Outsourcing: Why is it so scary and how do you get started?

by Skeffling on August 20, 2012 · 35 comments

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Outsourcing is putting your hopes on another person’s abilities, skills, understanding of what you want and their work ethic and reliability.  It involves a financial risk or outlay based on your keyword research that you don’t know if you will ever get back.  So why on earth do we do it?

Outsourcing content writing gives some awesome advantages

  1. Content creation can go on when you are too busy if you are still working full-time and have a crazy overtime stretch or family commitments competing for your time.  Finding a writer to create your content and write your articles or websites posts may be a great solution for leveraging your time, and building your business with that extra money.
  2. Content creation to go on when you don’t feel like it.  Maybe you are tired of writing product reviews, bored, uninspired, losing motivation or would rather do the fun stuff like keyword research or the blog commenting that you prefer.  Having a whole bunch of juicy content you can quickly post is an awesome morale booster, and imperative for steady growth.
  3. Outsourcing allows someone who loves writing, is skilled, efficient and effective at research and arranging words and can produce content faster than you can, to do what they love while you get the results you want.
  4. You can have great articles to publish that are outside your own expert knowledge. By hiring a writer to write about their passion or expert knowledge area you can get truly awesome content that you would not have had otherwise for hot or promising niches.
  5. Outsourcing can help you get content fast when you see a great keyword and want to get it up and indexed as fast as possible
  6. It means content and articles can be written while you work on other parts of your online business, so multiple layers of work can be done in a day, making you more productive and allowing you to grow your business faster than you could alone.

What outsourcing will not do for you

Outsourcing will not magically find you killer keywords that rake in sales, you need to find those yourself before you start!

Even though you pay someone to write your articles, blog posts or other content, you can’t expect it to be perfect and be exactly how you would write it.   It can give you a great boost, but you are still going to responsible for the content, that it is unique, useful, compelling and that it makes sense as well.  This takes extra effort and time to check, proofread and edit, so plan on it.

Is it OK to outsource content?

Paying for a writer to write your articles for you is not cheating! The first time I published something written by someone else, I admit it felt pretty weird.  It is amazing how you get used to it and I went from re-writing almost the whole thing, to just checking and publishing when I knew it was original and knew I had paid for it fair and square.

If you are making  name for yourself as a critically acclaimed writer, it may be a bit dodgy, but to increase the speed at which you leave your day job, outsourcing is not a problem at all.  I could have done most of this without outsourcing articles,  but not as much, as fast, and I may have gone crazy writing product reviews while still working and loathing my day job!

If you have a Squidoo profile where you write non-commercial type articles and want to keep the articles separate, I don’t know of any disadvantages of opening another profile, other than it costs you an extra $1 when you get paid through Paypal on Payday. I think a bigger bulk of articles in one profile gets you more Squidlikes and Squidoo traffic, but if you are prolific or your freelancers are, it is worthwhile to have another account.

When should you outsource content?

This is different for everyone, but often there is a point where you need some help creating content.  Often there is a lag between when you realize this and when you actually do it.  It is natural to be hesitant or nervous on spending, or potentially wasting money, when you are not certain of a return.  Also it is intimidating asking for something as unique as an article, or knowing how to ask properly to get what you want.

If you can write some articles yourself first, you will learn what they should cover (there will be a section on that in the Squidoo E-book) while you learn to choose keywords that sell.  Wait for at least a couple of Amazon sales before diving in and spending a lot.  Articles I outsourced last year, when I wasn’t as practised at choosing keywords, do not earn as much as the ones written later.  I dove in a little too soon really, and risked more in the beginning, but I figured spending the original $100-200 on articles was better spent on a chance of income than on some new clothes!  And I learned from it, so it wasn’t a  mistake for me.

Don’t spend anything you can’t afford to lose if you were way off.  Think of these as lottery tickets and the better your keywords, the better your chance of a winner that pays for itself fast, then pays you over and over.

My outsourcing experience may save you mistakes and money

It is important to note, don’t expect perfection from someone else even if you are paying them.  They will do the best they can, only you know for sure if a piece of content acceptable for your application or needs.   So, first I’ll outline my experience outsourcing content and mistakes I made while I spent close to $5000 in outsourcing various lengths of content in the last 10 months.

Even writing an outline or description of what you want from the writer has a learning curve and is evolved over time for the best results as you gauge what you are getting back and comparing it to exactly what you wanted.  My exact outline for Squidoo lens product reviews will be mailed to the email subscribers this week.

There may be affiliate links in this article.  Don’t worry, you don’t pay any more if you choose to go through them, and you can easily bypass if you need to.  If my article helps you at all, feel free to go through them, but there are certainly many other places to get your content. 

1st Outsourcing – Single Private Freelancer

I started to outsource back in October 2011, as soon as I knew this was a numbers or content game!  I wasn’t 100% sure of what I was doing, but was able to find a good writer that wanted to start his own freelance business and was offering a great deal on 20 articles at a time, so I risked it.  I had started to use Stealth Keyword Competition Analyser by then along side the Adwords tool, so I knew I was better off than before.

I wouldn’t outsource anything unless I was sure of the odds of success being better than no keyword research at all.  I didn’t ask for any particular type of article, and got great results anyway because he was a good writer.  I learned from what he wrote, so I knew what to ask others to do later.

With a little cash available from my day job, I ordered one set of articles and as I said in my first earnings report, I wasn’t sure if I’d do it again, it felt strange.  I re-wrote them quite a bit as I felt weird about posting them as they were, even though they were great quality.  I had a couple of Amazon Squidoo sales by then, Christmas was coming and I thought why not get some more?  So I ordered two more sets by December.

Prices started to climb for lower numbers of articles as he got busier and deadlines longer in the Spring, (meanwhile I waited for earnings to come in before ordering more) but the writing was good so I was fine with that. When I realized he was probably keeping the rates the same to do me a favour, I figured I should leave him alone!  I don’t feel good about asking someone to work for less than they feel their time is worth (and I won’t do it) so I posted on the InfoBarrel forum for what I could afford.

2nd Outsourcing – Hiring Multiple Private Freelance Writers

Hiring private writers directly has advantages and definitely saves you money if you are getting the results you want.   Its success hinges on the ethics and standards of the writer, as there is just their accountability to them-self that binds them to do a great job.  There are a lot of great writers out there, finding one that is willing to work with you on a variety of topics while consistently and regularly delivery as well as being affordable can be tricky.

It is cheaper than going through a content site or company as there is no 20 to 30% commission to pay.  Going directly, it is difficult to have an escrow service that keeps your money safe while they, a) deliver anything and b) deliver something at the quality you need.  It takes one of you to trust the other and commit resources before receiving.  When dealing with freelance writers privately there is that risk that you will pay them and not get your articles.  The risk to them is they do the work and not get paid.

It is great when you can figure out a schedule or  a deal for a quantity of articles every month.  But I have learned that just because a writer says they want steady work, it doesn’t mean they will do it for you.  I had a decent writer write for me for nearly 2 months before life got in the way and output stopped.  I also learned that a stable of great writers is better than just one.  When your one writer stops producing articles, 100% of your outsourced articles stop.  If you have 2 or 3 or 4, and one slows or quits on you, you still have the bulk of your articles or web content still being written.

At the time I planned only only having 1 or 2 writers doing work for me as my earnings wouldn’t support much more, but there were at least 4 takers for direct outsourcing, and I am so glad I tried them all.  One only ever produced 1 article out of the initial 10. One wrote and delivered articles fast and reliably but the format and grammar was a little too erratic for me, but I think matching the right topic with the right writer is really important if you can.  I think having a writer write about something they love, gets a way better article.  And one wrote fast lightweight easy to read articles that were great for electronics topics I am not that great with, and looked like a winner until life got in the way, and they ended up working a job instead.  The last writer worked for lower than his usual rate as things were quiet then, and he did an awesome job.  He still occasionally writes for me now (I raised up the pay because it is worth it) but is he super busy with his own online endeavors and I know wants 100% passive income over time, smart guy!

I don’t believe in paying someone less than they feel they are worth, it is not fair and I think creates ill feelings.  Either they are worth what they are asking to me, or I will find someone else.

Latest Outsourcing – Multiple Brokered Freelance Writers on a Content Site

That is what I like about the Zerys content site I use, you set a price and people pick up the jobs on the Smartpost board they feel are worth doing or interested in.  I was looking for the 5th writer that replied to me on Infobarrel and couldn’t get a hold of them for over a week, so I went looking for content sites.  So how does it work?

The content website or company puts writers and article-buying clients together.   They have an escrow service so you pay an amount when you place your order, but it is not paid out until you approve the content.  You can reject content and not pay, but you are not able to use it, which is totally fair.  I have only rejected the truly atrocious pieces and there have been just a handful out of nearly 200.

The tricky ones are the fairly poor articles that you are tempted into trying to fix. I am a slow writer and editor and many of these can suck up half an hour or longer, so I am learning what to reject and evolving my description to head off the most common unwanted results.  I have learned that some writers are worth the extra cent per word.

Writers set their own pay rate for the other type of article, the direct assigned, where you write up a job then send it to a specific writer who you expect will do a good job for you.  The cost of these is often over the basic 1 cent per word.  You can approach writers to see if they will lower their rate for a chunk of steady work and they will sometimes, but that does not mean they will follow through and do the work, as I also learned again there.

As the buyer of content through a website, they take a cut of what you pay, so if you pay $5, the writer may only be getting $3.75.  To get them a decent wage, you may really pay more than that and can be more expensive than making a deal directly with a writer, but it depends on the size and location of the pool of writers and their client specific pay rate.  The safety of escrow, the bank of writers ready to work and the organizational structure of the site makes outsourcing fast and esy.  This is my favourite way so far.

Another way is to put up jobs for tender which I will be trying on other content sites when I have e-books in a niche that I have no writer in mind for.  That way I get to choose and it is not based on which writer reads and claims the work first.  Here is a comparison table of Zerys against some of the other outsourcing sites. I have only used Elance for a VA, not content.  Odesk looks scary, the forum abounds with bad experience stories from both sides, though maybe I am just a wimp.

How do you get started?

Here is a quick summary on Zerys of how the process works.  You create a project (that can be reused), write a job outline, assign a number of words and any special instructions or links you want the writers to look at.  You can post to the  Smartpost Board where you choose a cent rate per word, and open it up to writers with various specialties and star ratings kind of a reverse auction.  I usually just pay 1 cent a word as I am fine with doing a bit of fixing if needed.

I usually leave it open to all specialties (as writers can only choose 3 out of thousands of specialities) and I hope a writer won’t choose an article they know nothing about.  I could narrow it down, but I would reduce my chances of getting a decent article written quickly for a low price.

Allow 4 and 5 star rated writers to see and choose your listing.  Some 3 star writers can be really great too, but I have learned opening it to all 3 star writers is not worth the higher risk of poorly written unusable content.  You can direct assign work to favourite writers at their set rate too.  I have writers on my favourite list that I have selected for more specialty product articles, or for Kindle books too.

Ask for conversational, 2nd person if you like your articles to sound like you are talking to a friend, but I am sure you could ask for anything.  I know Squidoo likes first person reviews, but I don’t feel right about a first person point of view for the 3-5 product reviews, especially when you don’t own them.  I honestly think 3-5 product choices sells or has a higher click-though than 1 or a 2 article comparison, which would suit a 1st person style better.

I allow Headings in the instructions, so I have modules for Squidoo (you need 5 to publish anyway), but I don’t check off or want bullets.  I am not much of a coder, I only use hyperlinks and bold, and figure the paragraphs are short enough with images and links, and bullets take more time and don’t add as much as they could to a more plain blocky article, on Seekyt or Infobarrel.

So, how many words should a Squidoo lens have?

I have experimented a bit, and I don’t think there is a wrong or right answer, but you need to use your common sense and do what your gut tells you.  I have 400 word articles that sell well, and 1000 word articles that don’t.  You can have as many words as you want, I see some very long lenses  on Squidoo, but often they were published a few years ago and have grown in length over time as more content was added.

You want to balance lower cost and the possibility of adding more updated content later, with getting traffic quickly to your lens that will bring sales.  I think more great LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing-related words that naturally appear in a  longer in-depth article where everything is put into context and its written by someone with good knowledge), synonyms and very lightly key-worded content is only going to be better for ranking Google as time goes on.

As long as the page converts well with good product selection and you do not have too big a block of text above the fold, you can adapt length quite easily.  I am amazed at the search terms coming in for my content, you really only need a phrase in there once to rank for it if the competition is low enough.  Over-using the exact keyword phrase means you have less opportunities to be found through these other search phrases.

So I have posted 400 to 1000 words on Squidoo. I think long term the best is a 800-1000 word article that has say 2 small paragraphs of intro and info (no more than that or the products and images are too far down the page), and go with likely 4 or 5 item reviews, and short call to action type conclusion.

If your 100o word article has only 3 items, the introduction or buying guide information is probably going to be too long, and your visitors may bounce out if they don’t see an item for sale above the fold or right after the introduction module.  A 500 word article with 3 items should work out perfectly, but if you are using the long Amazon feature-rich product names, be warned Squidoo will flag them if your articles are short, as a larger percentage of the article will appear copied.  So I am making sure my articles are 600-800 minimum words for now. That gives you a decent article that doesn’t look rushed, but is not as expensive as a 1000 word one.

Does subject make a difference to length?

If you really want to save every penny on outsourcing, and are writing about electronics that need to be updated more often, it may be worth just doing the 500-600 words to get it ranked and traffic coming in, and see if sales are happening too. Then you can add more content/product models later as they come out.

A slower changing market, like kitchen mixers or lawn chairs, may be a better bet for longer articles right off the start, as the products stay for a long time.  Check and compare number of days on Amazon bestseller lists between categories for some indication of how transient a niche is.  Laptops are the worst with models switching 2-3 times a year or more.

What to do when you get your outsourced content

When approving the content, read carefully, but approve quickly if you can.  The writer is waiting to be paid and they love to be paid fast.  I know batching can be more efficient, but I like to keep the writers happy.  Be generous with star ratings when they have earned it and approve fast and they will want to write for you in the future.

Once you have  a track record of fast approvals, you may find writers will work for the lower rates to get fast work where they get paid quickly and may get their average rating increased by your scoring of their work.  This means you can get better writers for less cost and are more likely to pick up more new good writers as you go along.
I always block any writers of poor content even if I have approved it and know I have to fix it a bit.  If you “favourite” the writers  you like, then you can compare their “client specific cost per word rate” and stats more easily, which is useful when direct assigning work that you do not want to leave to chance.  Always check the Zerys copyscape stats to the upper right of the approval page, it is free with your article.  Make it part of your routine.  If there are too many long product names, you can send back for review, but I usually fix them myself, save and rerun the Copyscape until there are no others found.

Checks and Fixes for Outsourced Content

Poor grammar or writing

You can always reject or ask for a revision if an article is too far gone to use and you pretty well have to rewrite the whole thing.  If it just a case of tidying up some grammar, you can likely do it yourself.  Read closely, because occasionally an article will have been written in another language and translated mechanically with google translate (or that is what it looks like) and if you are  a skimmer or speed reader, like me, you may not notice until you read every word.  If the whole article is like that, I often will rewrite the whole thing if the article story is good, then I block the writer as it is time consuming to fix.

Copyscape Finds

On the shorter lenses and articles, copyscape will show any long Amazon product titles, you know the spammy looking ones with all the features listed, as copied content.  Squidoo will flag these as duplicate or poor quality content.  You get more leeway as a Giant Squid, but any new accounts I have seem to get flagged more easily.

The best thing to do is take a couple of features out of the middle of the name.  You can re-save and re-run the copyscape search through Zerys, as that is included in your fees.  I don’t like to chop all of the name out as there are lots of LSI and useful content in there. Sometimes you need to put synonyms in or write out numbers or units as  words, so change  ” to inches, or 4 cu. ft. to four cubic feet.

Clunky keyword use

The lowest keyword densities available on Zerys is none or 0.5-1.5%.  The latter is what I ask for and I usually end up changing all but 2 or 3 incidences!  I leave one up near the top somewhere and one near the bottom.  Most of the others I fix with a synonym.  I used to use a keyword list of related good search terms to put in, but now I have become more fluent in keywords, I know  “best X X” in a H2 tag can be gainfully changed to “Top rated X X”, “Best X to buy”  or “Inexpensive X X” pretty easily, and it is likely another buyer keyword phrase too.

Introduction too long

Too long of an introduction before the product modules (more than 3 paragraphs)  means you may lose  a few readers, either bouncing out out going straight to the related article thumbnail images.  If your click-through is below 10%, this may be the case.  If the intro is too long you have 2 fixes,

1) Try and arrange it so most of the “buying guide” is after the item reviews, if it still makes sense, and keep the first couple of real introductory paragraphs intact.

2) If it is almost all intro/body text, put one or more banks of regular Amazon modules (set up as thumbnails) with related appropriate items in to break it up, if it hardly has anything on the products, or all the excessive text needs to stay ahead of the main products.

Missing Conclusion

I honestly don’t worry about it! If you really want a conclusion, a quick 1 to 2 sentences will do.  I leave it open if there is no conclusion as I want the reader to get to the bottom Amazon search if needed.

Other things to consider when outsourcing

When giving all your work to one writer, you put all your eggs in one basket.  They can only work linearly and depending how fast they are, you will have a longer wait than if you have a writers write a few articles.

Maybe one writer will not be able to do a perfect job for you in many niches.  It makes sense to pick a writer with a speciality to write articles in that specialty if you can afford it.  You will get better in depth and more useful articles for your readers.

This can be an amazing way to grow your business if you can get over the initial hesitation, I would not be where I am today without it, I write too slow!  I am glad I found Zerys for content as I now get content written as fast as I can find the keywords, which is perfect for me.


What do you think about outsourcing?  Do feel ready to start or still you have questions? Have you tried it?  What have you learned?  Share with us in the comments!

Also, feel free to share this if you think it will help anyone you know!

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