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From the Trenches

Finding Freelance Writers for Specific Industries

Right Source | January 20, 2015
Finding Writers for Specific Verticals

For content marketers, finding a writer is easy. You can’t shake a tree these days without a freelance writer falling out.

But finding a writer who knows how to write about a particular industry vertical? And do so authoritatively  or at least knowledgeably? That’s often very tough, especially when that vertical is obscure, technical, or, well, just weird.

It’s doubly challenging because professionals in obscure industries are often somewhat insular. They can spot a poser a mile away. And developing content that your target audience views as amateurish is worse than doing nothing at all.

I was in a meeting recently with a client who complained that blog posts written by anyone other than him or one of his senior-level associates always seemed to strike him as “moderately stupid.” He figured that potential clients and industry colleagues would detect the same thing. Yet these professionals didn’t have much time to do their own writing. They needed a writer who could develop articles that their industry colleagues and potential clients would see as highly useful.

So what do you do if you’re trying to market to an audience of, say, chemical engineers, mortgage underwriters, or beef jerky manufacturers, and you need to develop relevant, authentic content that your audience will appreciate  and not find “moderately stupid”?

You can find those hard-to-discover writers by knowing where to look for them. Or you can let them find you. Or a little of both.

Search for the Needle in the Haystack

Look for relevant trade publications. Even obscure industries have some kind of print or online trade publication  sometimes several. Find them online, then search the archives for bylines of writers who don’t appear on the staff list. These will be either former staffers or current freelancers. You can usually connect with these folks on LinkedIn.

In some cases, all the staffers of a particular trade publication are now former staffers  because the publication has closed. It’s a sad fact of modern journalism that many publications are shuttering. That’s unfortunate for those former employees but potentially great news for you because it has created a new pool of freelancers for you to access.

Find the relevant professional associations. Just as most industries have trade publications, most also have professional associations. (You’d be surprised by how many trade associations there are.) The associations usually publish their own member magazines and newsletters. Again, search through these to find names of writers who aren’t currently on staff at the association.

There’s also no reason you can’t ask the association directly for some references. Ask the publications manager or communications director to recommend some freelance writers he trusts. He really shouldn’t balk at your request, especially if you represent one of the association’s members (but really, even if you don’t).

Let the Needles Find You

If you’re looking for someone who can work for you on an ongoing freelance basis, advertise. You can post an inexpensive ad in a place where writers congregate in search of work, like MediaBistro or JournalismJobs.com. (The trade associations often run their own job boards, as well.) Make it very clear in the ad what kind of experience you’re looking for and insist that applicants produce a writing sample that demonstrates they have it.

Elance is an option when you have one assignment only. It’s hit or miss, and it’s not exclusive to writers, but there’s no charge for searching Elance’s database, and no charge for posting an ad, so it’s worth a look.

Last Resorts

So you’ve been through all that, and you’re still striking out. Consider hiring a writer who, frankly, doesn’t know much about your vertical but can learn. This is not advisable for one-off projects but it’s an option if you have multiple projects (or a single project with recurring components) and time to cultivate someone. Look for people who have a demonstrated history of tackling subject matter they’re unfamiliar with, and learning it quickly.

These candidates will most likely present themselves when you post your ad  being explicit about the kind of experience you want will not entirely preclude writers who don’t quite have that experience from applying  so there’s nothing more for you to do except start contacting the most promising ones.

Other options:

  • You can hire a subject matter expert with an interest in/some experience with writing, and edit his or her copy carefully. These folks probably aren’t professional writers but enjoy writing and would be thrilled to get paid to do it. This might be a good option for you, but you’ll need to edit any copy closely and treat your writer gently, as he or she will not be used to a professional editing process.
  • Solicit volunteers from within your company and hire a professional editor to shape the copy. The editor wouldn’t need to know your vertical well, as long as the source material is coherent enough to work with.

I’d love to hear your ideas for finding writers in particular verticals in the comments sections below. But finding great writers is only one piece of the content marketing puzzle. Find out who else belongs on your content marketing team by downloading our new eBook, “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide.”

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.