The content marketing explosion has proved a bonanza for Craigslist. Skim the job listings and you’ll find ads like:
Freelance blog writer. Dental office supplier seeks a writer with strong SEO skills and a background in oral hygiene.
Compensation is often left unspecified in these classifieds. Instead, advertisers employ acronyms like TBD (To Be Decided) or DOE (Depends on Experience). Why? Because in many cases the true acronym, unwritten but understood by all, is “ALAP” – As Little as Possible.
Upon investigation, a freelancer may find the pay unsettlingly low – $15 or $20 for a 500-word article or blog post.
Of course, every market finds its level. If battalions of fresh college graduates stand ready to accept minimal compensation for services rendered, what’s wrong with that?
But several dangers lurk here. Freelancers hurrying to finish an article tend to cut and paste from existing online resources. As this occurs, the Web is filling up with redundant information and advice – a concern I have shared in an earlier post. Companies that settle for unoriginal content will fail to differentiate their products/services. And if enough repetitious content is published, readers will lose interest and disengage.
In addition, low pay doesn’t ensure a low final cost. Freelance writing done in a hurry is almost always poorly organized, factually challenged and sloppy. If your company doesn’t have an accomplished editor on hand, you’ll need to hire one, and possibly a proofreader as well. At each of these steps, the same rule applies: You get what you pay for.
The solution? Insist on high quality, and offer compensation in line with your expectations.
How can you make sure you get good value for your dollar? If you don’t have the internal resources to meet the content demands of your organization, hire freelancers with examples of quality writing to share with you. Pay by the job, not by the hour – and then:
- Provide a thorough overview of exactly what you want to accomplish, who you want to reach and how.
- Require a detailed outline of the content.
- Check the outline against the Web. If the same basic piece already exists, demand a different theme, a more innovative structure or more original thinking.
- Require the writer to provide links to all sources used in the assignment.
- Build in two stages of review so the writer can’t benefit by hurrying.
- Don’t fix unacceptable first drafts. Send them back with a note like “Fix factual errors” or “Fix typos,” and have the writer find the problems and do the work.
- Quickly drop writers who don’t meet your standards.
- Reward writers who don’t require much editing with higher pay.
It’s a good idea to set out your expectations in a style guide. This should include brand notes, an audience profile, reading level and voice/tone guidelines and links to examples. It should also point to whatever authority you consult for style (AP, Yahoo!, etc.).
The fundamental question is this: Is content marketing important to your company’s success? If so, give it the resources it needs. The money you invest in original, well-structured and polished content can pay back in spades.