Building a writing team that’s capable of top-tier output is getting harder than ever. What’s more, holding onto talent has never been more difficult given the rate of job hopping in the PR and marketing industries.
I speak from battle-hardened personal experience when I say that building a quality editorial team has been one of the hardest aspects of running a PR agency. Much of what we learned was through trial and error, which, little-by-little, brought us closer to our goal.
I know well the pressures of starting and running a company while keeping expenses in check. So I know how tempting freelance platforms like Fiverr can be if you’re looking for copy on the cheap. It’s the best place to find cheap freelance labor, hands down. But it’s the worst place to find talent.
On these platforms, anyone can label themselves a writer with very few credentials. And because it’s known as the place to find cheap work, writers compete on price, rather than quality. We simply ended up having to rewrite the vast majority of content that was produced by writers sourced from platforms.
Where To Look for Skilled Writers
Instead of feeding the content mill, I recommend looking in two specific places. First, check out freelance writers who are getting published in industry media outlets within your or your clients’ industries. If you spend a few hours scouring a dozen or so industry outlets, you might be able to build a list of 20 or 30 prospects.
Second, investigate writers’ communities. Ideally, you want writers who take pride in their craft. You want people who love the written word. Writers’ guilds, Facebook groups, professional editorial groups and similar communities are fantastic places to recruit from. They are full of writers who already see themselves as writers – you just need to give them the job title.
Set Up a Clear Workflow
You’ve hired your dream team. Next, you have to manage them. The best talent in the world can’t make your business a success unless you’ve set them up to succeed. Early on, I didn’t think I had the time to set up a proper workflow. I thought everyone would be OK if we just slung links to each other in Slack. Needless to say, this didn’t work. Tasks got lost, priorities were a mess, and people were frustrated.
Thankfully, I realized this error early on. I spent a few hours and some money setting up a workflow tool that let me create and track specific processes. With the new workflow system, my team can create the task, assign the article, and move it through specific stages – writing, editing, getting approval from the client, etc. The benefit was immediate: suddenly everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing, when they were supposed to be doing it.
It’s not just about processes and workflows, though. I also had to put a lot of thought into key roles. The main thing I figured out early on was that we needed an editor with a very specific skill set. As a PR agency, much of our editorial output is destined to be published in third-party media outlets. Therefore, we needed an internal gatekeeper who “got it” when it came to the standards expected by target media outlets. We therefore recruited for this role among current and former business reporters, as we needed somebody that was already in this world.
He also became a bottleneck because too many workflows were going through him, and he’s just one person. So we started defining “junior” and “senior” writers. Senior writers could mentor the junior ones, and they were able to support the lead editor, reducing pressure and increasing production speed.
‘Treat ’Em Mean, Keep ’Em Keen’ – No!
There’s an old saying that, if you want to hold onto someone, you should treat ’em mean to keep ’em keen. That’s as ridiculous and ineffective in business as it is in personal relationships. The truth is you need to cherish and value your employees. Beyond compensation, the keys to employee retention are recognition and appreciation. Treat them right to keep them tight.
Make no mistake, your competitors will headhunt your talent. Hey, you probably did it to them to find good writers in the first place, so turnabout is fair play. But don’t give your writers any reason to listen. Keeping talent is easier – and less expensive – than finding it in the first place. You can retain your top writers with a few simple guidelines.
First, set a good cadence of work. Freelancers value routine. They want to know how much work to expect per week, so they can plan around that. You’ll be tempted to pile the work onto your best writers, but it’s important to think long-term. Don’t burn them out. Open up lines of dialogue so they feel comfortable telling you when it’s too much, and when they can take more on.
Second, give them varied work. I remember early on in my writing career, I got assigned to write blog posts about day trips to Paris. I must have written dozens. It went on for weeks and it was unbelievably dull. I try to make sure my writers have more to engage them with different topics.
Finally, give them ways to continue developing. No matter how busy the production process gets, writers should receive regular feedback about how they’re doing and what they can do to improve. No matter how long you’ve been writing, there’s always room for improvement if you care about your craft.
We recently fed two birds with one scone when we asked our writers to take on writing some pitches for proposed bylined articles. The writers got to stretch their pitching muscles, and our account managers, who’d been writing the pitches before, could instead focus on managing client relationships. Plus, the quality of the pitches improved because they came from a journalistic viewpoint rather than just a promotional perspective.
We all know it’s a job seeker’s market out there. Every talented writer has options. Your job is to be the very best option. And the best way to do that is to look for writers in places that have already done the vetting. Set up workflows to put your team to the best use possible. And ensure they receive interesting work and consistent feedback.
Your dream team is out there. It’s up to you to find them and keep them.