We’ve talked a lot about scoring a job as a freelance writer through your blogging—and Valeri Khoo will delve into the topic a little more this week. But today I wanted to look at the question from the other side of the equation: hiring paid bloggers to write for your blog.
Why hire writers?
For bloggers who love the writing task, hiring writers can seem like a crazy idea—something that’s only right for people who don’t like writing, or don’t have time for it. And for bloggers on a tight budget, it can seem like a waste of cash that could be spent attracting readers to your blog through advertising and guest posts—especially if your site attracts and accepts free guest posts from other bloggers.
But for any blog, paid writers can add value:
- Fresh voices, without the editing: If you choose your paid writers carefully, you can amass a team of quality content producers who know their stuff, and how to express it so that readers understand it. This is most certainly not always the case with guest posters.
- Reliably delivered content of reliable quality: This is a huge bonus to those who are strapped for time to write, but want to keep their blog filled with meaningful content that resonates with their readers.
- Continuity: While guest posts are great, you may want a stronger core voice for your blog. In that case, paid writers can be great value, as over time, they’ll develop an understanding of your blog, a relationship with your audience, and a sense that they’re growing something through your site and your brand.
How to do it
Lately, I’ve been going through the process of hiring writers for Digital Photography School. Here are the stages in that process.
1. Place the ad
That ad was partly based upon one I placed a few years ago for a similar position. I tried to outline the process and what I was looking for, as well as some of the benefits of taking on the opportunity.
I also put an end date on when I’d accept applications.
The ad pointed people to a page on dPS, on which I’d set up a contact form specifically to collect the information I needed (it included fields for each piece of information I wanted, with instructions on what I wanted). I used the Gravity Forms plugin to create it.
I set up the form to send submissions direct to my Gmail account, and set up a filter in Gmail to direct all the application emails into a folder. This way, I wouldn’t have to look at them until I was ready to.
2. Promote the ad
This was a bit of a balancing act. I wanted people to find out about the job, but I didn’t want to be completely inundated with applications. So I tweeted it a couple of times from both ProBlogger and dPS Twitter accounts, and placed links to it from dPS and ProBlogger Facebook accounts, the G+ accounts, and on LinkedIn.
I considered promoting it in our weekly newsletter but once I saw I was getting a lot of good applications, and that people were retweeting it and recommending it to friends, I decided to hold off on further promotion.
All in all I had 100 or so applications come in. Having set up the contact form to collect the information I needed up-front was the best thing I did. The applications were almost all what I’d asked for, and presented the candidate details in a way that was easy to read and compare with other applications.
As the applications came in, I responded to each email with a quick templated reply. I said I’d received the application and gave the candidate a heads-up about what the process would look like, and when they could expect to hear from me.
3. Shortlist candidates
Once the period for applications ended, I closed the ad and began to shortlist candidates. This took quite a bit of time.
I’d asked applicants to give details of experience, previous writing examples, and so on, so it took a while to look over everything they’d submitted. The quality of applicants was amazingly high.
I was really only looking for one or two writers, but of the 100 applications I received, I’d have easily considered over half the applicants. It was so tough to narrow it down.
I used Gmail’s “stars” icons to categorize applicants, putting them into No, Maybe, and Yes categories.
“No” applicants immediately got an email letting them know that while we appreciated them applying, we’d not been able to accept everyone and that their application had not gotten through to the shortlist stage (this, again, was a template email that was the same for everyone).
After sorting through the “Maybe” and “Yes” applicants, I was left with around 25 applicants which were of such a high quality that I couldn’t bring myself to say no to any of them at this point.
Originally, I wanted to shortlist down to ten, but some of those in the 25 had up to 20 years’ experience! Others had really high profiles and experience in writing for the web, others were just amazing photographers, and some just had something about the way that they wrote that told me I needed to give them a chance.
All of these applicants got an email that:
- said that they’d been shortlisted
- outlined what the job was in terms of renumeration (we pay per post and give writers links in their byline to promote their own work, businesses etc.). I also outlined how many and what types of posts the job would entail
- told them that there was no pressure to proceed if what we were offering was not a fit for them
- gave them information on the types of posts we like (word length, pictures, our blog platform, our workflow for editing and publishing, topics, and voice)
- outlined the next step in the process, and inviting them to submit a trial post that would be published on dPS. This post will be paid at the normal rate, and would be an opportunity for them to see what writing with us was like. It would also give me and our audience a taste of what these writers could do, to help us work out if each one was a fit for the blog.
I asked each applicant to let me know:
- firstly, if they wanted to proceed, knowing how we reimburse and what we expect
- secondly, if they did want to proceed, to nominate a trial post topic and tell us how quickly they’d be able to get it in.
4. Process trial posts
Within minutes of sending out these emails to the shortlist, I began getting replies. In fact, 100% of them indicated that they wished to proceed and were happy with my explanation of how we work.
I’m now in the process of responding to them all to lock in trial post topics and deadlines. Some have already written their posts in anticipation and excitement, and are very keen.
I’m putting each of the 25 writers into a spreadsheet so I can track the progress of their topics, and when posts will come in, so that I can begin to work on our editorial calendar—it’s going to take a few weeks to publish them all).
5. Final selection
This last phase will entail analysing the submitted posts, looking at how the applicants worked and, reviewing how their posts were received by readers.
I’m a little fearful of this last selection, as the quality of the content is really high already. I may need to look at hiring more people than what I was expecting!
Interestingly, a number of applicants have already indicated that if they don’t get the paid role that they’d like to guest post regularly (and a some of those who didn’t make the shortlist have also asked about guest posting). So it may turn out that this process unearths some good candidates for that, too.
Find the writer who’s right for you
These are the key take-away messages I’ve learned through this experience (and other efforts to hire writers):
- Know what you want in a writer and communicate it clearly.
- Be clear on the selection process that you want to lead people through before you begin. Ours is quite involved and takes time, and we try to communicate this early on.
- Compensate people. We are not the highest paying writing job in the world, but we pay a lot more than some do. We also try to make the work worthwhile, by giving our writers profile-building opportunities.
- Give people an opportunity to prove their worth. Giving applicants a chance to write a trial post was something I tried last time, and it was a great step. Some found in the process of writing a trial post identified that it wasn’t something they wanted to do regularly. That meant they withdrew, which I had no problem with. Others thrived, and wrote posts that highlighted them as people I definitely wanted to hire. Paying for these trial posts shows applicants that you’re serious about finding quality.
- Clearly communicate each step of the journey. The emails I’ve sent to people at each step are all about communicating the process, outlining what we need from people and when we need it, and answering FAQs (which saves everyone time in the long run).
Have you ever hired writers for your site? What tips and advice can you add to this list? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.