In my opinion, the time to hire your first freelance writer is after at least 1 year of consistent, serious blogging on your own. You should have at least 50 articles that are more than 9 months old, and preferably written over 100 total articles yourself.
The Three Situations
The way I see (and the way I’ve experienced it), there are three different situations you may find yourself in with regard to hiring writers for a blog.
1. You’re new to blogging
When you first enter the world of web publishing, there’s a lot you don’t know. Or at the very least there’s a lot you don’t have experience with.
First and foremost, you haven’t written very many articles.
If you’re going to hire a freelance writer or two, then you need to have some idea of what differentiates a good article from a bad one.
And I’m not talking about opinions you’ve formed based on a book or some “guru’s” blog post.
I’m talking about the kind of knowledge that comes from experience.
You need to write articles, dozens (at least) of articles, and then you need to give those articles time to rank in search. After you’ve written at least 50 articles and they have had time to rank (at least 9 months), then you can start to form some opinions.
You’ve written the articles, you’ve done the keyword research, and you’ve started to get feedback from search engines.
This will give you an idea of what they like and don’t like. It gives you the feedback you need to start validating some of your original opinions and disproving some other opinions you had.
The longer you’ve been blogging and the more articles you write, your understanding of what works and doesn’t work will become more refined.
Don’t hire freelancers yet
When you’re new, you’re not ready to hire any freelance writers.
You have to pay for those articles, and since you don’t yet know the difference between a good/bad article topic and a good/bad article, you’ll be wasting too much money.
If you don’t want to throw your money in the toilet, then keep blogging by yourself.
I guess if you have lots of money to throw around, then you could learn the required knowledge just by paying writers. But if you do this you’ll likely spend a year of paying freelancers with overall poor results, and thus poor return on investment.
2. You’ve been blogging regularly for more than 1 year
However, after some time in the trenches you’ll start to gain some practical wisdom. You probably have at least one website that has more than 50 articles, hopefully more than 100.
You’ve started to become a better writer.
You can look at your first 20-30 articles and see major mistakes that you made. When you reach this point you can say a few things are true:
- You can tell the difference between a good and bad article
- You can usually tell the difference between a good and bad keyword
- You can point to some of your best performing blog posts and know some of the reasons they are doing so well
Once these things become true, I think it’s reasonable to start experimenting with freelance writers for established websites.
Hire a few freelancers for established sites
This is what I’m in the process of doing right now. I’ve written over 150 articles in the last 20 months or so and had some successes and some failures.
My first three sites are having various levels of success, and I’ve gained a basic understanding of what types of articles do well. The articles I’ve written in the last 6 months have seen significantly better results than the articles I wrote in my first 6 months.
And I’ve begun hiring freelance writers for 2 of my 3 sites (My wife and I write every article on this site).
I’ll admit, it’s been a bit of a rocky start. Just like I had lots of duds when I first started writing articles myself, I’m getting lots of duds from my freelance writers.
There’s going to be a learning process and a period of improvement when you first start working with freelancers.
It takes time to get good at stuff like this and I’m giving myself at least 12 months before I draw any big conclusions from my experience. We’ll talk more about my experience with freelancers further down.
3. You’re an experienced blogger
The last situation is when you’ve been blogging for at least several years and you have published several hundred (or several thousand) articles. Chances are you’ve worked with freelance writers already, or at least worked with a content publisher.
You have a clear process that you use to put out content and you’re really able to minimize the number of articles you publish that flop.
Hire freelancers for any site, create a process and scale
Once you’ve started to solve the web publishing problem, it’s time to create a process that is repeatable and scalable.
On a great day, I can write and publish 3 high quality articles myself. On an average day, it’s 2.
And as I’ve pointed out in the past, in order to make $10,000 a month, you’ll need to publish upwards of 2,000 articles.
At 2 articles a day, it would take me nearly 3 years to reach $10,000 a month unless I hit some real grand slams along the way.
You can see that if you want to make blogging into a lucrative business, you need to be exploding with content. I’m talking 5, 6, 10, 20 articles a day kind of explosions.
So yeah, if you want to make that a reality, you’ll be relying on other people to supply most of your content. When you get to this point, you pretty much HAVE to start hiring writers or your success will be capped.
Lessons Learned After 6 Months With Freelance Writers
So I’ve hired 6 freelance writers over the last 6 months, and only 3 of them are still writing articles for me. I’ve learned some valuable lessons in this time. And I expect to gain even more knowledge in the next 6 months.
The methods I’ve been using were inspired by the process Anne from Yeys.com uses.
1. Lots of writers will quit
I should have foreseen this, but I didn’t. It’s kind of in the description of freelancing that people will come and go as they please.
People will write because they want some extra cash to buy their next gaming console. They will write to buy some new clothes or have some extra beer money or just because they made a new year’s resolution to bring in some extra cash.
But for a lot of people, freelancing is a means to an end. And once they get that end, there’s no reason for them to keep writing. So they quit.
Half my writers have quit in less than 6 months. So expect to be refilling those roles regularly.
2. Writers only write about what they want to write about
I’m still working on a solution to this problem. I keep a big board of article topics for my writers to choose from. They pick a topic from the list, assign it to themselves and then start writing.
Some of the best topics on my list (highest volume, lowest competition) are just sitting there because nobody wants to write about them.
I’ve started to cater my keyword research to my writers so that I can give them topics that they want to write about. But sometimes I just can’t find promising keywords that align with the interests of my writers.
3. Writers only write as much as they want to write
During the hiring process I tried to set the expectation of 1-2 articles per week. EVERYONE agreed that this was an output that worked for them. And some even said they would do more!
But flash forward six months and I think only one of my six writers (now three) has averaged at least one article per week.
In fact, I’ve put out more content than my six writers COMBINED. You’ll probably have to sift through lots of writers to find a few that will stick and keep producing content.
4. Your writers won’t care about the content as much as you do
I knew this going in, but I was still surprised to find that the quality of the content my writers were giving me was rarely on par with content I wrote myself.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate my average article around an 8.
But my writers were producing articles at a quality of like 5 or 6 with the occasional 4 and 7 thrown in.
They just don’t have a compelling reason to do their best work every time.
Responding To The Lessons
I haven’t yet made any big changes to my process as a result of these lessons. But now that I’m writing about it, I think it’s time to reflect.
The one change I’ve already made is to cater my keyword research to my writers.
If someone was doing well in a particular area I just looked for more keywords in that area. This is typically only possible if writers stick around long enough to learn their strengths.
But I think it’s time to make some more changes.
How to make lower quality content work
I’ve already established that my freelancers are producing lower quality content than I am. I could sift through dozens of writers to find those few gems that care as much as I do.
Or I could find a way to make average content work.
And that’s what I want to start doing.
I was having my freelancers write 3,000 word articles for me on topics that were mildly competitive. I think this was a mistake.
I need to have my writers doing 1,000 to 1,500 word articles on topics with no competition. Even poor content can reach #1 if it has no competition.
That’s going to be my next experiment
Can I get my writers more invested?
I’ve been brainstorming ways to get my writers more invested in writing for me. Can I get them to WANT to write 8-10 articles a month? Can I get them to WANT to stick around longer? Can I perhaps even get them to WANT to write higher quality content?
One thing I’ve learned in my career is that people follow the money. But an equally important lesson is that more money will only work for a little while. When you get a raise from $15/hour to $18/hour, you’ll want $20/hour before long.
So money is probably a part of the puzzle, but not all of it.
People want to feel appreciated, feel important. I think I need to find a way to make my writers feel more important.
Maybe I can have them proofread/edit my articles, or each others articles. Maybe I can just try to get to know them better and change my processes to suit their needs.
This is a problem I’ll be working on in the coming months.