My team needs content – lots of it. Our client’s blogs, FAQs, etc need regular, dependable content. Content needs that went well beyond the few copywriters we had at the time. We wanted to create a lean, mean, content churning machine.
Disclaimer: I am not talking about the content that is going to earn you 100s of links. Rather, content that reads well, provides value and is eaten up by the search engines.
Modern marketing runs on content: Good content, targeted content, plentiful content. And I think this has something to do with why you can find content hustlers in every seedy alley on the internet. Content comes easy, but good content does not. Whenever you buy content from someone else, you always have to have your doubts. You have to wonder if it’s decent English, if it’s duplicated somewhere, or if some small mistake is going to mean serious consequences for your branding.
That’s why you need your own crew: People who have been handpicked to deliver the content that your organization needs. We recently completed the creation of our content team, and we learned a lot along the way. Let our stumbling blocks be your stepping stones on the way to creating a content team that can handle all of your needs.
Picking Your Players
Even if you half-ass everything else, you need to make sure that you do this right. It’s not that hard to get a good team, but settling for a bad one will mean a lot of wasted time.
There has never been a better time to recruit writing talent. There are thousands of native-English college-educated writers out there who are desperate for work. This frees you to cast as wide a net as possible. For our organization, Problogger.com turned out to be the best place to run this.
We used an ad that was written like this:
Our writers are at the core of what we do creating quality, unique content for our clients. As an article writer, you will be assigned topics on which to create content. One of the biggest benefits of this position is the ability to work from home (or anywhere with an internet connection) and the ability to work when you want. You will have daily assignments, but you choose your own hours.
This is a unique opportunity to be part our new enterprise-class team.
PLEASE NOTE: This position is not well fitted for someone looking for investigative journalism or editorial work.
- Write original articles on various assigned topics.
- Pay attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling.
- Communicate the status of writing assignments to team & meet all deadlines
- Work from anywhere you want, as long as we can reach you.
- Set your own hours, as long as your assignments are turned in on time.
- We’re serious about recognizing talent and promoting from within.
- If you help make the company profitable, we’ll be really, really nice to you.
Experience & Qualifications
- No previous professional writing experience necessary
- Excellent native English skills (written and verbal).
- Has excelled in environments with high volume writing responsibilities (i.e. rigorous humanities coursework, secretarial duties, participation in outreach campaigns, etc.).
- Formal training in English, Literature, or Writing a plus, but not required.
- Has excelled working under uncompromising deadlines in a team environment.
- Can work well with online software (experience with Trello is a plus).
- Must be available daily (M-F) and communicate status on a regular basis.
- Must have reliable and sufficient internet and phone connection to perform all duties.
- Delivers work on time, every time. Our clients put their professional reputation on the line when they order from us. Therefore, late is not an option.
We ran this ad on Problogger for about a month and we received nearly 400 replies. There were obviously plenty of people who wanted what we had to offer, but we weren’t interested in just anyone, and you shouldn’t be either.
Separating the Winners from the Waste
With over 400 replies, we really had our pick of the litter. This stage could take forever if you don’t do it right, so we’ll tell you some of the ways we made it easy to narrow down the list.
- U.S. Based, No Exceptions: There were plenty of replies that started by saying “I know your ad said U.S. only but I…” We couldn’t tell you what they said after that because all we heard was the rim ringing when they hit the trash bin. You can take your chances with non-U.S. writers, and they can probably offer you a real bargain, but we had too many to choose from to bother.
- Read the Rules or GTFO: You don’t want people who are replying to so many ads that they don’t bother to read the requirements. That’s why we chose to hide little requirements in the ad to make sure people were reading. Ask them to put something in the title line or body. If they can’t handle that, what else are they going to miss when they start working for you?
- Do We have Your Attention?: There’s a lot you’re going to want from your writers. Access to them when you need them is at the top. If you contact them for a sample and don’t hear from them for more than 24 hours, then rescind the offer. Move the conversation to the spam folder so you won’t have to deal with them again.
- No Princes and Princesses: There are tons of eager writers out there ready to get to work, but there are also plenty of others who seem to think they’d be writing for The New Yorker if they weren’t being distracted by your lowly assignments. Don’t respond to demands or negotiations to make your work “worth their time”. Just delete and move to the next one.
- Must Be Ready to Work Immediately: You may want to give really good candidates some time if you think it’s worth it, but it’s always better to know that your team is complete when it’s actually complete.
Once you’ve found a set of candidates that meet these criteria, you’re going to want to make sure that they have what it takes to represent you. We decided that each candidate would have to produce sample content based on strict guidelines.
We decided to make the samples work that we actually needed done, and to compensate them if any of it was accepted. This was done for two reasons. One, many of the even remotely good candidates won’t do free work because there are a lot of “recruitment” scams out there. Two, it saved us time on setup to just get the work done as fast as possible. We are a busy outfit after all.
Our guidelines were actually incredibly strict because of the nature of the work that we needed, which is just as well, because we needed to make sure our writers wouldn’t have problems with any future directions. Our work was in a format called spintax. This involves creating an article, then copying it into several unique but similar forms. This can be difficult for some because it has to be written with markup syntax inside the copy.
We were actually surprised that so many people turned in work that qualified on the first try, and we chalk that up to how rigorous the recruitment was in the first place.
Setting up the Operation
Finding good writers is a lot easier than creating a framework that encourages organization and accountability. That was the hardest part for us, but we were able to develop a system organically that is working really well for us.
Depending on your content needs, you may not need to do much training. We didn’t. Because we focused on hiring people based on their ability to follow instructions, we never needed to provide any real training. If you have specialized content needs, this might be necessary for you. However, having strict hiring standards is going to pay off in every case.
Creating a Hierarchy
For us, a team that could function almost independently was more important than anything else. That’s why we began by organizing a hierarchy. We used experienced writers who were familiar with our needs to serve as the managers/editors. The function worked out something like this:
- Editor is given content guidelines and instructions on topics
- Editor creates assignments that are consistent with standards
- Writers compete for assignments on first-come-first-serve basis with time limits
- Writers turn in assignments to editors
- Editor verifies that all content meets standards, then marks the assignments completed
- Content is posted and Writers are compensated
This makes the content team really self-sufficient. If you have someone you can trust as an editor, you basically never have to do anything but toss vague content guidelines in the direction of the team. In order to make this work though, you need to have a good setup.
We found that a Google Spreadsheet was a simple and elegant solution.
Creating an Organization
A few things we liked about the Google Doc Spreadsheet:
- Simple to grant and revoke access
- Accessible from anywhere with any computer
- Makes Actions Like Reservations and Completion Public and in Real Time
- Scalable to any Future Needs with the Use of Assignment Codes
This is what our Gdoc Spreadsheet looks like right now.
The Google document proved to be very effective. From the very first days we had writers rushing to grab the assignments and complete them as soon as possible. We used DropBox to store the assignments until they were ready to be distributed to wherever they were needed.
Keep Things Running Smoothly
Recruiting your players and setting up the content management system is enough to get you started, but you need to keep everything stable if you want a reliable system. We can’t really guess everything that could go wrong with your own content team, but we can share some of the lessons we learned while getting ours off the ground.
- Stick to Time Limits/Reservations: Allowing people all the time they want gets out of hand fast. The same is true of letting writers reserve as many assignments as they want on the promise that they’ll be done “soon”. Stick to your guns, and you’ll end up with a much more effective team.
- Be Itchy with the Axe: Don’t pussyfoot around it if someone is creating a toxic atmosphere or failing to perform. Just get rid of them. As we said, if you use a Gdoc, it’s as easy as removing their access.
- Keep Things Interesting: You can lose good writers if you can’t provide enough work to keep them. Try not to hire more than you need, unless you’re planning on deliberately phasing some out and only keeping the best.
- Always Pay on Time: There is no way to lose good writers faster than to being flaky with their compensation. The kind of people leftover after constant late payments aren’t going to be the ones you want.
- Monitor Quality: The idea is to spend as little time as possible on the team once you have it going, but do take a moment to glance over the content on occasion to make sure no one is getting lazy or complacent. The quality needs to stay at consistent standards.
That’s all you need to know to get your own content team running. Everything we’ve told you is exactly what worked for us and our team. Good luck getting your own off the ground. Trust us, by the time you’re done, you’ll be wondering why you ever bought content from anyone else.
Liked this post? Then you will love last weeks Sinful Guide to User Generated Content.