How to Hire a Content Writer (So Your Readers Never Know!)

Curious about how to hire a ghostwriter? Many times when I tell someone that I’m a ghostwriter and write blogs for other people’s small businesses, their initial reaction is, “You can do that?” I actually had a fellow small business owner tell me that outsourcing her blogging and other content creation felt like cheating…

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What is a content (or ghost) writer?

A ghostwriter is someone who writes representing either a brand or individual. They are referred to as ghosts because they often don’t receive a byline or writer’s credit. They adopt the tone and style of the client and attempt to keep authentic and consistent.

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Who uses content writers?

This is an industry secret, that people may not want you to know, but many of the Internet’s biggest names outsource at least some of their content. Neil Patel does it. Many other big names in my industry do it — whether they post it under their own name or not.

And, my clients, who run 6 and 7-figure online businesses, do it (I’d tell you who some of them are, but then I’d have to kill you — because it’s their decision whether or not to reveal that info, not mine).

In other words, outsourcing some or all of your content production, especially as you grow, is a common industry practice.

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How can you become a content writer?

To get started, ask around with friends and family who have businesses or personal brands. There’s almost always a writing project they’ve put off due to lack of time and would happily turn over to someone else. It’s a good way to get your feet wet and built a portfolio of writing samples.

Once you have a little experience under your belt, get your website up (make sure you have permission to share the writing you did before you post examples though!) While it’s not 100% necessary, it’s a good place to showcase your writing skills and presents you as a professional.

You might also consider specializing. While it sounds like you’d get less business than a generalist, the reverse in nearly always true. Specialists quickly become sought after experts in their field and frequently get both more clients and higher prices.

What types of things can a content writer write?

There as many different kinds of ghost and content writers as there are industries and that need content written. Some ghostwriters generalize and will write any kind of content a client needs. Many writers start out like this. However, most ghostwriters tend to specialize in one or a few kinds of copywriting.

For some, it can require special education or technical knowledge (think medical or high-tech). For others, they found an industry they enjoyed and just kept working in it until they became an expert.

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A copywriter writes anything a business could need. However, commonly that includes:

  • website copy
  • sales page copy
  • email autoresponder sequences
  • blog posts
  • guest blog posts (posts that go on other people’s sites)
  • social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
  • ad copy
  • ebooks, lead magnets, and whitepapers
  • course materials
  • scripts for videos, webinars, presentations, etc.
  • full-length books (digital or print)
  • press releases
  • conversion optimization (testing and tweaking your text to convert better)

The point is, there are as many specialty copywriters as there are kinds of copy, and that’s because it takes different skills to be really good at each.  Someone who writes killer long-form blog posts and articles may have trouble writing short, compelling Facebook ads or tweets — and vice versa.

How to find a good ghost or copywriter

The first thing to remember is that I believe it is a copywriter’s job to sound like you (or, like you dialed up to 11). If they can’t do that job, it doesn’t matter how nice they are, how cheap they are, or how much you like their style — they’re not a good fit.

The last thing you want is to work with a writer who creates a bunch of copy for you in their own voice and then (for whatever reasons) disappears and isn’t available the next time you need something!

When that happens, you end up with a very disjointed voice and brand, because you can’t mimic what they were writing for you on your own.

I’ve seen this happen where someone hires a copywriter to write their website copy — but then their blogs are obviously a completely different style or voice.  And this isn’t just what happens with small businesses or small copywriters, either; I have seen extremely well known (and friggin expensive) copywriters who write everything in their own voice; and their clients end up sounding like everyone else who has hired them!

8 Tips for finding a good ghostwriter

  • Create a Brand Voice Guide:
    Start by creating a brand voice style guide for your business. I’ve created a template you can snag by clicking right here, but basically it should include things like: acceptable variations of your business name and tagline(s), a description of your tone, words you love to use, words you NEVER use, etc.Ask some biz buddies to help you define your voice if you’re not totally sure.  Ask them how they would describe your tone of voice for your brand.
  • Refine Your Brand Voice to Fit Your Customers
    Identify what you like — and DON’T like — about your writing voice. Some clients come to me and feel like they sound too corporate for their niche; so they don’t necessarily want me to sound just like they do, but rather as they would like to sound. Just be wary of this; if you change your entire brand voice by working with a copywriter, you may be stuck always working with a copywriter from here on out.Think about your ideal customer when you’re trying to define your voice. Would they relate more to friendly, conversational language, or businessy-corporate language?
  • Shop around to find a good copywriter.
    If you love the way their website is written, and it sounds similar to your tone, that’s a good place to start, but ask for examples (called “clips” in the writing world) that show off how they can take on different voices. Pro tip: If all of their examples sound pretty much the same, move on. You want someone who can sound different in different situations. And by the way, there are copywriters charging $10,000 or more for website copy that all sounds the same, to me, so this isn’t a matter of cost or experience, but the writer’s style and ability.
  • Ask what processes they use to work with clients.
    Do they offer a process for helping find or define your brand voice? If you are uncertain about how to define it yourself, this could be a good investment.Ask about the writer’s process. How do they get to know your business and your voice?  Do they interview you or have you fill out some kind of intake form?  It would be a BIG red flag for me if they just dive in without knowing much about you or your biz.
  • Do a test or trial project.
    Ask if you can do a “test” before you jump into a big project — or at least understand when/how/if you can back out of the contract. It’s a big leap of faith to sign on with a writer, especially for a long-term project.  So I always offer a “test” post to my ghostwriting clients.We do the intake interview, and then craft one post for them; if the client is happy, it rolls into their first month’s fee; if they’re not happy, we just charge for the hours spent and go on our merry way.Pro tip: Don’t expect to get a “test” for free — the point is not to get freebies, but to make sure you’re a good fit before you sign a contract.

In short, you want to make sure your copywriter is a good fit before you fork over a huge bunch of cash for a big project. But you also need to do your own due diligence as well.  Take the time to create a voice style guide, and I promise you, whoever you hire will be thrilled to work with you.

How much does hiring a ghostwriter cost?

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to copywriting. I assume you know that you could go over to Fiverr and pay someone five bucks to write you 1,000 tweets or something—but I assume you also know that the quality of what you get for $5 is going to be marginal, at best.

Think of it this way: you can buy a pair of pants at Wal-Mart or at Nordstrom and pay very different prices. But the quality you get will be just as different.

6 Tips on Understanding Content Writing Pricing

Here’s what you need to know about content writing pricing:

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  • Find out if you’re paying by the word or per project.
    Copywriters may price themselves differently depending on what they do and what their background is. Journalists are used to getting paid by the word (expect $0.25—$1.00 per word) whereas people from other backgrounds might charge by the hour (expect anywhere from $30/hr—$150/hr and up).  Lots of writers are moving towards package rates, which is usually better for everyone involved; just know exactly what you get in the package, including how many rounds of revisions it includes.
  • The more flexible you can be, the better it is for your budget.
    A lot of different factors go into their prices, from experience to availability. (If they can only take two projects a month, they’re going to have to charge more.) Also, if you’re getting more than just writing — like strategy, branding advice, etc. — expect to pay more.
  • Editing vs writing.
    Editing is usually less expensive than writing, so if you just need someone to help you polish, this is a budget-friendly way to go.
  • Outsourcing writing to a VA.
    A good VA can write tweets and Facebook updates from your blog posts or other content. Expect to pay $20/hr and up for a qualified VA. (Pro tip: A VA from overseas, like the Philippines, might be awesome for other tasks, but I wouldn’t ask them to write for you.)
  • The more important the copy, the more you’ll pay.
    Prices for blog posts really vary. There are services out there that charge as little as $89 for 4 posts per month. Personally, I would never pay less than $100 a post for a short post.Generally speaking, the longer the content, the more you will pay.  A 2,000-word blog post with tons of research will cost you more than a quick 500-word blog post. Kapost suggests budgeting at least $2,000 for a long-form article or blog post.Likewise, the more important the copy, the more you will pay. Sales copy is more important to your business — and hopefully has a higher ROI — and therefore tends to cost more.
  • Ask for a volume discount.
    If you sign a contract or agree to a large project of some sort, you can usually expect some kind of package discount. It’s perfectly fine to say something like, “I see that you normally charge $150 per blog post; what can you do for me if I agree to getting four posts a month for the next six months?”

Conclusion

Finally, remember that content is an investment in your business just like any other investment. If you cheap out on content creation, it’s just as bad for biz as cheaping out on the source materials you use to create your product, or the equipment you use to run your business.

That said, it’s perfectly fine to start slowly! Identify what tasks will free up the most time for you, and then run some numbers to see if it makes sense for you to outsource those particular tasks. Maybe you love tweeting but hate the hours it takes you to write a blog post — or vice versa.

A potential client came to me recently wanting to outsource some of her blog asks, and after I gave her my estimate, she said she wanted to run the numbers. She emailed me just a couple of hours later and said, “You know what? If this frees me up to work with even one more 1:1 client each week, it’s worth it. Let’s do it.”

And that’s REALLY what it comes down to: Will outsourcing some of your content creation free you up to work on the things that only you can do in your business, most specifically, those things that make you money?

If so, I believe it’s worth your time to find a writer who can put on your voice and create some content that sounds just like you.

lucy

Lacy Boggs is an innovative wordsmith helping small business owners connect with content marketing strategy. Author of “Make a Killing With Content,” and director of The Content Direction Agency. She helps small businesses and solopreneurs teach them how to drive their own content marketing with strategies and frameworks that make content easier and more effective to produce.