How To Hire Freelance Writers and Build Your Own Content Production Team

Written by Hands Off Publishing

Over the last 18 months, we have hired over 120 writers for our content agency. Of those, we have retained 33+ writers and growing and have served our clients with more than 10m words. 

We have writers from all around the world, across 10 different timezones but uphold the same standards across all of our content. Good hiring is not limited to any country or demographic, but rather the framework you build upon.

In this guide today, I am going to share with you our finetuned hiring framework, all the insights, and lessons we learned on this journey, and how we have been able to build a successful content production team that runs seamlessly at scale.

Who This Is For 

This guide is for anyone looking to hire writers whether that be for their agency, their one website, or their portfolio of sites. Whether you’re looking for 1 writer or 100 writers, there is much to gain by going through this guide. 

Before we dive into the juicy information around hiring, it’s important we set the right framework to hire within. Anyone can hire, but hiring correctly and effectively is what keeps you from losing hair and burning your money.

Let’s waste no more time and dive right into the first steps of building your content production team. 

Set Your Website Goals

Just like with anything in life, you need to know first why you’re doing it. If you don’t have a goal in mind, you’ll be running around like a headless chicken burning all your cash with no results in sight. 

To hire the correct writers, you need to know exactly what you’re hiring them for to maximize their potential. It goes without saying that you’re hiring to save time, to make more money, and automate your workflow - these are your hiring goals, but what are your website goals?

You see, most websites are just after more traffic, and although more traffic can never be a bad thing, there’s got to be a purpose behind it. The purpose usually breaks into these three areas:

Conversions

Are you after more leads, appointments, and sales? You should be looking for writers good at producing publishing guides, case studies, and detailed how-to posts. 

Although this is not a sales guide, the pitch with how-to posts is the easiest, you explain how to do it yourself, and then simply offer to do it for them. 

Similar to case studies, you share your or your client’s results, walk the reader through the steps you took to get there, and then offer to do it with or for them.

Publisher and Affiliate Revenue

Most of our customers at Hands Off Publishing fall under this category. The type of content required to achieve these goals is the easiest to write around. 

For publisher revenue, it can be anything that’ll keep the readers' eyes peeled. 

We’re talking listicles, info posts, how-tos, response posts, and some. These types of posts are easy to write and also easy to consume which in turn results in lower bounce rates and longer session durations. 

Most writers enjoy writing this type of content as it allows them to be creative and use their imagination to a certain degree.

For affiliate revenue, it gets a little technical. We’re looking at buying guides, product reviews, and comparison posts. Deep product research is required here so wordsmiths alone won’t cut it. You need writers that are good at scouring the internet for relevant data, then compiling it all into accurate and compelling work. 

Brand Awareness

The final important category is brand awareness. The cool thing about this is that almost all of your content will help increase brand awareness, but some just do it better than others.

What makes the difference in this category is publishing expert-written posts or from a perspective of deep understanding. A great approach is to break existing beliefs of your market across your content to help you stand out.

Hiring for this type of content will require more work from your side than hiring for any of the other categories. You will need to provide maximum information about your brand, your message, your beliefs, your vision, and more.

Furthermore, as content becomes ready, you will need to spend a lot of time proofreading and editing it based on how passionate you are about your brand. 

Then comes the theme and tone of your brand which no writer can adopt straight away. This requires you to either provide the correct framework and maximum information before content is written as mentioned earlier, or you spend a lot of time and effort working on it after.

Define Content Types

You have your goals laid out and more or less know what type of content you’re going to need but I want to take it one step further and give you more information on each content type. 

I’m also going to provide you with some examples we have written for each content type so you have an idea of how one will benefit your brand or business.

Informational

This is generic niche content with no real goal in mind aside from engaging and retaining the reader. You just need writers that have Good English and basic research skills. SEO practices and formatting can be taught on the job.

Check this out to get an idea of what a good generic info post looks like.

This can be news, stories, listicles, and other types of non-conversion geared posts. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get a conversion from this type of content, you could do so indirectly. 

The general goal of this content is to engage and retain the reader. 

Furthermore, you might get a share out of them causing you to go viral. Or you can retarget them for cheap traffic and conversions down the line, and you can hit them with an inline or pop-up opt-in form and get them to subscribe to your newsletter.

How-To

How-to posts are quite interesting. They can be delivered with no goal in mind and can also be used to direct the perfect pitch. 

Sales writing is usually better left for copywriters as that requires different learning methods and practices to blog writing. However, how-tos fall on a fine line between the two types of writers and can successfully be written by blog writers since the pitch is fairly indirect and effortless.

Here’s an example of a good how-to post with no conversion goals in mind.

And here’s a how-to post with an indirect conversion goal.

If you’re after expert how-to guides, you’ll normally need to hire niche specialists, but from our experience, you can hire generic writers and train them to research better and help them adapt expert tonality in their writing.

This in turn widens the range of writers you can hire, and it goes without saying, you’ll save a lot of money as specialists in any field don’t come affordable.

Reviews

Are you running an affiliate site? Review posts will be your best friend. Most reviews online follow a framework similar to this:

  • Introduction
  • Summary (pros/cons)
  • Guide (use cases, comparisons, personal experience)
  • Reviews (yours or customer reviews)
  • Conclusion and CTA

The important thing is actually researching the product, reading customer reviews, and if you can add your personal experience to it, then you’re on your way to running a successful affiliate site.

But that’s also where the problem comes in hiring writers to run your affiliate sites. You’re not exactly going to ship them the products and have them deeply review them for every piece they write (maybe you are, depending on how deep your pockets go).

The better approach is to either review the product yourself or give your experience as part of the brief you give to your writer. Or, ask the writer to deeply research the product, read other buying guides, study product reviews and watch videos around it to put the post together.

Guides

Guides are like all the content types on steroids. They tend to be pretty long and pack a lot of information. This is actually good for writers as they can spend a good amount of time researching and understanding one topic. 

Most are familiar with decision-making guides which could be a list of the year’s best products or restaurants, or a travel guide compiling a list of locations to visit. Guides come in many forms.

What you are reading today is also a guide. The goal is simply to educate and increase brand awareness. A guide takes the reader on a journey to help them achieve a specific goal, whether that’s making a buying decision or learning something in great depth. 

The type of writer required to write guides can vary depending on the technicality of the topic, the depth you want them to go in, and the goal of the piece.

It’s Time To Talk Hiring

Now that we’ve got your goals and content types out the way, we can swiftly move onto what you really came here to learn today - how to successfully hire writers and build your own content production team.

Writers Alone Won’t Cut It

The reason I keep stressing building a team is that a writer alone isn’t going to do much for you unless you also put in the hours. Once again, this comes down to how deep your pockets are and how much you care about your business.

Think about all of the things required before an article makes it ‘live’ on a site:

  • Keyword research
  • Content brief
  • Writing
  • Formatting
  • Proofreading and editing
  • Images
  • Search engine optimization
  • Publishing

Do you expect a writer to do all of this? There will be many who say they can, but then they will compromise on the content they write for you, and soon after, they will leave due to burnout. Not to mention that you’ll probably have to fire them as you’ll be out of money and won’t have much to show for.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

I know you’ve heard this saying before and this is the last person we want to be running our company. If someone agrees to do everything, they do not value their time and work. 

Inevitably, they are a bad hire.

It’ll cost you more, in the long run, to hire someone to do everything than to hire people separately for each task. 

Let The Experts Do Their Job

You see, writing is one thing you do not want to waste your time teaching, you want to hire professionals and simply teach them your style guide.

However, keyword research, formatting, on-page SEO, image sourcing, and publishing are all tasks that you can train almost anyone with a basic understanding of the internet and content publishing to do. 

This is not to discredit anyone that works in these fields as you can specialize in them too, but I’m talking about the basic requirements of a website, you do not currently need WikiHow style graphics and a full-fledge SEO agency if you’re still stuck at hiring writers.

I know this first hand as our company is built this way. All our writers do is write.

We have a team for keyword research, we have a team for graphics, we have a team for proofreading and editing, and we have a team for publishing and on-page SEO. 

This is not because we’re made of money, it’s actually quite the opposite. 

You’re probably itching to get to the hiring “secrets”. Firstly, there aren’t any and secondly, we’ve got some important grounds to cover before we can get into the juice of it.

Do You Have A Content Calendar?

It’s important you know how many words you want to publish per month and when. Without this knowledge, you won’t know how to structure your team, how many writers you need, and how to make the perfect job offer.

How Many Words Should You Publish?

There is no right number of words to publish each month, and if there was, I’m not here to advise you on those metrics. It’s just important to know this information before you start hiring as professional writers do not want to work for a company that’s just going to give them 1,000 words of work per week.

You’re better off writing it yourself or hiring an agency.

Before You Start Hiring

Consider that a good full-time writer can write between 5,000 - 10,000 words per week. You should at least plan to publish 50,000 words per month. This is enough capacity to employ 2-3 expert writers and give them an offer worth taking.

As a job provider, it’s common thinking that if people are looking for jobs, they are lucky to be able to work for you. Firstly, it’s wrong to think like this, but ignoring the nice-guy argument, experts don’t think like this.

Expert writers are doing you a favor by blessing your website with their writing. They want to work somewhere they can be creative and express themselves. 

It’s important we set clear terms from the beginning and make an offer not worth rejecting.

The 4 Ps and a W

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Writing. 

Most people hire so they don’t have to do anything. They wish to just provide a keyword, close their eyes, and read some groundbreaking content the next day. 

The funny thing is, most people hiring writers don’t even know what they’re looking for. And the people that do, expect the world from the beginning.

At Hands Off Publishing, we work and invest in writers for up to 3 months before we actually get them working for our clients. That’s a long period of time, I know, but it mostly consists of reviewing and resubmitting the same work a lot of times.

You can’t expect somebody that’s never worked for/with you before to understand your requirements from day one. You have to work with them before they can work for you. This goes over most people’s heads.

Let me try to explain.

Make Writing Easy

Just because you’re paying them what you think is a lot does not mean that their job should be hard. Instead, you should do everything you can to make sure the writer has no excuse in meeting your requirements.

Sure they might not get it spot on the first time, but if you did your due diligence to begin with, the writer will be able to learn and adapt to your needs. Most people run to firing, and I did the same thing when we started our agency, it went terribly. 

I made this mistake simply because I was being lazy. I did not want to invest time into writers and was more focused on seeing a return on my investment. As we started to work with writers, equip them with the right tools and resources, the outcomes started improving and our stick rate went up.

Provide Content Briefs 

Content briefs make writing easy. Trust me, a keyword is not enough to work off. 

At Hands Off Publishing, all we ask our clients for is a keyword and their website but that’s because we have a full-fledged team that will research the keywords, study the client’s site and their existing content, and we provide our writers with content briefs so all they have to focus on is writing.

But if you’re just starting out with one writer, a keyword alone is not going to cut it.

Leverage Writing Tools

So you don’t want to manually put together content briefs? That’s fine, not many people have the time to.

Today, there are many writing apps you can use like Frase.io, SurferSEO (this is what we use), MarketMuse, and others that just require a keyword to put together detailed content briefs.

Alongside a style guide and some manual research, that’s all your writer needs to put together content up to your requirements.

The Operation Wheel

I can’t speak on how other publishers and writing companies operate, but what I can tell you is how we seamlessly turn around up to 1m words per month, and growing!

Here’s an overview of our operation:

  • Keyword research - we have a team of researchers
  • Create content brief - we leverage apps 
  • Write - we have writers
  • Format, proofread, and edit - we have a team of editors
  • Source images - we have a graphics team
  • On-Page SEO and publish - we have an SEO and publishing team

You probably don’t need such a large team. But this is why it’s important to have a Content Calendar so you can hire accordingly. 

Operation Overview for Publishers

If you just plan to publish 50,000-100,000 words per month, here’s a rough overview of what you’ll need:

  • Carry out keyword research yourself (you can use a tool like KeywordChef which will cost you $0.01 per keyword)
  • Get SurferSEO/Frase/MarketMuse for $100-$200 per month and either yourself or using a $7 /hr VA build out the content brief
  • Hire 3-5 writers at 5,000-10,000 words each per week at $25 per 1,000 words (we’ve had the most success paying per word, vs hour)
  • You can pay writers a little extra to source images when they’re done or ask your $7 /hr VA to
  • Carry out on-page SEO yourself using SEO plugins like RankMath and do the publishing yourself, or… That’s right, using your $7 /hr VA

How Much Will This All Cost?

This is roughly what your numbers will look like every month:

  • $100 on keyword research
  • $200 on writing app
  • $2,500 on writing (for 100k words)
  • $15 on Grammarly to proofread and some of your own time
  • $200 per month on VA

That’s a total cost of $3,015 to produce 100,000 words per month. 

They’ll tell you that you can’t get good content for cheaper than 6 cents per word and all sorts of things to break your bank, but trust me, we’re responsible for countless Page One rankings and it costs us a lot less.

Hiring Is As Hard As You Make It 

I learned this the hard way, trust me. This is our hiring process: 

That’s it. It’s LOL’able.

I used to think it’s all about endless hiring steps, 30-minute interviews, complicated questions, finding personalities and passion, all this jargon we take by analyzing corporate companies.

That’s right, corporate.

This guide does not concern corporate-level companies. We don’t have $100m of debt to leverage. Although I’m sure even these guys can learn a thing or two from here.

I’m going to dive into the ins and outs of this simple hiring process throughout this section, but before I do, let me share with you 5 of the most important tips when hiring writers:

5 Writer-Hiring Tips That You Want To Save

I have to make it clear that we’re talking about hiring writers today, not hiring on a whole. I suck at hiring for many other fields.

I can’t hire appointment setters, salespeople, copywriters, and many other people. Some because I’ve never tried, others because I don’t need to, and some because I downright suck.

Make sure to screenshot these tips or write them down somewhere:

Treat Hiring Like Customer Acquisition

Don’t make it daunting.

Do you take your customers through 5-step onboarding processes? Or make them take hours of calls with you before they even get to use your product?

If you do, maybe that’s why you’re struggling to get customers.

Make the job stand out, make it appealing and make people want to work with you. Note that I say ‘with’ you, not ‘for you’. I don’t believe in the ‘for you’ mindset. Treat writers with respect, and they’ll treat your business with respect.

This is why our stick rate is amazing. Most of our writers get offers paying them quite a lot more than we do, many of our clients even offer them full-time jobs, but they know that they won’t find a working environment, and the family we have built elsewhere.

Whether you have 1 writer or 100 writers, you can treat them well, just as you would your customers.

Hiring Talent Costs Money

In the same way, acquiring good customers doesn’t come easy, it takes a lot of time and resources. The same way hiring talent doesn’t come for free. 

The main costs you will incur when seeking and hiring talent are:

  1. Hiring platforms
  2. Paid samples 

Many people expect writers to write samples for free. Why would a professional who values their time and work write for free? Makes no sense.

You don’t have to pay the full $25, but you can pay 30-50% for a sample. Some people go for free 250-word samples, many of our competitors do this but how well can you judge a writer from the introduction and first section?

You want to see a full post at least before you go about making hiring decisions.

Portfolios Assist Decision-Making

Just because the writer has a decent-looking portfolio, it doesn’t mean you should hit hire right away. Many people write good in this world but what really matters is if you’re a good fit together.

Some writers don’t take feedback well. Some writers don’t know how to communicate. Some writers don’t know how to work as a team. Some writers blag their portfolios. Some writers' quality has deteriorated over time.

There’s a lot to learn and see before you hit ‘hire’ but it also doesn’t have to be complicated, which leads to my final tip.

Perfection Cannot Be Hired

You have to rewrite and train writers to work around your needs. You can’t expect them to understand your needs right away. Of course, if they are simply terrible at writing, you’ll know this before you even finish reading the introduction.

Invest time and resources into your writers. The ROI is beautiful.

Talent Speaks For Itself

This is not referring to their portfolio or the samples they share with you. 

I’m talking about the paid sample task you will assign them. Make it detailed and give them the most challenging of tasks you’d ever assign a writer and see how they perform.

It’s not just about the outcome of the article, but how well they receive feedback and communicate with you. You will immediately know good from the bad.

Ultimately, it’s important to follow your gut when it comes to hiring.

Would you believe that across 120+ hires, I have not taken a single interview? I know a writer good from bad when that sample task comes through. 

Getting to know the writer and training them takes place once the contract is signed.

The Ultimate Job Post

Let’s go back to our Hiring Process.

It all starts with the job post that we plaster across hiring networks, job boards, and freelance platforms. 

On platforms where we can communicate directly with the talent, they submit their proposals, we filter through them, start conversations, and issue sample tasks, if they’re happy to accept.

Off platforms, we now have a hiring page set up where we direct all of our hiring traffic which you can remodel here:

What I want to discuss in this guide today is a simple fast-action approach. I’m going to give you the Ultimate Job Post template which you can go ahead and start using on freelance platforms right away to attract talent.

Ultimate Writer Hiring Template

You can fill this out however you like, but this is how we structure it:

That’s it.

Simple who, what, why things and that’s all you need to keep things simple and start attracting talent. It’s clear, concise, and direct.

Filled Out Template

This is the template filled out for our job description:

Who we are looking for: We are looking for a new set of writers.

What we are offering: A rate of $20-$25 per 1,000 words, with more work available than you can handle.

Who we are and what we do: We are an SEO writing agency that serves clients all around the world in multiple niches and we strictly do not serve content that requires subject matter experts.

Why work with us: Consistent Work, Word Flexibility, Growth Opportunity, Long Term Opportunity, Large Team - We dive into each of the benefits on our actual job post.

What’s required of you: - You Must Adhere to Deadlines, Have Successful Experience as a Writer, Writing Samples - Once again, we dive deeper into these.

Is this for you: Would you like to get paid up to $25 per 1,000 words with no limit on how many words you can write? Would you like to join our team of passionate writers where everyone is treated equally and made to feel comfortable? Would you like consistent work and a reliable income from writing?

Sample Time

The applications are coming in. It’s almost time to start issuing sample tasks. Don’t waste time conversating or qualifying. 

When I see an app that stands out, I send them a simple message:

“Hey, thanks for applying. Your proposal stood out to me. Would you be happy to carry out a paid sample task of 1,000 words? Look forward to hearing from you.”

If they applied, they will definitely say yes.

Now please be smart and review all proposals deeply. If the platform shows previous client reviews, go through them. Check their portfolio out and read any attached samples. 

Once you’re happy with their profile and proposal, only then reach them for a paid sample task.

Define Good and Bad

You need to know exactly what you’re looking for when you issue this sample task.

The best thing to do is gather examples of work you have been satisfied with or are trying to model and ask the writer to follow a similar tone/structure. Furthermore, provide them with a style guide and other instructions.

You want to see if your instructions are met.

A keyword alone will not do this for you. It might show you that they can write, but you won’t know how well they can follow instructions and briefs. 

We provide writers with a Google Doc that has all the writing instructions, a formatting guideline, a choice of topics to choose from, examples of good work, and target keywords.

They pick the topic and get to work!

Feedback Friendly

You’ve got the sample back and it’s not exactly how you wanted it to be. It doesn’t mean you should go your separate ways.

This is the best part of the hiring process and where talent stands out from the rest.

If they seem worth the time and seem like with a few directions they could meet your requirements, take some time out to leave feedback on the document (we use Google Docs for this reason) or shoot a screen recording explaining what they can do to improve.

Now you can assess them on a few different touchpoints. How happy are they to receive the feedback? How willing are they to make the changes? How soon and correctly do they make the changes? How excited are they to work with you?

That’s it, you’re moments away from hiring your writer!

Interview or Nah? 

Personally, no. 

Is it bad to? Absolutely not. 

Freelancers and those applying for jobs are primed for taking interviews.

If you wish to speak with your writers before you hire them, by all means, do so. 

We’ve just had great success in getting to work right away and talking about the job vs. asking them what they want to be in 5 years and what they would do if this or that happened. 

Almost makes me cringe, I don’t know why.

Convey Information The Simple Way

I just hit record on Loom (screen recorded app) and explain the job.

“This is where we will communicate and this is how you will be assigned work”

Thanks to the paid sample task, they already know how to write for you, what you expect of them, how you assign work to them and how you will communicate with them.

That sample task does a lot more than tell you how good of a writer they are.

Now that you have your writer, let’s run through fulfillment.

Fulfillment Summary

Here’s a quick overview of how we manage our workload and team:

  • Slack to communicate 
  • Trello to track orders and assign work to teams

These 2 apps are what keep our company alive and allow us to fulfil up to, and sometimes over 1m words per month almost effortlessly.

The reason we keep communication on Slack is that it’s fast and easy to monitor. If there’s absolutely any problem, we can communicate with our team through Slack whereas we cannot maintain conversations on Trello - it gets messy, leads to endless notifications and we lose track of real order updates.

The Ultimate Fulfilment Machine

Here’s what our fulfilment process looks like from top to bottom using Slack and Trello as a writing agency.

  • Order details come through on Trello and an order card is created
  • This order card goes to our Research Team for Keyword Research
  • Once the research is approved by the client, the card is moved to ‘To Be Assigned’
  • On availability, the order is assigned to ‘Writers’
  • Once the writing is done, the card is moved to ‘Editors’
  • Once editing is done, the card is moved to ‘Graphics’
  • Once images are up, the card is moved to ‘Publishing’
  • Once publishing is done, the card is moved to ‘Reach Client’
  • Once the client is reached and happy, the card is moved to ‘Complete’

If you’re not an agency, you can tweak that slightly as you only need to publish to your own site. If you are an agency, well, we just created some strong competition with this post today.

That’s it. You now have all of our best hiring practices and our ultimate fulfilment process which we use to hire 5-10 writers and fulfil up to 1m words every single month.

Before You Go: Hiring Checklist

Before we wrap this post up, here’s a quick writer hiring checklist:

Final Words

I hope you enjoyed this read today. I know it’s very long but I didn’t want to keep you hopping from post to post.

You can use this as a step-by-step guide and implement it as you go along whenever you are ready. You can refer back to it any time you are having trouble with hiring. 

And the most important thing is, you can come back here to remind yourself that hiring writers does not have to be difficult. It can be quite fun and straightforward. 

Trust the process.

There’s nothing more to it. 

The simpler you keep it, the simpler it will be. It’s really that simple! Nice little tongue twister there huh? Try saying it fast!

And hey, if you can’t be bothered doing any of the above, save yourself the time and resources, go visit www.HandsOffPublishing.com and let us take care of your content needs for you!

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