Experts, Hiring & Talent, Marketing & Growth, Resources

How to Hire a Content Marketing Consultant for Your Startup [Process & Checklist]

Editor’s note: We’ve seen a lot of demand for content marketing talent in our portfolio, including the need for freelancers and consultants. The key is to run a tight process and ask the right questions to vet your candidates. We reached out to a veteran content marketing consultant who works exclusively with startups to help.

Startups everywhere are taking advantage of content marketing, but starting out can take a tremendous amount of effort. Founders want to get things going, as content marketing helps with brand awareness and lead generation, but often they don’t have a realistic understanding of how much these marketing efforts cost or just how much effort they really take. (Editor’s note: Here’s another useful article on lead generation from Troops, a NextView-backed company .)

Thankfully, there are tons of content marketing consultants and freelancers out there. On the other hand, hiring a content marketing consultant or freelance writer is different than hiring a marketing person more traditionally. Not only does a founder need to make sure this person can help them out with their particular needs, but they also need to know that the consultant can write in an engaging, compelling way that shows off the startup.

So to make things easier and help you stay organized, I’ve created a short, tactical checklist for founders together with NextView. These are crucial things to spend at least some time thinking about, as they speed up your process and ensure you end with the best possible candidate.

How to Hire a Content Marketing Consultant for Your Startup

  • Determine Vision, Goals, and How You’ll Measure Them

    • Nail down a vision for what content marketing can do for your startup. In the ideal world, what will your content generate? Why are you using content as a marketing approach at all? Be able to explain this to a consultant.
    • Ask yourself why you want to hire a marketing consultant or freelance writer (rather than hire a more traditional marketer or full-time content marketer). What is the goal that they will help you reach? What are the gaps you want this person to fill?
    • Determine how you will measure your content. You can use pageviews or engagement metrics such as number of social media shares or comments on blog posts (usually a slippery slope), or you can build an initial subscription list even without a product, which can be used to nurture leads, get feedback, or even ask people to spread your message and grow reach. Whatever the case, don’t measure activities — measure results.
    • Relevant Resource from NextView: How some founders are using content to go distribution first, product second
    • Relevant Resource #2: Should startups blog? An essay (with data) to decide
  • Consider How to Execute

    • It’s hard for consultants to work with founders who are disorganized. Consultants work best if you already have an idea of how you want things to work and how you plan to communicate, assign, check in, and organize workflow.
    • Come up with some ideas for pieces (such as blog posts, ebooks, or tools) for what you’d ideally like to see produced, as well as some systems for communication (whether it be through Slack, Trello, or another system).
    • Relevant Resource from NextView: Startup content marketing playbook
  • Figure Out a Budget

    • It will be difficult to nail down exactly what you’ll get for each dollar, so it helps to start out with a budget up front. You can work with a consultant to figure out what you can get with your budget.
    • The best content marketing consultants and freelance writers that can get you results might be expensive. Remember—you get what you pay for.
    • There’s no standard way for consultants and freelancers to charge. Many charge per hour, per word, or per blog post. On average, a well-researched 500-700 word blog post from a talented consultant will cost $350, including edits and revisions. Hourly rates vary from $45 to $150 per hour.
    • If you need general help with copywriting, editing, and proofreading, you might hire a consultant on a monthly retainer. This monthly retainer will cover your one-off copy and content needs.
    • Relevant Resource from NextView (Portfolio Only): Reach out to Jay to talk through content marketing rates.
  • Make a Short List of Consultants Who Fit Your Needs

    • Determine whether you need a content marketing consultant or a copywriter. A copywriter can help you with one-off writing tasks, especially things like messaging for your website. A content marketing consultant can help you build a content strategy from scratch or assist you with the writing of blog posts and other resources.
    • Write a job posting to lure in freelancers and consultant who suit your needs. Make sure to be specific about what you’re looking for to attract the right people and ask for writing samples. The most important thing to do is review samples and talk to past clients, not look at a resume. (The former is about showing, the latter is about telling; favor the former.)
    • Tap your connections. Often, the best consultants and freelancers are already in touch with colleagues and other founders. Ask around to see if you can find people that are verified by your connections. Even if you’re connected with a freelancer through a friend, make sure you vet them by asking for samples and by using our interview questions below.
    • Search online for freelancers and consultants using LinkedIn. It’s the best place to find people with specific skills, and LinkedIn helps you find people either tightly or somewhat within your network.
    • If you’re unable to find freelancers and consultants through your connections, here are some good places to find freelance writers:
      • Blogs You Love – Many companies hire freelance writers and content marketing consultants to supplement posts from team members. If you have a favorite blog, check out who’s writing the posts. It should be easy to track down their contact information.
      • Problogger Job Board – The Problogger job board is a favorite for bloggers, and you can post your job and allow the best and brightest to submit their applications.
      • Upwork (Formerly oDesk and Elance) – Upwork has a gigantic database of freelancers, not just for content marketing. It’s tough to find an amazing freelancer on the site, but with some time and effort, it’s possible to find someone who’s a good fit.
      • Scripted – A freelance writer marketplace
    • Relevant Resource from NextView (Portfolio Only): Reach out to Jay to talk through viable individual candidates that you’ve found or receive recommendations.
  • Ask the Right Questions in Your Interviews

    • The interview process is important, as you need to make sure your consultant’s personality jives with yours and that they have the expertise to get things done.
    • At this stage, make sure you’ve asked for writing samples as well as rates. In fact, it’s best to ask for these in your initial job description or as early in the process as possible.
    • Here are some essential questions founders should ask to adequately vet a consultant or freelancer:
      • What types of content do you create? (i.e. blog posts, ebooks, landing pages, or social media updates)
      • What’s your philosophy on content marketing? Why should we do it?
      • Who are some of your other clients, and what industries do you specialize in?
      • How would you go about conducting an interview with an industry expert, than making it into a content resource?
      • How do you address topics where you’re not already an expert?
      • If we’re the topical experts but can’t produce the content, how would we work together?
      • What’s the first thing you’d do if we decided to hire you as a consultant?
      • What’s an example of a successful resource you created that you’re particularly proud of?
      • Are edits and revisions included in your work?
      • How do you deliver content and images? Do you provide the content in a Google Doc, Word Doc, or something else?
      • How do you invoice and accept payments?
    • Come armed to each interview with these questions, but the interview doesn’t have to be formal, and should be conversational.
    • Relevant Resource from: Unusual content marketer interview questions that just plain work (Note: links to Jay Acunzo’s personal blog, not the NextView blog.)
  • Learn Their Writing Chops

    • When it comes to hiring a content marketer, writing skills should be on the top of your list. To make sure they can write, ask them to do a trial piece for you — and pay them for it. This will give you a good idea of whether a consultant or freelance writer can truly execute. Then if all goes well, hire them on a more recurring basis or set expectations that you’d like to do one piece first, then assign several more in succession.
    • Review the writing samples and trial piece to make sure the consultant can adequately write for your brand. When you’re reviewing these assets, ask yourself the following questions:
      • EXPERTISE: Does this writer have domain expertise? Do they understand my industry?
      • CLARITY: Can this consultant write clearly? Is their message succinct? Would I trust them to write instructions on how to put together a piece of IKEA furniture?
      • VOICE: Does this consultant write in an engaging way? Does their work draw me in and make me want to read, or does it feel like reading a boring textbook?
    • Relevant Resource from NextView: Hiring writers? Scrap your usual approach.
  • Easing Into the Relationship

    • The advantage to hiring a consultant is that you can take it slowly at the beginning. Start by having them work on one or two projects to ensure you like their writing style and find them easy to work with.
    • Ideally, you want to find a consultant you can work with on a longterm basis, but don’t commit to a contract that requires you to work with a freelancer or consultant for a long period of time right out of the gate.
    • If you have to end a relationship with a consultant, do so professionally and swiftly. Don’t stop communicating with them. Instead, write a polite email explaining why you’re moving on, and thank them for their work.

What questions do you have about startup content marketing in general or finding the right consultant more specifically? Let us know below or tweet @EmmaFayeS and @jayacunzo. We’re happy to answer.

Emma Siemasko

Emma Siemasko

Emma is a writer, storyteller, and content marketer. She is originally from San Diego and currently based in Greater Boston. She manages Stories By Emma, a boutique consultancy specializing in content strategy and writing. Emma assists in a wide variety of editorial tasks, including general editing, blogging, and resume revision. She was formerly a content marketing specialist for Grasshopper (acquired by Citrix), as well as the founder and CEO of Frog2Prince, an online dating consultancy. She is a graduate of Clark University.

  • Also either have the content marketing consultant participate in the content strategy development or provide the strategy guidance upfront. Relevant things to address would be, what platform do you want to publish on, what formats and narrative structures to utilize and why. Content strategy should drill down to the level of what topics to cover and why. Are the topics under consideration to share or neutralize thought leadership with a competitor or are you addressing a white space topic to establish thought leadership. It is also important to have the content produced monitored for engagement. Engagement is the closest proxy for ROI for content. One can define content efficiency as the engagement produced from any one piece or a group of content, over a period of time or for a platform. This will allow you to compare the relative ROI from different content pieces and different platforms. One no longer has to wait weeks and months to observe the ROI on content – you can measure it in real time.

    • Hi Abhay! Thanks for this insightful comment. I recommend that founders/marketers supply consultants with a doc that describes general brand guidelines. I call it a “branded style guide,” and this asset can answer a lot of the consultant’s questions so you don’t have to start at square 1 every time you hire someone new to help you with brand building. All of the considerations you included in your content could be included in such a guide.

      • Along the same lines we have a Visual Designer whose responsibility it is to ensure conformance to branding guidelines across all web properties and printed and published content etc. And indeed as the organization matures there should be a branding guideline. In previous companies we have had very comprehensive guidelines down to the font, and font size for presentations.
        However, from a Content Strategy perspective, what I meant was that the Content Marketing consultant (and indeed all involved in the process) should have a clear understanding of which platform(s) the content is to be published, what format & narrative structures would work best, how long should the piece be, optimal day to publish, how soon after the previous post should you publish etc. etc. And yes all the posts should adhere to the branding.

  • PG

    Hi Emma,
    helpful post, thank you! It gives us a benchmark for pay-scale on the try-outs.

  • John Schnettgoecke

    Good stuff here, Emma! It’s important for content marketing folks to make sure that they have answers for the questions you laid out in this post. Whether you believe a prospective client will ask you these questions or not, do a little homework beforehand, and you’ll be much more prepared.