Describe your style and wording preferences.

Think about specific style preferences you want to be carried out consistently on your blog.

For example:

  • Use of the Oxford (serial) comma
  • Title and header capitalization
  • Industry acronyms and abbreviations 
  • Formatting of lists, quotes, sentence spacing, etc.
  • Compound words that might be written separately, hyphenated, or as a single word (e.g.,  health care, health-care, and healthcare)
  • Taboo words or phrases you want to avoid

5. Provide input.

Expect to be a part of the process. Your writer will be better able to produce content that showcases your authority in your field if you and other subject matter experts at your company share your expertise.

I find it extremely helpful when clients weigh in about topics—it facilitates the creation of content that genuinely reflects their value to their audience.   

6. Set reasonable deadlines.

Ideally, you and your writer will have a blog content calendar that confirms when topics will be assigned, when draft content is due, and when the final approved content will be ready to go live. If you don’t have a set schedule, make sure you give your writer ample lead time to reserve time for your assignments. Freelancers juggle work from multiple clients and must fulfill their commitments to all of them. They may not have the bandwidth in their project schedule to act on last-minute requests.  

 7. Have realistic expectations.

Writers are not miracle workers. If you’ve ignored your blog but now wish it to attract website visitors or generate a stronger following on social media, it will require time. And if you have SEO goals for your blog, many other factors besides your content will affect your results. Realize that even the most stellar blog articles cannot overcome challenges brought on by neglect, technical SEO issues, or a damaged brand reputation.   

8. Review drafts thoroughly.

While a capable writer may produce drafts that are spot on the first time, expect to ask her for some minor revisions—especially if the topic is complicated or highly specialized. Writing is a process. Give drafts your full attention when reviewing them, and let your writer know if you require any changes or additions. 

9. Provide feedback promptly.

Answer questions from your writer and provide feedback on drafts as soon as possible. Review and comment promptly (my idea of “ideal” is within one business day) to enable your writer to make necessary adjustments while the content is fresh in her mind. Swift feedback is especially critical when topics are time-sensitive. If you wait too long to give your writer your approval or change requests, the content may “expire” and no longer be relevant to your audience. 

10. Proofread before publishing.

Despite your writer’s very best efforts and your thorough review, some little “oopses” might slip by you. Whether a “to” where there should be a “too,” a missing comma, or a misspelling, errors happen occasionally. Realize that doesn’t mean you or your writer are lazy or careless. There’s a scientific reason why those little mistakes go undetected. Before publishing content, read it aloud and consider asking someone else to review it as extra quality assurance measures.

11. Be honest if it’s not the right fit.

If you’ve done all of the above, chances are you’ll have a mutually rewarding working relationship. However, sometimes things don’t pan out. If your writer is unable to grasp the subject matter or capture your brand’s tone of voice, or if they miss deadlines, make the same mistakes repeatedly, or otherwise are not delivering content that meets your expectations, let them know (respectfully). No writer is right for EVERY business, so avoid the two-sided torment of trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. If a writer is struggling and failing to meet your needs, it’s probably best for both of you to accept that and move on.

Ready to Hire a Freelance Blog Writer?

You have many resources available to help you find talented and reliable blog writers. Whether you search on Google, explore LinkedIn profiles, pursue options on freelancing platforms like Upwork, or ask your network for recommendations, keep your desired qualifications and goals in mind. If you fully understand your needs before looking for a writer, you will stand a better chance of engaging the right one from the start.

References:

1Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs. “B2B Content Marketing 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America.” contentmarketinginstitute.com, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2020_B2B_Research_Final.pdf. Accessed 8 February 2021.

2Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs. “B2C Content Marketing 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.” contentmarketinginstitute.com, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/2020_B2C_Research_Final.pdf. Accessed 8 February 2021.

Influencer Marketing: Bigger May Not Be Better

Although “go big or go home” may be a sound strategy for some business activities, it may not move the needle as an influencer marketing strategy.

Consumers are Wary

According to a study by media agency UM, only four percent of internet users globally trust information shared by traditional influencers. Moreover, unless your brand can afford to pay mega-bucks to celebrities or other public figures to endorse your products or services, you may have a difficult time getting on those influencers’ radar screens.

SmallBizGenious created an infographic with over 80 statistics about influencer marketing. One stat that stood out for me is:

“Micro-influencers, having between 2,000 to 50,000 followers, deliver 60% higher engagement rates, and those campaigns are 67% more efficient than those with influencers who have larger followings.”

It makes sense. Micro-influencers are:

  • More accessible.
  • Generally, more interactive with followers.
  • Perceived as more trustworthy than influencers with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.

Get Real About Influencer Marketing

Brands are also discovering the influential value of their average Jane and Joe customers. Satisfied consumers that post organically about their brand experiences generate authentic (and free) advertising for companies. A recent Social Media Today post cited a Stackla study that found after people see a peer’s post about a brand, they are almost 10 times more likely to buy than if they see a traditional social media influencer’s post.

With a Twitter following around 4,000, I’m in the “micro” and “average customer” categories. I am enjoying the shift in influencer marketing. A couple of my favorite brands (Chewy.com and CVS) have acknowledged and rewarded my loyalty. I’ve never expected anything in return for my social media accolades to them. I genuinely value their products and customer service and wanted to share that. Still, it is nice that they’ve noticed and have shown their appreciation. I’m more loyal to them than ever, and I’ll be tweeting and posting their praises again.

Keep that in mind if you’re looking to gain traction with influencer marketing. Show the real people who are already engaged with your brand that you value them. That’s the path to generating the kind of online word of mouth and authentic endorsements that potential customers will trust. Building those bonds is far more attainable than cutting through the noise to reach high-profile influencers. And the stats show that it’s a far more effective strategy, too.

Social Media: It Is What We Make It

framed box with black and white blocks within

As a new presidential election nears, the environment on social media is already becoming extraordinarily contentious.

Here we go again. Over the next two years, things will get ugly.

People will rant. People will rave. People will engage in digital slugfests.

People will “unfriend” and “unfollow” relatives, coworkers, neighbors, and long-time friends…all because they turn differences in philosophies and priorities into personal insults.

Sigh.

But amid the chaos and combativeness, social media’s dark side has an alter ego—a platform for unification and support.

I’ve personally witnessed the power of people in our community pulling together through efforts to find a scared, runaway dog several weeks ago. And, early last week, after 14 people lost their homes in a disastrous apartment fire a few miles from my house, our police department’s Facebook page became a hub for community members to discuss how to help those displaced. Also, just last Friday, when an erratic driver crashed into a car with several Warwick High School students (two of whom have died since the accident), the outpouring of support for the families, school staff, and grieving community has been extraordinary.

Later this week, I’ll be expanding on my own first-hand experience with social media’s bright side in a blog post for #Strella Social Media. But I felt compelled to touch on it now, as well.

Social media—particularly, its tone and its temperament—is what we make it. It’s up to us whether we use it as a tool for fueling hostility or facilitating goodwill.

 

In what ways have you seen social media used to unify rather than divide? I’d love to read about your experiences!

 





Tips for Avoiding Brand Damage

It only takes a few wrong words in a few split seconds to turn a well-respected brand into one abhorred by the masses.Tan sneaker ready to step on slippery banana peel

That’s the power—and the pitfall—of social media. One gaffe in a moment of misjudgment can lead to a potential firestorm of fury that inflicts permanent public relations damage.

How to Manage Your Brand’s Content and Maintain Your Good PR Standing

Whether you’re a solopreneur responsible for posting your own content or a marketing manager or business owners with multiple team members at the helm of your social media accounts, it’s critical to manage your content wisely so it doesn’t go rogue on you.

If you’re like me, the sole person handling your posts, it’s important to set rules and reminders for yourself so that you don’t accidentally cross any lines.

If you rely on others to create and post content, you face a more daunting challenge. As a contributing writer for Straight North, I wrote an article that’s focused on addressing that. It’s about how to avoid content crises that can ruin a company’s reputation.

Tips that I expand on in the post include:

  • Develop a style guide for your content.
  • Establish a social media policy.
  • Coach your team.

Check it out on the Alison May Public Relations blog!





The Endangered Em Dash—And How You Can Help Save It.

I know it’s not nice to pick favorites, but I have. The em dash ( — ) is by far my all-time favorite piece of punctuation. It’sTwo palms of hand with the world painted on them; text at top "Save the Em Dash" versatile, adds more emphasis than parentheses and commas, and (when not overused) provides clarity and an unencumbered reading experience.

 

I revere the em dash.

 

But people are dissing it. I’m seeing more and more blog posts with two double dashes (–) as a substitute for the em dash.

 

Enough already. The em dash deserves better than that.

 

But I—sort of—understand why bloggers are doing it.

 

Adding an Em Dash Requires Effort—But So What?

 

My guess is the em dash-dissing writers are typing their posts in Google Docs or some other online word processing tool, maybe even directly in WordPress. To add a proper em dash, they would need to use the “insert symbol” function and select em dash from the available options. Unlike MS Word, those platforms don’t recognize double dashes following a letter plus a space as the signal to automatically add an em dash.

 

I understand that can be pain in the @$#. I create my drafts in Google Docs and find it annoying to have to go through the manual process of hand-picking the em dash from the special characters menu whenever I want to add one. But if that’s what it takes to add an em dash, I’m willing to do it.

 

However, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the em dash. Fortunately for those folks, there’s an easier way.

 

The Less Cumbersome Way to Add an Em Dash in Google Docs

By going to the Tools menu and selecting Preferences, you can set up a “substitution” so that when you type a predefined letter or character combination, Google Docs will automatically substitute it with an em dash.

Drop down menu to find Preferences in Google Docs

In my Preferences, I’ve set up ++ to automatically change to an em dash. It’s less cumbersome than manually inserting the em dash symbol.

Preferences settings in Google Docs

 

It’s not without some inconvenience, though. Google Docs doesn’t recognize that it should substitute an em dash if there is a letter or character directly behind the ++. So, it requires going back to delete that unwanted space after the em dash (and to do that, you need to forward delete not backspace; otherwise, your em dash will revert to ++).  Still, I’ve found it an efficiency improvement.

You can do the same for en dashes, too. I’ve set up my preferences to make -+ become an en dash.

 

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t she use — or — as the en and em dash cues?” I admit, that does seem more logical. However, that works only if you have just an em dash preference set up. Unfortunately, things go awry when you set up both an en dash and em dash. Google Docs appears to get confused in that situation. The en dash will work just fine, but the em dash shows up as an en dash plus a single dash. Weird, I know. Anyways, because I want substitutions for both, I use -+ and ++ instead.

 

Long Live the Em Dash

Try this tip and spread the word to other bloggers who have been contributing to the demise of the em dash.

Your turn: What’s your favorite punctuation mark or punctuation pet peeve?

 





The Blueprint for Internet Marketing Lead Generation

Why do online efforts to generate leads and convert them into customers too often fall flat?

 

Lead generation campaigns fail to function as well as they should when some crucial element is missing—and no one notices.

 

In a sense, an Internet marketing lead generation campaign is like a jigsaw puzzle. If only a solitary piece is missing or out of place, you have no way of successfully achieving your goal. Unfortunately, with a generation campaign, you don’t have the benefit of a picture on the front of a box to guide you.

 

If your lead generation campaigns haven’t gained the results you’ve hoped for, Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing firm (for whom I’m a contributing writer), has created the handy flowchart below to help you.

 

It identifies the components an effective campaign requires and how all the pieces fit together. Use it as your blueprint to solving the lead generation puzzle.

 

Infographic created by Straight North





Three Key Personal Branding Takeaways From Taylor Swift

I’m not a star-struck groupie, but occasionally someone with celebrity status wows me. At this moment, it’s Taylor Swift.

Not so much because of her music but because of her command of her personal brand.

Swift recently had wiped out all of her social media accounts, leaving fans and the media wondering whether she had been hacked or planning a big announcement. It turns out the social network purge was intentional. It was Swift’s way of not only generating buzz about her new single “Look What You Made Me Do,” but also of announcing her updated personal brand.


Unlike other celebrities who have undergone lofty persona fluctuations (Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, for example), Swift has made it perfectly clear that SHE is in charge. This change has been no accident. It’s not a manifestation of feeling victimized or misunderstood.

 

Swift’s new brand image is 100 percent on purpose—and she is masterfully executing it.

 

Yours and my personal brands may never gain the prominence that Swift’s has, nor will we likely see the need to re-invent ourselves to the degree she has. But we can learn a few things from how she has handled her personal brand.

 

Three Personal Branding Lessons We Can Learn From Taylor Swift

 

  • Have a vision and purpose.

Know who you are, how you want others to perceive your personal brand, and why it’s important that you project that image. Swift exudes self-confidence because she knows exactly who she is and what she stands for. That level of self-assurance and intent is especially critical if you decide to make a change to your personal brand. Change for the sake of change will look more like a mid-life crisis than a carefully calculated decision.

 

  • Don’t dwell on the haters.

As Swift’s song “Shake It Off” goes, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…” When you’re a professional whose personal brand is out there on social media and in the business community, you’ll have followers who embrace and support who you are and others who constantly criticize and demean. Focus not on the naysayers whose sole purpose is to drag you down. Instead, put your energy into building relationships and loyalty with the people who appreciate you and your talents.

 

  • Own it.

Swift hasn’t let the media or the public define her personal brand. She has told us who she is. Your words, your actions, your style, your affiliations…you have the capacity to control all of the components that contribute to your personal brand. Take charge of them, so you can maintain power over your personal brand rather than relinquishing that control to others.

 

Whether you’re a Taylor Swift fan or one of the haters, there’s no denying her badass mastery of personal branding.

 

Your turn: What other celebrities and public figures do believe have solid personal branding strategies? What personal branding challenges have  you faced?

 





Forget More Cowbell; Your Blog Content Should Have More Of This Instead

Thanks to the flawless comic delivery of Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, “More cowbell,” has become one of the most recognized modern one-liners.

 

While more cowbell might solve some problems, unfortunately, it won’t do much to help your marketing efforts succeed. You can bang out more cowbell until…ahem… the cows come home, but it won’t make your audience more impelled to read and engage with your content.

 

What does your content need?

 

Put down your bell and do more of these two things instead:

 

Let Your Personality Sing

Unless you’re writing a technical manual, an academic piece, or something that otherwise demands a heightened degree of stuffiness and formality, relax a little. Writing in a conversational tone helps readers stay tuned in and makes them better able to grasp your message. Write like you speak so your content sounds natural and genuine. In the process:

 

  • Include references to things readers can relate to (e.g., cowbell).
  • Share relevant personal experiences to help your audience connect with the topic and to you as the author.
  • Avoid too much jargon, and don’t use fancy-dancy words to demonstrate your intelligence.

 

Approaching your writing in a more casual, conversational way doesn’t mean you will forfeit professionalism. To the contrary, you’ll improve your professional image by putting out content that readers will want to consume and share.

 

The “You” Factor

“You” is one of the most powerful words you can use in your marketing content. It instantly makes your readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.

 

Work more “you” into your writing rather than using third person references.

 

For example, if I had written the first two sentences under this bullet as shown below, it would lose its direct connection to the reader, “’You” is one of the most powerful words business marketers can use in their marketing content. It instantly makes their readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.”

 

And “you” becomes especially important when you’re writing about your services and products. Rather than dominating your content with sentences that begin with “We can…” or “We will…” or similar “we” wording, shift the focus on the reader and the benefits they can expect. For example: “If you…” or “You will find…” or “You’ll discover…” bring your readers into what otherwise might sound self-centered and pushy.

 

Final Notes (“Notes,” Get it?)

While more cowbell won’t make your small business marketing efforts smash hits, paying attention to how you approach the voicecow with cowbell around neck of your content can help give you star quality. Infuse more of your unique self into your writing style and speak to (rather than at) your readers.

 

Your turn! What tips and tricks have helped you connect with your readers?

 

 

 





Get Over It: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Using A Ghostwriter

It’s an ethical dilemma for some clients. Is it right to claim authorship for a piece of writing that you’ve hired someone else toGet Over It - Text write?

 

As a freelancer who ghostwrites blog posts and articles for clients, I find that’s prospects’ biggest hesitation about using a ghostwriter. They feel guilty about posting something as their own if they haven’t personally written it.

 

Does that sound like you?

 

Get over it.

 

There’s no shame in hiring a professional who can do the job better than you can. Many people simply don’t have the time or writing skills to craft a compelling, well-written blog post or article. And rushing to get to the finish line or forcing a skill that doesn’t come naturally can cost you in several ways.

 

  • Whether you’re submitting an article to a high-profile industry publication or posting on your own blog, creating a piece of writing that’s sub-standard can cause embarrassment and hurt your professional reputation. At best, prospects and customers will think you had a bad day. At worst, they’ll think you’re careless and incompetent.

 

  • Without the natural ability and skills, you might find yourself spending a half-day or more on a 500-word post. So much for productivity and effective use of your time! Yes, hiring a ghostwriter will cost you some money, but what’s your time worth?

 

  • You might miss out on valuable readership if your writing doesn’t have an attention-grabbing headline or doesn’t incorporate the information and keywords to help it become found by search engines.

 

Still not feeling comfortable about the idea of hiring a ghostwriter?

 

If completely turning over your writing to someone behind the scenes unnerves you, know that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can still have a hand in the process when you hire a ghostwriter by doing one or more of the following:

 

  • Take an active role in brainstorming topics.
  • Contribute your expertise and experience by giving your ghostwriter specific key details you want to communicate.
  • Craft a very rough draft and let your ghostwriter flesh it out and refine it.

 

No matter what your involvement, make sure your ghostwriter understands your “voice.” The tone, wording, and style should sound like you, not the ghostwriter. Always review and read aloud what your ghostwriter has written and ask for a revision if the piece seems out of character. Even though you haven’t written it, the writing needs to genuinely reflect you.

 

So, don’t feel guilty about hiring a ghostwriter. It’s a wonderful way to eliminate the stress, preserve your valuable time, and ensure you’re presenting your very best professional image online.

 

Your turn! What has stopped you from using a ghostwriter for your blog or other writing? If you use a ghostwriter, what benefits have you gleaned from it?

 

 

 





What To Do When You’re Not In The “Write” Mind

It’s not easy to admit, but I confess that I’ve been in a bit of a mental and motivational slump where my blog is concerned. Oh, Pen with question marks implying writer's blockI’ve been writing plenty. Just not here.

 

In the past month, my work for clients included…

 

  • 16 blog posts
  • Copy for an email campaign
  • Content for a print newsletter
  • Project managing and editing a magazine for a local medical society
  • Brainstorming and writing abstracts for 10 posts of a “disruptive” nature
  • Content for two websites
  • Two press releases
  • Two industry editorials
  • A corporate retirement announcement
  • Two case studies
  • And a few other odds and ends to boot.

 

I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs or spending hours meandering around town playing Pokémon Go. Still, I’ve beat myself up about not following through with tending to my responsibilities here.

 

This post isn’t intended to show you how busy I’ve been, but rather to demonstrate that sometimes something’s gotta give. Occasionally, you might find you’re not in the “write” mind or you have put forth so much effort elsewhere that you have nothing left to give to your blog. Feeling guilty or less of a professional because of it won’t change the situation.

 

The moral of the story: Not having the drive and determination to write for your blog doesn’t make you a slacker.

 

Fortunately, my business hasn’t seemed to suffer as a result of my silence in this space, but if you count on your company blog to draw in traffic and produce leads the same might not be true for you.

 

So, what can you do if you’re overwhelmed with your other business obligations and undermotivated to write for your blog?

 

A few ideas:

 

  • Schedule dedicated time for the task. Just knowing you’ve planned for it and aren’t cutting into the time you should be doing something else might help you put your mind to it.

 

  • Pick a topic you’re pumped up about. When you’re enthused about the subject matter, it’s far more enjoyable to write about it.

 

  • Break up the work. Instead of sitting down for hours to write a post, do it in three shorter sessions: One for research and jotting down rough ideas; a second for organizing those ideas and writing a draft; and a third for editing and fine tuning.

 

  • Hire someone to write for you. If you know you absolutely won’t get to it or if you just plain aren’t “feeling it,” don’t force it. Your time will be better spent on other work that’s critical to your business success and you’ll have the posts you need to keep your marketing efforts on track.

 

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a blog writing slump, find some comfort knowing you’re not alone. It happens to all of us—and you have ways around it.

 

Your turn: What frustrates you most about writing slumps? How do you overcome them?