You don’t need to be a big-time blogger to need to outsource some aspect of your blog. A beginning blogger with a serious business plan might want to contract a designer to create a skin for their blog. A entrepreneurial blogger might want to outsource some writing, or have an agency provide social media strategy for the blog.
There are plenty of reasons why you might outsource some aspect of your blogging. But once you’ve identified the need, how should you proceed?
Don’t make your first step trying to find good candidates! Before you go hunting for help, you need to do your homework. Here’s the process I’d recommend.
1. Define what you want.
“I need help with my blog content” is not a clear directive. If you’re going to source help, you need to know what to look for, which means you need to have a clear idea of what, specifically, you want.
Don’t just think in terms of contractor skillsets. Think in terms of your audience. So you want to have a new interface designed for your blog. Great. But what do you want it to do? Do you have a visual identity you want the design to reflect or match? Are there interactive elements — like social media buttons or a subscription box — that, in accordance with your readership objectives, you want to prioritise in your design? Do you have user and usage stats that can help to drive the technical specifications you provide to a designer?
Work out what you think you want, and why, before you start thinking about who might do the work.
2. Make it measurable.
The word ‘measurable’ really gives the game away — if the first step in this process was to define specific objectives, the next one is to make them measurable.
Some tasks are difficult to measure — the “success” of a new homepage design might seem like one of them. But look a little closer and, whatever the task you’re setting, you’ll likely find ways to assess the results. Perhaps you’ll assess your current traffic metrics and set new goals that you expect the new site design to help meet. Perhaps you’ll require the designer to show you the results of usability testing.
Alternatively, your goals might be internal — related to your time or operations. Maybe you want to save time — say, two days a week — by outsourcing some of your blog post research and writing tasks. Fine. But make sure you’re prepared to track the time you spend managing your contractor, to make sure that you haven’t simply replaced two days’ writing with two days’ contractor management!
As part of setting measurable goals, don’t forget to apply a timeline to each! This is the most basic way for you to assess whether your outsourced work is on track.
3. Set a budget.
Now that you have an idea of what you want, and what benefits you need it to bring, you should be able to translate those benefits into a dollar value, and decide on the investment you’re willing to make to achieve that goal.
You might want the new design for your blog to increase average per-session pageviews by 1.5 within the first three months. Great! What will that do for your advertising revenues in that time? And how much can you afford to invest to generate this return?
Setting a budget is an essential step in the process. This will help you to qualify candidates early in the process, and save you from spending time talking to “prospective” contractors who really aren’t in your market at all.
4. Seek recommendations.
Unless you have experience in a given market space or discipline and believe you have the skills to select good talent off the bat, you might consider asking peers and colleagues for talent recommendations. Whether you’re outsourcing blog content production or your accounting tasks, personal recommendations are the best way to have some assurance that you’ll get what you expect.
Alternatively — or additionally — you might call for expressions of interest through your blog, your social networks, your professional networks, and other likely sources. To me, these approaches are still better options than advertising blindly on freelance networks, or scouring the web in an effort to find that needle in a haystack — good help that you can afford and trust. Recommendations are best.
5. Research the provider.
However you obtain recommendations, research the provider before you contact them. Conducting your own research is important — you never know what information a quick web search will turn up. Hopefully it’s the same information the contractor in question will provide to you, but if it’s not the kind of detail they’d likely share, you’ll be glad you looked into their work yourself.
If the contractor is local, your peers or colleagues may know them, so again: ask around. Encourage people to be candid and to give you their honest opinions, but also be sure to find out the bases for those assessments. Try to remain as open-minded and objective as possible at this point, so you can create a shortlist of at least two — but hopefully three or four — providers you believe might suit the job.
6. Make contact.
Make careful observation of each shortlisted candidate from the moment of your first contact. Everything they do and say will provide clues as to how well you may be able to work with them. If something makes you uncomfortable, try to work out what it is and why it’s a problem.
Again, it’s important to try to remain reasonable and objective at this point. The fact that your potential designer is wearing a suit and tie doesn’t mean he’s not as creative as the previous candidate, who rolled up to the meeting in ripped jeans and cool runners.
Try to get all the information from the candidate that you’ll need to make your outsourcing decision. The things I want to have in hand when it comes time to assess my options include:
- contact details
- competent past work examples
- a pitch, brief, or written document that explains what they’ll provide, for what value, and shows that they understand and agree to my expectations, goals, and time and budget constraints
- great references from current clients
- personal experience with the candidate (it doesn’t matter whether I’ve met them to discuss the job over coffee, or over Skype: I want to meet them one way or another!).
Now, the hiring decision is all yours. To make sure you’re protected, though, you might want to ensure:
- you both sign a legally binding written contract that explains the work and the work arrangements
- your contractor has any insurances you feel are necessary
- you’ve discussed and agreed upon any copyright and intellectual property considerations
- you’ve had the contractor sign a non-disclosure and/or anti-competition agreement if you feel that’s necessary.
These steps aren’t substitutes for good research and gut instinct, but they may help you if your research and instinct don’t pay off for some reason.
Have you outsourced any aspects of your blog? How did the process work for you?
About the Author: Georgina has more than ten years’ experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. She now blogs for WebWorkerDaily and SitePoint, and consults on content to a range of other clients.