March 11, 2021

The Virtual CMO Podcast
How to Expand Your Team with Digital Freelancers and Content Creators

In part 6 of our Masterclass Series, host Eric Dickmann interviews Michael Fleischner. As an entrepreneur, marketer, and author, Michael Fleischner is the Founder of Big Fin SEO, a search engine optimization and digital marketing agency based in Robbinsville, New Jersey. 

Michael received his marketing degree from Rutgers College Business School with high honors and has more than twenty years of experience helping businesses achieve their marketing and promotional goals through his company- Big Fin SEO. He is an author of the top-selling search engine optimization guide, "SEO Made Simple."

 Aside from holding multiple marketing leadership roles for Fortune 100 companies, Michael co-hosts with Mike Hall in their podcast- Digital Freelancers on which Eric was a recent guest

Michael is a Past-President for the American Marketing Association of New Jersey and currently serves on an AMA national board.


Expanding Your Marketing Team

If you work in marketing, you know the struggle when it comes to budgets. Let's face it, marketing is an expense and executives often view marketing as a cost center, ripe to be trimmed. That can make it challenging in a world where content is king. Writing content, creating visuals, managing websites and social media accounts...all of this requires a talented team with unique skills. And let's not forget about the tools, the marketing technology space has exploded in recent years with tools for nearly everything. Yet those tools require people with special skills to maximize the ROI of each tool investment. All of this often means marketing teams need to grow, not shrink. But adding new full-time employees can often be difficult to get approved. Luckily, in our modern, inter-connected global economy, there are freelancers and digital content creators available to help with your marketing needs.

Freelancing in the light of the COVID-19 Pandemic

To start, digital freelancers can be a more cost-efficient and accessible hire when compared to full-time employees. Since online marketplaces allow you to seek out specialize skills, hiring a freelancer can save time and the hassle of training because they come equipped with the needed skills. In business, much has changed because of physical restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. During these times, your business may have found  it difficult to scale your marketing team. The lack of accessibility for physical interviews, face-to-face assessments, and training can make finding the right candidate difficult, but your business doesn't have to slow down because of these restrictions.

Number of people who work remotely

There are around 1.1 billion digital freelancers worldwide, and 57 million of them are working from home. The best thing about freelancing is that you can collaborate with teams from different time zones and secure great results with minimal supervision. Not to mention, there are many reputable platforms where you can set up interviews, view portfolios, read reviews from past clients, and process payments securely. 

The Importance of a Good Content Marketing Strategy

Michael believes that good content follows the rubric that we've already set out in this Masterclass Series, which is understanding that the marketer's main objective is to solve the client's problems. To get a clearer example of what we're talking about, take a look at Apple, who solves complex problems with simple solutions, and backs them up with easy-to-understand explanations. The launch of the iPhone was a Masterclass in rethinking a problem and solving for the customer. Today, we take our smartphones for granted but it wasn't until Apple completely rethought that phones could become something more than a piece of electronic equipment for phone calls, that we arrived where we are today with Apple being the most valuable company in the world and their smartphones dominating the market. Job's explanation of customer pain points and how the iPhone solves them are a masterful example of truly understanding your customers and marketing specifically to their needs. The short version of the introduction is below but if you're interested, the full version is here.

Having good content means understanding and articulating your client's challenges by identifying them one by one and helping them navigate appropriate solutions. What are the issues your customers and prospects are facing at the moment and what problems are they trying to solve? This deep understanding of your potential customer base helps determine the areas where you can help and by helping, you can build trust. Keep in mind that people desire businesses to be more personal in their approach and that comes from understanding.

Fleischner introduces us to the red ocean vs. blue ocean strategy. These strategies can help your business find its sweet-spot in the market. Blue Ocean Strategy articulates the two strategies:

  1. Red Ocean Strategy- The Red Ocean Strategy encourages businesses to compete in an existing market and take advantage of existing demand. Marketers who use this approach can beat the competition by aligning the whole system with its strategic choice of differentiation or low-cost products and services.
  2. Blue Ocean Strategy- The Blue Ocean strategy allows businesses to have an uncontested market space to attract and capture new demand. In contrast to the red ocean strategy, they make the competition irrelevant by aligning the whole system of a firm's activities in a direct pursuit towards differentiation and low-cost products and services.
Blue Ocean vs Read Ocean

New Content Types

Times have changed- marketing teams in the past used PowerPoint decks and hard copy collateral to explain their products or services. Today, the focus is on creating SEO content, building pillar pages, developing blog articles, and regularly posting on social media channels. Generating leads and converting them to sales takes time, but being consistent with your strategy and content development can lead to success. When you're thinking about developing new content, identify where the market is and meet that demand. Blogging is a great, low-cost place to start. As you move further into your strategy, it may be time to go beyond blog posting and try out new content types such as video creation with customer reviews or testimonials. For many businesses, it makes sense to also have an advertising budget to help spread your messages and increase visibility. 

Online consumer behavior

Fleischner adds that businesses and digital freelancers should learn how to pattern their new content creation to the particular product or service ,and not merely base it on what's trending. For example, adding content to Tik Tok might not be the best strategy for a B2B company even though the platform itself is very popular.

A common struggle for many business owners is that they find creating content intimidating. Every aspect of content- from the length of the content to the overall design, can overwhelm businesses. How long should a blog be? What social media channels should I use? Should I advertise on Facebook or LinkedIn? Most small to medium-sized enterprises have a fairly small marketing team and can only take on so many new projects and content types at once. That said, businesses should not overlook the benefits of content creation because, in reality, content is one of the major factors that drives traffic and sparks interest among new clients and existing ones. Asset Digital shares with us the eight advantages of having great content for your business:

  1. Content is at the heart of every digital marketing strategy
  2. Consistent content posting can reward your business with a good return of investment (ROI)
  3. Content creation is much more cost-effective compared to the traditional methods of advertisement
  4. Today's buyers are hungry for content and are willing to pay for legitimate and valuable information 
  5. Builds trust with website visitors
  6. Helps you understand your customer better
  7. It makes you stand out from your other competitors
  8. People tend to share great content, and this widens your content's reach

How Do Digital Freelancers Interact With Existing Marketing Teams

Michael shares that even if digital freelancers are only hired to perform specific tasks, they often have a broader range of capabilities that they can contribute to the business. Not to mention, many digital freelancers want to make extra money on their available nights and weekends by contributing their skills to whatever area of the business needs improvement. Fleischner adds that it is much cheaper for organizations to hire digital freelancers than full-time employees without having to worry about the quality of the results. Often, these workers can get the job done faster and can save you time and the resources required to train a new full-time employee. 

Michael Fleischner

So this idea of freelancing is really designed so that when you have a specific need, you can bring in a qualified person and pay much less than you would to bring that person on full-time and pay benefits; and, you know, all of the other things that go along with it. So, I like freelancing because you can find people with very specific skill sets who can deal with your need."

When it comes to digital marketing, freelancers possess specific skill sets to run Google ads, write pieces of content, or update website pages, for example. Whatever you need done, chances are there are highly qualified freelancers out there who are willing and available to work. In addition to solopreneurs, some freelancers are actually part of an agency. While these candidates may be more expensive to cover agency overhead costs, the relationship to an agency can help assure the quality and effectiveness of their output. Michael adds that if you want to secure more predictable results, hire people who have at least five to ten years of experience in their field.

Digital Freelancers Statistics

Overall, freelancing gives you the opportunity to find a specific set of people who have the skills necessary to help you achieve the organization's marketing objectives. Compared to hiring a full-time employee or working with a particular agency, freelancing offers the flexibility of skilled resources who can work on a specific project or a certain number of hours weekly or monthly. Rather than trying to do everything in-house with a staff who's skills might not be in alignment with the tasks required, freelancers give you options and flexibility.

When the Check Engine light comes on in  your car, you take it to the shop because they have the skills required to diagnose and fix the problem. The same goes with your marketing team, use people with the required skills rather than trying to do everything with resources that might not have the specialized skills required. 

 FreeUp discusses the seven main advantages of hiring a digital freelancer for your business:

  1. A freelancer possesses specialized skills
  2. They can perform tasks quickly without compromising the quality
  3. Online freelancers are flexible
  4. Freelancers are much more affordable to hire compared to regular employees
  5. Digital freelancers are independent, reliable, and more innovative
  6. They have connections that can help your business 
  7. Freelancers can make your business run around the clock

Cultural Fit Requirements

Before you hire a freelancer, you should consider if they are a cultural fit for your business. Do you need people to be in a similar time zone? If you're seeking a writer, is their native language the same and writing style compatible with your audience's expectations? Are they a good collaborator? Are they willing to jump on a Zoom call or hesitant because of their surroundings?

Frequency of Digital Freelancers work

Though it may be hard, finding the right team of freelancers can significantly impact your organization's success. Keep in mind that these digital freelancers are generally high performers since they are freelancing to make a living. If you want to keep these hardworking individuals on your team, you need to keep the work flowing and give them new projects as needed.

Things to Watch Out For When Hiring Freelancers

Michael Fleischner advices businesses to first determine what they want to happen before they jump in and post a project for a freelancer. Identifying your problem and specifically listing the freelancer's tasks is a great way to avoid confusion between the employer and applicant. If you don't know how to start the interview, you can ask the freelancer what they think and what approach they would take. This will give you a glimpse into the freelancer's experience, understanding, and approach. 

There are also situations where a single freelancer is not enough to accomplish a project. For example, if you are looking to develop a new website, multiple skillsets are required. A content writer would be responsible for the website messaging, but he/she may not be well experienced in graphic design or HTML editing. This is where they would need to collaborate with a graphic designer or web editor to fully complete the project.

How to Determine Your Freelancing Needs

Michael suggests starting with the design aspect of your project. For example, when building out or redesigning a website, we may not understand the full scope and the functionality on day one, but the design should be the top priority. Aside from the general functionality, your site's overall look and feel must be personal. The design should align with the vision of the business. Though it may sound simplistic, the reality is that focusing on the design as the front end of your initiative, helps uncover what may be unseen challenges in implementation.

There may be instances that you might find some digital freelancers who are particularly good at design but not at functionality and development, or vice-versa. Even if design and development are two different threads, finding a freelancer who can work with you on both to implement the design, usability, and functional pieces of your website can be a real win. Basically, you want to think about all of the elements that need to be addressed and make sure that your digital freelancer can handle the tasks. FreeUp lists the eight characteristics that you should find in digital freelancers:

  1. They are passionate about freelancing, and their skillset
  2. They have a reasonable amount of experience 
  3. Freelancers should have a positive attitude towards work and pressure
  4. They should be good problem-solvers
  5. They must be excellent communicators and great collaborators
  6. Puts clients above themselves
  7. Must be disciplined and dedicated with the tasks on hand
  8. They should be creative and always willing to learn

Best Places to Hire Freelancers

Upwork and Fiverr are great resources when you are looking for people to help you out with your project. These sites have many developers or designers who are ready to help you with your company's digital needs. Michael suggests employers to recognize digital freelancers who are doing an exceptional job with small tasks and entrust them with bigger responsibilities to fill up their spare hours. That way, you can retain talent you trust and already understand their skillset.

Percentage of Fortune 500 Companies that outsource work from freelance sitesrom

Whether it's Upwork, Fiverr, or any other job site, the same algorithm applies. Once your freelancer has accomplished a particular task diligently, and you are confident that they can do more for you, don't hesitate to give them more business. If you want to receive good job applicants and attract talent, be clear, concise, and thorough with your job posting. Don't just say- "I need someone to design my website." Fleischner shares some tips to get the best job fit for your business' need-

  • Be clear, concise, and thorough with your job posting to avoid future conflict with the digital freelancer (specify the salary, responsibilities, other benefits).
  • Indicate the specific things that need to be accomplished (company colors, links, functionalities)
  • In assessing the applicants, take a close look at their portfolio, resume, and character references
  • Choose the right fit among bidders

Paying Freelancers

In terms of security of payments, Upwork has been operating for many years and has produced many layers of security for both the employer and freelancer. Once you have finalized a deal with the digital freelancer, you have the option to set up milestones and fund them separately. You can adjust your payment amount depending on the performance of your hire. Michael suggests following a process with specific milestones to bring everybody along and ensure there are no missteps. For instance, if you have a project with a budget of $1,000, depending on the terms of your agreement, you can request your digital freelancer first produce results before you release his/her payment. With this added layer of security, you are not going to get ripped off by your freelancer. 

On the side of the freelancers, they can request a downpayment before working on the task. This is to assure that the employer doesn't disappear when it's time to release the payment. Before you use a platform, understand the platform and look at best practices for using those platforms to make sure that you're safe. Freelancers have risks as well because they're putting time and energy into the job and want to make sure they'll get paid for their efforts. This security feature by Upwork does help and benefit both sides of the engagement. You can count on digital freelancers to give you their 100% even, if you are in different time zones. In the end, hiring freelancers and digital content creators benefits you lower costs and while having the ability to quickly add unique skills and talent to your marketing team.

Live Stream Replay


Michael Fleischner

Michael Fleischner

Michael Fleischner is an entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Big Fin SEO. In 1993, he got this marketing degree from Rutgers College Business School with high honors. Michael has more than twenty years of experience helping businesses achieve their marketing and promotional goals through his company- Big Fin SEO. He is an author of the top-selling search engine optimization guide, SEO Made Simple who had been featured in various shows around the country- TODAY Show, ABC World News, and Bloomberg Radio. Aside from holding multiple marketing leadership roles for Fortune 100 companies, Michael co-hosts with Mike Hall in their podcast- Digital Freelancers. He considers it his goal and passion to help business owners establish their online presence through effective digital marketing initiatives. Michael is currently residing in New Jersey with his wife and two children- Alex and Samantha.

Eric Dickmann

About the author

Eric Dickmann is the Founder / CMO of The Five Echelon Group, host of the weekly podcast "The Virtual CMO" and YouTube series "Work-Life" and a fractional CMO for a variety of small and midsize companies. An executive leader with over 30 years of experience in marketing, product development, and digital transformation, he has worked with large, global companies and small startups to develop and execute marketing strategies to bring innovative products to the market.

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