If you haven’t figured it out already, we here at VerticalResponse are big advocates of creating timely, relevant content as a surefire way to engage with your customers and audiences. But we also know that, for most small businesses and non-profits, it’s a huge challenge to find time to create great content – whether it’s writing on a regular basis, designing illustrations for an infographic, or producing video.

If this sounds like your situation, hiring a freelancer or consultant to help out might be the answer. Companies large and small do this, especially if you don’t have the budget (or enough work) to support a full-time hire. More than half of B2B marketers outsource at least a portion of their content marketing activities, according to a 2011 survey.Hire me

A freelancer offers ad hoc support and, if you provide regular work, should be able to adapt to your needs, schedule and brand “voice” quickly. It might take a bit of upfront work to get him or her in the groove, but the long-term time savings could very well be worth it.

Here are five tips to kick off your search for the perfect freelance hire:

Ask your networks. The best recommendations come from word of mouth; so let all your friends, family members and colleagues know that you’re looking for help. You never know who might know someone (who might know someone) who’ll fit your needs. When VerticalResponse recently needed some help producing content, I reached out to my former journalism co-workers, got some great leads and introductions, and we ended up hiring two of them as contractors. These connections are undoubtedly the best kind because someone you know has already given the thumbs-up.

Check out listings – with caution. You might want to try online job search boards, but be very careful, because there are a lot of unfiltered, unmonitored junk and questionable business practices out there. Sites like Elance.com and ODesk.com, which offer a marketplace for companies to connect with freelancers, provide some level of accountability that public listing sites like Craigslist do not. But I haven’t used either tool, so just be prudent if you try this option. (If you’ve used Elance or ODesk before, let us know your experience below in the comments section!)

Reach out to local colleges. Check out the career centers at your local universities and see if you can post a job opening or internship. Often, different departments (like the English department or the art school) have their own career or internship programs, so you better narrow your search. Many students are looking for work to boost their resumes and portfolios at lower-than-market rates, or even in exchange for course credit.

Stay away from “content farms.” “Content farms” are essentially companies that promise to produce lots of (often very poorly written, robotic-sounding) content around specific topics and keywords. They’ve become popular, in large part, because Google rewards websites that have lots of content by giving them more SEO (search engine optimization) juice – in other words, they get ranked higher in search results for certain keywords. To be sure, the always-changing Google algorithm has made significant strides in weeding out content from “content farms.” In any case, producing content with the goal of gaming Google – and not engaging with your customers – is definitely not something we recommend. Not to mention, poorly written content will only be a bad reflection of your company and brand.

Don’t hire based on resume alone. Just because you’re hiring someone for occasional work doesn’t mean they don’t need a thorough vetting. Someone might have a stellar resume, but you should ask for references, as well as published examples or a portfolio. Arrange to meet or Skype with potential candidates to make sure they’re professional and truly excited about the opportunity to work for you – qualities you need in any employee, whether full-time, part-time or on contract.

Have you outsourced your content creation to a freelancer or consultant? Please share any tips below in the comments!

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