As a reader of this blog, you know the value of content marketing. I won’t bore you with the concept that social media is powerful or that blogging is vital to modern business. I’ll assume that you already have a content strategy in place and therefore have enlisted the help of some knowledgeable content writers.

This post is about how to challenge them. It is about making your content writers the best they can be. And frankly, it will help you to know whether or not you are getting your money’s worth.

Who am I to share such knowledge? I founded a small writing service in 2010 and have watched it grow immensely in the past 2 years. This means I have personally hired, trained, managed—and yes, fired—plenty of content writers. Unlike the big box stores out there that boast thousands of writers and editors, I keep less than 15 people on staff. And I interact with them on a daily basis.

Now, this isn’t to say that you have to babysit your content writer or even spend that much time with them. Obviously, you have a business to run, so let me give you some insight to increase the happy vibes and bottom line of your content writing partnership.

#1 Never, Ever ask for Samples. Ever.

I started writing content in 2005 when I stumbled upon a huge need in the internet marketing/affiliate marketing space. This industry is infamous for using overseas workers, and so I was doing $2 articles for days and days on end. I cut my teeth and worked hard to make it to where I am today. It’s been a long 7 years writing for the online marketplace.

Just imagine the thousands of pieces I’ve personally written, now multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of pieces I’ve had my staff write for our clients. Think about it: your potential content writer might have thousands of pieces to pick from, and surely he or she will pick the gem. We’ve all had good days and bad days. No matter what industry you are in, surely you can pinpoint one 30-minute period that you were a star employee. Is that necessarily a realistic gauge of your ability?

Plus, who’s to say it’s even theirs to begin with. Unless you are hiring a traditional journalist with clippings (which I don’t suggest anyway since journalism is not blogging or vice versa), you would be much better served by asking for a custom sample. You can decide whether you pay them for this sample or not, but ask for something fresh. You don’t want to hire someone based on copy they wrote three years ago.

#2 Give them the Benefit of the Doubt.

I can almost hear the clamoring from the last point. The question that bubbles up more than any other, “How do I know if this writer can write for my company?” Genuine writers are students of language. Just like an actor or actress breaks down the components of emotion through movement and voice, the content writer pays attention to words. This means that any writer worth their salt knows how to be more friendly versus professional or how to write to an older rather than younger audience.

The very last thing you want to do is look at a writer’s portfolio to decide what he or she can’t do. This is just another reason why samples are dumb. Remember, if you are hiring a content writer, you are hiring someone to ghostwrite. That means they aren’t going to write in his or her natural tone; they are going to mimic your brand’s voice.

So, give your content writer the benefit of the doubt. Whenever you don’t see what you are expecting, assume that you miscommunicated. It’s much more likely that a writer misunderstood your directions or you didn’t communicate your expectations properly, rather than he or she just ignored you completely.

I always tell my clients that I can never get too many emails, and I ask them to be brutally honest with any feedback. Nine times out of ten, clients complain to me about something because they forgot to tell the writer what was important. Which only makes sense; you know your business better than anyone. It’s the same reason you can’t see what’s wrong with your website or an old scratch on your hood. You are around it so much that you are used to it. You’ve missed the forest for the trees.

Challenge your writer by giving all the information you can, and then be sure to continually keep the lines of communication open.

#3 A Good Writer is like a Good Horse. Once You Have one, You Don’t Just let it go.

I’m constantly flabbergasted by companies that hire different content writers for blogs and email marketing or social media content. Writing for the web is a skill, not a natural talent. And once that skill is learned, learning the nuances of email autoresponders isn’t a leap from a blog.

It would be as if your company had a long-term accounts payable system. You had the same staff member do it for years and years. Then, you decided that you were going to add Paypal as a payment method. Would you go out and find a Paypal expert? No, you would simply train the regular AP person on Paypal. This is how you should work with your content writer.

The hardest part is getting to know your brand and your preferences. This is why most content writing services (the good ones anyway) spend so much time up front chatting with you on the phone or emailing back and forth. Why would you do all that all over again when you could simply request the content writer to read up on how to write a guide?

Not to mention that chances are high your content writer has done that type of copy before, it’s just hasn’t come up yet.

#4 Give Your Writer the Tools to Succeed

How do you talk to other industry professionals? You probably speak their language and refer to well known companies or resources. For example, everybody who writes online copy knows about Copy Blogger and Content Marketing Institute. If they don’t, they haven’t been around very long.

If a content writer claims to be familiar with your industry, ask them for common resources they’ve used on other pieces instead of samples. That’s how I weed out the hundreds of “SEO experts” from the wannabes when I am hiring. If someone claims to know about SEO, I ask them for 10 of their top resources on SEO. You can do the same thing when you are looking for a writer.

However, if you already have a writer in mind – give them the goods. Let them know which industry resources you respect. That will not only help them beef up their knowledge and your content, but it will also provide insight for them about what your company values.

Working with content writers should be a joy, not a challenge. I am pretty picky about the clients I keep and you should be just as picky about your writers. Keep the lines of communication and respect going in both directions. This will not only help you keep your sanity, it will undoubtedly lead to conversions.

Do you have any tips or tricks about working with content writers?