Hiring Professional Content Writers vs. Subject Matter Experts

by Claire Karjalainen

“How can you write for my company if you aren’t a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker?”

We get this question a lot.

Okay, not the nursery rhyme version, but we field plenty of skeptical inquiries about how we could possibly write unique, actionable, in-depth content in specific industries without 10 years of experience or a degree in that field.

In short: a good writer can do this because it’s a writer’s job.

As skilled and dedicated as you are to your business and your craft, a good professional writer is equally dedicated to the technical elements and art of writing—and writing well.

If you’re a founder or marketing manager with finite resources who needs great content produced, you’re always well-served hiring a professional writer for the skills they can draw on in service of your content strategy.

Not sure if you need a professional writer? Tackle our Pro Writer or SME worksheet to find out!

What Professional Content Writers Bring to the Table

Writer

Credit: Unsplash

It’s tempting to blow off or put off hiring a professional writer even when you have pressing content needs. You might think you’ll get to it yourself, or you’ve spread the responsibility for writing occasional posts around to several individuals in your company.

You might think a professional writer is an extravagance for huge companies and you can get by just fine with the occasional intern and strong-arming your devs into writing about new features once a quarter.

But here are five reasons you shouldwork with a professional writer:

1. Research Ability

The best trained writers are also highly skilled researchers.

Professional writers today create stories across a wide variety of fields. A black belt in Google and a gold medal in industry immersion should be bare minimums for any writer you consider working with.

When it comes to creating authoritative content, statistics and examples rule the roost. In a content-saturated world, more in-depth posts score better with Google and readers (and thus, with Google again).

“But isn’t that a reason why I would want a subject matter expert?” you might be saying. Yes and no.

As Crazy Egg co-founder and influencer Neil Patel explains, good content today is long content. People want (and Google rewards) posts in excess of 2,000 words. Posts longer than 3,000 words perform even better.

It seems highly unlikely that a subject matter expert or founder would ever want to be handed an assignment to write 3,000 words, even on a subject they know a lot about.

An experienced professional writer with the ability to dive deep into research will be able to outline, structure, and write that super-long post.

2. Perspective

Understandably, you love your product. You could give elevator pitches about it all day. You could wax poetic about every feature down to the button colors you rejected and why. You know exactly why you decided to create it and the careful thought that went into every detail.

This is exactly why you’re the wrong person to write your content. You’re too close to the process and the details. A fresh eye lends new perspective, seeing what you may have long ago forgotten or glossed over.

This is also why a professional writer can see patterns and big-picture trends better than a highly niche subject matter expert. An ability to look at your content with context gives the professional writer a leg up when it comes to putting together content that will get traction.

Professional writers can also break down complex ideas and present them clearly and logically.

So while you or your subject matter experts might be great at writing a thesis on your upcoming product roadmap, your professional writer will be able to take that complicated thesis’ worth of ideas and help your audience understand all your key points.

3. Writing Skill

A professional writer will bring a level of skill you’ll be hard-pressed to find in a subject matter expert.

As Copyblogger puts succinctly, you might want to hire a professional writer if “you just aren’t any good at it.”

Founders usually fall into a few different categories:

  • You love to write and are very good at it
  • You love to write and aren’t that great at it
  • You hate to write even though you’re good at it
  • You hate to write and aren’t that great at it

Here’s the thing, though: Even if you absolutely adore writing and happen to be just as good as any professional writer you can hire, it probably doesn’t matter.

Be honest with yourself: Is your time best spent writing content for your business?

For most founders, the difference between a post they write themselves and a post written by a content specialist would be either negative or so negligible that it’s not worth the effort. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis.

4. Versatility

Often, the follow-up question to “How can you write without understanding everything I’ve learned for 25 years in this industry?” is “How can you write for me if you aren’t me?”

To be blunt: Because writers can do this.

Skilled, experienced professional writers adapt everything from tone to voice to cadence. They can do this through consuming your existing content to get a sense of how you write and think, or listening to you talk about your products and services.

At Audience Ops, for instance, we conduct a founder interview as part of our onboarding process that helps our content strategists get a feel for our founders’ personalities. We also conduct thorough research, including going through any and all existing content and copy from your company. These kinds of activities help our writers adopt your written-word mannerisms.

5. Professionalism

This may be the biggest reason to hire a professional writer versus blogging yourself or asking a subject matter expert in your company to blog: writing is a writer’s job.

Chances are your subject matter expert has a day job, either within your company or consulting with multiple companies. (If your SME is you, then you definitely have more immediate responsibilities other than writing!)

If you’ve ever tried to make blogging part of everyone’s job, you know that even setting the burden low at a post every few months still earns you groans. It probably also causes undue stress every time someone’s turn comes up.

For a consistent publishing schedule, you want a professional.

For just sheer bandwidth and the time to write, you want a professional.

For content that you won’t have to hunt down or send to a professional editor anyway, you want a professional writer.

Writing is definitely an area where you get what you pay for, and high-quality writing professionals save you effort in the long run and are worth their weight in gold (and new subscribers, and conversions, and…and…and…).

Pairing Writers and SMEs for the Best of Both Worlds

Writer-and-SME

Credit: Unsplash

There’s no denying that sometimes you do need a subject matter expert to be involved in your content creation process.

Your industry might be legitimately super niche or your audience may be highly technical. We often see this in industries like law and science, where having an actual practitioner involved in content creation borders on mandatory.

You might also be trying to create those 10x, long-form, Skyscraper Technique-ruling pieces, and you’re finding that involving a subject matter expert would help your writer.

Luckily for you, when it comes to writing, you can have your delicious cake and eat it too.

Combining the powers of professional writers and subject matter experts means you can put together well-written, well-organized, in-depth pieces a lot more easily and accurately.

1. Background and Interviews

The first way to utilize your subject matter experts is to ask your writers to interview them for foundational information while starting the research process.

Don’t forget your best experts—your customers! Your writers should definitely get access to customer feedback or conduct customer interviews to hear it straight from them.

2. Quotes and Excerpts

Your writer can also use quotes from SME interviews or excerpts of their work as part of content pieces. Integrating the SME into the content itself can help your professional writer “borrow” your SME’s knowledge and authority on the subject.

3. Co-Writing or Ghostwriting

For founders or SMEs who have no time to write but a trove of knowledge to impart, co-writing or ghostwriting ventures may be the way to go.

This involves partnering with an experienced content writer whom you trust, who writes on your behalf. Usually you will have the byline, hence the “ghostwriting” description. Occasionally it may benefit you to attach the writer’s name to the piece as well in a co-writing situation, usually if the writer has cachet in the industry as well.

Combining your expertise with a professional writer’s above-mentioned qualities can result in dynamite content. It also allows you to be more prolific than you would be otherwise, especially if getting your name out there is a key part of your promotional strategy.

Curious how to assess your need for a professional writer? Grab our worksheet and find out!

Working Successfully with Professional Writers

Professional writers are just like any other group of people. There will be highly skilled writers and less-competent writers, writers who grasp your industry immediately and those who don’t, reliable writers and flakes, and every other stripe that you see in any pool of employees or professionals.

Forming a successful relationship with a writer can involve some trial and error.

Working with content agencies can give you a double benefit—guaranteeing you a level of professionalism, and also placing responsibility for vetting and hiring writers in the hands of the agency, so you don’t have to do it yourself.

If you hire your own writers, a writing test is a great way to determine the writer’s real chops and if they’re a good fit for your industry and voice.

In the end, the most important thing to remember when working with professional writers is that with all the benefits they bring, your product is still your product. Your company is still your company. Take ownership of the messages and types of content that bear your company name, and provide your writer with clear guidance.

Share your vision along with your product features. The best writers will take inspiration from your passion and produce better work for that enthusiasm.