How to Hire the Top 1% of writers

Brad Smith from Wordable explains how you can hire the best writers.

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Greg Heilers

Greg

Should be good. Okay. Hey, Brad. Thank you so much for coming on here. We crossed paths I believe it was in TTT

Brad Smith

Brad

I think so.

Greg Heilers

Greg

We crossed paths because uSERP is doing similar, yet different to what Jolly does except you guys have been doing it for years longer, right. And you have your hand in a lot of other stuff, your guiding hand, right, not just like dipped in.

Like you’re full force and all that stuff. So I’m really excited for you to come on today because we have been working with writers for over five years. I came up as a writer, and you have a lot of experience with writers. So I’m pretty confident I’m going to learn something from you today. 

And I’d also love just to kind of talk shop as we go, kind of writer management not 101, hopefully more like 301 at some point. So if you don’t mind, if you could introduce yourself a little and what you’re working on, that would be awesome.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah, definitely. Of course. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to talk about all this super nerdy stuff.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yes.

Brad Smith

Brad

We’re putting those people to sleep. But yes, my name is Brad Smith. My main business is Codeless. I think it’s been around now for like seven-ish years, something like that.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I applied to you guys, but you never responded to me.

Brad Smith

Brad

Oh, I’m sorry. Well we’ll get into this, but we get a lot of writers and we’re usually looking for something – and that’s – it’s good for us; it’s bad for writers because we make them jump through hoops and a lot of other things, and we’re usually looking for something very specific. So it’s not just like the – it’s a very specific style of writer we’re looking for, so I can get into more. Yeah.

Greg Heilers

Greg

That’s like –

Brad Smith

Brad

What’s that? Sorry?

Greg Heilers

Greg

No, no. I’m going to keep interrupting you all day.

Brad Smith

Brad

Oh, that’s all right. So Codeless has been around for like I said seven years. I think I’ve been self-employed for like 10, something like that. We started uSERP maybe a year and a half ago, two years ago, something like that, and it’s been going really well.

It’s been growing really fast. Basically, I learned all my mistakes trying to get Codeless off the ground, and so in two years uSERP has done what we were able to do under Codeless in like five or six basically because I had no idea what I was doing and I made all the mistakes. And then last year we acquired Wordable and just rebuilt it, and we’re getting to relaunch it soon.

So that’s exciting but also as you can imagine like a lot of work and a lot of time and all the fun things, so. Yeah. I’m doing a few things. Most of my stuff, all of our stuff is really, really tightly related so they all kind of work together.

Like we acquired Wordable because we were a customer and because we were actually like we do all this stuff manually already. uSERP is a natural extension of we’re creating the content for people. Then we need to help them distribute that content and promote it.

Otherwise, it doesn’t perform properly or correctly and then it like devalues the content work. So all these things are like really tightly aligned, and I think that’s how it helps slightly to manage everything.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah. This is fascinating to me because I always tell people we used to be a mid-tier content agency, that’s how I put it, at Jolly. We didn’t have the strategy. We had the execution, but we didn’t have what uSERP does, the promotion which is key.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah, yeah.

Greg Heilers

Greg

And forever we’re going to remain in that mid-tier because if you don’t promote your content, at least at that day and age, how was it ever going to get noticed unless that site already had organic traffic. So that makes a ton of sense.

I really want to focus on how you guys – but then your advice for other people – scaling and content teams, right. We vetted a thousand or so writers.

You I think have done multiples of that. So I’m curious for starters like what’s your go-to source or sources if you don’t mind sharing them? And have they been exhausted some of them, and do you come back to them or –

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah. We go back to them a lot. So I’ll give you like a little bit of context because I think where people get hung up is like we probably don’t do anything that different or special compared to what most people do.

We just do it like at an OCD level and like 10x of what everyone else is doing probably. And so the reason I say that is like we have the same bottleneck.

Finding good writers is always hard. And I can get into more detail in like again the type of writers, what we look for.

But the easiest solution to find more good writers is just to look at way more writers. And so people make the same mistake when they hire like for an internal role.

They’re like we need to hire a marketing person, so we’re going to drop a note in Slack, like in a Slack group and then we’re going to get like five responses and I’m going to try to like pick one of five.

Like that doesn’t work. If you’re going to really like airproof this thing and you’re going to like hire a lot of good writers, you need to look at like thousands and hire like 1 percent basically.

So I think that’s like the key is we use all the usual suspects. So we use ProBlogger job board. We use like all the writing job boards.

We also work with a lot of subject matter experts, especially for like bigger enterprise clients. And so in those cases we have to find like an actual economist who can write them.

So those types of people you’re not always going to find through those like writing job boards. Writing job boards are good for like a good cross-section of like pretty good writers on general topics.

So we also go into like verticals where, even take finance for instance, like what are all the sub-verticals of finance? You have like equities.

You have debt. You have economics. You have accounting. You have corporate finance. So even drilling down into those where it’s like, okay, our finance team is all right.

We’re good in like personal finance. We’re good in investments. But we’re light on accounting and corporate finance, so we really need to drill down into those areas.

So I don’t think what we do – and I’m happy to go into more sources and stuff, but we use probably the same sources that most people do. We test them a lot too.

So we say we spent this. Here’s the average quality. Here’s the number of people we got back. Did it look good? Yes or no? Next month when we do it again are we going to – how do we shift budget around a little bit?

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yes.

Brad Smith

Brad

And so again, I think our key or what we’ve been able to do well is just scale the recruiting process and then set up internal processes in a good way so that we just will constantly look and vet new people. And so we’ve probably had, I don’t know like 5,000 plus people submits –

Greg Heilers

Greg

I was one. I’m a rogue there somewhere.

Brad Smith

Brad

I’m going to go look for it now.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah.

Brad Smith

Brad

I’m going to go look for it and look at your samples –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well look, if I can –

Brad Smith

Brad

– and everything. Yes.

Greg Heilers

Greg

– interrupt. Something you said is very interesting to me because we just started doing that at Jolly.

I think what you’re doing, when you’re looking for these specialists, the kind you’re not necessarily going to find on ProBlogger, maybe they’ll stumble across it, are you doing 1:1 outreach then?

Are you having a team member sift through these potential places people within these verticals would be?

Brad Smith

Brad

We have. It sucks, to be honest. It’s like it’s super time-consuming. So we do that. Again, usually, we try to stick to what can we get the most yield from. Usually, that’s ads. So we start with ads.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Right.

Brad Smith

Brad

And we start with ads in a whatever, job board or vertical that may not be super writing-related, but it is catering to like, whatever, finance professionals or economics people or project managers.

So we’ll try to start there. Where we will do more 1:1 outreach type of stuff is when we’re looking for very specific people. 

So like this finance example, I gave you, if we are really light in corporate finance and we’re struggling to find a really good corporate finance person or people – because again you don’t probably need one, you need like two or three and test them and then you pick one from those – that’s when we’ll start to get a little more like personalized.

But we really try to set it up to scale. Otherwise, all the things we used down the recruiting funnel become really challenging if we just don’t have enough numbers. 

And so that’s where it’s – yeah. And the other problem here or the other pain point we can talk about is if we’re doing 1:1 outreach, usually what happens, usually what people do is like that means someone who’s more senior has to actually review all these people and that also screws up your process. 

And so that’s another reason why we do it in a different way, and we try to do more scalable approaches because we want to limit the amount of time our senior people are actually looking at published samples, that sort of thing. So I haven’t been involved in our recruiting process for years now. 

Our main editor is the one who’s reviewing published samples. 

But like every other piece of the process needs to be done by someone lower on the totem pole because that main editor has like more important things to do. I have more important things to do. 

So the mechanisms or whatever you use to actually find and vet people usually I also have like an internal resource cost and that has a huge bearing on things too.

Greg Heilers

Greg

So that’s how I wanted to say. I mean people listening might hear you say ads. Ads for writers? Like why would you spend money on that? At least for me, it was a question that came up. What helped me is thinking about in terms of CAC, right?

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Like we are all willing to spend money to get clients. You’re going to spend money on these – on HR. You’re going to spend money on your team members’ time.

It’s more efficient to spend money on an ad, develop a system where you can quickly and quite frankly ruthlessly cut out all the people who are never going to have a chance to deliver what you needed and only use your core team members’ time for writers who have a shot at being part of your team.

It makes a ton of sense to me.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah. Because I mean if you think about like the ProBlogger job board ad off the top of my head, it’s like, what, 150 for like a featured listing.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Something like that, yeah.

Brad Smith

Brad

That is so cheap.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah.

Brad Smith

Brad

Like that’s like three hours of one of our senior people’s time.

Greg Heilers

Greg

And then you get 75, 150.

Brad Smith

Brad

Exactly. A lot of them will be garbage. There will be a gem or two. You spent two to three hours of your team member’s time in budget to get that good writer. If you had them review and do custom outreach to dozens of what appear to be good writers, my goodness that would be, I don’t know, a couple days of –

Greg Heilers

Greg

For sure.

Brad Smith

Brad

It gives us a bunch of benefits too outside of that because, number one, it’s on-demand so I can do it whenever I want. I could throw up an ad today and tomorrow I’m going to have 100 new people to look at. So I can do it like in very –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Right.

Brad Smith

Brad

In an agency environment you need to move fast, right. You don’t have the luxury that like a SaaS company does and that we could just like slowly take our time and like vet everyone, and we’re like no, no, no, we need to like churn and burn.

Like we need to move because that’s – our clients are expecting us to like – deadlines and we can’t be delayed.

We also look for a couple of things. We try to build an internal buffer. So if our capacity – we do, I don’t know, we do like 300 articles plus a month right now. Our internal capacity, writing capacity is actually more than that. So we could probably handle 350 to 400.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Excellent.

Brad Smith

Brad

So we build in this buffer and then the buffer is what we’re managing internally. So if we see that buffer start to shrink because we’re taking on new clients or our existing clients are ramping up, that’s when we trigger to we need more people to find. 

And then by running ads and stuff we can kind of laser target it a little more and then keep running databases on all these people. 

So even if a writer isn’t a good fit for this one client we had in mind today, this just – I just had a sales call like two days ago. They were like we’re looking for this style of finance writer. I said no problem. 

I go into our database, I type in like some of the sites we’re looking for, and then boom I pull up five, ten different published samples that would be a better fit for this other client, and then I’m able to go back to those writers now and follow up with them. 

It’s an asset. It becomes an asset, a database of 5,000 plus writers that we’re constantly recruiting from, and we’re constantly adding to. It’s not like a oh my senior manager has a Google Doc somewhere but no one can remember what it’s called, and so we can’t find those 10 people that she was following up with and oh she left or she got sick so now I can’t get access to those people. 

Like it’s people in the marketing space I think need to work – I was an employee too – need to get better at like operations and processes and start thinking of things in this fashion because that’s usually what holds them back on the execution. It’s not a lack of ideas. 

There’s too many ideas. That’s the problem. It’s more about like just figuring out the system that works for you and where and where you’re not willing to kind of bend.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well, we’ll call this a master class for Greg at least, but managing the buffer I feel like that soundbite needs to get preserved because that’s a really cool concept.

Even I prepared questions for us connecting today, and I talked about we experience the pain points of bottlenecks, finding good writers. And you’ve flipped that to your bottleneck is when the buffer starts getting close. It’s not even a bottleneck.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah.

Greg Heilers

Greg

You’re definitely proactively preventing that bottleneck which I admire because we have struggled with that pain point and yet never thought to look at it that way.

We’re obviously hey we should get more writers. We should get ahead on writers but not that far where we’re like let’s define how far ahead we want to be.

Brad Smith

Brad

So usually the problems with finding good writers again is that they’re hard. We need certain types of writers, and so we do a lot of high volume stuff.

We want to test everyone and then hire them like part-time, full-time when we find the best people.

That’s a process. You know what I mean? That takes like weeks and months and there’s training involved. That being said, we’re not like a SaaS company. I don’t have like it’s all bootstrapped.

I don’t have a serious egg sitting in my bank account and that lets me hire someone full time and then train them and then try them out. We don’t have the time for that. We don’t have the resources for that.

Usually when people need to hire a good writer it’s already too late. So what that really means is you should have been looking for writers a month ago and you should have already vetted a few and trained them up because usually what happens is you hire – like you ultimately hire 1 percent.

So you look at 100 writers or whatever the numbers are. You look at 100 writers, 10 of those are going to be decent, like a decent fit for what you’re looking for right now. And what we’re looking for is a combination of subject matter expertise, topics, published samples and writing ability, cost, turnaround.

So if someone tells me they can only write one a week right now, I say that’s fine. It might be a little on the light side for us because we need someone who could write a little more.

Maybe they have other clients and stuff. That’s not a big deal. But we factor all of that stuff in. What’s your average turnaround for an article?

If a client or freelancer or contractor or employee’s average turnaround for an article is like a week or two, that’s probably not going to work for us because again we’re trying to manage like a lot of workload.

So we need to go deeper with writers. We can’t just like give five people one article each. So we kind of factor all of these things in. So you literally test 10 people. So we pay 10 people to write stuff for us, five are going to be garbage, and they’re going to get trashed.

Like we can’t use them for client projects. We’ve tried that too where it’s like oh maybe we’ll take like a future client article and have them like test on that. It doesn’t work because they’re going to be like – the majority are going to suck. And they’re not going to follow your –

Greg Heilers

Greg

This gets tapped into recreating budget, right? Like you’re spending money to save pain down the road. You want to pay these writers.

Let them do their best for you and realize their best isn’t even good enough to start training, so we can’t work together and definitely not good enough to show a client to your point. We used to do that too.

We used to be super-efficient, even at our little done-for-you service. We’re like let’s pick some opportunities with a deadline two days from now, and we’ll get these ones. That was insane.

Thankfully that is more than a year in the past and by the time this comes out more so. But I’m glad you learned that lesson. It took us a while to learn that lesson.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yes. And then your client is like how come these things are delayed, and it’s like oh because we had to rewrite it five times, the same article.

You know what I mean? So we have like very specific guidelines on this is exactly what we want to see from you people.

Again, you test 10, you hire like three of those people, and on the hire it’s like you train them, you slowly ramp them up so maybe in a month or two they’re ready to write for clients.

So I think again it goes back to starting a month or two before you think you need to start, look at like 10 times the number of people you think you need to look at, and then really kind of like aggressively ramp that up and test them to actually see if they’re going to be a good fit long term.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I’m curious about what you just said. You said maybe in a month or two they’re ready to write for clients. Are you providing them, obviously not full time but you’re providing them with multiple test projects then, not just the initial paid?

Brad Smith

Brad

Yes. So the initial test article project was just that. It’s like a one-off. From there we usually put them through like a training program. It’s almost like a probation period I guess if you want to think of it that way.

So we’ll maybe schedule them for like one a week to start. And we’ll say okay once a week you’re going to do –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Okay. A lighter load.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah, exactly. And then we’re going to have our editors oversee it and really work with you. But in the background our editors are like literally grading these people and rating them and saying like here’s where they’re good, here’s where they struggle. 

After about a month or two they usually tell us like, hey, cut these people for these reasons, reassign these people to different topics because they struggle with something that’s a little more technical, or whatever or these people are great, ramp them up, like give them more money. 

So we spend a lot more money on like the ads and recruiting, but we also control our costs more on the actual writing. So we know what writing levels are worth it to us from a cost perspective. 

So we ask for writer’s rates, but we also internally know like what’s going to work for us and what’s not going to work for us. So subject matter experts cost this, medium level writers cost this, entry level writers cost this. 

We can help people move, so if they want to make more, we can help them do that and get them to write better. 

But we know what that is and then we know conversely what our editing costs are on top of that. So if we hire a cheap writer and my editor spends an hour or two on their piece rewriting it, that’s not going to work. 

So doing the hard part of like figuring that stuff out is usually what prevents people from scaling all these things because they don’t know how much things cost. 

They don’t like have all these variables factored in.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I think tend to think about from the agency owner’s perspective. Have you as a thought exercise or maybe at Wordable it’s appropriate from a smaller business – I don’t even know the size of Wordable, didn’t mean to offend if it’s –

Brad Smith

Brad

No, it’s not.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well you mentioned bootstrapped. We’re bootstrapping on this. We feel all that.

So for the bootstrappers out there, for the business of ones, any of this advice change a little do you think in terms of we talked about really good solutions for scales, and these I think could be boiled down and reduced and still work.

Actually, you’d need to do the 180 of this or at least like a pivot.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah. I think it depends, and I’ll clarify it. So my background, I used to be like a freelance writer.

I used to be the person of one doing all this stuff. It depends on what that person is trying to do, what they’re good at, and then what their goals are. 

So for instance, some founders and some business owners of one might think they’re going to save money by writing, but they’re probably not because they’re not going to stick to it.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Unless you’re an amazing copywriter, you’re going to lose –

Brad Smith

Brad

Exactly. You’re probably not a good writer. You’re probably not going to stick to it. It’s probably a better use of their time to like do the money-making stuff and then just like – so that’s where the caveat is.

Is this person actually going to be doing the work or not? And the reason I say that is because if they are, then that’s great and there’s ways to make your process more efficient. So for example, if I send like a really long email to a client, I’m going to copy and paste some of that email stuff or I’m going to use it in a pitch. 

I’m going to copy and paste a lot of that stuff and use it for my next article. So what can I reuse that I’m already kind of like talking about with people in the actual content to make it easier if I’m personally writing it. 

Otherwise, if you’re a person of one and you’re trying to get someone to do content for you, I would still say don’t hire – it’s like salespeople. 

Don’t hire one salesperson. Hire like three or four, have them write for a month or two, and then pick the best one and have them do all your content. And make sure that you give them some actual guidelines to work from. 

So this is the other thing that drives me nuts about like owners and founders. We have this like weird DNA and we are controlling and we’re crazy and we think we do everything the best and we like want to just have our hands on everything. 

The problem is when you’re scaling something like content that’s subjective is you’re too hands-on and you’re too micro-managy. So you need to have very good guidelines of like here’s how we talk about things. Here’s what I want to see. 

Here’s what my view on this topic is. So if you’re going to have these people ghostwrite for you, this becomes even more difficult because how do I know what’s in your head. 

Do you know what I mean? And if I’m a writer and I’m writing for someone, maybe I don’t even agree with what this person is telling me.

You know what I mean. So it becomes really difficult to scale that. I would laugh when I would hear founders and owners say like oh yeah I’ve tried all these writers and I could never find a good writer, and it’s like well it’s probably because your process sucks. 

It’s probably because you didn’t actually help outside people understand what the hell you want and –

Greg Heilers

Greg

No, no. It’s not me. It’s definitely not me.

Brad Smith

Brad

Exactly. It never is. Yeah, it never is. And ghostwriting is like I would just say don’t ghostwrite then.

Having them try to understand you and talk like you it’s incredibly difficult, and we do it because we have really expensive writers and we’ve been doing this a long time.

And it’s very, very difficult. And so just don’t have people ghostwrite for you because it’s going to make this problem a lot harder than it needs to be.

Greg Heilers

Greg

We had several clients like those at Jolly, and quite frankly a lot of them, unfortunately, end up being temporary clients.

They signed on with the idea, and once they began experiencing it I think it was something they could just not jive with. I agree with you.

If you’re never going to be okay with ghostwriting, you need to get a writer then who you’re comfortable with sharing some credit of the business with and let them put it on them.

Obviously, you want them to be part of your brand, but let them put it on themselves if you don’t want them to speak for you.

Ghostwriter or not, I guess we don’t need to make it like a bloopers reel, but what are some of the like early warning red flags that someone maybe who is new to midrange experience at recruiting writers so they can start to preview some of these things?

For example, we have multiple writer managers, let’s call them for a generic term, at Jolly, and I’m working with at least one of them to coach them on being more comfortable with acknowledging the red flags.

For example, a writer who starts on Monday, maybe has put in a half an hour by Friday of the gig they said they wanted. Well as a former freelancer, I know what’s happened.

They got other gigs going on and that’s fine. They’re stacking all the work they can. This is just one example I’m trying to coach my manager of. Tell the writer when they start they better be ready to do the gig they signed up for because that’s what we need. So I’m curious.

There’s tons of other examples. What are some you’ve learned and systematized as kind of nonnegotiables? Like look, it’s coming up. We’re going to have to cut ties.

Brad Smith

Brad

I’ll try to rattle off like a few. But when we look at writers in the very beginning, if someone’s rate is too low, that’s a warning sign because they’re probably not going to be – there’s a correlation between writer rates and quality and professionalism. It’s not always exact, and there’s varying degrees.

But overall, the better the writer, the more professional writer, the more expensive they cost. So there’s ranges. So that’s usually a red flag.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Wait. As an agency owner, you’re not always trying to scrape maximum profit off of every single interaction in your life?

Brad Smith

Brad

I’m not and I should be maybe. People view marketing as an investment or expense, like the general public. I’m on the investment side. That’s why we try to work with big companies and we charge a lot of money for content. 

People are always like how much do you charge for content? Why do you charge that and why do people pay that? It’s like because I need to pay good writers and I can’t do that – I can’t afford good writers, but I charge a lot of money on top of it, so.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well, that’s how you get your level where you don’t look as content as an aesthetic thing on a website. It’s part of the funnel. There’s an ROI that your clients expect.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yes, exactly. And that’s what we tell clients all the time. That’s what we tell prospects. It’s like look, we charge this because I care about the results that we’re trying to get you and I don’t want to make – if you make me price it at this, I’m going to have to cut corners. I’m going to have to remove editing. 

I’m going to have to remove – I’m at the shitty writers. So I’m going to have to start removing a lot of things that’s ultimately just going to sabotage your own results and I’m not willing to do that. So like go use one of those cheaper writing services. 

You know what I mean. Like have fun trying to edit and wrangle and plan and all the things that are involved. So that’s an issue for sure. Deadlines and turnarounds, so we ask – we look for two things. 

We say what’s your average turnaround per article, and they tell us like, whatever, three days. So we say okay. Here’s a test article. Here’s your deadline of three days. 

Again, we’re not like trying to be assholes. We’re just trying to figure out what the expectations are and then see if people can actually hit that, and if they can’t, if their test project is late and there’s not a good reason, then that’s usually an issue. 

That’s usually a red flag. With managing writers, we manage writers on a per article basis, not per hour. 

So I know a 2,000-word article of a certain quality should take a certain amount of time. In our field, 2,000-word article in our space should roughly take four to eight hours based on the requirement, like subject matter requirements, coming in and doing like –

Greg Heilers

Greg

If they align.

Brad Smith

Brad

Exactly, all the things. Yeah. So then I know if this writer tells me they can do X amount of articles per week, then we know how much time that should be taking them, and therefore, we know what the appropriate payment should be.

And then we have them bill us at the end of the month for the work completed in that month and work completed that was accepted during that time window.

So that’s the other thing. It’s like if the client doesn’t accept the article or we don’t accept the article, then you need to keep working on it. If there’s a reason, then we’ll pay you.

So if a client comes back and changes scope, we’ll pay writers more to change something that they shouldn’t have had to change. We’re not that unfair.

But we’re also not like new at this where we’re just going to like let people say one thing and do another. And so we’re very much like let people’s actions speak for themselves, and again, hold them to tight deadlines, see how they react, pay them what they want too.

So if someone tells me they charge 450 an hour or 450 an article. Okay, cool. We’ll pay you 450 an article. You better deliver that shit on time and it better be good.

You know what I mean. And then we’re happy to keep paying you, but if not, then we’re going to cut you as soon as possible because in an agency environment if we tell a big client that we have these deadlines and we’re going to deliver a certain quality to them, that’s what we’re optimizing for is this middle ground of keeping the writing team happy and busy and fulfilled career-wise because they’re working for good clients and people that know what they’re doing and they’re not having to like chase payment and do all the other things that suck from freelancing.

But those are usually some of the biggest red flags for sure.

Greg Heilers

Greg

If a listener could get that as the takeaway, the phrase it goes both ways it’s true in all the different aspects of what you just described. If the business owner is willing to treat the writer as an – call it an asset, call it a peer, call it a team member, that’s all they want.

They want to be paid for their work and treated like a valuable team member. And you mentioned cut corners, any time you try to cut corners in that relationship that’s when it all goes south. The results will be impacted, and it makes a ton of sense to me. 

We don’t have employees. We have 1099 or W-8BEN. But we treat them as if it’s the kind of gig I would want to do when I was a freelancer and that’s why it works by and large. Every business has its kinks. And that makes a ton of sense to me, man. 

What did I forget to ask or didn’t think to ask – not forget, let’s not give me too much credit. There’s a lot you’ve learned that I haven’t because you have a couple of years on me in the business but also the scale is a little larger, and also I like how, as you mentioned, you’re different services and businesses are complimentary so you’re seeing this from a couple different angles within our space. But what did I miss?

Brad Smith

Brad

I think one of the keys is scaling anything is no different than like delegating and hiring for a different role. The most mistakes people make in writing is you try to scale or try to find more writers but they don’t actually know what they want exactly, and it’s going to be moving target then. 

You or your team are going to come with like soft, fuzzy intangibles like oh well this person sounded better than this person, and like this person’s emails and Slack messages were funnier, I don’t know, than these persons. 

You don’t actually know what you mean, meaning this is the strategy, this is the content type we need, this is the style of writer we need based on this content. 

So I want my introductions to look like this. I want my subheads to be written like this. I want my images to be cited like this. I want my conclusions to be written like this. And until you nail that down, throwing 100 writers at that is going to be a nightmare. 

It’s going to be chaos because you’re not giving – going back to like treating people fairly, you’re not giving – if you’re setting the writers up to fail, that’s your fault; that’s not the writer’s fault. 

So again, some of these things I’m talking about make us sound like assholes and that’s not the intent. The intent is like to be super, super clear on expectations and communication because we’re a remote company. That’s another thing. 

We hire people all over the world. I can’t talk to someone on a different side of the world. I personally don’t want to – I can’t talk to all the people that are writing for us like all the time, so there’s no one overseeing you and that means the expectations need to be super clear and that means the style of content or what they’re going to be writing about, even down to like how we want things written in certain places on the page, until you nail those things down you’ll never, ever scale content beyond an article or two a week because you lock into finding the one unicorn writer supposedly that gets you, like just gets you. 

You know what I mean? Like intuitively you just know this is what people – this is what companies always said and when they’re like oh that person got sick or whatever, is on maternity leave or got a better paying job somewhere probably or whatever and we’re not able to find any other writers who just get us, and it’s like well that’s not the problem. 

The problem is you haven’t taken the time to actually define what you want and that’s why you can’t find – it’s not the writer’s fault; it’s your fault. 

So I think that’s the other big thing here to really understand is like the hard part is execution. The hard part is the doing.

 The way you make that easier is by having much better, clearer kind of operations and processes and systems, and it’s not on finding special people. It’s not on some like special job board that no one knows about. 

You know what I mean. Everyone is using the same tools and everything else. It’s just how you’re doing it that’s different.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I mean the term I latched onto in 2020 was productize which I was like repulsed by prior to that. I thought writing was so special, so creative. I as a freelancer certainly was special. 

But again, as you said, we’re not trying to be assholes. We’re trying to set people up for success here. 

That’s the goal. All of us. And when you define deliverables clearly and not just the deliverable but the process to arrive at that for people new to your system, this is for small businesses in any niche but of course agencies focused on content creation, it’s only helped us immensely. 

It doesn’t mean you lose any of the interpersonal dynamics. It just means that there’s this supporting system or safety net so that everyone is aware of what we’re actually doing here together.

Brad Smith

Brad

For sure. And good writers actually like it too.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yes.

Brad Smith

Brad

What it does is it removes their blockers. So this happened all the time when I was freelancing is a client would be like oh we’re not going to keep working with you, like after initial conversation. 

And I’m like okay well why, and they’re like oh well you wrote it like this and we like this style. I’m like okay well just tell me that then. I would have changed it.

I would have done it differently if you just told me that upfront and didn’t wait until I wasted my time doing it in a different direction.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yes. It put the onus on the freelancer – I remember it well – to always state clearly in the intro messages without being too without being too pushy please deliver very explicit feedback on these initial pieces because I don’t want to get cut next week because you didn’t like my first draft.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah, exactly. It needs to be concrete feedback, so it needs to say not like this doesn’t sound right.

It needs to be like this subheader should be written like a headline where there’s some action or – it needs to be very crystal clear and the hardest thing for a writer is to sit down to a blank page and come up with words.

That’s the most difficult, challenging, soul-sucking part of it. But if you tell them here’s the little template to use for the intro.

Here’s how the subhead should be written. Here’s how the body should be written and put together.

It makes a writer’s life easy because then you can just sit down and you could just go like write super-fast.

Like you’re removing all the blockers that makes their life difficult and making their life simpler. And so they like structure.

The hard part and the ingenuity comes in the phrasing, the writing, the actual storytelling. They can focus on that.

They don’t have to focus on all the simple straightforward stuff that just is spelled out for them.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah. I love it, Brad. I really appreciate all the tips today. Obviously, we could ad infinitum or some ad nauseam about how to structure this, each of these parts of your process. 

But for people thinking of scaling a writer team, I think a lot of tips you shared today are extremely helpful. I know I learned a couple things. 

Manage the buffer. I’m going to remember to walk away with this one, so it will be timestamped. 

Thanks so much for agreeing to sit down and share what you know. I really appreciate it.

Brad Smith

Brad

Of course, of course. I’m happy to do it. Like I said, this is like all the stuff that’s hard that no one talks about, and I hope that it’s been helpful.

So thanks for having me.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Yeah. I looked at it briefly. I can only imagine if we were still a content team how is Wordable going to fit in here and just streamline this distribution, not we’re saying PR-wise but to the end-user?

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah, exactly. So we have like, I don’t know, like a dozen or two clients. Each client has their own content management system they work on, their own specifications in terms of like –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Oh gosh. I remember those pain points so well.

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah. Images should be this way. We write all attributes this way. And so we do all the content and optimization for these clients, and we do all the – we do it all manually. 

So we literally spend thousands of dollars internally on labor, and it’s really difficult at high volumes. 

When we work with clients on a large scale, like let’s say we’ll have like a Friday delivery to clients, so we’ll get like 20 articles approved at one time and all the collaboration often happens in Google Docs or somewhere like that because it’s easier and this is how most writer teams operate I know. 

But the challenge then it okay so how do you go from like approved in Google Docs to actually done, like out the door? Because you’ve spent money on all this content and –

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well, it’s easy, Brad. You spend about seven hours wrangling something in WordPress and then publish it, and then realize 17 things are still unaddressed and the CRO is completely off and –

Brad Smith

Brad

Yes. And the images are missing. Yep. And you copied and pasted something so you have all these random span tags now in WordPress that’s screwing up your formatting.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I feel like I can reignite some old shuttered context. Seriously I never want to do any CMS again in my time.

Brad Smith

Brad

Now multiple that across like WordPress, Contentful, Webflow, Shopify, HubSpot. So I have been a customer for Wordable probably since near the beginning since when like Benji and Davesh first created it back in like 2016.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Oh, it was by Benji and Davesh. Really?

Brad Smith

Brad

Yeah. They created it in 2016. They may have sold it within like a year. I can’t remember exactly how long they – but I was always like oh it’s such a great idea. The problems were that it only worked with WordPress at the time, and it only works with Google Docs. 

And there are still so many other things that from a practical side we need to do to the content before getting – optimizing it and everything else. 

So it was up for sale a year ago or so and the more we looked at it the more we thought it makes a lot of sense. It’s always been like a really good version one product in my mind.

Our thought for how to evolve it would be a million times more useful if we could do things in bulk. So if we could grab 20 docs at a time and export immediately, that would be amazing. It would be amazing –

Greg Heilers

Greg

I think people need to go to your website and just try the three – I mean it’s so easy to do a trial the way you set it up. I think they need to try that. I will definitely have a link here in the description.

Brad Smith

Brad

Thank you.

Greg Heilers

Greg

I mean it’s a super cool concept. I don’t know if we did 300 a month when we were a content agency, but it was definitely in the 100 plus, even for smaller teams, even for dozens –

Brad Smith

Brad

It’s another one of those things that just makes no sense to spend on average 30 minutes to an hour is what we see per article.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Well it’s literally a position at any content team is the content uploader.

Brad Smith

Brad

Exactly. So yeah. Thank you. So bulk imports. Also if you write in like a different program other than Google Docs, you could import a zip file. So we’re adding like import sources. 

We have transformations. So for example, if you’re publishing to a WordPress site you could select the author, you can select the category, you can open links in a new tab, you can compress images, you can – we’re adding all these things in and automating it. Opening links in a new tab was a favorite. 

We had to manually click and paste “target blank” into every single external link. So we’re automating a lot of that.

Greg Heilers

Greg

You’re going to bring back nightmares tonight for me.

Brad Smith

Brad

And then on the outside or like export sources we currently have WordPress, HubSpot, Medium, and then we’re going to add every CMS basically so that way for agencies it’s perfect and you’re able to publish. 

We have big clients that people would know who have multilingual sites, so they have WordPress setups maybe but it’s like WordPress English and then they republish that to like whatever, Spanish, French. And so they use Wordable for that too where it’s like an in-house team. 

They had different collaborators so it makes it easy because we’re kind of centralizing like the collaborators can push you stuff in your Google Docs, and then one person is able to just like manage all of it the same way and push it live. 

And so that’s the goal is to really make it more a fully-fledged like content management kind of product and help automate a lot of the soul-sucking stuff that usually prevents people from publishing more stuff faster.

Greg Heilers

Greg

Super cool. I think we should wrap it up because I like to keep it short and sweet. If you got a freelance writer, it’s just plug and play right there into that. 

Yeah. I really appreciate it, Brad. Thanks for your time today.

Brad Smith

Brad

Thank you, Greg. Appreciate it. It’s always fun catching up.

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