Grab a partner, pick a song, and tap out the tune on the table – then ask them to guess the song.
Invariably, they won’t be able to, though to you it will seem obvious. So obvious!
The reason is, you are the only one hearing the song in your head. And so it is when you go to hire a freelance B2B writer.
Editors and marketers are forever tapping out tunes that are obvious to them, but indecipherable to the freelance writer they’re working with.
The good news is overcoming the communication barrier is mostly a question of process. Those armed with a strong process for selection gain a right-hand content person who offers new ideas, saves time, and multiplies their effort.
Alternatively, B2B writers can learn to be more sensitive to the tapping rhythms of B2B marketing work and, most importantly, learn to ask direct questions about that work to be more successful.
Here are three foundational steps in hiring a B2B writer that can help both marketers and B2B writers build stronger connections:
1. Don’t just hire a writer, teach them to “yearn for the sea”
The graveyard of failed efforts to hire a freelance B2B writer is littered with unclear expectations. And the hospital intake room that leads to that graveyard is a lack of leadership from the marketing manager about the big picture, grand vision, end result they’re pursuing.
Consider the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry quote that’s floating around the B2B marketing space:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
It’s the same for finding the right B2B writer. You can just post a notice and hire someone “who writes.” But you’ll get much better results from the writer and from the marketing you create together if you let them in on where you want to go.
Here’s what this looks like in practice:
A marketer might defer to the writer, thinking that the writer will know something magical about what it takes to produce good writing. Upon receiving the first draft, the marketer is surprised. Why doesn’t it live up to what they’d envisioned?
Alternatively, a marketer creates an itemized to-do list of what they want and hand it off to the freelancer, only to be disappointed when it comes back line-by-line what they asked for – because they were hoping the writer would transform the idea into something new.
The error? No one did the pre-work.
Good writing is discovered, not invented. It’s founded on true and compelling stories that writers draw out of the people in the business. It cannot simply be summoned into existence. And the marketer is the best source for those stories.
If you don’t already know the stories, can’t explain why people buy, or don’t know how you’ll measure the writing’s success, you don’t need to hire a freelance B2B writer right now. You need to sit down and figure out the answers to those questions. Here’s a list you can start with:
- What are our buyer segments?
- Why do each buy?
- What do I hope this writing achieves?
- How does this fit in with our other marketing efforts?
- What have we already tried?
- What are examples of good content?
- How will we measure success?
If you’ve already hired a writer, use these questions during your kickoff call to clearly define what you want and set the writer up to be aligned with your expectations.
A note to B2B Writers:
Few marketers will kick off a new project by sharing the answers to these questions with you, so it will often be your responsibility to ask. Take that step! This is the strategy side of B2B writing that will make you the most valuable and helpful writer they’ve ever worked with, and you can command very competitive rates as a result of that value.
If you aren’t sure what to do with the information, ask anyway.
First, you’ll learn more as you go and draw logical conclusions about the information. For example, if you learn the buyer segments are in the C-suite versus middle managers, that tells you something about how much time they have available to read the content you’re making and the formats that might resonate most.
Second, a lot of these questions are meant to help the marketing manager think through their answers and their strategy. You aren’t always there to have the answer, you’re there to facilitate and provide a sounding board for the thinking.
2. Be picky about format and domain expertise
Writing is not writing is not writing. Writers take all kinds of different forms: are screenwriters, novelists, poets, essayists, columnists, journalists, satirists, lyricists, and the list goes on ad infinitum. And not all are suited to write in the B2B marketing space.
For example, If I run a Fintech startup and I pick a writer whose mind is filled primarily with pop culture references, I am bound to be disappointed in their understanding of FINRA.
When you hire a freelance B2B writer, know that you aren’t just buying words on a page. You’re buying into their store of domain expertise—every book and article they’ve ever read, every executive they’ve ever interviewed, every report they’ve ever written.
You can (and should) hire not just for natural writing talent (which is important), but for specialty (case studies, white papers, thought leadership articles, or a combination of these and more) or vertical (healthcare, digital marketing, biopharma, etc.)
Here’s an incomplete overview of the kinds of writers you can connect with in the B2B marketing space captured by the upscale content marketing company Fenwick– writers that will understand your product, market, and bring their own insights, connections, and angles to the content you develop:
Source: Fenwick’s The Great Big B2B Writing Opportunity
A lack of domain expertise is the primary reason relationships with freelance writers do not work out. This isn’t to say someone can’t learn a new vertical. But if you’re consistently hiring freelance B2B writers who’ve spent years learning about topics that don’t relate to your business, they’ll need a reasonable ramp-up period and plenty of guidance to create the content you need.
A Note for B2B Writers:
Spend any amount of time in the B2B writing space and you’ll eventually hear the phrase, “The riches are in the niches.” This is true. While you shouldn’t rush to niche and cut off sources of income early in your career, you should accept every new project format in every new industry with a question in mind: “Could this be my specialty?” And over the years, you should answer that question.
Here’s the metaphysical math behind why almost all of the top earning B2B writers have niched:
If you haven’t specialized in a niche, a B2B marketer is more or less paying you for the present – the hour or two or four it takes you to organize these concepts into a format like a white paper, blog article, or case study.
But if you bring years of experience into the equation, you’re packing those years of value into the piece and you can very justifiably charge more for it. When you become known as the “the B2B writer” or “the Fintech writer,” you give people a reason to seek you out. You end up growing your business naturally through word of mouth.
3. Assess writing expertise with a paid trial project
Writing expertise – the skill, style, and talent that comes out in a piece of work – comes after domain expertise, but that doesn’t make it less important. Writing skills are somewhat founded in taste and are not easily taught. You want someone who has deep domain expertise and composes clear and precise prose– not someone who’s articles are smart but garbled, and who you desperately hope improves.
Click here to see examples of how writers at Fenwick improved their writing over time.
But there’s zero correlation between having a degree in literature and writing well. The only way you can tell if a writer’s writing is any good is paying them for a test article and seeing how the first draft turns out, as well what the process of working with them is like.
Here are some customizable parameters for your test article:
- Give them a real situation. What’s a likely topic, scenario, or project you’re going to want them to work on?
- Pay them for it. You expect to be paid when you try new things at work, too, right?
- Know what you want. Set a time frame, word count, and goal – be as clear with your expectations as possible so they can see that you’ll be a good client to work with.
- Ask them to walk you through the first draft. This is an uncommon yet critical step in the process that tells you most of what you need to know–I’ve hired writers who had a poor test article but a brilliant reason for it, and it made all the difference in moving forward to having a valuable relationship.
If in the end, if you’d use the article, would work with them again, or see potential in how they think about your product or service, you’ve got a fit.
A Note for B2B Writers:
When you’re looking for new clients to work with, you have to make a decision about who you are: are you a writer monkey, desperate for the chance to write about anything, for anyone, at any time? Or are you a talented writer looking to apply your skills to projects, people, and products you believe in?
How you approach new work tells people which of those things you are. It’s entirely up to you. Come into the relationship with a clear idea of what you write and for who, and offer to do a paid trial project so that both the marketer and the writer can assess if it’s a good fit.
That’s the secret to leveling up, being more strategic, and working with better people – being willing to walk away and find something new.
Let Your Marketing Reflect What You Do – And Who You Are
Staying agile in B2B marketing is about responding to what the market demands. But both B2C and B2B consumers are increasingly overwhelmed by an explosion of online marketing content and have adapted their digital standards accordingly – new B2B buyer enter the space with higher expectations every day, and your marketing must meet them.
Successful content marketing reflects not just what your business does, but who you and your team members are. Which means when you hire a freelance B2B writer, you’re treating them fairly, providing payment and feedback in an equally timely and generous fashion, and giving them everything they need to be successful within your marketing program.
Marketers who approach the freelance writer relationship in this way get better, more impactful writing for the long haul – which directly translates into the positive results and ROI of their content marketing.
Read more about how to hire a freelance B2B writer from these excellent resources:
- How to Find Writers and Help Them Deliver Successful Content by Chris Gillespie for Content Marketing Institute
- 7 Questions Marketers Should Be Asking When Hiring Freelancers by Molly Conicella for Skyword
- How to Hire a Writer by Tom Anderson for Managing Editor
- From Onboarding to Ousting: How to Manage Freelance Writers by Joe Griffin for MarketingProfs