Using Auditions to Find the Best Freelance Content Writers
The Ultimate Step by Step Guide
In this practical, informative white paper, you'll learn:
- Why is finding awesome freelance content writers who truly understand your needs so difficult?
- How to conduct an effective Writer Audition
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: Inbound marketing is all about creating extraordinary content your readers will love to read and share.
Here’s another brilliant observation for you: if you want to create amazing content, you’ll need to find some amazing WRITERS first.
Unfortunately, this is the part that’s not so obvious to most businesses looking to jump on the inbound/content marketing bandwagon.
You’ve heard enough theory. You’ve seen enough stats. So in this piece, I want to actually show you, step-by-step, how to find the perfect writer for your business
But first, let’s talk about your experience up to now.
Oh the Pain
If you’ve ever tried hiring freelance content writers in the past, you’re no stranger to pain. If you’re like most marketers, what started out with so much hope and high expectations turned into nothing more than an exercise in frustration and futility.
Think of all the time you spent placing writer job ads, looking at writer profiles, and reviewing resumes. You finally found a few writers that looked promising, but when you reviewed their first drafts… ugh. Not what you were hoping for.
Remember how you thought, “this writer doesn’t understand my business!” and “this is just fluff!”
So, you tried explaining to the writer what you wanted them to do different. But no matter what you tried, they just couldn’t get it right.
In the end, you gave up and decided “I’d be better off writing this myself.”
Why Marketers Give Up
Most marketers make the mistake of only trying one or two writers before giving up. That’s because they invest so much of their precious time into the first few freelance content writers that come along, and they have no more time to risk failing again.
The reality is, there are tens of thousands of professional freelance content writers out there to tap into. The key is having the right tools that allow you to quickly search, filter, and sample them so you can find your perfect match fast.
After helping over 8,000 businesses find writers, I’m 100-percent convinced that the writer of your dreams is out there. There’s a writer that DOES understand your industry, and that CAN capture the exact style and tone you’re looking for.
They’re just waiting for you to find them.
So, why is finding an awesome freelance writer who truly understands your needs so difficult? There are two primary reasons why most marketers fail when it comes to hiring a writer:
1. They lack the right platform
The first and most important thing you need is the right content marketing platform. It’s critical that you find a comprehensive content system that has everything you’ll need to succeed. Some content platforms focus on finding writers. Others focus on content planning. Some focus on content production workflow. A few content marketing platforms (like our Zerys Content Marketing Platform) are all-in-one systems that do it all in one place. These types of platforms will provide you with all the processes and workflows you’ll need throughout the writer sourcing stage as well as the content planning, production, editing, and publishing stages.
2. They look at resumes, not customs samples
What works when hiring for other positions in your company does NOT work for hiring freelance content writers. Looking at writer profiles, resumes, and previous published work is all a waste of time. The only way to be completely certain that a writer will be a good fit for you is to have them right you a brief, custom sample for your specific business needs. Just because another company loved a writer’s work doesn’t mean that they have the knowledge, style, and tone that you’re personally looking for.
3. They don’t understand how to conduct fast, effective writer auditions
Once you have the right platform to utilize you’ll need a way to search thousands of writers, sample their work, engage them to write a sample piece for you, and ultimately test their abilities to see if they’re a good fit. There are many important aspects to consider when executing an effective writer audition. But the good news is that with the right processes in place, it doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming.
The first two considerations outlined here are pretty straightforward, but the third one, not so much. Let’s break down the anatomy of a well-executed writer audition and look at the clear steps you’ll need to take to ensure success:
How to Conduct an Effective Writer Audition
Step 1. Think of A Single Blog Post, or Article Topic and Title
Even if you’re looking for a writer to concoct a more complex whitepaper or eBook, it’s always best to start with simple forms of content for the purpose of conducting the initial audition – and even for a trial period after you find a writer you think you like. You only need to think of one title to work with at this stage. That’s because you’re going to have all your writer candidates write the SAME, short article so you can compare them apples-to-apples.
Step 2. Determine How Long You’d Like Your Audition Sample Piece to Be
I recommend keeping your audition piece under 250 words to start. First off, you don’t need to read a book to know whether you like a writer. Usually you’ll be able to tell after reading the first few paragraphs whether they’re the right fit or not. Secondly, this is an audition which means you most likely will not select ALL the writers participating in the audition. So you want to minimize the time investment and risk the writers have to take on when trying to earn your business.
Step 3. Provide Clear and Concise Writer Instructions
Writers aren’t mind-readers. If you’re more picky and want something specific from them, you need to get good at being able to clearly and concisely explaining your wishes to them. When auditioning new writers, its even more important that you’re clear about what you want from them. This will make it much easier later to tell which of your candidates followed your instructions, and which ones didn’t.
This is one of the most common steps that marketers get wrong and it can make or break the success of your entire content campaign. Often times, buyers will blame the writer when, in reality, they should be taking at least some of the blame themselves for not being clear about what they really wanted.
The good news is, coming up with clear and comprehensive writer instructions doesn’t have to be a huge pain and time suck. Technology can once again come to the rescue here.
Our Zerys platform, for instance, uses a comprehensive freelance content writer instruction guide that breaks down all of the most important information your potential writers will need to know before proceeding into multiple choice questions that are quick and simple to answer.
The most critical components of successful writer instructions should include:
- Style and Tone
- Narrative Type
- Target Audience
- Desired Depth and Technical Level of Content
- Content Layout and Basic Formatting Requirements
- SEO Requirements (keep this simple for the audition)
- Existing Examples of Content to Emulate
Step 4. Narrow Down Your Writer Pool
As I mentioned before, if you want to have any chance of finding your perfect writer it’s critical that you start with a large pool of writers to choose from. The idea is to start with a big list, and narrow it down to a much smaller pool of qualified candidates that match any specific criteria that you’re looking for. Ideally, you want to use a platform that lets you filter down the available writer list using qualities such as geography, industry expertise, client ratings, and activity level.
This is a critical step that you’ll need to experiment with for optimal success. You’ll want to filter the list down to a targeted elite group of candidates, but not make the pool so small that you risk having no writers participate in your audition.
Start off by looking for writers that have knowledge in your specific niche field. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the more you drill down, the less writers there will be available to you, so you risk making the pool too small. If you find the list has become too small, not to worry. Open it up to a broader, higher level expertise category list. This doesn’t usually impact the quality you’ll get back because a great writer can write about lots of different topics and subject matters!
Step 5. Provide any Additional Writer Requirements or Qualifications
In addition to providing general writer instructions and narrowing down your writer pool, you may want to list out any other specific requirements or qualifications you need your writers to have.
This could include:
- Specific Education, Experience, or Expertise
- Basic SEO Skills
- a Flexible Work Schedule
If you’re in a niche industry, the chances of finding a professional writer who has a Master’s degree in your field or is a retired professional in your field who now also happens to be an amazing professional writer that’s willing to write within your budget, is actually very slim in most cases.
So the goal is to find a writer with some basic knowledge who can fill in the gaps later through research over time. And the good news is that most of the time, a great writer doesn't need to be IN your exact field to write intelligently and effectively about it.
Step 6. Decide How Many Writers You’d Like to Sample
While it’s great that you’ve narrowed down your writer pool to 50 or 100 candidates, that doesn’t mean you want to spend time reviewing a sample from all of them at the same time. You’ll want to allow for only a handful of candidates to write your audition article and submit it for review. I recommend allowing 3-5 writers to complete an audition sample at a time. This way, you’re limiting the number of writers who will take the time and risk of writing a custom sample for you, but not getting selected to move forward.
Step 7. Make a Price Offer to the Writers
Let’s face it. If you’re trying to hire for any position, money talks. Hiring writers is no different. If you want to attract top-notch writers to your audition, the amount you offer will be the most important factor.
So now the million dollar question everyone asks us: “How much should I offer my writers?”
That’s a loaded question that can’t be answered the same in every situation of course.
First a few things to think about when it comes to writer pay rates:
- In previous decades, pro writers were used to making 25c - $1 per word
- As modern technologies emerged (content marketplaces like Zerys), prices have lowered. Of course, some writers suffered while others have been able to take advantage
- The average rate offered across over 10,000 Zerys users is 5c per word for non-technical content and 7-10c per word for technical content
So, yes, rates have come down, but also keep in mind that pro writers are trying to make a living! If the average blog post is 500 words, and you offer 2c per word, that’s only $10 to write a post that may have taken anywhere from 1-3 hours on average.
Would you be motivated to do your best work for those rates?
Keeping the above in mind, you’ll next want to consider the following:
- How complex or technical is the subject matter you’re looking to have written?
- Will you be asking the writer to include stats and quotes and source their material?
- Will you be needing the writer to do any special formatting, or look for related images?
- Will you require the writer to optimize the content around a keyword for SEO?
All of these things can take extra time for the writer. If they see a long, complex set of instructions asking for a lot, and then see a low offer, it can be a real turn-off.
Finally, you of course need to consider your budget. What can you really afford to pay your writers? When setting your content budget, just remember that this is one of those times where paying a bit more up-front can save you a lot of time and frustration down the road.
So, if you’re budget allows, try offering a higher rate that will motivate the writer to do their best, and keep them loyal to you over the months and years. Just as with any other position, it could cost you a whole lot more later when you lose good talent due to under-compensating them, vs paying them a bit more to begin with.
Paying higher will also save you in editing time. The more you pay the writer up-front, the less time and money you’ll have to spend paying an editor to clean each piece up and get them publish-ready.
Step 8. Provide any Additional Benefits You Can offer the Freelance Content Writers
An excellent way to attract potential writers to complete your audition pieces is to provide them with details about any benefits you’re willing to offer if you decide to add them to your writer team.
These benefits can include:
- The Ability to Provide a Large Volume of Steady Work
- The Offerings of Bonuses Based on Exceptional Submissions
- The Opportunity to Create a Long-term Working Relationship
By telling potential writers about a few perks that you can offer them, you can expect attract the cream of the crop.
Step 9. Review Your Custom Writer and Identify Your Favorite Writers!
Now that your audition pieces have been submitted, it’s time to review them one-by-one and hopefully add one or more writers to your initial team. It’s a good idea to make a short, basic list you can use while reviewing your pieces to ensure that you’re comparing the same aspects of each one. Grammar, tone, style, and sentence structure are important issues to focus on. But keep in mind that because your audition pieces are so short, it isn’t fair to gauge whether or not you like a piece based on whether you’d actually publish it as-is.
With only 200-250 words to work with, each writer will use their individual skills and ideas to convey their qualifications. Some may choose to provide you with an overview of your topic in which there isn’t much “meat” within in, but the grammar and tone are spot-on. Other writers may choose to focus on one specific aspect of your topic to show off their research skills but can’t be published because it isn’t a full piece.
So focus on actual writing skills, not whether or not the piece is rounded out or includes all of the information you’d prefer it to. If you enjoy a particular writer’s style, tone, and structuring, add them to your team! You can add all of the writers you audition to your team, but that prospect isn’t likely. Expect to score anywhere from 2 to 3 writers for your team each time you conduct a writer audition.
Sure, you may find no writers at all during your first audition – but the good news is that you can conduct as many auditions as you want until you have the team of writers you need. Once you’ve added at least once reliable writer on your team, you are ready to start assigning them content to publish on your website, blog, social sites, LinkedIn, and anywhere else where you want to create an authoritative presence.
With the help of this guide, you should be able to create an audition campaign within your chosen platform, review your audition pieces, and find freelance content writers to add to your team from beginning to end within a week’s time. We are of course partial to our writer auditioning process within Zerys. Want to give it a try? Click here to learn more.