I’m sorry you have to hear it like this, when you already have so many mouths to feed: your developers, your designers, your account managers, your accountants, but…how do I put this? You have to pay your freelance content writers.

They don’t work for compliments and warm fuzzy feelings. They work for cold, hard cash. Often for both. But always for profit. They use it for things like paying for food, rent and health insurance. The greedy bastards!

The reason I say this is because people are uniquely predisposed to believe that like cheese, writers are cheap and widely available. But as anyone who truly appreciates cheese can tell you, great cheese is inimitable. It requires time, skill and a pair of savvy hands. The rest is Velveeta.

Velveeta is so far from cheese that Kraft is legally obligated to call it “pasteurized cheese product.”

Even as our collective understanding of content and audience building matures, these are the kinds of emails I still get around freelance work:

We don’t have a budget to pay for content right now. Can you do a post for free?

I’m really not haggling here. It’s just that we’re limited by budget.

Or the more brazen:

At the moment we cannot pay freelance content writers due to our budget being invested in our rebrand.
The sob stories really come out of the woodwork when we give them our rates: “Pity us, we’re just a simple for-profit venture! Our branding agency took what we had left!”

These clients then theatrically dig around in their pockets and smugly present us with whatever spare change and lint they’ve found.

“Why the hell should I pay for it?”

“Anyone can write,” you’re thinking. “I’m just paying you to do it because I don’t have time to do it myself.”

At least that’s what lots of would-be clients are thinking when they offer me something like $70 (“market rate”) to write for their boutique management consulting businesses, B2B engagement platforms, and so on.

But here’s the thing: If your audience is made up of a bunch of highly educated suits with the power to hire a management consultancy, we are not dealing with dummies here. We’re dealing with the kind of people who are smart, busy and sophisticated enough to see through cheapskate blogs.

With a budget like that, you could hire a small army of really average mercenaries. But what sort of meaningful engagement could you possibly expect them to cultivate with a COO?

At $70, here’s what I won’t answer for you:

Who is your audience? Who am I writing to? What do they do? Where do they live? What are their goals? What pains them? What inspires them? What do they want to learn? Why should they care?

How do I engage them? Where do potential leads hang out online? What kind of language and jargon do they use? Who do they follow? What kind of content do they tend to share? Who should I link to? Who should I not link to? (Freelancers often link to competitors without checking.)

What does your company do? I need to know your company and its services just as well as anyone else at the company. As a writer, I communicate with more prospects than your sales execs ever will. I have to know enough about the space to be credible and authentic.

What is the story only you can tell? What will make them come back to you, not somebody else? How do I build a memorable message that only you are uniquely positioned to send?

How do I make this worth clicking? What’s the purpose of the copy? What sort of call to action should it tie into? What combination of headline, lede and header image would get the most clicks and reads?

You want high quality, original work? That’s what it looks like.

By now, I hope it’s caught on that much of my job as a writer is not about writing at all.

My real job is to develop useful, usable content for your audience.

My real job is to make you a source of knowledge and trust so they come back to you and buy your stuff.

My real job is to develop a level of discourse that will attract and build an active audience.

My real job is to tell your story, humanize your brand and establish you as an authority in your field.

I write to build relationships with your current and future customers. Words don’t just magically flow from my fingers into a Google doc — and if they did, they would probably be BS. 🙂

Go big or go home

If you’re not in pursuit of the best possible content for your audience, you’re just facilitating another lousy monologue on the internet.

I’ll leave it to Moz CEO Rand Fishkin to add some context to how genuinely dangerous middle of the pack content is:

“If you can’t consistently say, ‘We’re the best result that a searcher could find in the search results, well then, guess what? You’re not going to have an opportunity to rank.

Rand recommends pursuing 10x content. That is, if you can’t develop content that is 10x better than anything else out there, don’t bother.

By the way, simply being found is the least of your worries.

The bar is set higher than ever. The content you produce needs to persuade your audience to hand over their email addresses. Then it needs to lead them on a path compelling enough that they evaluate, consider and eventually choose you.

Great content writers are masters of the written word, storytelling and consumer psychology. They have a rhetorical toolbox that helps them make a killer first impression, start conversations and nurture leads to conversion.

They are capable of unlocking an entirely new level of excitement around you and your product that you may not yourself see. They can run circles around advertising, which consumers aren’t really paying attention to anymore.

They are singularly creative people who — given proper time and money — can build the slow-burning persuasion machine that will carry your business over time.

Content needs quality people and quality ingredients.

 

Surprisingly, most businesses are not working with that kind of writer. They’re opting instead to save a few bucks and wondering where their ROI is.

The problem is, poor writers do not know what words are capable of. They struggle to find something valuable to say, let alone say it well. They make no impression. (They don’t know how.) They create no emotional connection with their readers. They establish no urgency, and they don’t convince anyone to do anything.

Poor pay attracts poor writers — and poor writers only write to meet word counts. Their output, much like the brand you’re barely investing in, is pointless and forgettable.

I’m sorry, but there are no shortcuts to producing beautiful, authentic content. The earth is round, violets are blue, and great content costs real money.