Growth Marketing

“But who’s gonna write it?” 6 methods to find your business’s next top-notch freelance writer

Your content calendar is full of great topics.

Only problem is this:

You need someone to turn those great topics into great content for you.

You need a fantastic freelance writer.

So you decide to get started looking for high-quality writers online and publish a job listing in a couple different freelance marketplaces.

This will be easy as pie,” you think. “I’ll be done in a few hours. How hard can it be?

Reality shows you otherwise: all you get are the same me-too writers who don’t even take the time to read your listing.

As a content marketer, I know what it takes to find and vet high-quality writers for your startup.

It turns out, there’s one simple technique that has made all the difference to me.

But before I get into it, here’s something you might not expect:

High-quality writers can’t be found by searching “high-quality writer”

The best writers aren’t hanging out in a virtual version of The Inklings.

There’s no Writer’s Land where all writers live together in harmony, singing happy songs and eating vegan food.

Nope, I’ve tried to find that place, but it’s not anywhere on the map.

That doesn’t mean writers aren’t easy to find.

Writers ARE easy to find.

We live in a world where anyone can access a basic note editor and a website builder. Click a few times, and all of sudden you are published author (in a blog nobody reads, but no one has to know). So, yeah, writers are everywhere. Go to a marketplace and ask for content, and you’ll get it.

Are these writers any good?

Is their content any good?

The fact is, if you search long enough, you will realize this:

The kind of writers – whether copywriters or content creators – you want are scarce AF.

Do you want content that:

  • Commands attention? That will take a great deal of work.
  • Builds authority? That will take a lot of time spent on writing.
  • Drives action? That will take a clear understanding of your reader’s problems.

Despite their scarcity, high-quality writers exist in the real world. Call them unicorns, gurus, ninjas – whatever you want. At the end of the day, high-quality writers are regular people (well, kind of), just like you and me.

You don’t need magic skills to find a stellar writer. You need the right approach.

And to that end, I present you:

The Breadcrumbs Technique

If you want to find high-quality writers, you will likely commit the same mistake most people make:

You start looking for writers in places where no great writers work, like marketplaces, and hope to find one that among the crowd.

But here’s what you should be doing:

You should be looking at the breadcrumbs that great writers leave online.

Once you find the breadcrumbs…

(drumroll please)

…you will find the writer who dropped that breadcrumb.

In other words:

If you want to find high-quality writers, search for high-quality content. Whenever you find a high-quality piece of content, it’s because there’s a high-quality writer behind it.

Raising this important question:

But how do you find high-quality content?

Before you get started looking for high-quality content in your industry, let’s define what “high-quality content” is.

Truth to be told, it’s hard to measure what is high-quality and what it’s not; it’s a matter of preference and opinion. Everyone has their own thoughts on what can be considered “high-quality” and what it’s not. BUT, in my smart, beautiful and humble opinion:

High-quality content is any type of content that commands attention, builds authority and drives action.

That’s what it is from the business’s perspective, at least.

From the customer or consumer’s perspective, identifying high-quality content is like identifying porn: you know it when you see it.

As a rule of thumb – whenever you find yourself devouring a piece of content without realizing it – it’s because you consider it high-quality.

Still, I don’t want to leave it up to “your standards of quality.

That’s the problem with content – anyone can say they write high-quality content without any standards, and call it a day.

Popularity: the only objective parameter to quantify an article’s quality

Just like Kanye, I consider popular content to be high-quality. You may not agree with me, but it’s a simple point of comparison.

When I say popular content is high-quality, I mean this: If you find an article that has been shared or linked to by many people, you conclude: those people must have liked it a lot. Since people only share things that make them look good (later, you will see why), we can assume every piece of content that is shared or linked to with a lot of people is high-quality.

Garrett Moon agrees:

The truth is that one of the best ways to get people to share content is to simply produce great content time and time again.

Now, let me show you 3 methods to find high-quality content pieces based on their popularity.

Note 1: I will focus only on articles because it’s hard to find who writes emails or ebooks. Just know that writers don’t write articles alone, even if that’s the only kind of content you can find.

Note 2: Right now, you will focus on finding writers – not seeing whether they offer freelance content writing services. That’s something you will find out later.

Method 1: Search in your bookmarks

Take a look at your browser’s bookmark list and see what articles you’ve saved. It’s likely you will find many articles that you have found to be high-value for you.

Open all the articles you have in your bookmarks (at least those related to your industry).

Now, look at who wrote each of those pieces of content. In most cases, the author will be shown either at the beginning or at the end of the article.

Finally, copy the authors of those articles, and add them to an Excel sheet.

Too simple, you say? It is. 😃

Action steps:

  1. Search in your bookmarks for articles in your industry or niche.
  2. Open all the articles.
  3. Make a list of all the writers who created those articles.

Method 2: Search your Twitter feed

If you are anything like me (hopefully, not that much), you tweet everything you enjoyed reading related to your industry.

The reason why we share what we like doesn’t just stem from the fact we like sharing with our friends what we are reading.

It also comes from what Jonah Berger calls “Social Currency.” In his book Contagious, he explains:

What we talk about influences how others see us. It’s social currency. Knowing about cool things—like a blender that can tear through an iPhone—makes people seem sharp and in the know. So to get people talking we need to craft messages that help them achieve these desired impressions.

In other words, you share what you like, but also what you want other people to read so you look good as well.

That’s why we’re searching our Twitter feed to see what we have found to be high-quality in the past.

In your Twitter feed, look at the tweets related to the content you want to create. Open all the links that you find relevant. Then look for the writers of those pieces. Just as before, make a list of all the writers that you find.

Check out this article I found in my Twitter feed about creating a side hustle to make extra income:

twitter 1

This article is written by a woman called Andrea Huspeni, who apparently is a professional writer.

side hustle 2 1

Right now, you won’t look around her site to see if she’s a freelance writer or not. You will put her on your list and see that later.

Super simple, isn’t it? 😄

Action steps:

  1. Go to your Twitter feed.
  2. Look for the past hundred or so articles you have shared.
  3. Open each link and see who wrote it.
  4. Make a list of all the writers.

Method 3: Search in BuzzSumo and Ahrefs

BuzzSumo and Ahrefs are my two favorite competitor analysis tools to find and reverse engineer high-quality content.

Both tools allow you to search by using keywords and finding content that was highly shared (in the case of BuzzSumo) or highly linked to (in the case of Ahrefs). With both tools, you’ll search for content that has been shared and linked to many times, and see who wrote that content. From there, you can find new writers to contact.

First, head to BuzzSumo and add a keyword related to the content you are trying to write. In the previous example, that would be “side hustle”:

side hustle buzzsumo 1

Click “go” and on the next screen, you’ll find a great list of articles with writers who could help you create share-worthy content:

side hustle buzzsumo2 1

The writers you found have created articles that have been shared over 24,000 times about your specific subject topic. This guarantees these writers are experienced and could help you get more shares for the articles you publish.

Next, go to Ahrefs and repeat the same process:

side hustle 1 1

You found a list of articles that have been highly shared and, most importantly, linked to.

ahrefs 1

Analyze the writers who have written these articles, and add them to your list.

In the case of both tools, you are doing the same thing: hacking your way to finding and interviewing successful writers.

And you’re doing it with no job listings, no fuzz, no problems. 😄

Action steps:

  1. Make a list of some keywords related to your industry or niche.
  2. Go to BuzzSumo, add the keywords you came up before, and search for articles.
  3. Open all the articles that have the most shared.
  4. Make a list of all the writers of those articles.
  5. Repeat this same process with Ahrefs.

Method 4: Search in groups and forums

Writers like to mingle with other fellow writers. They love sharing insights, common problems, questions, or simply enjoy the companionship of other people like them. This is especially true when writers work from their homes alone. :insert joke about writers: 😜

Two awesome places where you can find great writers are in Facebook groups, and to a lesser extent, in Reddit.

Some of the best Facebook groups for writers are:

Reddit, on the other hand, has some specific subreddits for writers, like:

Explore all these communities and see who participates in them. If your industry has specific groups where writers hang out, also visit them and repeat the process of getting to know the community.

In some cases, you may meet new writers who are still trying to make a name for themselves. Because of that, you may find some good deals – a new writer’s price will be lower than an established writer, but their content will still be high-quality.

Important note: I’m not suggesting you should go to Facebook groups looking for bargains or negotiating lower prices. I’m just saying you can find writers willing to work for a bit less of their worth due to their lack of experience or interest in building a portfolio (like I have).

Your ultimate goal is to look for amazing writers who can help you grow your business. So treat them as an asset and investment, not as “something you need to do.”

Action steps:

  1. Enter at least one group for each social media channel and start looking for writers. Figure out: who has shared content that’s related to what you are looking for? Who seems to be interested in working with companies like yours?
  2. Engage with each community you decide to participate. Share a few comments or links.
  3. Only now can you ask an open question to the community to find what you are looking for.

Method 5: Spy on your competitors

Your competitors can be a source of inspiration. I’m not talking about stealing ideas. I’m not saying you should cheat. I’m talking about their writers.

What you want to do is look at the people who write for your competitors, and try to get them onboard.

Just go to your competitors’ blogs, and see who the writers are. Then, follow the advice I explain in the next section, where I show you how to get those writers to work for you.

Action steps:

  1. Read at least 3 of your competitors’ blogs and see who writes for them.
  2. Visit the writers’ websites and social media profiles, and see whether they are open to work or not.
  3. If they are, contact them.

Method 6: Ask friends and referrals

Writers love referrals.

How do I know? From all the countless conversations I have had with my fellow writer friends, all of them have told me referrals are their #1 way to get clients.

And my writer friends aren’t small writers. They write for top-notch sites, such as Entrepreneur and Forbes. They charge above $500 per article (and some even charge $2,500 per article 😱).

If you want to reach writers with that same high-quality of work, tap into your network and ask for an introduction from one of your peers. LinkedIn is a great spot to find who can give you an introduction.

If you don’t know a specific writer you want to target, ask your friends and acquaintances for a recommendation.

Action steps:

  1. Go to LinkedIn and create a status asking for referrals for writers.
  2. Repeat the same process on Facebook.
  3. If you know anyone who’s working with a freelance writer, send them an email asking for a referral.

How you separate freelancers from the non-professionals

By now, you have a list of possible writers.

Now what?

Most of the writers you have found may not be freelance writers for hire. Some of them write to promote their own companies, while others hire ghostwriters (but shush, don’t tell anyone).

In many cases, even if the writers would work for you, they won’t have any availability. In some other cases, they won’t be interested due to many reasons (such as your business, your budget, your terms).

Maybe you’re thinking: Aren’t all writers desperate for work? 

Well, sunshine, that might be true for some writers.But we are talking about the crème de la crème writers, the top dogs, the pros. These writers have so many clients, you will have to work harder to partner with them.

Even if you offered them to pay $1 per word, they won’t be interested in writing for you.

So, your first step is to separate the freelance writers from the non-freelance ones.

To do that, you’ll have to research the writers you found with 3 steps:

  1. Look for the writer’s LinkedIn and Twitter profiles
  2. Hunt down their personal website
  3. See if they mention freelancing or writing services in their profiles or their website

Let’s walk through this process by analyzing the writers you found previously from your Ahrefs and BuzzSumo searches.

The first writer you found with Ahrefs is a woman called Kelsey Humphreys. In the article she wrote for Entrepreneur, her profile mentions she’s a journalist and author.

That’s a good sign. But your search isn’t over yet.

entrepreneur 1 1

Below her author bio are some links. The first one leads to her website. Her website doesn’t mention anything about freelance or writing services. Just before you send her an email, you find the following:

finding writer 1

Clearly, she’s clearly not a freelance writer, so we’re moving on your list.

Fast-forward some time later, you find the following article from Forbes:

finding writer 2 1

Ryan Robinson, the writer of the article, defines himself as a content marketer. This makes you sit up straight in your chair.

You search his name on Google. On his website, he says he’s a freelance content marketer that works for large companies. At the bottom of the page, you see a small link to his consulting page.

ryan 1024x449

In that page, he clearly states his consulting work and his price. That’s a bingo!

ryan freelancer 1024x302

Next, repeat the process with BuzzSumo.

The first article you found on BuzzSumo was for CBC News written by two reporters called Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja. A quick research shows both reporters work for CBC News. Meaning: they are both employed and not available for freelance work.

cbc news side hustle 1

A shame, as the article was really good and by far the most shared, but you’ll have to keep looking.

You repeat the process, searching for profiles from the different writers. And then… you find this article, that was shared over 4,000 times. The author is Kelly Pipes.

In her Twitter profile you find the following:

twitter writer 1 1

Just to be safe, you check her website.

Immediately, you see that she’s clearly available for work:

twitter writer 2 1

You have a writer – score!

Repeat that process with all the writers you have found. At the end, you should have at least 2 or 3 writers in your pipeline.

With the list of freelance writers, now it’s time to contact them.

Action steps:

  1. Take the list of writers from the previous section and analyze their social media profiles.
  2. Check their websites for more information.
  3. If you clearly see on their website that they offer writing services, leave them on your list or create a separate list. Next, you’ll be contacting them (we’ll get into that in just a min).
  4. If you can’t find anything on their website that indicates they offer freelance writing services, email them asking about their services. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

How to contact freelance writers so they wanna work with you

All high-quality writers have 1 thing in common: they have more clients they can handle.

Due to their high demand, high-quality writers are more used to rejecting clients than accepting them.

Consequently, you must be sure to contact the writers with care. You can’t just send them an email asking for one 500-words article (please, don’t do that) and then complain when no writer answers you.

How you contact high-quality freelance writers is key to get their attention and respect.

Think of your email as a pitch, not as a contact.

A contact sounds as if you are doing them a favor; like you’re their boss and you call the shots. No freelance writer who respects herself likes being treated that way.

The former, in contrast, makes it look as if they are in charge of helping your company grow. They are the experts who know what they are doing and you follow their advice.

3 elements to snare an in-demand writer’s attention

Your pitch must have 3 elements to spike the interest of a top-notch writer:

  1. An understanding of the writer’s work and background
  2. Concise information about who you are and what you do
  3. A clear idea of what you want from the writer and why he’s the one to help you get what you want

1. Understanding the writer

There’s nothing more annoying than getting a pitch from a potential client who doesn’t know who I am or what I specialize in.

A mediocre writer may not care about this – his job is to churn out content without much care of the quality of his writing.

In contrast, a high-quality writer has a large array of previous work showcasing her skills and background. In many cases, you find this work via a portfolio supplied upon request or a Contently portfolio.

Before you pitch a writer, read at least half a dozen of her previous work so you get an idea of her style.

2. Be clear about who you are and what you do

… So the writer can get an idea of how he can help you.

“You” in this case refers both to yourself or to your company.

If you are an executive looking for a ghostwriter to help you grow your network and increase your authority in your industry, let him know this. Think of this process as if you’re applying for a job – the writer needs to profile you to see if he can help you.

What’s more, explain what you or your company does. Include information on your value proposition, your clients, and any other valuable pieces of information that you think could help the writer get a better idea of who you are.

3. Be clear on what you want her to write and its purpose

You may not be 100% sure of what the writer will end up writing about and that’s cool. BUT, at the least, you have to share a basic outline of your content strategy.

That includes:

  • Your content marketing goals
  • What you have written about
  • Your target audience or personas
  • What you have gotten so far from your content marketing
  • What content you like, so the writer can get inspired or emulate

Also, by explaining the work’s purpose, she gets motivated. There’s nothing better for a writer to feel like her works have an impact and belong to a larger purpose than itself.

Your pitch template to a high-quality freelance writer

Perhaps you’re wondering,

How would a pitch that includes all these elements sound? 

I made a template for you to adapt:

Hi [NAME],

My name is [NAME], [ROLE] of [COMPANY], a [STATEMENT OF COMPANY / VALUE PROP].

I’ve seen your work on [SITE] and I loved it. I liked how well you talked about [TOPIC] and the steps you laid out.

I’ve been looking for content on [TOPIC1] and [TOPIC2]. Since you have experience with both topics, I think you could help [company] grow its traffic.

I’d like to discuss this opportunity further somewhere late this week. How does [DATE + TIME WITH TIME ZONE] work for you?

Have a great day,

[NAME]

Action steps:

  1. Develop a pitch similar to the one I showed you before
  2. Pitch the writers you discovered

Finding high-quality writers ain’t easy (but it’s WORTH it)

Truth be told: there aren’t that many good writers creating high-quality content.

Meaning: hiring high-quality writers is a complicated matter. You’ll need to do your research.

But it’s time well-invested, so your content stands out again and again.

To find and hire high-quality writers, do these 4 steps:

  1. Find high-quality content
  2. Find the writers of the content
  3. Vet them to see if they are available for work
  4. Pitch them to attract them

Have you struggled to hire writers? What, in your opinion or experience, makes a writer worth hiring?

~Ivan

 

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

About the author

Ivan Kreimer

Ivan Kreimer is a freelance content marketer on a crusade to end bad marketing advice. He's written for Entrepreneur, Shopify, KISSmetrics and now Copy Hackers.

  • Swati Pandey

    I have loved the post hope to see more from you ..http://digitalexact.com/

  • Roger Collective

    Good read. I’ll be sharing this one with a few folks.

  • Alex Cassata

    hey if anybody read this & doesn’t want to go through all of those steps, I’m a writer open to more work just email me 😉 alexcassatacreative@gamil.com

  • Well here’s a post I’ll be sharing with a few folks I know. Cheers for taking the time!

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  • Kezia Futter

    I enjoyed reading this article and though this article seems to be primarily aimed at assisting employers find high-quality writers, I would like to ask you a question that pertains more to the perspective of the writer rather than the person looking for the writer. I have been passionate about the art of writing since I can remember and I have always worked at refining this craft, this skill. Reading this article made me nervous though because, according to what I have read here, it is a statistical improbability that I do – or will – fall under the category of a high-quality writer. This concern, however, is not my conundrum. I understand and accept that I am not the best writer at this moment – and perhaps this sounds a little too ambitious – but I want to become one of the best. Would you mind contributing your personal and professional opinion as to how I might accomplish becoming one of the seemingly few high-quality writers?

    • Hi Kezia, thanks for the kind words! 🙂
      You know, my intention wasn’t to make you feel like you aren’t a shining star because your articles haven’t gotten hundreds of shares and links. I just use that parameter as to make the article simpler and specific. Actually, if I was to hire a writer for my company, and I found your content to fit our brand and voice, I’d hire you regardless of your shares and links.
      As to become the best writer, I can only give you some rather ambiguous advice: write and read every day (like Stephen King recommends), push yourself, get a mentor and/or editor, and take it, as Anne Lamott says, “bird by bird.” Also, I’d recommend you read CopyHackers often to find great advice on becoming a better writer.
      I hope this helps!

  • Brian Lenney

    I. Am. Job.

  • Good insights, finding good quality writers is definitely a challenge and there’s some actionable tips here to get started. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks for the nice words! I hope you enjoyed it. 🙂

  • There are some great tips here to find a quality freelance content writer, Ivan. However, I came away from the post feeling like you limited “quality writers” to pretty small group of individuals, either those with tons of experience or “rockstar” writers with thousands of social shares. Honestly, if you have to strategize ways to get the writer’s attention, is he/she going to be the best fit for your business? Are you going to have the budget for them? Content marketing is generally a long strategy and you will need this person to partner with you and be willing to work closely with you.

    As someone that’s hired freelance writers in the past, I can tell you there are more out there than would seem from this post. Not everyone is writing for vanity metrics like shares. There are a lot of great writers working in niche industries. Their content is not going to get thousands of shares that will show up in BuzzSumo. They’re still good writers that are contributing to important business goals like establishing thought leadership, customer retention, getting leads and more.

    When hiring, I would place more importance on criteria like: Do they know my industry, customers and prospects; do they understand the marketing side of content marketing; do they understand SEO principles; are they a fit with my culture, will they work well with me and my team; are they able to hit my deadlines; do they even care about my business or do I have to fight for their attention?

    There are just many more factors to be considered. It really goes way beyond writing samples and vanity metrics. This is an important decision and should be well thought out before bringing a new content marketer on board.

    • Hey Steve, thanks for reading the article and for your comment. I agree with what you say, there’s more to hiring than looking for metrics like shares, like I write in this article. My point was to simplify the process and to look for certain benchmarks on which to measure a writer’s quality. That’s not to say there are more things to look for, more metrics to measure against, and more criteria to consider.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  • Kawika Maszak

    Thanks for the great article, Ivan. It’s also difficult to find great writers because some of them are literally…ghosts. Ghost writers, that is. They’re paid by a client to write as the client. It comes at the expense of a byline. Ghost writers have to walk the fine line between compensation and reputation. It creates an interesting parallel universe to the one you illustrate. “Forgive me for not recommending you to others,” a recent client said to me, “but I’d rather keep you all to myself.” We’re looking for quality clients who understand the return on investing in good writers, while they move right past us because they don’t know we exist. Ships that pass in the night.

    • Hey Kawika, thanks for the comment. It’s true that ghostwriting can be great money-wise (because you charge more), but bad for your long-term career. I think the best way to jump through the challenge you mention is to develop a personal blog where people can find you. You can also use guest posts (like this one) to promote your site and yourself.

      A good example of someone who’s a ghost writer and successful at having a personal brand is Nicolas Cole; you should check him out. He’s big on Quora and Inc.

      You can star writing about things you believe in, like what you just said (i.e., explaining the ROI of hiring good writers) in your blog. I’m about to start doing that myself, as I need to invest in my own site and “brand.”

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  • Love this outline on hiring a freelance writer, Ivan! I didn’t know about the Contently website for portfolios. That’s very helpful. Thanks!

    • Thanks Lillian for your comment! Contently is awesome for portfolios, is a shame so few people use them and keep them updated. I’m glad you found the article useful!

  • chriscurwen

    Hey Ivan, your post couldn’t have come at a better time 🙂 I’m about to start the search for writers for my e-commerce site and this post will surely help. One thing I wanted to ask you, how would you go about finding a writer for product descriptions of this quality: http://www.jpeterman.com/item/msh-5479/100100108202/the-last-lumberjacks-cotton-shirt. The J. Peterman Co. have some of the best product descriptions I’ve ever read, but I wouldn’t know where to even start trying to find someone with this talent. It looks like a ‘creative writer’ would be who I’m looking for so should I start with Method 4: Search in creative writing groups and forums?

    • Amy Smereck

      That’s not a bad idea. It seems like you are searching for a writer with a distinctive voice and has a sense for story rather than journalistic reporting. I personally find the writing in the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer and Duluth Trading Company catalog entertaining and that keeps me reading their content. I think having a distinctive brand voice is very powerful, but I imagine that it would be difficult to articulate this voice to a team of writers without having quite a bit of content in place which was spot-on for your brand. A difficult Catch-22-type situation. Perhaps you would do a test run with several individuals each providing a description for a particular product. Then you would select from among them the content which is most in line with your desired brand voice.

    • This type of writing has more than fun at its root, it is based on a deep understanding of the audience. I recommend you work with a content strategist to determine the kind of content that is going to resonate with your market. Work with someone with a communications rather than a technical bias. They will do tone, voice and style work to identify the kind of words, language and stories etc. your targets will identify with.

      You need to develop these doc so all the writers, designers etc. you work with will be able to consistently reproduce your brand voice. Take a look at the MailChimp style guide to get an idea of what I am talking about – https://styleguide.mailchimp.com

      When it comes to the writing part, it can take some work to find a good fit for your company culture, the way you work and who has the ability to capture the right voice, tone and style. My ebook, How to Work with a Content Writer – http://theredstairs.com/work-with-a-content-writer/- will answer a lot of your questions. Some of us are very versatile – for example, I switch constantly depending on both the client and the type of document I am working on.

      Incidentally, the tactics mentioned in the article above are fine but very narrow. Just because someone can write what they want, does not mean they have the skills to do what you want and the business acumen to help you achieve your goals.

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Optimize your email sequence with Trello

CONTENT
How to write an epic blog post
How to write a mass-appeal blog post
How to write funny content
How to make your writing sound good
How to keep readers reading
Blog post formula for authority building
How to write an ultimate guide
How to be creative with your conversion copy

THE SEVEN SWEEPS (Editing)
Sweep 1: The Clarity Sweep
Sweep 2: The Voice + Tone Sweep
Sweeps 3 & 4: The Believability Sweeps
Sweep 5: The Specificity Sweep
Sweep 6: The Heightened Emotion Sweep
Sweep 7: The Zero Risk Sweep

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Amazing blog posts build businesses and print money. Now Copy Hackers is teaching indies and teams to write kick-ass posts in half the time. Get notified when we're live.

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