You know the value of content, but you just don’t have the time to generate it in-house. So a morning’s social media trawl and a couple of personal recommendations later, you’re poring over CVs and samples for writers with the right stuff.

How much guidance will your erudite new best friend expect of you? How do you get the best out of them? And what will it cost to have them craft your raw messaging into compelling B2B content?

We’ve felt the pains that afflict marketing professionals when outsourcing for writers. Now we’ll prescribe the remedies.

Passing a Year 8 spelling test doesn’t make a writer

Plenty of people claim to be writers. But while anyone can talk a good game, relatively few have the writing skills and marketing aptitude to generate effective content. If you’ve no word-of-mouth references – or even if you have – put candidates to the test.

New writers, or seasoned pros new to you, should be willing to display their moves with a freebie introduction. Don’t ask them to rewrite Beowulf; 500 client-friendly words should give you a good idea of what they’re bringing to the party. Don’t forget, they want the gig; assume their submission is the very best they can do.

Wot’s it worth, guv?

Whether or not you can write, you’ll likely spot quality content (or palpable pants) a mile off. Like everything else, quality costs, meaning you should probably avoid crowdsourcing Uzbekistan for cheap writing talent.

Check freelance rates here, but remember: a good writer’s not defined by fee alone. £800 per day wasn’t unusual in the headiest reaches of 1980s FMCG advertising; but you’re a 2017 B2B agency, not J Walter Thompson. We pay our writers a per-piece rate of £60, and they’re bloody good. Who knew?

Style wars

Content writing is like method acting. A great wordsmith should grasp the characteristics of your business and write as if they’ve worked with you for years. This comes partly from knowledge, but equally from tone-of-voice (TOV).

Every business ‘owns’ an exclusive TOV. While it’s rarely as nuanced as some like to believe, a writer must still tack to an individual brief and assume a ‘unique’ style. Make sure your writer exerts no inappropriate spin. Provide a clear steer on brand and TOV, along with examples of published material which suit the brief. Try using your own website copy as a guide, alongside previous blog posts if you have them. Better still, prepare and issue a tone-of-voice guide to everyone who writes for you, in-house or out.

Brief… but not too brief

When briefing your writer, share details of your products, demographics and psychographics, as well as those of your readers. What are the article’s broader objectives and call to action? Context is all. What are the key takeaways? Include a one-liner describing the overall proposition, and distill your secondary messaging into bite-sized bullet points. Your scribbler’s wordcraft might blend the raw ingredients into something nourishing, but every writer needs an informative recipe.

Hold their hands

King Content won’t rise unchallenged from just a brief, a style guide and a purchase order. You need to be available, if only as interpreter and information conduit.

Good writers monitor broader markets, but unless they’re on a retainer, don’t assume they’ll intimately know your industry as a whole. You’re writing a concise brief for every article; make sure you’re on hand, via email, phone and/or Skype, to shepherd it all through. Remember, the early days are the toughest. The longer they work with you, the less hand-holding they’ll need.

Trust your writer – up to a point

Hold writers to your standards, not theirs. Keep a tight rein on quality control and, if you need, get them to dial down on excessively personal styling. Wordy over-exuberance does more harm than good if it gets out and runs amok among your brand values.

But don’t micro-manage. Over-engineered content can be laboured and sterile, lacking coherence, spark and – possibly – readers. Once a good writer becomes a regular, trusted to get on with the job, you’ll be rewarded by energetic, compelling content that flexes and delivers.

The full band, not the soloist

Freelance writers write, but a content agency will offer strategic guidance, writer management, brainstorming and the strength in depth of a professional business. Even agencies reliant on freelancers corral their talents into unified but adaptable teams. A writer can be cherry-picked according to skills-set and project; clients needn’t fear unfamiliarity with new story angles.

Good as they might be, swashbuckling freebooters are as likely to take a year off to trek across Sarawak as help you create your future content strategy. For the one that’ll go the distance, choose the full-service agency.

What was that about bottom line?

For every 24-carat, lead-generating wordslinger, scores of cowboys are peddling fools’ gold. Shop around, check track records and write a full brief – but to dispel all doubt, talk to us.

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Richard Butterworth

Richard morphed from graphics to writing 500 years ago, working for TTL ad agencies before flying solo. A born freebooter, learning-curves as flat as his saxophone playing, he’ll gladly write about sustainables, legals, financials, IT, property, politics, cycling, walking, dogs, science, ghosts, Orwell, Frank Zappa and [your topic here]. He does voiceovers and presents a weekly community radio music show. Don’t ask about the cheesemaking.

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