This is the part that stops a lot of small businesses in their tracks. Even if you’re convinced you need content, how do you go about getting it? You have a few options:

Hiring in-house

Hiring an in-house writer (or writers) is always an option. The upside is a writer who develops an in-depth knowledge of your culture and of what you’re trying to accomplish. The downside (in addition to the normal headaches that go along with hiring) include a lot of downtime. If you don’t need enough content to keep somebody busy 40 hours per week, hiring in-house is probably not the most cost-effective option. Which is probably why more than 60% of businesses outsource their content development.

Content mills and bidding sites

These are the places where you can get a 500-word blog post for $7 (or thereabouts). With the content mills, you pay them, and they farm the content out to writers. With the bidding sites, writers compete for your business, most often by trying to offer the lowest price. I’d recommend this option only if you just want to have something to slap up on your blog. Because let’s be honest. For the most part, if you’re satisfied with the content you’re getting from content mills and bidding sites, you’re just publishing content because everyone else is doing it. And, while I won’t claim to be subjective, I mean that in all sincerity. Not everybody needs a Cadillac. If a 30-year-old Gremlin will get you where you want to go, why pay more? Sure, you’ll occasionally find a gem of a writer who’s just starting out on these sites. I started out with content mills after staying home with my kids for 10 years — and I can tell you that content mills are all about volume, scaling, and key words. Not about you or your customers. Remember the 3 essential questions I said you should ask yourself? Yeah…there’s none of that going on.

Agencies

Agencies can be a good option if you want quality content as well as someone to handle all of the nitty-gritty details (like finding and paying writers, handling revisions, etc.). Just be aware that, like any middleman, they come with a hefty markup.

Market-based platforms

The new kids on the block are marketplace platforms, like nDash. They’re similar to content mills in the way they work, but the quality is on another level entirely. Writers pitch brands, and they do it on competence and value-added rather than driving for the lowest price. So you get quality content while still having someone else do all the grunt work.

Individuals

I struggled with what to call this section. I think of myself as more of a business owner than a freelancer, but I’m not an agency, either (because it’s just little ol’ me). So I went with “individuals.”

The downsides of working with individuals, of course, include:

  • Having to worry about whether your freelancer is actually a sociopath with a good vocabulary, just lying in wait to ruin your life
  • Having to worry that you’re going to end up paying for junk — and junk that missed the deadline, to boot
  • Having to arrange payment
  • Oh, and let’s not forget having to find said writer in the first place

There are, of course, considerable benefits to working with an individual (yes, I’m biased). Those include:

  • Consistency of voice and style
  • Greater knowledge of you, your business, and your customers
  • Better quality at a lower price (because there’s no middleman)

If you decide you do want to work with an individual, please don’t just trustingly follow the vetting advice you find all over the internet. I can’t even imagine how asking what a writer’s favorite book is or what blogs they read will help you make a good decision. Other questions that, in my opinion, add no value whatsoever include:

  • Which professional organizations do you belong to?
  • Why do you want this project?
  • What’s your preferred style guide?
  • Give me an example of how you’ve incorporated feedback into your future work.
  • What’s your speciality?
  • What’s your proofreading process?
  • Tell me about your social following.

If you want to know why I think these questions are worthless, you can read about it here.

What questions should you ask? Start here:

  • How do you start a new piece of content?
  • How do you do your research?
  • What do you do if you realize a project won’t work as requested?
  • How do you track your projects?
  • How do you set your rates?
  • How do you handle revisions?

Again, if you want to read more about why these questions are so valuable and what the “right” answers are, you can do so here.

I’d recommend staying away from content mills and bidding sites unless you’re doing content just to be doing content. Other than that, agencies, market-based platforms, and individuals can all be good choices. You just have to decide which is right for you and your business.

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