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Need Content Freelancers? Try This Agency’s Model

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Need Content Freelancers? Try This Agency's Model

A few years ago, after a company layoff, I tried a career as a freelancer. Since my new path wasn’t completely by design, I called myself The Accidental Freelancer.

In the early days, most of the work was writing, and I had regular and one-off gigs. Since then, I established a marketing agency (Attention Retention LLC) and offer services around consulting, content marketing strategy, social media, and product marketing.

Though I’m focused on consulting and still write occasionally, I more often assign writing projects received through inbound requests or my consulting clients to freelancers. Though I’m the only full-time employee, my network of freelancers serves as the agency’s virtual team to satisfy client requests.

Like my freelancing career, I discovered this network by accident. It all started with a tweet:

A Twitter inquiry about hiring freelancers

An unexpected Twitter comment about hiring content freelancers.

After a guest appearance on the Rockstar CMO podcast, someone replied to a tweet promoting the episode: “Hey, are you by any chance hiring marketing professionals?”

I replied, “I’m looking for a freelance writer or two to help with blog posts on marketing-related topics.” Others replied to that with comments like:

  • “I’d love to send you a few samples for this position!”
  • “Hello, I would love to extend my interest in this. May I know if this requirement is still open?”
  • “I’m a content marketer with six years of freelance writing experience. Are you still looking for a freelancer? Would love to be considered!”

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I hadn’t anticipated so much interest. Truth be told, I didn’t have enough active client projects to distribute to the interested writers; but the opportunity seemed too valuable to overlook. Here’s what I did to create a solid network of freelance writers ready for assignments.

A tweet asking if he was hiring led @dshiao to create a network of #freelancers via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Give every writer a paid gig

I know what it’s like to earn a living from writing. It’s as hard as it seems – you’re not making money unless you’re writing, and all the while, you need to be pitching and hustling for your next assignment.

I didn’t want to ask people for their writing samples or lowball them on a “let’s get to know each other” project. Even though I didn’t know them, I took a leap of faith and hired them for a paid gig.

Every person who asked about a writing gig was given a paid assignment from @dshiao. All of which were good enough to appear on his agency website via @CMIContent. #freelance #writing Click To Tweet

I needed to decide what they would write and thought of two opportunities at my disposal – my agency’s newly launched blog and a Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup of which I was a co-organizer.

I gave a paid assignment to every writer who contacted me on Twitter: Craft a summary of a presentation chosen from the meetup’s playlist. Based on the length and subject of the recording, I gave a target word count, typically in the range of 800 to 1,200 words. 

Here was one of the outcomes from Nicole Pyles, who summarized the presentation by marketing executive David Rodnitzky and his new book, Unfair Marketing. It began:

“Online marketing used to be as easy as panning for gold during the California Gold Rush. You didn’t need to put in a whole lot of effort to earn a decent income. However, much like the gold rush, the competition heated up and made it harder to earn a living.”

Content freelancer test post example

An example of one freelancer’s paid test post.

The full-length article appeared on my agency blog. (If writers requested, I added a link to their websites or LinkedIn profiles.)

This first paid assignment was essential to helping me build a network of outsourced writing talent. Let’s explore the resulting benefits.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Assess freelance writers’ styles and strengths

All the recap submissions were copy-edited by me and published on the company blog. Editing the writers’ work helped me assess their abilities.

By “ability,” I don’t mean classifying them as an average writer or excellent writer. Instead, I got a feel for the types of assignments where each writer could excel. It was based on my clients’ industries, subject matter, and expectations. When a new writing request comes in from a client, I can pair it with a best-fit writer. These paid gigs were worth their weight in gold.

Don’t assess a #freelance writer as average or excellent. Get specific enough to know what type of assignments they’ll excel at, says @dshiao via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Develop an engaged network

Having a network of freelance writers is a win-win scenario: The writers win because the work I send them helps pay the bills. I win because I can fulfill more client requests and assignments. When the writers buy into the process, they’re engaged and are eager to take on more work – as you can see from this (paraphrased) email I received:

“Hi Dennis, I enjoyed working with you in the past. Just checking in to see if you have any new assignments coming up.”

Writers in an engaged network usually respond to new requests quickly and are incentivized to continue delivering quality work.

Always have a freelance team

I recommend having a go-to freelance network, whether you’re at an agency or in a full-time role at a company.

While I’m on the agency side now, I once was a director of content marketing at a B2B software company and didn’t have any direct reports. The network of freelancers I built then was essential to the completion of my projects. Even if you have a full-time team of writers and designers, keep some freelancers on standby in case of employee turnover, illness, or other unexpected events.

I also recommend adopting an always-be-looking mentality – like the always-be-recruiting mindset software engineer managers have, since they commonly face hiring challenges. From time to time, freelance writers in my network take on full-time roles and are no longer available for assignments. So I’m always looking to add to my network.

Take advantage of accidents

I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in my career. I have the independence of running my own business and the excitement of working across different clients and industries. I didn’t have a grand plan for getting here, but I’m thrilled with where I’ve landed.

I fell into freelancing by accident. Next, I discovered a network of freelance writers by accident. In other words: Accidents happen, make the most of them.

 Register to attend Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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MARKETING

The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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Being position-less secures a marketer’s position for a lifetime

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Optimove Positionless Marketer Optimove

On March 20, 2024, the Position-less Marketer was introduced on MarTech.org and my keynote address at Optimove’s user conference.

Since that initial announcement, we have introduced the term “Position-less Marketer” to hundreds of leading marketing executives and learned that readers and the audience interpreted it in several ways. This article will document a few of those interpretations and clarify what “position-less” means regarding marketing prowess.

As a reminder, data analytics and AI, integrated marketing platforms, automation and more make the Position-less Marketer possible. Plus, new generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Canna-GPT, Github, Copilot and DALL-E offer human access to powerful new capabilities that generate computer code, images, songs and videos, respectively, with human guidance.

Position-less Marketer does not mean a marketer without a role; quite the opposite

Speaking with a senior-level marketer at a global retailer, their first interpretation may be a marketer without a role/position. This was a first-glance definition from more than 60% of the marketers who first heard the term. But on hearing the story and relating it to “be position-less” in other professions, including music and sports, most understood it as a multidimensional marketer — or, as we noted, realizing your multipotentiality. 

One executive said, phrasing position-less in a way that clarified it for me was “unlocking your multidimensionality.” She said, “I like this phrase immensely.” In reality, the word we used was “multipotentiality,” and the fact that she landed on multidimensionality is correct. As we noted, you can do more than one thing.

The other 40% of marketing executives did think of the “Position-less Marketer” as a marketing professional who is not confined or defined by traditional marketing roles or boundaries. In that sense, they are not focused only on branding or digital marketing; instead, they are versatile and agile enough to adjust to the new conditions created by the tools that new technology has to offer. As a result, the Position-less Marketer should be comfortable working across channels, platforms and strategies, integrating different approaches to achieve marketing goals effectively.

Navigating the spectrum: Balancing specialization and Position-less Marketing

Some of the most in-depth feedback came from data analytic experts from consulting firms and Chief Marketing Officers who took a more holistic view.

Most discussions of the “Position-less Marketer” concept began with a nuanced perspective on the dichotomy between entrepreneurial companies and large enterprises.

They noted that entrepreneurial companies are agile and innovative, but lack scalability and efficiency. Conversely, large enterprises excel at execution but struggle with innovation due to rigid processes.

Drawing parallels, many related this to marketing functionality, with specialists excelling in their domain, but needing a more holistic perspective and Position-less Marketers having a broader understanding but needing deep expertise.

Some argued that neither extreme is ideal and emphasized the importance of balancing specialization and generalization based on the company’s growth stage and competitive landscape.

They highlight the need for leaders to protect processes while fostering innovation, citing Steve Jobs’ approach of creating separate teams to drive innovation within Apple. They stress the significance of breaking down silos and encouraging collaboration across functions, even if it means challenging existing paradigms.

Ultimately, these experts recommended adopting a Position-less Marketing approach as a competitive advantage in today’s landscape, where tight specialization is common. They suggest that by connecting dots across different functions, companies can offer unique value to customers. However, they caution against viewing generalization as an absolute solution, emphasizing the importance of context and competitive positioning.

These marketing leaders advocate for a balanced marketing approach that leverages specialization and generalization to drive innovation and competitive advantage while acknowledging the need to adapt strategies based on industry dynamics and competitive positioning.

Be position-less, but not too position-less — realize your multipotentiality

This supports what was noted in the March 20th article: to be position-less, but not too position-less. When we realize our multipotentiality and multidimensionality, we excel as humans. AI becomes an augmentation.

But just because you can individually execute on all cylinders in marketing and perform data analytics, writing, graphics and more from your desktop does not mean you should.

Learn when being position-less is best for the organization and when it isn’t. Just because you can write copy with ChatGPT does not mean you will write with the same skill and finesse as a professional copywriter. So be position-less, but not too position-less.

Position-less vs. being pigeonholed

At the same time, if you are a manager, do not pigeonhole people. Let them spread their wings using today’s latest AI tools for human augmentation.

For managers, finding the right balance between guiding marketing pros to be position-less and, at other times, holding their position as specialists and bringing in specialists from different marketing disciplines will take a lot of work. We are at the beginning of this new era. However, working toward the right balance is a step forward in a new world where humans and AI work hand-in-hand to optimize marketing teams.

We are at a pivot point for the marketing profession. Those who can be position-less and managers who can optimize teams with flawless position-less execution will secure their position for a lifetime.

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