If you're running a business in 2018, you have to have a website.

(Unless you're like, a cobbler in Venezuela. And even then, you probably need a website.)

And if you have a website in 2018, you need to have content. At least for now, content is the dominant way to rank on Google, which is the dominant way to get eyes on your business.

Paid ads are expensive and hard to scale, and so far nobody else has invented a really great way for people to discover business that works for them.

So, guess what: you need to suck it out and spit out blog posts with free value like the rest of us. It takes money to make money, right?

So how, in a world of thousands of shady content mills does a small business get a decent content writer for their business?

Caveat: I'm assuming you don't want to waste months and hundreds of dollars through this process. Most of ContentFly's customers also, oddly, don't like wasting time and money - who knew?

If that assumptions holds true, read on.

Step 1 - Figure out your content strategy

OK, if you just hire a blogger and start blasting out tons of content you're not going to get anywhere. Before you hire a writer you need to understand your strategy so you can hire the right person.

First step: keywords.

Yeah, yeah, we hate it too. Intentionally trying to game Google by finding keywords that you can rank for so people click through feels really gimmicky. But guess what: at least for now, that's what works.

So stop being picky.

Hit up something like Semrush or one of our Keyword tools and figure out a giant list of keywords that you might be able to rank for. Next: look at the topics that are ranking there, and come up with topics that are actually halfway valuable.

Guess what - you need to actually deliver value for people to give a crap about the content you create. So be intentional and deliver value.

Once you've got a set of keywords figured out, and some topics, you need to start thinking about things like size and tone. Are you going to have mostly short-form articles? A mix of short and long form? Infographics? Spell out your needs clearly so anyone can tell.

Figure out some inspirational blogs. Other companies, whether in your space or outside, that have a content strategy you're a fan of. The best way to get value out of your writer is to give some examples they can work from.

Step 2 - Prepare your shortlist

Alright, here's the tough part - there are a lot content writers.

So it's time you start hitting up content marketplaces like Upwork, Contena and Angel. Go through every single copywriter you can find and download their samples. Put it into a spreadsheet.

Only consider writers who have a portfolio that knocks your socks off.

Seriously - unless you're completely in love with every word they've written, immediately scrap them. If you have even a sliver of doubt in their portfolio it's a no-go.

Once you have a filtered list of the best of the best portfolios, it's on to step 3.

Step 3 - Create a sample project

Email your shortlist and send them the content strategy you've outlined in step 1. Set your expectations clearly.

Ask them to pick one of the topics to write on them. We recommend 800-1200 words for a sample article - it's just long enough that you can get a decent vibe of the writer, without forking over a ton of $$.

And yes - this step will cost money. There's no way around it. You could try and convince some of them to write a test article for free but we wouldn't recommend it. Most writers worth their scratch won't do that.

You should however ask them for the first few paragraphs, and a contingency that if you don't like them you can back out.

Once you've sent them out, watch for a few things:

1. Punctuality - missed deadlines on the first article are a huge no-no.
2. Communication - Are they asking clarifying questions?
3. Ease - Are they easy to work with? Do they make a big deal out of everything?

Once you feel comfortable with some of the writers, you're ready to move forward. You don't need to just pick 1 - if there's a few that are solid, distribute the work among all of them.

We've talked a lot about distributing risk in content. Spreading the wealth is a great way to spread new ideas around your blog and add some variety to the mix.

Bonus Step 4 - Outsource

If you're as tired of these steps as we are, consider outsourcing your writing. Services like ContentFly do all the work of vetting and finding qualified writers – all you have to do is sign up and request content. You typically get things far cheaper as well - there's usually no drawback, especially if you're a small business that wants to move quickly.

Hiring a writer in 2018 is much more complicated than it was a decade ago, and also much more essential. Content truly is King - if you want to make it work, either outsource it or be prepared to really put in the hours (and dollars) to getting your moneys worth.

If you're reading this from the future, check out our guide on how to hire a great content writer in 2021!