How to Hire the Right Type of Writer & the Difference Between Generalists, SMEs & Influencers

Which type of writer do you need for your next content project? ClearVoice CEO Joe Griffin explains the differences between the three types and when to use each one.

As a brand with growing content requirements, you probably find yourself looking to augment your content core team with external writers. A study by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs found that 25 percent of marketers cite gaps in internal skills as their main content marketing challenge, while 21 percent say it’s finding or training content creators.

To overcome those challenges, you need to find the right freelance writers for your blog. Knowing how to identify the different types of writers and where you use them will help you optimize your budget and time.

Today, we’re going to look at the three broad categories of writers, with examples of where you can use them and real-life case studies.

The generalist


The generalist is a jack-of-all-trades. They’re good researchers who can write about topics across multiple industries, but their versatility comes at a cost. They typically don’t have deep expertise in any one niche, which may limit their ability to voice a strong opinion on the back of their experience.

Generalists may have few years in the writing business, or they may spend a lifetime as a generalist. They often enjoy writing about diverse topics, and prefer the flexibility that comes with being a generalist writer.

When to use a generalist

A generalist may have excellent research and writing skills, but their lack of expertise in your niche means they may not be the best option for content that should be written by an expert. However, they are a great option if:

  • You’re creating top-of-the-funnel content
  • You’re hiring for blog posts that are short, quick reads and meant to increase awareness of your brand
  • You need a high volume of content

For example

Some of the branded posts on Buzzfeed are great examples of content that can be written well by a generalist. Take this post by Ford Canada on 15 car facts. It doesn’t require any deep knowledge or understanding of the car industry and is really just a well-researched compilation of facts about cars.

The point of this post is to simply generate awareness for Ford, and any generalist can produce it at a relatively low cost.

The subject matter expert


A subject matter expert is exactly what it sounds like — someone who has a deep understanding of your industry and can write with authority about it. While generalists are plentiful, it’s not as easy to find a true subject matter expert. This combination of low supply and higher expertise leads to higher rates than generalists.

When to use a subject matter expert

Use a subject matter expert for:

  • High-value pillar posts, email series and ebooks
  • Actionable, long-form content aimed at generating leads this justifies the higher price of this type of writer
  • Content designed to attact new inbound links and rank highly in search engines
  • Content designed to increase your newsletter subscribers
  • Content you want shared through your social media team

For example

A good example of a piece of content that requires a subject matter expert is this post on content marketing and Google Analytics. It’s something only someone experienced in the space could produce. The author is an analytics expert, which enables him to write with authority.

The end result is something that may not have the mass appeal of the generalist Ford post, but attracts highly qualified leads and contributes directly to new customers.

The influencer


Influencers tend to excel in a particular social network, although they have strong followings in the others as well. For example, Andreea Cristina, a popular fashion blogger, focused on building her Instagram presence and now has over 1.3 million followers.

By partnering with influencers, you can tap into their audience and vastly increase the reach of your content. One endorsement of your brand by an influencer could be seen by hundreds of thousands — millions — of people.

At this point, you’re mostly paying them for their reach, not their writing, but it’s usually worth it. In fact, 81 percent of marketers who’ve paired up with influencers for a campaign have said it was effective, eMarketer reports.

Their prices may be out of your budget, but that doesn’t mean you should rule them out. In fact, if you focus on building a relationship with them, you could work out a deal that’s partially based on compensation and partially on an exchange of services or product discounts.

When to use an influencer

There are a few routes you could go for producing content with influencers.

Do a roundup. Instead of getting an influencer to write an entire content piece, you can get multiple influencers to contribute a short paragraph for free. This strategy is quick, doesn’t require a lot of work from the influencer, and usually attracts a lot of attention via the influencers’ social networks.

Try a longer, paid piece of content. Get the influencer to endorse you in a blog post (just make sure to follow the rules of endorsement). You might also explore options where the influencer publishes a post about you on another website with a large audience.

Go visual/social. In certain industries (think ecommerce), you might want to focus on visual content and get influencers to post an image of your product on their social networks.

For example

DrumUp is a social media marketing tool that decided to start blogging in early 2015. They slowly grew their blog for about 6-7 months, getting 20 shares on average.

Then, in June of 2015, they compiled a list of the 100 best reads on social media marketing. Within a few hours, the post had 500 shares. It turns out that Guy Kawasaki, a Twitter influencer with over 1.4 million followers, had tweeted the post. That one tweet lead to thousands of reads and shares over the next few days.

More importantly, their signups increased 600 percent.

What should you pay each type of writer?


ClearVoice conducted research on how much brands should pay writers. You can find more guidance on the matter here. In general, for a 1,000-word post, writers command:

  • Generalist – $50-$200
  • Subject matter expert – $200-$1,000
  • Influencer – $1,000-$10,000+

Start with the end in mind

The key to selecting the right type of writer for your content is to start with the end in mind. What’s the goal of your content? Is it awareness or acquisition? What is your budget?

With the strategy in place, you’ll have a clearer idea of who fits the bill and how to measure the success of your content. Try to mix it up on your blog and high value assets, hiring different types of writers for different types of content. This will allow you to hit multiple areas of your funnel and test outcomes for the different levels of your strategy.

Tags: freelancers, generalist, influencer partnerships, pay freelance writer, subject matter expert

Category: Strategy
Joe Griffin

About Joe

Joe Griffin is the co-founder and CEO of ClearVoice. He has served in executive roles at and iCrossing and has co-founded multiple companies, including and iAcquire. Joe was named one of Arizona’s top “35 Under 35″ entrepreneurs by The Arizona Republic in 2013. Follow him on Twitter.