Scaling Content

When (And When NOT) to Hire Freelance Blog Writers [Pros vs. Cons]

Brad Smith
March 13, 2020

I’ve lived in both worlds.

I’ve been a six-figure freelancer, and am now on the other end, hiring writers to produce best-in-class, long-form content for our clients.

(Which is shorthand for sitting back with my feet up, cigar and cognac in hand, twirling my mustache, counting piles of c-notes.)

In the last year, we’ve reviewed over 2,500 applicants. And spoiler alert: We haven’t hired anywhere near that number.

Over 2,500 freelance blog writer applications

Freelance blog writers are the right choice in certain scenarios. There’s a time and a place they excel. It can work beautifully. Or it can backfire miserably.

That’s what this post is about.

Hiring freelance blog writers seems obvious when you need content. However, it’s not always the right move.

Here’s how to set yourself up for success and avoid common mistakes before they happen.


❶  Writer <> industry specialization

❷  Writer <> client specialization

❸  Rates vs. quality

❹  Ability to scale

❺  The Verdict: When (and when not) to hire freelance blog writers

Writer <> industry specialization

✅ Pro: Good freelance blog writers have deep industry knowledge.

What typically happens when marketers write stuff for sales teams?

The short answer is that sucks.

In theory, the two worlds are related. Adjacent even.

But are they any good at it? No.

Why? Because most marketers have never sold a damn thing in their life. They’ve never faced rejection daily. They’ve never cold-called prospects and had to get their point across in less than ten seconds before being hung up on.

Therefore, they don’t understand (or appreciate) the nuance salespeople seek.

Same holds true for freelance blog writers themselves. Writing blogs requires writing skills to get writing jobs. But that has zero to do with the art of selling and marketing.

Your goal should be marketing copy that reads like a marketer wrote it. Not a freelance writer. The same is true for every blog post, or content on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Finding one person to fit this bill is doable. It’s tough, but possible if you look hard enough and have a decent budget to work with.

Simple: Go to the big blogs in your space, pull up the last few posts (or the ones you like for a particular reason), and Google the author’s name. Chances are they freelance. And work samples often trump all other hiring B.S.

❌ Con: A freelance blog writer’s specialization is usually limited.

If finding one person with experience in your niche is doable, finding a few is excruciatingly difficult (see “Scale” below).

And that’s an issue, because someone who’s well versed in one area of your industry might not be in others.

Take SEO.

In just one subset of digital marketing, you have at least eight specialities including:

  1. Technical SEO
  2. Analytics
  3. Site Architecture
  4. Keyword research
  5. On-page
  6. Content
  7. PR and outreach
  8. Viral social

You wouldn’t hire one marketer to do all eight of those things, because what makes someone good at the technical side is usually a hinderance in another (like PR).

Even the best, T-Shaped Marketers still specialize in one or two areas, tops.

T-Shaped Marketers

(image source)

Which means you can’t hold a single writer to the same standard, either.

Which is an issue, because this is ultimately what you’re paying for when you hire a freelance blog writer.

You’re not just hiring for grammar or prose. Those are a dime a dozen on Fiverr or any other content writing or proofreading service.

Instead, you’re hiring for people who know what they’re actually talking about in a technical, ever-changing landscape.

Of course, they won’t tell you this. They won’t admit their strong in one area while weak in another. The social one looks flawless. But the canonicalization one is way off.

That’s just something you need to find out the hard way after the first few posts.

Writer <> client specialization

✅ Pro: Good freelance writers get up to speed quickly.

This is where freelance blog writers can excel.

You DO want to consistently work with the same writer, because it gives them a chance to absorb your preferences, criteria, tone, style, examples, and even invoicing instructions.

Your workflow is specialized. Rightfully so.

And working with fewer people, longer, gives you that chance to overcome these issues ASAP so they become like an extension of your team.

The problem is that I can almost guarantee it’s going to take you longer (and require more effort) than you initially think to find and successfully onboard them. Here’s why.

❌ Con: A freelance writer puts all your eggs in one sketchy basket.

The higher-ups hand you ambitious growth goals.

You need X visits, Y leads, and Z conversions in the next quarter.

That means you’ll need a writer (or writers plural) up and running within the next two weeks.

What happens if they don’t work out? You’re screwed — wasting both time and money that you can’t afford.

Freelance writers get paid to write. However, they’re not always the best at all the other stuff. Like deadlines, for instance. Or plagiarism. Which ClearVoice found several instances of when studying ‘cheaper’ writers.

ClearVoice Tech Study on Cheap Writers

(image source)

They’re probably juggling multiple clients (probably more than they should), because they need to make a certain amount of money (and probably aren’t charging enough per piece). But the end result — for you — is no different.

So you’re going to need to test a few to hire one or two.

Sounds like a lot of work, because it is. Your strategy needs to change from finding that one special someone to assuming a few who look great on paper won’t work out in the end.

And then get through that period as quickly as possible so it doesn’t derail what the C-Suite is expecting in twelve weeks and counting.

Rates vs. quality

✅ Pro: Good freelance writers typically charge more.

ClearVoice also found that the best technology writers typically charge a lot, yet are still ‘less expensive’ in both hard and soft costs for brand marketers.

Generally speaking, I’ve found this to be true. You can easily make a few broad, generalizations:

  • Better writers charge more.
  • Writers that don’t charge much do so for a reason (they aren’t very good).

The trouble is that you need excellent writers when the SERPs (a proxy for how most people will find you) are winner-take-all markets with slim margins for error.

However, there is a giant caveat with this one.

Because while people at the top of the market are good, the middle is murky as hell.

❌ Con: There are lots and lots of bad freelance writers.

We’ve hired around five in-house writers in the last year.

But we’ve probably reviewed close to ~2,400 to date.

That’s not a typo. The conversion rate will make you weep. (Whiskey helps. 🥃)

There are many reasons why it’s so difficult to finding good writers. However, that’s a post for another day.

A big problem that we’ve seen is the odd relationship between the hourly rate and quality.

It’s “odd,” because there’s virtually none within a certain range. Super low rates are garbage, really high rates are solid, and everything in between? Inconsistent as hell. Paying for freelance writing is about as confusing as paying for influencer marketing.

Tell me:

What do you think is a fair rate for an article? Ten people will give you ten different answers. Just take a gander at the latest jobs on Contently for Exhibits A through J:

Rates from freelance blog writers on Contently(image source)

Here’s the question that can help you figure out what an ‘appropriate’ rate looks like.

What, exactly, are you paying for?

Words? Or results?

One issue is that your (the client’s) definition of quality vs. the writer’s definition of quality are two vastly different things. Worlds apart sometimes.

Yours might include visits, links, shares, conversions, revenue. Meanwhile, theirs includes word choice, flowing prose, and tactical accuracy.

Content is still subjective at the end of the day. Your goal is to make it a little less subjective.

Having solid blog KPIs is a good start to bridge the gap. It starts by getting you both on the same page, agreeing to the same strategy.

Some topics lend themselves well to social media shares, others maximizing time on site, while others still for assisting conversions.

If a writer is tasked with pitching you these ideas, they should know the target they’re aiming at. Otherwise, they’ll put their head down and do ‘good work’ while your bottom line remains unchanged.

Ability to scale

✅ Pro: Freelancers are good if you’re looking for 1-4 pieces of content each month.

Top freelance blog writers can only crank out ~4-5 pieces of content each week. They could and should probably be able to do more. However, they’re often restricted to only ~50% utilization because of all the other freelancing-related ‘stuff’ to deal with, like:

✓ Self-promotion

✓ Sales

✓ Project management

✓ Edits on other pieces

✓ Social & email

✓ Phone calls to needy clients

✓ Invoicing

✓ Chasing overdue invoices from dead-beat clients

✓ And you know, possibly spending some time with loved ones

And if they’re not doing those things? They won’t be freelancing very long.

One of the better estimates I’ve seen is ~25,000 words a month as an accomplishment for freelance writing gigs. Which breaks down to around 7,500/week, or the equivalent of six short and long-form articles.

This isn’t exclusive to freelance writing jobs. Most in-house writers are no different in this respect. They’ll also cap out at a certain point around ~5/week, due to meetings, email, open office floor plans, etc. etc.

That means freelance blog writers are often better suited to lower volume (~1-4/month) work.

Otherwise, you’re forced to find and wrangle and manage a ton of different ones. Which brings us to the Con.

❌ Con: Freelance blog writers don’t scale well for high-volume work.

Four posts per month is respectable. But it’s often not enough to compete in hyper-competitive niches.

That’s even more exacerbated in content-driven spaces, like large affiliate sites, where we’ve done 50+ long-form pieces over the course of a month.

Yes, quality is important. But quantity still gets results, too.

HubSpot fueled their inbound marketing craze by publishing upwards of 10 posts per day. They’ve found (and published) results like this for the better part of a decade (this one’s from 2015):

HubSpot Monthly Blog Posts on Inbound Traffic

(image source)

They maintain that more content often leads to more leads. And it made them a public company.

HubSpot Monthly Blog Posts on Inbound Leads

(image source)

Now, is this always the case? Of course not. You can drive a lot of leads with less content.

However, I’d argue that it’s easier (read: higher probability of success) of doing it with more content than less.

The more content you produce for your niche, the more queries you can answer, and the more people you can reach. (Digital marketing’s not exactly rocket science at the end of the day.)

You can fuel this content-creation furnace with freelance blog writers. Personally, though? I wouldn’t.

Think about the numbers:

A freelance writer might top out around 5/week. Let’s say you take over every single one of their client slots (which is doubtful). You’d still have to recruit, and hire, and onboard, and train, and manage a team of freelance writers.

In other words, a bunch of different people with different styles and different voices. Working with freelancers to do all your content marketing and blog posts is akin to herding cats.

It’s an inefficient process unless you’ve dedicated someone (or a few ‘someones’) solely to this project.

Unfortunately, most traditional agencies are often just as inefficient.

Plus, you get saddled with a bunch of ‘extras’ like consulting and research and analysis and reporting. Which means a few articles is going to set you back $10-20k/month if they’re good. (Which many aren’t.)

So once you start moving to a few posts each week, you’ll often need multiple people contributing.

The Verdict: When (and when not) to hire freelance blog writers

Let’s recap.

Hire freelance blog writers when:

✅ You expect relatively low-volume from each individual.

✅ Crave expertise for a few, specialized topics.

✅ Need them to adopt your workflow ASAP.

✅ And last but not least: You can afford to pay top-end rates.

Tick those four boxes and you’re as good as gold.

You’re setting them up for success from the start. Which means your odds off achieving success (as you’ve defined it) will be better.

Scaling content isn’t easy.

Sourcing, hiring, managing, and training a team of freelance blog writers is one way to do it. IF you know what you’re getting yourself into. And IF you have dedicated internal resources to devote. (Read: A ringmaster to manage the circus.)

Or you can just call us.