It takes the average blogger 3 hours to write 1,000 words. I started my personal finance blog just 2 months ago but have already written 193,731 words of content (around as many words as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
Doing the math it should have taken me around 555 hours or 14 weeks (or 3 and half months) working full time to do this. So how did I do it?
Outsourcing. But not just any outsourcing.
Outsourcing content creation at scale, speed, quality and most importantly at a budget.
In this guide, I will share my step by step process for finding, training, and retaining freelance writers at 2 cents per word.
Should I really outsource my content creation?
I asked myself the same question when I first began my blogging journey.
The truth is almost 90% of my blog has been written by outsourced writers. Even my 15,000 word pillar post on the 113 best high paying affiliate programs for beginners was written by freelancers.
This isn’t just me though – even renowned bloggers like Ryan Robinson use freelancers. Listen to his interview with Adam Enfroy where he talks about how he usually outsources the first draft of his pillar pieces.
So outsourcing content is quite a common thing – just make sure you keep on top of quality especially at the start.
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How much do freelance writers charge?
The current going rate for freelance writers is anywhere from 3 cents to 30 cents. This means a standard 1,500 post can range from anywhere from $45 to $450.
Let’s not kid ourselves – writing quality and link worthy content is not easy but with the right SOP (standard operating procedures) and templates you can train freelancers to write in your voice and style.
Agencies are expensive so if you want to scale your content production and maintain quality you’ll need to get your hands dirty and find freelancers to work with one-on-one. It might be more challenging but it will definitely give you more bang for your buck over the long run.
What is the best platform for finding writers?
Thanks to COVID-19, freelance and gig work is a bigger part of the economy than ever, and so there are a lot of options for finding writers. I tend to limit my efforts to these three sites.
In my experience, Upwork tends to be the best option for working with freelancers. It’s an established site with a lot of new talent, and a constant flow of new users looking for work.
Upwork also has significant protections in place for both the freelancer and the person hiring them. Funds for paying jobs are placed in escrow while the job is being completed, but are only released once a project or milestone is approved. Both freelancers and the people hiring them can review each other, ensuring transparency in both directions.
Upwork also provides detailed invoices and tax documents, making it easier to track income and do annual or quarterly taxes.
The best part of Upwork is that posting a job advertisement is free – so even if you don’t find your writer of choice, you can simply repost your job and within a day you should receive at least 10 – 15 fresh applications.
Fiverr, so named because of the $5 base price for all jobs on the platform, is also very well established, and also sees thousands of transactions every day. Because of the lower set base price, there tends to be a lower expectation of the going rate for the jobs on the platform, and people tend to use this more casually.
As a result, the freelance writers I have contracted through Fiverr tend to be available at a lower rate. On the other hand, the focus on a more casual platform means I don’t always have the same guaranteed quality of work.
It’s still a reliable site but it might require a bit more caution and discernment when starting a relationship.
Problogger has the advantage of being a platform explicitly and exclusively for hiring writers. The freelancers I have found there tend to be more professional and competitive.
ProBlogger is used by a lot of established companies and big names. Of course, this lends itself to higher pricing – you even have to pay $70 to advertise your listing for 15 days.
When you do hire a freelancer of Problogger, you can expect quality work, but if you’re offering the 2 cents per word price that I’ve had success with, it might be a shorter relationship. In my personal experience, I’ve found great writers but not at the competitive 2 cents per word price point.
Like I said, I’ve had the most success with Upwork. I have developed and refined a hiring and screening process that allows me to find top talent at good price points.
The reason why I like Upwork so much is because of its business model and it’s wide talent pool.
The business model focuses on transparency and pays on delivered work, either through milestones or through completed contracts. This allows me to advertise my rate, filter through numerous applicants, and pay them exactly when they complete the work.
There have been a few instances where I have not been satisfied with the work done and have been given a refund.
Upwork, like most gig work and freelance platforms, makes its money per transaction. Rather than the whole amount being deducted from my end (which would not be ideal for me) or from the freelancers’ end (which would drive down usage and reduce the talent pool I’m recruiting from) it splits those costs throughout various steps of the transaction.
Upwork also allows more filtering of applicants. I can set specific questions, or even require writing samples as part of the response to my listing.
If anything, the number of freelance writers can make it difficult to get the level of engagement I’m looking for from each listing. I hire anywhere from 4-8 writers at a time, but engagement on a listing tends to drop off after 40 or 50 applications are submitted. So if I don’t get the right freelancers from that batch, I usually create another job post.
How to find the perfect writer
I only work with about 10% of the freelancers that engage with my initial post. This is because the majority of them don’t follow up adequately when I reach out to them to talk about expectations or pricing on the long term.
I’m quite strict with what I want, but also try to create a win-win relationship for both myself and the writer. Here are a few things that I usually include in my job listing and process to find the right candidates.
1. Mention that you’re looking for long term work.
Frequently mentioning that I’m looking for long-term work does two things.
Firstly, it makes the 2 cents a word I’m offering more attractive. Something that pays 25 cents a word might be flashier, but the promise of long-term work is a big selling point. This is the exact job ad I used to find one of my best writers on the platform (all in 2 days!)
Secondly, it sets an expectation with the freelancer that they should only respond and start taking on work if they’re going to be able to make a long term commitment. A lot of the expense and effort on my end has to do with creating listings, screening writers and then training them on my style so the less often I have to do that, the better.
2. The importance of writing samples
Getting a writing sample gives me an idea of the quality of work that I can expect from a freelancer. If the sample they’re sending in isn’t polished, then the daily work I get from them is likely to be even worse.
3. Make sure the writer has written in your niche
I tend to cover a lot of topics in the content that I outsource, so my expectation is that a freelancer can write clearly and concisely, and give equal priority to all the points in the outline they’ve been given.
If you’re working within a more specific niche (say software reviews for example) having a writer who has at least some experience in the area is essential. If the writers aren’t familiar with the style and formatting you require or are locked into a different style of writing, then training them is going to be an unproductive use of your time.
4. Do a test run on 300 words before giving them a big job
If you are satisfied with their writing sample the next thing to do is to test a writer on a small section of an article you actually want to write. A 300 word piece of content is typically the sweet spot – not too long that it would be a hassle for the writer but long enough for you to spot grammatical errors and stylistic inconsistencies.
If you are promising long term work most writers would be happy to provide a sample of this length so don’t be ashamed to ask.
The importance of a writing template
I provide a writing template for all the projects I outsource because it ensures quality and consistency in the content produced. Here’s how, and why I do that.
1. The structure of a writing template
For every project I outsource content, I have a very specific template that I use. Any variations are done strictly within that template, and I instruct my writers to deviate from it only on my specific request.
Every article opens with an introduction of 100 to 200 words and ends with a conclusion of about the same length. Within the article, the main points are to be broken up into sections of roughly equal length, either as a list or main points, with each section being roughly 300 words. I suggest, but not require, that each section be broken down further by providing bullet points or lists.
So a 2000 word article would have an intro, 5-6 points that make up the body of the article, and the conclusion.
For some articles, especially reviews or product roundups I’ll provide a specific template for the sections. Typically, it’ll look like this.
● Overview – 100 words
● Features 50-100 words
● Pros 50-100 words
● Cons 50-100 words
● Pricing 50-100 words
This means each review will be uniform, and key information won’t be left out if it’s not highlighted or immediately easy to find.
2. Why it’s important to be as specific as possible
Many of the projects I outsource, especially the larger roundup posts, are split between several freelancers to meet a deadline. By providing a specific template I can ensure (with minimal corrections) that a piece of content still looks like it’s been written by one person even if multiple people have worked on different parts of it.
I usually make repeat requests with different content but the same content structure, so the writer gets better and better over time – this also means less editing for me.
A lot of the projects that I’m outsourcing also involve optimising the content so it is SEO friendly, so having a specific template makes sure that certain keywords and phrases appear at specific intervals throughout the article.
Executing the writing process
This process will still involve a fair amount of execution and effort on your part, especially with freelancers who have just joined your team. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Don’t expect perfection from the start
Advertising a low price for long term work naturally attracts a lot of beginning freelancers. They will ultimately be capable of delivering work that meets the standards you are expecting, but it won’t be immediate.
I do everything I can to set expectations and provide templates that are as detailed as possible, but there’s still a learning curve. Creating a long-term partnership that’s going to be profitable involves providing feedback and not expecting perfection from the start (especially at a 2 cents per word price point).
That’s not to say that there won’t be writers who won’t work out. It’s just that at a certain point, the effort you’re putting into making corrections and providing feedback may no longer be worth it.
2. Use Google Docs so that you can provide comments and feedback
If I have a writer who is promising but may require more consistent feedback, I always use Google docs. The collaboration and editing tools in Google docs are far easier than the editing and commenting tools on desktop word processing applications.
With Google Docs, I can check in real-time and make sure that the writer has accepted the feedback and made the corrections. The document being stored in the cloud means that we both have immediate access to it, and I don’t need to worry about sending copies back and forth and saving them to my computer. Both the writer and I are always working off the most current version of the document, guaranteed.
3. Work with them long term so they can understand your style
The advantage of working with a freelancer long term is that they will come to better understand my style. This allows them to deliver better quality content meaning that I spend less time editing.
With some writers I can spend as little as 30 minutes editing a 5,000 word article since they are so used to my style and templates.
The editing process
After hiring content writers, the biggest part of my job is editing. Editing is the final step to ensure that you have a high-quality final product that you can deliver to your readers. It’s especially important for large scale projects (I refer you again to the 15,000-word roundup I produced) to make sure that quality is maintained.
I mentioned it was mostly written by freelancers but I had to spend a fair bit of time editing it (around 4 – 5 hours – I’m a bit of a perfectionist on these bigger pieces as well so usually have higher expectations).
To make things easier for myself, I typically have all my writers run their article through Grammarly. This resolves the majority of technical issues and makes the process of editing more to do with tone and formatting.
I also ask them to run their article through Copyscape to ensure that the content is not plagiarised. (Hint: Good writers automatically do this without you even having to ask them – so look out for anyone who says this).
In my experience, the first ~600 words are the most important part of the article, so you should make sure that section is the most polished. The intro is where I usually spend the most time editing (and sometimes rewriting). There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, from the writer’s end, this is where they’re most likely to have changed their mind about the direction the article is headed, so you might come across jarring shifts in tone or style.
Secondly, this is the section that readers are going to be fully engaged with, and deciding if they are going to continue reading. It’s also the section where your client is going to be making decisions on the quality of the work.
You should make sure that the full piece is edited, but the first 600 words need to absolutely shine.
Why is it important to find more than 1 writer?
Regardless of how many projects you plan to outsource, you should have more than one writer. There are two main reasons for this.
1. Writer burnout
Some freelancers aren’t cut out to deliver thousands of words a day multiple days in a row. Sometimes they’ll start missing deadlines, sometimes they’ll burn out and quit entirely with little to no notice. I always have more writers than I need to meet my deadlines for this exact reason.
The most I’ve written was 9,000 words in one day and let me tell you I was completely burned out after that. It was at this point that I realised I needed to start outsourcing my writing.
2. Scaling content production
Scaling content production while maintaining quality is tricky but it is especially important if you are blogging in a competitive niche.
Having multiple writers helps with this – you can for example train one writer on your roundup review articles, another one on info content and another one on guest posts. Gradually over time they will become experts as they learn your style and templates.
Oftentimes 1 writer will be stretched (especially if he/she is working with multiple clients) so quality will suffer if you overload him/her with work.
Starting a blog can be one of the best ways of making money online but creating content is prohibitively expensive. Many articles and forums say that at 2 cents a word you will only find second rate writers where English isn’t their first language. From my experience, this isn’t the case. I’ve found some fantastic writers – here’s some evidence.
I hope this post has highlighted the process of finding these “diamonds in the rough” who can shell out quality content at a reasonable price point. When you do find these writers, make sure you treat them well – it’s a two way relationship.
- Create a profile on Upwork
- Write out a detailed content brief (have separate ones for info and commercial content)
- Post a job ad and ask for writing samples
- Vet writing samples
- Ask for a 300 word test job if you like the samples
- If they pass give them the job, if they don’t return back to step 3 as many times as needed
- Edit their article and get them to read it to understand your style
- Rinse and repeat steps 2 – 7 on each new article
At the end of the day, it’s easier said than done but learning to hire and train writers is essential if you want to grow (and eventually step away from) your blog.
What are the biggest hurdles you are facing with hiring writers? I’d love to know in the comments below.
Strategy consultant by day, blogger by night – Eduardo Litonjua shares his experience blogging and making money online on his personal finance blog Passive Income Tree.