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How to Source Thousands of Writers and Only Hire the Top 1%

Episode Overview: Owning and setting the processes to scale content at large is only half the battle. Finding the right copywriters and writers to quickly create content to scale according to your processes is vital to the content scaling process. Join host Ben as he speaks with CEO and Founder of Codeless Brad Smith, about how to best source thousands of writers and effectively hire the top 1% for your content needs.


  • Placing quality checks in the application process, such as salary expectations and directions to follow, easily weeds out the casually interested applicants from serious applicants.
  • Contractors and freelancers are typically familiar with remote work and producing X amount of work to get paid Y amount of dollars.
  • As you narrow down the candidate pool to 20-30 writers, the next logical step is to review their work samples to see who aligns best with your brand and production style.
  • Once narrowed down further, add incentive to your process by offering five paid trials to obtain one good writer. The added incentive is mindful of the writer’s time and gives you an idea of what their quality of paid work looks like for your trial.


Ben:                  Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. Today we’re going to talk about creating content at scale. Joining us is Brad Smith, who is the Founder and CEO of Codeless, a content production company whose content has been highlighted by the New York Times, Business Insider and The Next Web. Brad is also the Co-Founder of uSERP, a digital PR company that helps connect its clients with leading SaaS, ecommerce, SEO, tech, business and marketing sites to boost their brand authority.

Ben:                  Yesterday, Brad and I talked about his guide to producing hundreds of pieces of quality technical articles. Today we’re going to talk about really the secret sauce for that, which is how to source thousands of writers and only hire the top 1%. Okay. On with the show. Here’s the second part of my conversation with Brad Smith, CEO of Codeless. Brad, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Brad:               Thanks. I’m excited for the next part.

Ben:                 Excited to continue our conversation, for anybody that missed it, Brad and I were talking about how to create high quality technical content at scale, and really it’s having templates, having processes in place and then finding the right people. That really seems like the secret sauce. Brad, talk to me about the vetting process for writers. How do you figure out who’s the right writer? Do they have the expertise and get them trained and up to speed on the brand that they’re writing for quickly?

Brad:              Yeah, definitely I’ll start broad and then we can go narrower as we go. But essentially, the thing that most people struggle with is they just don’t look at enough people. You need to treat it almost like a lead gen funnel where, if I’m looking for like one writer, then that doesn’t mean I look at five potential writers. That means I look at like a 100. So just extrapolate that out now, if we’re building a team of writers. If we need 10 writers, like we need to look at a thousand different writers.

Brad:              So you need to have a system in place where, A, you’re not the one doing all the work in between because otherwise it never is going to get done. But then the other thing too is you can automate a lot of steps. So for example, from the very first application process, so we run job board ads and we try to drive people into the same form. If they don’t follow basic instructions or follow basic steps that we asked of them in the job board listing, they automatically don’t get added to the database for the next step of people to go through.

Brad:             So we have different hurdles built into the process to where we’re able to get a thousand down to a hundred qualified people who follow directions and are within line on budget and everything else. Then from there we will work on testing them, actually doing paid and trials with them, and just building that into the budget of, “Yeah, we’re going to have to spend some money.”

Ben:              Okay. So step one, you’re having people go through an application process and you’re putting some basic instructions and if they don’t follow the basic instructions, they are unqualified. Let me ask you a question, going back to the beginning, when you’re sourcing your writers, what are some of the places you’re looking to hire? Are you just going on to Upwork? Are you doing actual job postings? How are you finding your writers?

Brad:            Yeah, so we do actual job postings. We don’t usually work through a platform like Upwork because we want to control the relationship a little more. We also try to test everyone as contractors initially, and then hire the best ones part time, full time, after that. So we don’t want to run into the issue of finding someone we like on Upwork and then having to try to like get them off the platform. So we don’t do job boards like Indeed because we find that it tends to be full time writers like W2 writers who aren’t focused more on production and output.

Brad:             It tends to be contractors and freelancers who have that better mindset of producing X amount of work to get paid Y. We just find that they tend to be easier to work with in that type of environment. So we do a ton of job board listings across all the popular freelance writing places. Off the top of my head, so like ProBlogger, we have not had good success with LinkedIn. It’s usually overpriced, and not very good quality. We work remotely. So a lot of like anything related to like freelance writing and anything related to remote working or remote jobs.

Ben:               Okay. So once you go through and you’re vetting the writers, and you’re giving them some instructions, “Hey, put two plus two equals five at the bottom of every article, and if they’re not doing that, then they fail.” You’re getting down to this sort of core group that can follow some instructions. You mentioned that you’re hiring people and giving paid tests. Walk me through that process.

Brad:            Yeah, definitely. So at this point we probably already know what they’re in quotes an expert on, or what topics they’re interested in. So we say, “Okay, we have X amount of pieces that we already need for our clients that we’ve already had approved everything else. So we’re actually going to assign it to you guys as paid tests.” Depending on the scenario, we might have them go through some initial training before we give them the writing assignment, just to, again, make sure that they eventually give us what we want to see.

Ben:              Paid training what are you walking them through? “Hey, here’s what this brand is. Here’s what the products are?” Or?

Brad:            Yeah, exactly.

Ben:              Or, here’s what the difference between a comma and a semicolon is?

Brad:            Yeah, it’s a little of both. So for example, if we have an enterprise client, we’ll often build out full training programs for that client, with some of the things you mentioned earlier, like style guides, types of content, all that kind of information up at the very beginning so that they have to learn more about the client that they’re going to be writing about, or for, before and at the time they’re actually doing the paid test. So that way we can, internally, but also the client, we could show them a writing sample, of let’s say 500 words. If you do this enough pretty quickly whether or not that person’s probably going to be a good fit to continue testing. So it’s kind of a combined approach.

Ben:             All right. So somebody follows the instructions upfront, they’re given a paid test and they write a 500 word article. It comes out shining and they’re hired. Now they have 10 articles a week, right?

Brad:           No.

Ben:             No? It doesn’t work that way. Walk me through the rest of the process.

Brad:           They tell us they can do 10 a week, or five a week, and we say, “You’re probably going to be able to do one a week.” Is what we’ve learned over time because that’s when issues … Whenever you try to fit up for scale and speed, that’s when problems pop up. That’s when deadline issues pop up, like all these issues start coming up. So we’ll say, “Okay, you’re kind of like in, for the time being,” and we’ll give them one article to do every week. If they do those successfully at the end of the month, then we’ll start slowly ramping them up from there.

Ben:              So you mentioned that you’re starting on a contract basis and with the best writers, you’re moving them to part time and then full time. Walk me through the rationale for changing the type of relationship. Why do people want to be part time employees and how’s that different from a contractor? And then why do they want to be full time?

Brad:           Yeah, that’s a good question. With part time and full time, we can usually guarantee an amount of work for more or less a guaranteed rate. Then we can also do other things like offer insurance and other stuff. So depending on their personal situation, health insurance is really expensive, if you’re a contractor, and you have no other kind of network to get in on. Then some contractors too, don’t like doing all the extra stuff. So they just like writing or they just like doing what they’re good at. They don’t want to chase clients, chase clients who aren’t paying them. They don’t want to go through all the hoops of all the other stuff. So that’s usually some of the incentives for them.

Brad:           Then, as I mentioned, we can guarantee like an amount of work or an amount of money. Some other people though do want to stay, especially good people, will want to stay contract, or they’ll want to stay … Maybe they have their own company already. So we’ll continue working with them if they can do a certain volume, or guarantee us a certain amount of work over the course of the month.

Ben:             Now walk me through the funnel here. If I’m looking for a great blog post today, how many people do I have to interview? How many people am I doing trials with? How many people am I actually assigning work to?

Brad:            So if I was trying to hire one really good writer, I would probably want at least a hundred initial applicants. I would want to vet the top 20 or 30, and usually that’s by published samples too. So actually looking at their samples and are they in the same space? Are they on the same topics? From there, I would probably do at least five paid trials to get one good legit writer.

Ben:             Talk to me about the way that you’re able to scale writers. You mentioned that when you go from a hundred applicants to one great writer, the 1% of the writing population, you find that person, that’s a lot of work to distill down the applicant pool to one person. How much do you think you can scale a good writer? I’m sure there is a range, but generally, what’s the output on either per word or per article basis?

Brad:           Yeah, definitely. So our full time writers do six long form pieces a week, which, long form would be defined as like 2000 words, roughly. So six times a thousand words is like usually the upper end.

Ben:             Yeah, so they’re doing 10,000 words a week, roughly, probably 12.

Brad:           Kind of max. But yeah, exactly. Otherwise, if you push them … We’ve had them go beyond that. But usually quality becomes an issue and mistakes become an issue, all that kind of stuff. So the problem then becomes, “Okay, well I need more of these then. I need more of these people if I’m going to publish a lot more than that.” You can only … Kind of tap out at a certain point.

Ben:             So you really can get an article a day from a good writer. By that, I mean five days a week, right? If you’re doing five, roughly 2000 word articles, you really need one good writer.

Brad:           Yeah. With some caveats though, what else is on their plate? Is usually what I would come back with. So most full time writers that work in-house don’t get anywhere near that, and it’s because they’re on Slack, it’s cause they’re on email, it’s because they’re on meetings. It’s because they’re proofreading some executive’s shitty PowerPoint. Like they get pulled into so many other directions that they’re not actually able to like produce a lot of content and sit down and focus. So that is the caveat, is what else do you have this person doing that they probably shouldn’t be?

Ben:             Okay. Here’s really where the rubber meets the road. Hey, I want to create an enterprise blog and I need one great writer who just sits down, an F. Scott Fitzgerald all the time, just is always thinking about writing and that’s all they do, and they can create this wonderful blog for me in a once a day publication. What does that cost?

Brad:           So if you’re looking in-house, like a full-time hire, you’re probably looking closer to like a 100K a year. Somewhere between 80 to a 100K. Most writers, average salaries, by the way are like, I want to say 50ish? If you look at national averages, 40 to 50ish. We start our writers around like 60K, our full-time writers. That’s like starting entry level and goes up from there. Most full-time people, it’s 80 to a 100 if they’re really, really good and have deep subject matter expertise. On a per article basis, for a really good writer, you’re looking at around a thousand dollars an article plus. Again, assuming it’s a longer, in depth article. For less experienced writers, it’s somewhere in the ballpark of anywhere from like three to 600, maybe as the average.

Ben:            Okay. So if I’m doing the math here, on an individual article basis, a $1,000 an article, five articles a week, five grand a week, 50 weeks a year, that’s 250 grand. So that’s really the difference between outsourcing content production to a freelance writer and then having somebody in-house doing the content production for you is that 100 grand versus 250 grand?

Brad:           Yep. Plus any supplementary or additional stuff. So for example, who’s doing the keyword research, who’s doing the analysis, who’s doing the uploading and formatting when the content is done? Do you have design involved in that? In an agency environment, agency rates are a little different because they’re more blended. So for example, if we charge a $1,000 an article, which we do with some clients, we’re including a lot of extra stuff in that. So you might have like five people working across an account at any given time. So you might have the strategy, the account manager…

Ben:             Yeah so it’s not just writing. You have an SEO expert, you have a creative, you have the writer, you have an editor, there’s a management fee in there as well?

Brad:          Yeah, exactly. So it’s a little different like that. Usually really good freelance writers will still charge close to a $1,000 an article by themselves. But they’re not usually doing anything near five a week for you. It’s usually a couple of months kind of a thing. Even if you looked at like journalism, or like writers to The Atlantic, or that sort of thing, they’re pumping out maybe one article a week? Two articles a week? Really good writers. So it’s a different economics for sure.

Ben:            Interesting. Okay. So Brad, I understand the process and I understand how much goes into finding the right writer and the cost breakdown there. Just before we leave, tell me a little bit more about Codeless. If people are interested in hiring writers, where can they find more information?

Brad:          Yeah, definitely. So our website is We do something like 250 articles a month over technology, and SaaS companies, and pretty much like every business space, finance and cybersecurity. So if you have any more questions, you can just check out more about our case studies and pricing and everything else on there. That’s usually the best place to go. Then uSERP, our other company, is for PR and link building in the business and tech space.

Ben:            All right. Well Brad, thank you so much for talking to us about the content creation process and how your agency fits in.

Brad:          Thanks Benjamin, appreciate it.

Ben:            All right. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Brad Smith, the CEO of Codeless. If you’re interested in contacting Brad, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, you can contact him on Twitter. His handle is bsmarketer, B-S-M-A-R-K-E-T-E-R. Or you can visit his company’s website, which is that’s

Ben:            Just one more link in our show notes. I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, just head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, and my personal handle is benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:           If you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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