In my time working with content marketing and text-based media groups, I’ve done a lot of article writing—and a lot of offshoring.
So I know firsthand that offshoring for writing is very different from offshoring other types of work. You really need someone with a combination of English fluency, organized thinking, and work ethic, as well as a certain level of knowledge on your subject matter. That kind of talent can be tricky to find.
What type of content are you looking for?
Usually, when people talk about outsourcing content writing, they’re talking about getting articles written for SEO purposes. But there’s also ghostwriting and sales copywriting—and all of these can overlap. Here’s where pricing comes in:
Sales writing or sales pages, which can heavily impact your business’s conversions and your bottom line, shouldn’t be outsourced to just anyone. For that type of writing, you’ll need a real expert in the field. You should expect to pay top dollar for that kind of work, because it’s the kind of work that’s ultimately going to convert sales for you.
For** ghostwriting,** you can often get a lower rate. There are some amazing writers out there just trying to make some money on the side while working on their book or other passion project. And if you’re trying to do thought leadership within your industry, there are a few agencies that focus on this, too. But honestly, for the best pricing—especially for personal branding purposes—it’s a good idea to look at individual contractors.
Article/content/SEO writing represents the bottom shelf in terms of pricing. “SEO writing” in particular—a term I don’t like to use—generally indicates the lowest pricing for work that is easily readable and able to generate clicks.
Why is it so hard to find the perfect outsourced content writer?
The skills that make a good content writer are many and varied. They’re the same skills that make a good project manager or a good programmer. You need clear, organized thought processes. You need discipline in work ethic and in scheduling. You need somebody craft-oriented. And finally, you need someone who can understand the psychology of the reader—especially for the purpose of making sales.
Sure, anyone can write, but not everyone can write effectively. On the flip side, people in unrelated fields can sometimes be some of the best writers you’ll ever work with. I’ve found that really good writers quickly figure out that they can use writing as a value-add to some other skill and use that to make a higher salary. They often end up becoming marketing directors or getting into programming (a lot of good programmers actually have English degrees). Or, like me, they become product/project managers.
If you want a diamond in the rough, you have to keep an open mind. It’s not just a writer’s location, but their field of study which may surprise you.
Places to Look for Content Writers
Unlike design or programming, content writing is hard to outsource effectively, because it’s so English language-dependent. As you go farther from the US and into lower-cost areas, it’s going to be harder to find quality writing skills.
Start by considering domestic outsourcing (i.e., going outside of your state, but staying within the country). If you’re still seeking to go outside the US, don’t worry—I’ll list plenty of offshore locations as well.
Inside the US
College towns: Charlottesville, Boulder, etc. Look for a big college wherever you go, because universities tend to churn out capable writers—even if they aren’t English majors. Many of them will be seeking to build quick experience or just establish a side hustle. Journalism in particular is declining as a career, so you may have luck seeking journalism graduates for high-quality content writing.
“Second-tier” cities like Richmond, Albuquerque, or Eugene. Rather than worrying about East Coast versus West Coast, consider your time zone to avoid obstacles related to communication. Also, if you can find people outside of major metropolitan areas, that can be a big help. This is especially true if you’re looking to bring on somebody full-time (as opposed to a short-term contract or a per-project basis). For example, Bakersfield is by no means small—but its cost of living is lower, which means you’ll be able to pay a lower rate.
Outside the US
North UK is an underappreciated gem (they did invent English, after all). A good friend of mine runs a copywriting agency where he works primarily with writers based in Northern England. The salaries are already low compared to the US, but once you go outside of London, they become even lower by a large margin. A lot of folks are looking for side work here, too.
New Zealand, especially (but not exclusively) for Australian companies, is a very popular destination for content offshoring. You can find good work here within the range of 2–10 cents per word, and value doesn’t decline much as you approach the low end. Of course, you’ll still need to watch your pipeline and make sure you have a strong process in place (that includes things like quality assurance or copyediting).
Eastern Europe is a strong pick for subject matter expertise or otherwise niche content. A doctor or lawyer, even if their English isn’t perfect, will be able to speak the jargon correctly. And in fact, in places like Romania or Bulgaria, the English is so good that it doesn’t always require a separate step for copywriting. You’re essentially getting the expert and the writer all in one, as opposed to hiring two separate parties and paying onshore rates to each of them.
It’s one thing to look at where people are geographically, but you also have to consider what career stage they’re in.
Digital nomads: You can find US-born writers living anywhere from Costa Rica to Chiang Mai and pay them extremely affordable rates for high-quality, English content. Just remember to vet their character, too, when you’re appraising their skill. Digital nomads can be less reliable, because their primary interest is in the nomadic lifestyle. (To give you an idea of what to expect, a writer with whom I’ve been working recently notified me that he would be a couple of days late on a deadline—because his desk chair fell apart. I guess you can’t have everything.)
Recent grads: If you go to the English department at a large state school, you can often find an administrator whose job is to find jobs for English majors. As an English major, myself, I can tell you that is no small challenge. If you tell them you have an intern show or job opportunity related to content writing, they can disseminate that information to a network of skilled graduates who are eager to get to work. If they’re still students, though, keep in mind that they’ll have to prioritize their grades over your project at the end of the day.
Teachers: Thinking outside of the box, you want to find people who have access to the knowledge you’re trying to share. That usually takes the form of a subject matter expert plus an editor putting their heads together to generate your content.
Users: If you have existing traffic to your website, you can often create compelling data by triggering your users to input user generated content. You can also consider a C2B model, such as paying them directly for content or responding to quizzes and prompts.
Popular Locations You Should Avoid
These are some freelancing hotspots that have become popular over the last two or three decades. For various reasons, they don’t work for content writing.
Philippines: Even though the Philippines is known for their strong English, you’ll be dealing with a communication barrier because of the time zone and cultural disparity between you. Also, writing English content for a US-based audience often involves a little reading between the lines, which is best left to a native speaker.
India: Not only will you be dealing with an extremely distant time zone, but you’ll likely struggle to find fluent, conversational, written English here. Studies show “Americanized” English is on the rise, but in my opinion, it’s still a challenge to work with locations that aren’t English-first.
Pakistan: Sure, you can find a good writer here. And because you’re dealing with the written word, they may even be indistinguishable from somebody based in the US. But they’re rare and difficult to find, because as soon as a truly competent writer enters into the online market, they’re able to bring their price up substantially. Again, when it comes to content writing, skill overshadows location.
US megacities: Places like Los Angeles and New York simply have too high a cost of living to allow for much leeway in terms of pricing. The US is a great place to sell content writing services that have been outsourced elsewhere, but it’s not a good place to purchase the labor itself. No, reliable talent is not hard to find here—affordable talent is.
What kind of contracts should I be looking at?
Intellectual property is of serious significance. Wherever you go, ensure that your contract clearly defines copyright ownership. Be wary of any contract stating that the copyright transfer can only occur at the very end of a project (in other words, the copyright to all work is withheld from you until all work is completed). The last thing you want, after successfully locating a good content writer, is for them to abandon the project and demand usage fees for any material you use.
Long-term relationships are the most fruitful, and it’s good to find copywriters you can work with repeatedly. Of course, these can often begin as short-term gigs. To find one, consider using a service like Upwork. Similar platforms tend to have a blanket clause stating that the client will own all intellectual property as soon as it’s been transacted.They also handle payments and escrow, tax compliance, etc. So, all-in-all, it’s a lot less to worry about than taking it all on yourself.
Of course, you want to get away from their fees as soon as possible—but frankly, for the peace of mind they offer, the fees are not that high for clients. Actually, it’s the freelancer who’s getting the raw side of the deal in these scenarios.
When looking at college graduates, there’s one major you ought to avoid: creative writing. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the skills taught in creative writing curricula don’t transfer very cleanly to the web.
Writing for the web or for clarity might come easily to English majors in general, but the best talent can often be found in history, sociology, or psychology (especially for sales writing), women’s studies, or other majors that emphasize thesis-building and structural writing.
For copywriting and copyediting, people trained in rhetoric will have the most command over their written voice in a way that is both clear and persuasive. Law school students are the best example of this and are the gold-standard for thesis editing, although they generally aren’t available for freelance work.
Cleaning Up Outsourced Content
Ultimately, even the best content writer can only achieve 90 or 95 percent “perfection”, because only you (the client) know exactly what you want in a piece of content. Don’t be discouraged when the content you’ve outsourced comes back requiring a little fine tuning. Instead, prepare yourself by having all the necessary steps in place for taking content from ideation to production.
Before you start, have a process in place with defined roles for each contributor, especially at the high scale. Think of it as an assembly line. With SEO in particular, people tend to think in simple terms: “I’ll buy 200 articles in bulk for my website, and somehow, they’ll all sound like I wrote them myself!” But writers can’t magically understand everything there is to know about, say, accounting, nor can they be reasonably expected to produce world-class instructional guides about the finer points of accounting. You need an accountant for that, and accountants generally aren’t writers. It will serve you best to have a cross-functional team that allows for different roles.
In line with the above, make room for a subject matter expert. What—or who—is the source of knowledge being disseminated through the writing? Often, clients release writers to the wolves to google things on the fly and incorporate whatever source they stumble upon first. Have a phone interview with your subject matter expert and record it for your writer; they can more easily repackage that material into readable, web-ready content.
Finally, especially when working with offshore talent, you can’t skimp on the editing. It’s important to have one good copy editor. And for max efficacy, let two or three content writers get to work producing a lot of good, bulk writing to pass to the editor. Content farms or content marketing agencies will generally have their own homespun software for assembling content—all the way through from frontline researcher to copywriter to copy editor to final editor. As a small-scale, independent operator, you should attempt to replicate this process as closely as possible.