By Shannon Byrne published September 29, 2015

How to Hire Content Marketers Who Think Like Entrepreneurs


You’ve seen the stats, you’ve heard the success stories – content marketing is an effective way to grow and market your business. In fact, 82% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content.

You want consumers to have positive feelings about your brand, and you know it’s time to bring in some help to ramp up your content marketing, but you’re not sure where to start. Hiring a content marketer who thinks like an entrepreneur could be just the answer for you. Why, you ask?

Start-ups are often more successful at content marketing than large companies are. Knowing this, Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Inc., and Clare McDermott, editor of Chief Content Officer magazine, interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs about their content marketing strategies. From this, they discovered two main commonalities – entrepreneurs tend to:

  • Take a content-first approach to business – They identify a content niche, build a loyal audience around that niche, and then develop products and services to sell.
  • Use passion and patience (not big budgets) to drive content marketing success

Successful content marketers also share other entrepreneurial qualities, such as drive, goal-oriented behavior, an analytical mindset, curiosity, creativity, agility, leadership, empathy, transparency, and project management skills.

If for no other reason, you should hire content marketers who think like entrepreneurs because they know how to get stuff done, effectively, and with purpose.

If you’re a content marketer, this probably makes total sense. If you’re new to the field, you may wonder why a blogger should have these qualities. You see, content marketing is far more than blogging. At the bare minimum, a successful full-stack content marketer needs to:

  • Understand the audience and develop personas
  • Define goals and objectives that align with overall business goals
  • Develop a strategy to meet these goals
  • Execute on the strategy
  • Identify relevant channels to promote the business’ content
  • Measure the effectiveness of content efforts
  • Communicate their findings
  • Iterate, improve, and measure again

Here’s how to tell if a candidate possesses entrepreneurial qualities and knows how to apply them to content marketing.

Ask them to present fresh ideas

When screening candidates, ask them less about what they’ve done in the past, and more about what they will do for you. Ask them what they think about your existing content and strategy and how they’d improve on it. It’s even better if they offer suggestions on their own accord. This shows initiative, expertise, and that they’ve done their research.

A content marketer who thinks like an entrepreneur will approach an interview like it’s an investor pitch – they have a story to tell, growth projections to present, and reports on past experience.

Test if they’re growth-minded

Your ideal candidate treats content like a tool to grow and sustain your business. Candidates who are growth-minded will ask about your existing business, content growth goals, and the tactics you’re using to achieve them. You can ask how they’ve grown audiences and/or communities, or how they’ve converted customers with content in the past.

To be growth-minded also means to think about retention. Content marketers should understand that content exists for multiple reasons. Ask the candidate what role they see content playing for your business, and look for them to identify at least one of these purposes:

  • Educating on topics relevant to your offering, adding value to drive conversions
  • Increasing engagement with thought-provoking content
  • Educating and informing on your offering and company/product updates
  • Building community by connecting with your audience through personal stories and highlights

Determine if they’re data-driven

By now, you should have discussed numbers enough to know whether a candidate is comfortable with metrics. One of the best ways to determine if candidates have an analytical mindset is to ask what tools they use. If they mention Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Kissmetrics, or HubSpot, it’s likely that they know the importance of measuring the effectiveness of a strategy and have experience in reporting findings.

Get to know their management skills

Just like entrepreneurs, content marketers are always juggling several projects and smaller tasks at once. It could be that they’re launching a content-based academy, but still have to write a blog post and a contributed post, and edit three guest posts. Not to mention, they must publish a newsletter and promote all of these things to the right audience.

Ask the candidates how they stay organized. If they mention processes they’ve established then they’ve likely got a solid grip on what it takes to manage a content marketing strategy. Ask them what tools they use to stay organized. The more focus they put on organization, the more likely they are focused on getting things done and meeting deadlines.

Their management responsibilities don’t stop at tasks and deadlines. Content marketers often are required to manage writers – paid and volunteer – and sometimes social media managers as well. This is where empathy and communication skills come into play.

A good content manager knows how to communicate expectations, guidelines, and processes clearly. They need to ensure work is being delivered to them on time, while keeping their own workload in check. Ask your candidates to give an example of when they had to manage a project end-to-end with a team and to describe the results.

Determine how visionary and creative they are

Throughout the interview, listen for cues that indicate whether your candidates think about the big picture. Have they only mentioned results on a month-to-month basis? Or have they said that content takes time to provide results and explained the role it plays in the bigger picture? Yes, you want someone who’s going to help your company grow today, but you also want someone who’s invested in the long-term success and sustainability of your business.

Today’s digital environment is crazy-crowded with people competing for your audience’s attention. You need a content marketer who is going to think creatively to cut through – someone who’s going to come up with campaign ideas that you never heard and can draw attention. You need someone who has a handle on trends, but always thinks one step further. Ask them what they read, how they keep up with trends, who they follow. This is a good indicator of their industry know-how.

Why you should consider a freelance content marketer

Freelancers are entrepreneurs in many aspects. They may not be growing a start-up, but they are growing and running a business. They’re constantly challenged to make changes and iterate to help clients achieve success in order to attract more business for themselves. They’re competitive, a characteristic that often drives creativity. Freelancers have to think of creative, new ways to attract new clients while keeping their clients happy. They have to produce the best work to support themselves.

Because they work with so many clients, they should already have the content experience you want and the ability to both drive the strategy and execute it. Give it a try. Another benefit of hiring a freelancer is that if it’s not working out, you can end the contract without all the messy paperwork of a full-time employee.

Have you hired a content marketer recently? What entrepreneurial qualities do they demonstrate?

Want to learn more from entrepreneurs who started with a content-first approach? Get a copy of Joe Pulizzi’s new book, Content Inc.

Cover image by Matthew Wiebe via Unsplash

Author: Shannon Byrne

Shannon is the Chief Content Officer for CloudPeeps, a marketplace connecting businesses with the world’s best freelance content, community and marketing professionals. There, she crafts words, creates strategies and engages their audience through content contributions, social media, newsletters and more. She’s based in Brooklyn. Say hi @ShannnonB.

Other posts by Shannon Byrne

  • Chris Stadler

    I love this article. As someone who’s making a transition from copywriter/account planner to digital content management, it’s nice to see an inventory of skills that I’ll need (especially the analysis part).

    • Shannon Byrne

      So glad you found it helpful, Chris! Best of luck on your new adventures. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!

      • Chris Stadler

        You’re already doing a lot (writing these articles). Probably the thing I’m most excited about is the ability to measure the effect of my work. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted.

  • Sean Woodruff

    Great article. If you’re a content marketer that fits all of the above you should contact me. I’m building a content team for my business.

    • Shannon Byrne

      Thanks for the comment, Sean! I’m happy where I am, but might be able to send you some people! 🙂

      • Sean Woodruff

        I didn’t really mean YOU… but if anyone else is looking here they should contact me if they are someone with the characteristics in your article. 😉

  • Neil_Canada

    I am sorry. I found this article a bit sad. In over a thousand words, customers were only mentioned once! Content was mentioned 90 times. Peter Drucker taught that “Marketing is about what do customers want and need, not what do we have to sell.” A content marketer is first and foremost a marketer. Content is another means at our disposal. What I look for first is “Can this candidate put themselves on the customers’ side of the table and see what we look like from there?”

    • Shannon Byrne

      Hey Neil – thanks for the comment! You make a great point – I can’t believe I neglected to directly mention the importance of catering to customers’ needs and interests. However, I do think that empathy and solid communications skills intrinsically relate to being able to put themselves in the customer’s shoes.

    • Sean Woodruff

      This article is “How to Hire Content Marketers…” and not “How to Market with Content.” The “customer” in this article is an entrepreneur or business executive who is looking to hire someone who knows how to produce great content. It goes without saying that any great content is obviously customer focused or it wouldn’t be effective.

  • Kat

    This is a great article! I used to run a marketing content and design agency and now I work in-house for a software company in social marketing. I definitely agree that my skills in thinking about the big picture–including planning budgets and resources–and my experience in actually producing the deliverables has contributed to my happiness and success in this job. (I should also add that owning a company also prepared me for the inevitable ups and downs!) I always thought client-side would be easier but really, if it was easy I’d be bored. I love that I get to dream, plan and do.

    • Shannon Byrne

      Thanks for the comment, Kat. Sounds like you’re crushing it! Best of luck on your ventures!

  • Ashley Milton

    Great post and really good rules.


    • Shannon Byrne

      Thank you Ashley!

  • Howard

    Awesome piece Shannon! In my experience, entrepreneurial qualities are welcome in all fields. For example, when I hire a developer, I want to make sure they understand that perfect code isn’t always the solution. The ideal developer for me should be able to manage other developers, think creatively for solutions around difficult development problems, and be forward thinking in general.

    Hard to find, especially for very technical positions!

    • Shannon Byrne

      Great point and totally agree, Howard!

  • Derrik Desanj

    Awesome article. I think that more people should connect further than just a positional relationship, and try to build something huge. When we connect with others, whether in business or just friends, things happen on a deeper scale.

    • Shannon Byrne

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, Derrik!

  • Shruti Kothiwal Jain

    Great article, very informative. Thanks Shannon!

    • Shannon Byrne

      Thanks Shruti!

  • Jon Lee

    The most valuable content marketers take the initiative into crafting content that’s interesting and engaging to readers. This is one of those pieces! Great job as always.