I just joined the Scoop.it team and will be handling Content Marketing and Demand Generation in the San Francisco office. Top of the agenda for me: writing a blog post. Guillaume, our CEO, was ‘kind’ enough to allow me to pick a subject. No pressure.
Today I’d like to share with you one of the biggest marketing struggles we experienced at Ivalua, the previous company I worked for and where I handled Marketing for over 2 years: content creation – and how we overcame it leveraging freelance writers.
Ivalua you said? Ivalua is a procurement software vendor, helping global companies that have a high volume of spend to streamline all of their purchasing processes. In other words, we helped them track their spending, manage their supplier relationships, their contracts, their orders, their invoices and their event sourcing.
Our audience? Procurement professionals, IT managers (integrations with their current tools, implementation across the business units) and Finance professionals.
What mattered to our audience? Getting the right tool. The one the company and its employees will adopt easily, the one that will adapt to their complex and individual business processes.
Our initial pain point? Having SAP (they bought Ariba in May 2012) as a competitor, it was/is difficult for our audience to see us as Thought Leaders in the procurement domain. We needed content to show/prove that we understood the challenges our audience was facing. Of course, driving more traffic to our website to create more leads was among the goals here.
Why we outsourced some of our content creation to freelance writers
So just like us, you know Content Marketing has become not only a tool but a means to speak to your audience, to raise awareness, to grow your image and your expertise, and also to drive traffic to your website, convert this traffic into lead, into deals, into revenue, and into happiness for your company and your employees.
That’s where we hit a wall.
First, not many people on the team had enough knowledge of the domain to write about Procurement. And you can imagine how much these few folks are valuable to your company, their time is precious.
Second, most of the time, domain experts are not writing experts. And with all the other tasks our team had on their plates, how could we expect people to take hours out of their time to write a good piece of content?
For months we had content in the pipe to be written, deadlines that kept being pushed back, and with good reason.
I’m sure this rings a bell as most companies are understaffed and as Barry Feldman underlines it in his recent article “How to Hire Freelancers Who Make Your Content Better”, hiring someone dedicated to content writing is not always an option.
After some thinking and result-less months, we considered a radical solution: outsourcing some of our content writing to freelancers. Here’s what we learned doing that.
Freelance writers, yes. But the right one
If chosen right, a Freelance writer can be a good complement to in-house writing, and a good boost for your content base.
But exactly how to find the perfect freelancer? Here are a few steps you might find interesting to follow in order to find the right fit for your business
NB: This solution may not not always be adapted to your needs and the process takes time, finding a good freelance writer can take several months (two months in our case).
1. Assess your content pain points
Do you need someone to ghost write for your blog?
Do you have specific Demand Generation campaigns to launch and need someone to write emails based on a topic or a brief?
Do you need someone to improve some existing content (landing pages, email teasers, social media messages)?
Do you need someone pro-active who will pitch in ideas of topics to write on, or do you already have a good vision and just need more execution?
Knowing these needs will help in the discussion with freelancers to make sure you are aligned in the vision of the partnership/agreement
In our case, we identified two needs: we lacked in-depth content (white papers, eBooks, etc.), and most of our existing content was poorly written and did not speak to our audience.
2. Leverage your network to find the most appropriate freelancer
What’s the first thing you’ll most likely do when you want to rent your apartment, hire someone or get tips on what to visit in your upcoming trip to Italy? Ask your friends, reach out to your network, right?
It’s the same thing here, you should only consider putting an ad for a freelancer on ProBlogger or other sites if you couldn’t find anyone within your network or your domain. You’ll feel more comfortable working with someone you had a relationship with before.
We were lucky. our domain – procurement – is not the ‘sexyest’ or most popular domain of all, and there are not too many blogs about procurement. About six months prior to deciding to move forward and search for a freelancer, a domain expert wrote an article about a webinar we organized with one of our clients. Naturally I had reached out to thank her and we stayed in touch. And naturally, she is the first name that popped into my head when we started looking for a freelance writer.
So you can start by asking your network and read the blogs that matter to your audience, and if this is not sufficient, consider a platform to introduce you to freelancers, such as ProBlogger, Express Writers, Scripted, Doz, etc.
3. Test out several freelancers to make sure the fit is mutual
I think it’s very important that both parties feel comfortable working together. The benefit working with a Freelancer should be mutual since in most cases their name will be linked to the content, so their reputation will be engaged.
This relationship is not like purchasing a service, you will collaborate and the freelancer will come in as a partner, a colleague. Expect the first weeks to be heavy in calls, specifications, and dont be afraid to share with them as much as possible: that will help them understand your vision and align with it.
After our research, we came up with a shortlist of two freelancers with very different skillsets. One was the domain expert I had worked with in the past and since we had a lot of existing-but-poorly written content, we also wanted to try working with a marketing-writing expert that knew exactly how to make content attractive.
We then decided to test both of them on the same assignment: an email that we wanted to send out to a specific group of people on a specific topic: “are you happy with your current tool?”. We had a very long brief of all the things we wanted to speak about, and needed a short email out of it.
I spent a lot more time getting things set up with the writing expert, obviously, as she did not know our domain and the technical words to use.
In our specific case, we decided after a while to work with the “domain expert” freelance writer, given it was easier and saved us time. I honestly think our domain was so technical that we needed someone who already had experience writing about it.
The results were very conclusive with the domain expert: she knew exactly where we wanted to go and even suggested very useful edits to our original vision. She wrote great content for us and I just had to add a “marketing touch up” that was so easy to do at that point.
All in all, we could have stayed at this “we want to write but can’t find the time” stage for quite a while if we hadn’t decided to move forward with a freelance writer.
It took us a great deal of time to figure out what we needed, research the market, brief the freelancers and get the relationship going with the wonderful Kelly Barner. But this time was well spent and worth it for us.
Now that we have several white papers, case studies, webinars and a running blog, as well as well written landing pages to gate our top content for demand generation purposes, we can truly engage with our audience and offer them added value content.
Another indirect benefit is that our team is starting to see the ROI of contributing, not only for the company but also for their personal online presence/reputation. Without the pressure of being the first one to write for us, I’m confident they will take part in this ongoing effort!
I’d love to get your insight on this: Did you outsource some of your content marketing? How did it work out? Share your experience in the comments.
Image by János Balázs
Thanks for including DOZ, Julie! Go freelancing!
I wounder How we can pay the writers? per article ? weekly? monthly?
That’s a great question! What we did was assess the time needed to produce a piece of content, and once we felt comfortable about the amount of time needed, Kelly charged us by the hour, on a weekly basis with a timesheet to let us know on what she had worked and how long. I think anything that works for both you and the freelance writer should be considered as a good option!
I tackled that question with some level of detail in the post, How to Hire Freelancers Who Make Your Content Better (link above in Julie’s piece). Good luck.
Hi Julie – Great article here, with awesome insights shared! As a freelance writing agency owner (4+ years now) I can relate to so much of this. The reason you turned to freelance writers – your team did not provide the necessary skills and expertise of a good content producer for this niche – is a common problem. Some business owners *THINK* they can write and try to keep everything under their umbrella, the result is catastrophe…they end up publishing once a month or nothing at all. So, you know the importance, and usefulness, of a truly good freelance writer.… Read more »