Marketers in 2019 are all in on content marketing – and with good reason. According to data from Meaningful Brands, 84% of consumers expect brands to produce content that entertains, provides solutions and produces experiences and events.
Failing to capitalize on content marketing can put your brand at a competitive disadvantage. But the one thing most marketers don’t mention is that average content doesn’t produce a return on investment.
To really move the needle, you need expert-level content that establishes your authority as a thought leader within your industry. Understanding this is one thing – actually achieving it is another. Unless you have a surprisingly large amount of free time, you’ll rely on freelance writers and other content creators to shoulder the content burden for you. But even outsourcing comes with its own challenges.
The dual challenges of outsourcing expert content creation
If you’re a B2C company selling health and wellness products, congratulations. You’ll have no trouble finding freelance writing talent that’s likely to deliver great content at an affordable rate.
But what if you’re a B2B company operating in a highly technical field? Chances are you won’t be able to get away with a generalist writer. Sourcing a specialist presents two distinct challenges:
- Specialist writers may not exist in your niche. Freelance writers tend to go where the money is. If your particular line of work doesn’t lend itself to loads of opportunity, you may not even be able to find a creator with sufficient knowledge in your area of expertise.
- Specialist writers may be cost-prohibitive. Understandably, writers with specialized knowledge and for whom opportunities to apply it are limited tend to charge more for their work. This can quickly price them out of your budget (if you can even find them in the first place).
Now, these challenges alone don’t mean that you’re stuck accepting mediocre results from generalist writers. There are several strategies you can use to improve the quality of your content when specialists are either unavailable or unaffordable.
Strategy No. 1: Adjust your spend allocation by funnel stage
Effective content marketing campaigns are built around the different messaging needs that exist at each stage of the sales funnel.
Generally speaking, when prospective customers first become aware of a need, they aren’t looking for complex, highly technical content. They’re looking for lighter content – typically blog posts, graphics or videos – that educates, informs or inspires further connection with the potential solutions they encounter. It’s only as they move further down the sales funnel that they become receptive to more in-depth content such as case studies, white papers or research papers.
You can use these different needs to inform the way you allocate your content marketing spend. Let’s walk through an example together. Suppose you’re a chemical sales company. Your monthly content budget is $2,000 per month, and you have access to both generalist and specialist writers at the following rates:
- Generalist writer: $0.20 per word
- Specialist writer: $0.50 per word
Rather than hiring a specialist writer to produce top-of-funnel content, you could allocate these projects to a generalist writer, since the technical requirements for these pieces tend to be lower. If you handle more complex middle-of-funnel content in-house, you could use your spend to produce 10 1,000-word blog posts with a generalist writer.
Alternatively, you could produce top-of-funnel content in-house (since, again, production requirements tend to be lower) and allocate middle-of-funnel content to a specialist writer in your field. In this case, your specialist writer could produce two 2,000-word white papers for your monthly budget of $2,000.
Of course, you could allocate your spend across these two writers as well – perhaps by having the generalist writer create five 1,000-word blog posts and the specialist writer produce one 2,000-word whitepaper. What’s critical in each of these cases is that you’re matching your spend to your sales funnel needs and only paying for expert specialist talent when it’s truly worthwhile for your company.
Strategy No. 2: Invest in your freelance talent
This tip is pretty straightforward. You wouldn’t bring a new employee on to your staff and expect them to fend for themselves. Don’t do the same with your content creators.
Just like your employees, you can invest in your freelance writers in several ways. You can
- Sit down with them (virtually or in person) to train them on important industry knowledge
- Send them interesting articles you encounter that may be valuable for your future content creation efforts
- Enroll them in classes or send them to conferences to learn more about your industry
To be clear, any investment you make in your freelancers needs to be commensurate with the relationship you expect to have. If you’re engaging a writer to produce a handful of articles, the costs associated with sending a person to a conference probably won’t make sense.
But let’s continue with our example above to see where this kind of investment might be particularly useful.
Imagine that you’ve found a generalist writer whose style you love and with whom you’d like to build a long-term relationship but who doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to support your full-funnel content needs.
Now, suppose that you plan to create 10 1,000-word blog posts each month. Because of the generalist’s lack of experience, you might assume that you need a specialist to produce this content (even with the funnel stage allocation tips described above). At our rates, this puts your costs at:
- Generalist: 10 x 1,000 x 12 x $0.10 = $12,000
- Specialist: 10 x 1,000 x 12 x $0.50 = $60,000
If you invested $3,000 in sending your generalist writer to an industry conference and $5,000 to enroll them in a six-month training course, you’d still be $40,000 ahead of what you’d spend to produce the same content with a specialist. Even better, you can bet that your relationship with the generalist writer is going to be stronger than if you “churn and burn” through freelance talent without investing in them.
Obviously, this is a simplified example. There may be other factors at play – and it’s possible your generalist writer’s knowledge wouldn’t match the specialist’s, even after these investments. However, I hope it highlights the potential benefits of investing in your freelance talent and opens up new relationship possibilities you may not have considered before.
Strategy No. 3: Get involved
There’s merit in investing in your freelance writers’ training, especially if you’ve found creators that you plan to have long-term relationships with. But even if you’re able to bring them up to the skill set of a specialist writer, they won’t have the breadth of your specific knowledge and experience.
Where these shortfalls occur, it can be helpful to get involved in the content creation process. Here’s an adapted version of the general process we use when working with technical B2B clients at Content Conquered:
- Brainstorm: Work directly with your content creators to brainstorm interesting content topics based on what you know about your industry. News, trends and common questions are all great areas to focus on here. If it’s interesting to you, the odds are good it’ll be interesting to someone else in your field.
- Conference: Arrange a call with your freelance writer to go over each approved topic from your brainstorming process. Share any key points the content piece needs to hit, and provide any background information you believe the writer will need to be successful.
- Outline: Have the writer produce an outline for the proposed content piece, based on your call and other external research they conduct.
- Capture: Record your feedback on the outline via written comments, audio notes or screen share video. Include any changes that should be made, any assumptions that aren’t quite right or any gaps that are missing.
- Draft: Have the writer hold off on drafting until the “capture” stage is complete, and encourage them to use your direct quotes in the finished content.
Yes, this process takes more time on both your part and the part of your freelance writers. But it also guarantees that, one, the content produced will be written in your specific voice; and, two, your industry expertise will shine through – even if you’re working with a generalist writer.
Expecting a generalist writer to produce expert-level content without investment or support is likely to leave you frustrated – even to the point of swearing off content entirely. But because this has the potential to put your brand at a disadvantage, it’s far better to understand the capabilities of different types of freelance talent and to work with them in different ways in order to support your company’s content needs.
Have you struggled to produce expert-level content while outsourcing? Share any other strategies you’ve used by leaving me a note below.