Hi there and welcome to episode 169 of the ProBlogger podcast.
My name is Darren Rowse, and I’m the blogger behind ProBlogger.com – a blog, podcast, event, job board, and a series of eBooks all designed to help you as a blogger to grow your audience to create great content, to build your readership, and to ultimately make money from your blog, if that is your goal.
You can find today’s shownotes over at problogger.com/podcast/169, and you can learn more about ProBlogger, the brand, and all the things that we do at ProBlogger.com.
Now in today’s lesson, I want to talk to you about hiring writers for your blog. To do so, I want to share a case study of how I took my own photography blog, Digital Photography School, from being a single-author blog, where I published three posts a week, to a blog that now has around 50 writers and an editor working for me, in which we now publish 14 posts a week, and I don’t write a single one of them.
Most bloggers start out blogging as a single-author blog, and most probably remain that way. That’s totally fine, but I am regularly asked by bloggers if they should add new writers, and if they should, how to actually find those writers, without actually putting off their readers and disillusioning their readers.
That’s what I want to talk about in today’s episode. I want to share a few reasons why a multi-author blog might be worth considering, some of the costs of doing it, but I also want to share the three stages I went through to transition from being that single-author blog to having a paid team of writers. I want to talk about how I found my first guest writers and share some techniques in getting some user-generated content, content that you don’t have to pay for, at least not in financial terms. I want to talk a little bit about where I find my new paid writers, and I want to talk a little bit about that transition from single-author blog to multi-author blog and how I took my readers on that journey.
So if you’ve been wondering about whether you should add new authors to your blog, this is the episode for you. You can find today’s shownotes, where I will have some further reading, and there’s a full transcript of what I have a feeling might be a slightly lengthy show. There’s a lot of information I want to take you through. You can find those shownotes at problogger.com/podcast/169.
Grab a drink perhaps because this is gonna be a meaty episode. I’m going to walk you through a lot of information now. Let’s get into it!
This episode was actually stimulated by a question over at my Facebook page from one of our readers, Mantas, who said, “Hello, I know a lot of marketers and bloggers want to know: How did you attract so many people to write for DPS?” DPS being Digital Photography School – my main blog. “What were the steps that you made, and what was your position then? Were you working alone or with a team in the early days?”
Thanks for the question, Mantas. I appreciate that. If you do have a question, feel free to pop it over on the Facebook page.
Let me first take a step back from Manta’s question and just ask the question, “Is a multi-author blog right for you?” because I, by no means today, am saying that every blogger should have more than one voice on their blog. It’s not going to be right for everyone. If you have a personal blog, it’s probably not something you want to explore. You may wanna have the occasional guest post, or you might wanna interview someone to get another voice on your blog, but if your blog’s a personal blog or even if it’s a personally branded blog, you might find that it may not just fit with you. But if you do want to add more voices to your blog, it can add a lot of benefits to you and to your readers.
The thing I like about having a multi-author blog is that it adds so much more to the content. I think it helps my readers to get smarter, if you do it the right way. You can bring in a new mix of personalities, different experiences, different skills, different styles of writing as well, and this can make your blog more appealing to some of your readers.
It can enable you to produce more content, if that’s something that you want to do, but also more specialized content. This is something that will come through in the case study that I wanna take you through.
One of the reasons I added more authors onto my photography blog is that there were areas, where I didn’t feel comfortable writing. I didn’t know much about those particular topics, those aspects of photography, and I wasn’t at a level myself, where I was comfortable in writing advanced content. So it can allow you to do that.
It can also be great if you don’t have a lot of time to write, or if you take a lot of time to write. You may be someone, who really takes a lot of time to write content, and it may be one way that you can produce more content and not have to spend that much time.
Having said that, it’s gonna cost you. It may cost you time, because when you bring in people to write for you, there’s time associated with that, but also could be potentially money as well because you’re probably gonna wanna pay your authors. But it will take you time to find them, to hire them, to train them, to oversee them, and to, I guess, keep them accountable and maybe to edit their work as well, if you take on that role as an editor.
The other cost, of course, is that it could potentially – if you get the wrong kind of person – dilute your brand or impact your brand in a negative way. Bringing on an author is great, if that author is great. If that author’s not great, if it doesn’t work well, if you’re not willing to put in the time to oversee them, to edit their work, it could actually make your blog suffer in terms of the quality of what you’re doing. And it can also confuse your readers potentially as well, if you don’t find the right people.
So ultimately, what I want to talk about today is “How do you find those right people and do it the right way?” I will say again – if you have a personal blog, you probably won’t wanna move it to a multi-author blog, unless your readers are there really. They’re not really tied to you. Maybe they’re just tied to your topics in some way. Look, it probably can be done, but I would say, “Do it gently and slowly.” That’s part of the story that I wanna share today.
Let’s get into that case study. As I thought today about answering the question and of the own journey that I’ve been on with Digital Photography School, I’ve identified that there are being really three stages of the journey for me.
For me, stage 1 was that the blog was really just me writing on it. When I started Digital Photography School back in 2006, I was writing three posts a week, and it was very beginner-oriented content, which I had no problems writing because I was an intermediate kind of photographer.
The site is about how to help people take better photos, and I was at an intermediate level. I was an enthusiast as a photographer. I’d photographed a few weddings, and I was comfortable writing for people a little bit behind me in their journey.
I didn’t really know what the site was gonna turn out to be, but I typically start all my blogs in the same way. I write all that content. I start low and small-budget; I don’t have the dollars to invest into a writing team. I found a free WordPress theme for my blog, so I didn’t even invest much in terms of design. I just did it all. I did all the writing, all the social media, all the marketing – everything.
My goal in that first stage was really to build my traffic, to build up my archives of content, to rank in search engines, to hook people into subscribing to my blogs and email lists, to build my brand, and, I guess, to build a bit of engagement as well.
One of the best things I did, in terms of finding new writers for my blog down the track, was to start to build community because my first writers actually came from being readers. So if you do want to build a writing team, or if you wanna hire people, if wanna get guest posts – one of the best things I think you can do is to build your traffic, but to build engagement on your blog.
One of the best things I did in the early days was to start a group on Flickr. Now I would probably recommend you don’t start a group on Flickr because Flickr is for photographers, and unless your blogs are about photography, it’s probably not the right place for you. But a Facebook group might be the place, a LinkedIn group – somewhere where you can build engagement with your readers.
It may just be having a Facebook page. It may be engaging in some other network, but as much engagement as you can get because you are going to find it so much easier to get people to write for your blog, if you’ve already had some sort of an engagement with them and if potential writers come to your blog and see engagement as well – because that’s something that will attract them.
So one of the best things I did was to start this Flickr group. Today, it will probably be a Facebook group or some other kind of interactive space as well.
Now, I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t really even have the goal of hiring writers, but I was confident that I could produce probably around 200 articles myself on that blog for the first couple of years. And I actually came up with the topics for 200 articles, and if you listen to episode 11 of this podcast, you’ll know the exercise that I went through, where I kind of brainstormed these 200 topics. I knew that I had enough in me to write that blog and just really focused on creating that content in stage 1.
Stage 2 really came as a result of doing the hard work in stage 1. Stage 1 was building the foundations. The first couple of years in my blog, I did all the writing. I did all the marketing. I did all the social media. I did all the community management as well. And as a result of all that hard work, I began to see my readership grow. It took time; it didn’t happen overnight. It took a couple of years to kind of build it up.
I began to see that I was attracting readers to my blog, who were engaging in the Flickr group and engaging in the blog post comments, and I was beginning to see, in those comments and in that engagement on the group, that we’d attracted not only beginner photographers, but also a higher level of photographers. There were more intermediate level photographers like me. People were starting to leave some really good comments on the blog. I was very proactive about trying to get good comments. I asked a lot of questions. I asked my readers to add their tips a lot.
I began to also see in the Flickr group that people were starting to share really beautiful photos, so I began to wonder, as I saw these more experienced, regular readers, whether maybe some of them might be interested in sharing their knowledge. Now at this point, I kind of had in the back of my mind that I wanted to see them start to write guest posts, but it was a bit of a big leap. They were just leaving comments on the blog, and they were sharing photos in our Flickr group. How could I take them on that journey to get them writing guest posts?
I could’ve just emailed them and said, “Hey, do you wanna write a guest post?” Maybe that would have worked, but I actually thought I’d do it a little bit more gently. And this, I think, can be a good way to get your readers, your highly engaged readers to begin to think about creating guest content for your blog. There’s a few gentle ways that you can do that.
Let me just run through four or five of those, and these are things that I would encourage you to think about – how could you apply these on your own blog, if you do wanna have other authors?
Firstly, I saw people leaving quite detailed comments, and these were usually when I finished an article, “What would you add to this? What would you disagree with this?” Or I sometimes wrote posts that were purely discussion style, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. I began to see people slightly more detailed comments that were answering questions from other readers or my own questions.
What I did was begin to email some of those readers, and I would ask them if they would allow me to use their comment as a blog post or part of a comment as part of a blog post. Now I’d already put the content into a public forum on my blog, and perhaps I didn’t even need to ask that permission but I wanted to do that because I was interested in them knowing that I was using their content because it was a step towards getting them to write a blog post. Most of them were totally fine with it.
What I would do is either use their whole comment as a blog post. I might put an introductory sentence at the start, “Hey! Darren here. I saw this comment on the blog the other day about this, and I really loved it. Here it is.” Then I might write a sentence or two at the end of it, just to sort of wrap it up because the comment itself was really useful. It might have been a tip on an aspect of photography.
Or I might have used a part of a comment, so I might quote my readers. The idea here was that I was actually showing my readers that I value their thoughts. And this is partly to get our readers to start leaving more comments and to build that engagement, but it was also starting to get my readers used to the idea of seeing their content in blog posts themselves.
In the Flickr group, I also set up an area, where I ask my readers to submit a tip into the group. I made it really clear that I would use some of their tips as blog posts, and this worked really well. People were much more comfortable with adding a tip – might be a couple of paragraphs long – into a Facebook group than they were submitting a guest post.
What I would do then is to take some of those tips, and I combine them together into a longer post. I might say, “I need tips on portrait photography,” and 10 of my readers would submit their paragraph-long tip on taking great portraits. And then I’d combine that into a longer article. Again, my readers were writing the bulk of that content; there was 10 of them – all contributing to it. The other thing I might do occasionally, if a reader left a long, detailed tip in the Flickr group, is just to use that as a whole post in it of itself.
Another thing we used to do quite regularly was run weekly challenges with our readers. We still do this today – every Thursday or Friday, we would say, “Hey, the theme of this week is slow shutter speeds or large apertures,” or some kind of photographic technique. We’d get our readers to submit a photo they’ve taken using that technique.
What I would do if I saw a beautiful photo being submitted by one of our readers would be to email that reader and say, “Hey, I love that photo! Can I use it in a blog post? And would you mind answering a couple of questions for me about how you took it? What settings did you use? What’s the story behind the image? How did you compose it?” They would respond with maybe three or four sentences, and that would then become the blog post – the image, a few tips, a few thoughts from them behind that image.
Again, it was just about creating some user-generated content, that was inviting our readers to begin to see themselves in the blog posts, and this began to change the culture of the blog. It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually over time, readers began to expect that other readers would be in the content – it wouldn’t just be me all the time. I began to weave this in.
Another thing I’d begun to do is to do these discussion posts. A blog post would purely be me asking a question, “What type of camera do you use? What type of lens is your favorite lens, and why? How would you go about photographing a wedding?” These types of question-oriented posts.
The discussions that would come in as a result of that. If it was a good discussion, I could then take those comments and weave them into a blog post and create a blog post on that topic. It was really the blog post – this is what our community thinks on this particular topic. Again, just about getting our readers’ content onto the page.
The last thing I did is I began to approach people who were engaging in the Flickr group and sharing photos or engaging in comments. I would approach those who I thought knew something about a particular topic, and I would ask them, “Could I interview you on that particular topic? I see you take a lot of really beautiful wedding photos. Can I ask you five questions on wedding photography?”
I would actually reach out to them and interview them on a specialised topic. Again, this is an easy way to create some guest content. They don’t have to come up with a structure for the article. They don’t have to think of the questions. “I just have to answer some questions.” This was the beginning again of relationships with a few people, who later on became guests posters – is getting them used to the idea of writing some content, as brief as it might be (and I would add in some of their photos as well), and get them used to being on the site and seeing some of the benefits of that.
All of these techniques that I’ve just talked about helped my readers to begin to feel like their ideas were important to my site, began to build a community and a sense of engagement as well, got them used to seeing themselves and other readers on the blog as well, and as I said, it builds this culture of interaction and reader involvement.
Now none of this happened overnight. It took months. It took actually years to do this, and it became something that, as I got used to looking for opportunities to get my readers into blog posts, it opened up all kinds of wacky ideas as well. As you begin to do it, you see more and more opportunities, and so that’s one way to kind of approach this.
Now a few people who was featuring in these ways enjoyed the process, particularly some of the people I interviewed. They enjoyed the process so much that I would then follow them up and say, “Hey! If you enjoyed that – our readers obviously enjoyed that – if you’ve actually got any ideas for a longer article that you might like to write, feel free to shoot me an email with the idea that you’ve got. We can work out whether you could write an article.” Often the interviews would lead to a longer form article – and some of the other techniques that I mentioned did as well.
I was writing most of the content, still at this point, but I guess I was looking for any opportunity that I could to involve people in writing posts, particularly moving them towards writing a feature piece content, a longer article in some way.
This whole process, after a while, a few people did start to write a few guest posts, and that led me to putting up an actual page on the site. I created a WordPress page titled “Write for DPS” (Write for Digital Photography School), and I actually called my readers to submit. I gave them a process where they could begin to submit ideas as well. I did this because a number of people were starting to contact me. They were seeing different voices on the blog, and they were like, “Well, I could write something. I wonder if he’d take my post.” After I got a few of those, I began to put this page together, and it was really just me saying, “Hey, we can’t pay you at this stage. We’re not making enough, but if you’re interested in contributing to the site, here’s how to do it.”
I put light at a few expectations and a contact email address as well. That generated some submissions as well. I actually put that link in the navigation area on the site.
One of the things I am really glad I did also around this time was anytime anyone wrote for us in anyway, whether it was a guest post or I interviewed them or I featured them in any other way, I would put them on a spreadsheet that I created. It was a spreadsheet of contributors to the site. Whether they’d just done an interview or written an article or was just someone I thought might be a good contributor, I would put this spreadsheet together.
I made it my goal that I would touch base with everyone I put on that spreadsheet at least every couple of months. Just keep in touch with them. And I would also put next to their name, any contribution that they’d done, any link, any topic that I saw that they were interested in.
I guess, I was building up this little bit of a database. It was a pretty disorganized database, but it was a database of people who might write. So if I did wanna write an article on some aspect of portrait photography, I could look on that spreadsheet, and I knew there was someone there who I could ask for a quote or involve in some other way. It really was about trying to just keep that relationship going in some way, so if an opportunity did come up to feature them, I could. I also would share the stuff they were doing on our social media accounts to build that relationship in some ways as well.
Now as a result of all this, I began to get a few of the people, who did eventually write guest posts, say that they were interested in doing more. By this stage, a couple of years into the site, the site was starting to get some traffic, and people who did contribute began to see that when they were featured on the blog, they were getting traffic as well. So some started to return, and they would come back and say, “Hey, I’d like to do one every couple of months or one every month.” That was great. That was, I guess, the beginning of the next stage, which was all about trying to build a team.
At this stage, I still didn’t have much money to invest into writing. We were beginning to make a little bit of money from AdSense. I hadn’t created our first eBook now, by this stage, so there wasn’t a lot of money. Paid writers weren’t really on my radar, but I did begin to form this idea that maybe I should get some regular writers into the site because I could see my readers were beginning to recognize some of those people who did come back again from time to time.
The other thing that I began to do, as traffic grew, was – traffic is great because it’s good for building revenue, but it actually makes it easier to find new writers for your site as well. After a while, people began to know the brand of Digital Photography School in the photography circles, so it started to make it easier to approach people. Up until this point, I kind of have been looking at my readers, but as our brand grew, I began to see opportunities to approach other photography bloggers as well. These were people who perhaps had a little bit bigger profile, they had their own network, and they had expertise as well; so I began to reach out occasionally to a photography blogger and say, “Hey, would you be interested in writing an article for us? Or could I interview you?” The interview was often the first step.
The same thing happened with other photographers – photographers who might be quite well-known on Flickr. Flickr was huge at that time. There’s other photo-sharing sites now, but I began to see some of the Flickr users really had big profiles. I began to reach out to them and ask, “Can I interview you or would you be interested in writing for us?”
Then I also started to realize that I saw the same names over and over again in photography magazines, and these are offline publications that people were writing in. I realized a lot of them weren’t actually employed by the photography magazines; they were just writing guest content or writing as freelancers. So I began to reach out to some of those as well, and I would usually approach all of these people, whether they be a photography blogger or a photographer or a freelance writer, by introducing the site, talking about our traffic numbers and how much profile we could help them to build, and then making a broad invitation to be involved in creating content in some way for us. I would give them some examples of what others had done, usually others who had a bit of a profile as well, to build a bit a of social proof.
As I mentioned, many times I would reach out and say, “Hey, could I interview you? Or could I do a case study on one of your photos?” but sometimes they actually would come back and say, “Hey, I’ve written this article for a magazine. Could I rewrite it for you?” That was actually something that happened a number of times as well. Some people did prefer an interview ‘cause it felt easier, but some people who were writers actually found it easier just to write an article for us.
Now up until this point, everyone is guests on the site; they’re not paid writers. They’re all doing it for free, and they’re all doing it because (1) they want to give something back to the site if they’re our readers or (2) they’re doing it for profile and to grow their reach. By this stage, I was standing to earn money from the site, and I didn’t feel comfortable just taking guest contributions. Actually some of our writers didn’t want to be paid at all. They just did it because they enjoyed the process, but a number of our writers, I thought, “Maybe I could actually begin to pay them.”
That really is stage 3. Up until this point, stage 2 has really been all really about building guest contributors to the site. Stage 3 really is a time, where I was starting to have decent traffic to the site, starting to get revenue to the site, and I was starting now to think, “I need to build my regular writing team.”
By this stage, as I mentioned before, I have a few guest writers, who were writing submissions once a month, but when you’ve got a guest writer – even if they’ve committed to writing once a month – it’s really hard to keep them to that. You can’t put too many demands on someone doing something for free for you, so in the back of my mind, I was like, “Maybe I need to start paying people. That way, I might be able to enforce a deadline a little bit more.”
I wanted to increase the frequency of our publishing. When I started the site, I was publishing three times a week. I moved it to daily by the time I built this sort of little team of guest writers up, but I wanted to get to two posts a day. I wanted to get 14 posts per week, and to do that, I knew I needed a consistent stream of articles coming into the site. I knew I couldn’t write them all, so I thought one way to do that is to start to hire some writers.
I also wanted to lift the quality and the level and expand the topics that we were writing about. Some of our best authors, by this stage, were actually growing their profile so fast that their own projects were beginning to take off, so they weren’t writing for us anymore. To get a high quality of writer, I knew I’d probably need to start paying people to attract those high caliber of writers, and also I wanted to start attracting intermediate and advanced writers as well, and people who specialize in topics like post-production (how to use Photoshop) or people who were willing to write reviews of cameras, which take a long time to do. I knew to attract those types of writers, I was going to have to start to pay for those writers.
I also wanted to have regular writers. I didn’t want to just pay for one-off writers. I wanted people who would come back and contribute on a regular basis because I saw that when we did have regular writers on the site, my readers actually responded really well to them because I felt like they knew who they were and relationships between my writers and readers were important. So I made the decision, “I’m gonna put some investment into paying writers for all my sites.”
The first two people that I hired actually turned out to be people, who had been writing as guest writers. I probably could have gotten them to keep writing as guest writers, but I went to them and said, “Hey, you write once a month for us. I love the content that you’re doing. You’re writing on a topic that I don’t feel comfortable writing about. Would you be willing to write on a more regular basis?” I actually went to both of these writers and said, “Hey, I’m willing to pay you to write a weekly article. You’ve only been doing a monthly article, but I want you to do a weekly article. And I’ll pay you.”
At that time, I didn’t have a lot to invest into it, so it was 50 USD per article, while also giving them lots of exposure in the articles linking to their own projects. Both of them actually had their own products to sell as well. Both of them had eBooks, and so I allowed them to promote their eBooks. They were actually earning more than that $50. That’s where we started out. You’ve really got to work out what the right rate is for you.
This is like eight years ago. I acknowledge that really probably wouldn’t cut it today if you’re trying to hire someone at a high quality, but that’s what we started out. We’ve certainly increased since that time. Initially, I just hired the two, but gradually as I was able to drive more traffic and more revenue in the site, I was able to increase that group of writers and went to three, to four, to five. We gradually went from 7 posts a week to 10 posts a week and then to 14 posts a week.
I would usually hire internally, so my guest writers who might write the occasional article, I would hire them in the early days. I would only ever pay someone if they could commit to writing at least once a month. I wanted that regularity. I wasn’t gonna pay someone just to write a one-off article; I wanted the regular writer so my readers could get to know them.
Initially, it was all about promoting people, who were writing as guest writers, but at times, I began to realize that my pool of people that I could hire was not really that big. That was around the time I decided I needed to start advertising for writers for the site. Now it just so happens that on ProBlogger, we have a job board, so I was able to advertise on my own job board for writers. I wasn’t really sure the first time I did it, how it would work, because I didn’t know how many photography enthusiasts read ProBlogger and subscribed to those job boards.
I put up a job. I can’t remember exactly what year it was, but I was amazed at how many applicants we got. I think the first job I put out – must have been six or seven years ago now – got 80 applicants, and about half of them, I would have hired. They were incredibly high-quality.
If you haven’t checked out the job board, it’s at problogger.com/jobs. It’s a great place if you’re looking for work as a blogger, but it’s also a fantastic place to advertise for bloggers to actually hire. Seventy dollars ($70) will get you a job that lasts for thirty days. We get quite a few of our advertisers emailing us within a few days, saying, “Take the job down. I’m getting too many applicants.” Anyone can advertise there, if you wanna check that one out, if you are looking to hire people.
So I advertised there. I was getting quite a few applicants, and the quality was really great. Today, we probably put a job up there every two or three months, and these days, we get over 100 applicants to many of the jobs that we advertise. And as I said, a lot of them are very high quality. We typically will hire five people at a time. We kind of wait until some of our writers will have left and moved on. They only write for a period of time, and so we’ll wait until we need to hire a few more. Then we’ll hire in batches in that way.
If you do want to advertise on the job boards or anywhere else, the key is to be really clear about what you’re looking for. You don’t wanna just do a broad ad, or else you’ll get a broad number of applicants. You’ll get more applicants, but they won’t be as targeted so be really clear about what you’re looking for and the process that you will work through to hire them. We typically will put a job up – even though the job lasts for 30 days, we typically have a cut-off date of the week. We say, “You’ve got to get your application in within a week.” Then we ask them for examples of their work as well.
The other thing that I would encourage you to do is to think ahead of time, before you place your ad, about the process you wanna take your applicants through. We actually have this little process that we’ve developed now that we’ve probably done this about 8 or 9 or maybe even 10 times over the years.
This is the process. Firstly, we place the ad, but we also have two emails ready to go. The two emails are for different scenarios of applications. The first one is one that we send to people, who we just know straight away aren’t suitable – either they apply ignoring some of our criteria, or we can tell through their application that their writing isn’t great or they don’t seem to have the right experience for us. This is our “Thanks, but sorry” email, that we send out straight away as soon as someone applies that we know isn’t a fit. We just send out an email saying, “Thanks for applying. We’re really sorry, but we can’t progress your application.”
A second email is a “Thanks! We will be in touch,” email, because we typically have a deadline of a week. We know that we’re gonna get a lot of applicants in during that week, so we send this one out to anyone who we think we might be interested in, anyone who’s at least at a quality where we should consider them and we need to look a little bit deeper into them. We collect everyone’s emails that’s in this second category, and we send them a quick email just saying, “Hey, thanks! Here’s the process. From here, we will be in touch in a week or so.”
The next step is that we begin to sort those applicants into groups. I guess this is like a triage type scenario. The applicants, who we immediately feel are a good fit or could be a good fit, we put into a “great” pile. Then we put the rest into a “good” pile, and then maybe if there’s sort of a lower quality, we might put them into an “okay” pile. It really depends how many people we’re looking to hire and how many applicants we get, but we generally go to anyone in that “great” pile and maybe some of the people in the “good” pile. We will reply to them with an email that invites them to go to the next stage. Anyone who we don’t invite to go to the next stage, we of course send an email saying, “Thanks, but we can’t progress any further.”
Anyone we invite to go to the next stage, we send them an email. We tell them a little bit more about the job: what it entails, what it pays, what are the benefits they get. “We’ll give you links. We can promote your stuff.” And then we invite them to write a trial post for the site – a paid trial post for the site, one-off trial post.
We invite them to nominate a topic that they want to write about and to come back to us with that. We give them approval or we adapt it if we don’t think it’s a good fit. We may have written about that topic in the last week already, so we ask them to come up with another one. Then we set them a deadline and ask them to write that post and to submit it. Then we might go back and forth a little bit on any edits, and then we publish the post.
We do this trial for a few reasons. Firstly, it shows us the quality of their work. Secondly, it shows us what they’re like to work with. Can they deliver on time? Are they high-maintenance? Do they seem to understand what WordPress is and how to write for that audience? Will they follow up with comments that are left on their articles? Will they promote the posts on their own social networks? I guess, we’re really looking here to see, whether they’re just going to submit us a piece of content and then leave it, or they’re going to take it to the next level.
This gives us a chance to see whether their style fits with our audience – what voice they write in, how accessible, how inclusive they are, how clear they are. And it also gives us a chance to see how our audience will respond to them. Do they get a lot of comments? Are they writing in a way that is really engaging and gets lots of shares? You get a real feel for people through this process. And I guess the other side of it is that they get to see what we’re like to work with as well. What are the benefits of working with us? What are our systems like? That can give them a sense of what we’re like and whether we’re a good fit.
This trial process – and we do pay them. We pay them the normal rate that we would pay them normally. It helps us just to really work out whether it’s a good fit or not. So we might invite 10 or 15 people from all the applicants to go through this process. Then we might hire the best 5 or 6.
The other beauty of this is that it gives us some other content that we can use on the site as well. Even if we don’t go on to hire these people, we’ve got a piece of content that we can use as well. That’s nice to get some extra voices on there as well.
We publish pretty much everything that’s submitted. We do go back to some people and do some edits and revisions on it, but the process really does work very well. It takes us a couple of weeks to go through that process. From the time they see the ad to the time we hire them might take three or four weeks. It is quite a long process, but it does tend to get quite good quality of writers.
As I mentioned before, the people who we do offer the job to, we always ask them to write regularly. We won’t hire anyone to write less than once a month because it’s gonna take an investment of time to get them trained and integrated with the way that we do things. So we don’t wanna train someone who’s just gonna write one article for us every couple of months. We usually ask them to write every couple of weeks or at least once a month. That’s quite good.
Once we’ve hired someone, we’ve got a bit of an initiation process, and this is something that’s come in the last couple of years as I’ve hired an editor, who I’ll talk about in a moment. We send them out a handbook, and the handbook’s a nine-page document. It’s got a lot of guidelines about how to use images, what size images, whether they can use watermarks, how they should name their files, their image files. We give them some tips and guidelines for writing articles (US spelling versus UK spelling, how to format posts, how to use headlines) – sort of a style guide in many ways – some information on how we title our posts, some tips for using WordPress and formatting the posts, some tips on how to write their author bio, other expectations that we have for them, as well as some contact details for us as a team, a little bit about who we are as a site, and also some information there about our readers because we want them to be writing for the right level of readers.
This handbook has been really great, and it’s evolved over the years. It started out very simply. Now when someone comes onto our team, where I would hand this to them and walk them through this process, it really helps them to be lifting the quality of their articles, but also helps us in our editing. If we’ve taught them how we want them to submit our content, we don’t have to spend as much time fixing the things that aren’t formatted in certain ways. We also have a little Facebook group for our regular writers, where we build a bit of community. If we’ve got a camera that we want someone to review, we might put it in there. We call out topics; we brainstorm as a group, and a little bit of community going on in there.
Some of our authors that we hired have worked out brilliantly. We’ve had authors that have written for us now for five or six years, and others stay for a time. They might stay while they’ve got extra time on their hands and then they get busy and move on. Some of them don’t work out at all, they might last three articles and then think this isn’t for them or we might look at their articles and think this isn’t really right for us as well.
Because we don’t have people who are relying on us for their full time income, we don’t have to give them three months notice or anything like that. We’re fairly quick to work out whether we’re a good fit and they are as well. Typically, things do tend to work out well as a result of the process that we’ve got.
As I look at our Facebook group today, I think we’ve got about 50 members in that group, 47 of which are writers. There’s myself, our editor, and our site manager as well in that group. There’s 47 people in there who are writers.
I mentioned our editor a couple of times in the last few minutes. Eventually, it must be three years ago now, I realized that I could not manage this whole process. It actually had gotten to a point where having 40 or 50 people to manage, that’s too much for me to do as well as all the other things that I do. I’ve got Digital Photography School and ProBlogger. I decided I needed to step up and hire an editor as well as writers.
We hired Darlene who lives in Canada. She actually started out as a writer who I promoted. I saw in her an attention to detail and some of the skills that we would need as a writer. She was also someone who’s a photographer, so she is operating at a higher level of expertise in photography which I knew would help as well.
The idea here was that she would be able to take things to the next level in developing a team of writers to be able to communicate more regularly with them and better with them, to streamline some of the processes that we had, to keep our writers to the deadlines that they committed to, to think a little bit more strategically about the editorial direction and to increase the quality of the articles as well. I’m not a details person, the idea of me editing someone else’s work is kind of laughable because I’m really in need of that myself. I’m not the best speller or the best in grammar. It really has lifted the quality of our articles quite a bit. As I mentioned, she’s a professional photographer.
That’s kind of the process that I’ve gone through. Just to give you a bit of a sum up, a few other tips that I give, and just to recap a couple of the things that I think have been important.
In terms of taking your readers on that journey, some of the people I talk to who are thinking of having other writers on their blog are really worried that their readers will push back. I was too. I was worried when I did this on ProBlogger as well as on Digital Photography School. To be honest, there were some readers who did push back. Some readers started reading my blog because I wrote every post on the blog. It was less so on Digital Photography, more so on ProBlogger. ProBlogger is a bit more of a personal brand. Digital Photography School, I never really injected my personality into that content. It didn’t really get so much push back there. I did get some readers who are all these other people.
One of the things I would say there is the thing I like on Digital Photography School about the work I did is that it really did take a few years. It actually probably took me about two years from the time I had my first guest post to the point where my guest posters were writing more than me. For those two full years, I was still writing three posts a week. I didn’t change how much content I was writing over those two years, I just added in some other articles. It was a bit of a transition.
Today, I don’t write any articles on the site. Again, that was a bit of a transition. I went from three posts a week to two, to one, to none. That, again, took several years to get to that point. Take your readers on that journey and introduce new voices slowly, that can work quite well.
Build a sense of community and collaboration on your site. You’ll see back in stage one, I found it was really important for me to be asking my readers questions, having discussions, getting them into a Flickr Group, getting them engaging with me in some way. Even if it wasn’t creating content, it was so much easier to get people to create content for me because they felt like they’re in a relationship with me in the early days. That was really important.
The next thing I’ll say is some of your best writers down the track will be readers today. Look at your readers, start with your readers, take them on a journey. Look for the people who are contributing at a higher rate than other people in the comment section in your blog. Look for the people who are being helpful on your Facebook page or in the groups that you have. Actually really pay attention to your readers because in your readers, you probably have potential writers.
Always be on the lookout for ways that you can promote what they’re doing in your comments into blog posts, even if it’s just adding a quote or showing something that they’ve done or doing an interview of them in some way. Look for those gentle ways to help them to create content for you. It does take more work to do that. To do an interview with someone, you got to think of the questions, you’ve got to edit their answers, you’ve got to format it all. But in the long run, if that person ends up becoming your writer and that process is well worth the time. Do look for gentle ways of promoting your readers into creating content for you.
When you’re hiring people, be careful of the voice. This is one of the things I noticed. In the early days, I did hire a couple of people who wrote in a very different style to me. That can be good but it can also clash. There are a couple of people who I hired in the early days who had a much more aggressive tone. I’m a much more gentle conversational kind of person; I don’t like to offend people, I’m not really opinionated. Whilst I think having people with opinion can be a good thing, it can actually clash as well.
Be really careful of the voice. Watch really carefully to see how your readers do respond to the different styles of people that you write. You’re never going to hire someone who’s exactly the same as you. Be careful when you do hire someone who clashes with your voice and see how your readers respond to that. It could end up being a good thing but it could also be something that really hurts your brand.
Be careful of voice, be careful of values, you want to hire people who share values with you, who have the same kind of goals as you. That’s something I’ve really paid attention to.
Having said all that, variety can be good too. I’m a guy and my first two hires were women. I didn’t do it because I wanted to add women into the site, but it actually benefitted my site. It made my site a little bit more inclusive and I started to notice that we attracted a different audience. Gender might be one of those things.
The location of your writers might be another thing. I’m in Australia, I’ve hired some US writers, I’ve hired people from the UK, I’ve hired people from different parts of Asia and Africa. I think that can have an impact upon your site as well. Maybe that’s a positive impact, it has been for us, but again it’s got to be something that you watch to see how people react to that.
In terms of the topic, variety can be good again then too. I didn’t know much about how to use Photoshop, so my first hire was a woman who wrote about the topic of Photoshop. That broadened our topic and that went down really well with our readers. Think about variety in terms of the level that you write at, I’m an intermediate kind of photographer, some of my early hires were people who were at a more advanced level, one that again went down really well with my readers.
Be careful of voice, be careful of value, you want to hire people who are going to add to your site and take your readers and your site towards your goals. Be also open to variety because hiring people who are different to you can actually add a lot of depth to your site as well.
The last thing I’ll say is that if you hire someone or if you bring someone on as a guest and it’s not working, and you’re seeing that there’s a real pushback from your readers, you see a clash of values, of voice in those kinds of ways, be quick to end that relationship. You don’t want to have someone who is on your site for years to come just because you’re a bit nervous to say this isn’t working out. You want to be really clear right upfront that you’re hiring people as a trial and that’s one of the things I probably should’ve mentioned earlier.
We generally say to people let’s start this paid relationship out for three months and then we’ll assess how things are going, and then they become permanent. That gives you a chance to have an out if it’s not working for you and to have some expectations around that. I’ve certainly made that mistake, I’ve had people who have worked on my sites over the years. I really should’ve ended those relationships faster and it would’ve benefitted me and my readers, and it would’ve benefitted them in the long run as well.
I am aware that I’ve talked a lot today and this is probably one of the longer episodes that I’ve done. It is a question I get asked a lot, how do I find more writers for my blog? I really wanted to really walk you through that process because it’s not something that’s just happened over night. I started Digital Photography School in 2006 and ten years later it’s very different to how it started. It actually took me probably nine years to really make that journey from being a single-author blogger to having a team of paid writers as well. I should actually say that we do still have some people who prefer to just be guest writers. We do have some guest content still on the site, but the bulk of our content on the site now is from our paid team.
Hope that’s been helpful, I would love to hear your insights on this process as well. Perhaps you’ve made that transition or perhaps you’re mid-way through it. What have you found worked? Where have you found your writers? What tips would you give in integrating those writers into the system and actually initiating them into writing for you and taking them on that journey? How have you taken your readers on that journey? Have you had pushback?
Any of these questions that you feel like you want to chime in on to help us all to learn a little bit more about this whole process, head over to problogger.com/podcast/169 where you can get a full transcript of today’s very long show but also leave any questions or comments that you have.
If you are looking to hire bloggers, of course head over to problogger.com/jobs where you can place an ad for a writer for your site. We just actually redesigned the job board in the last few months, I hope you liked some of the added features we have added there. We actually have a new feature there where you can pay a little bit more and get a featured ad. Unfortunately, they’re all taken though, they got snapped up within a couple of weeks. There will be some more ones coming up in the coming weeks as well.
Thanks for listening today and I will be back with you next Monday night for the next episode of the ProBlogger Podcast.