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Producing enough content will likely always be a top challenge for many marketers, due to limited staff, budget, or both. Because of this, content creation tasks often fall to the wayside, or onto the plates of already busy marketers.
With 75 percent of companies currently increasing their content marketing budget, it’s apparent that content can no longer be treated as a part-time job. Organizations need dedicated writers who are able to consistently publish relevant, high quality content for their audience.
To meet this demand, over 60 percent of companies are now outsourcing content creation to freelancers and agencies (such as those detailed in Curata’s Ultimate List of Content Writing Services). This trend will increase for the foreseeable future. Outsourcing content creation to dedicated writers allows for consistent, high quality publishing, fresh perspectives, insight into best practices, and better leveraging of resources. Not to mention the ability to step on the gas or apply the brakes depending on your need—and available funds.
Where to Outsource Content Creation? A Fully Staffed Agency, or Expert Freelancers?
This post assesses the advantages and disadvantages of using agencies versus freelancers for your content creation process across several criteria:
- Breadth of Services
The bottom line is that there are many great agencies and freelancers out there that can produce a great product for your content marketing needs. If you can afford it, try using a hybrid model of both writing sources for a best-in-class content operation.
When it comes to cost, freelancers are typically less expensive, as they charge by the hour or by the word. You don’t pay them when they’re not writing for you, and rates can be negotiable.
Agencies however, may charge a monthly fee. Agencies may also charge additional costs for planning, strategy, promotion, and analytics, meaning you may pay for services you don’t need if you’re just looking for writers.
Freelancers can save you money, but there is usually (though not always!) a good reason why one freelancer is cheaper than another. When selecting freelancers, make sure you’re asking them the correct questions to assess how well they fit with your needs. Sites like fiverr have freelancers who perform services starting at five dollars an article, but quality isn’t always guaranteed. (In fact, if you’re paying five dollars for an article, it’s guaranteed to not be great.) If you continuously only pay for cheap, low quality content, it will cost you more in the long run. That’s because you’ll just be adding to the ocean of forgettable content proliferating on the Internet, rather than standing out as a beacon of insight and trustworthiness with high quality, relevant content.
Match your needs to experience when it comes to freelancers. And don’t forget the old adage that you get what you pay for!
The hiring process for freelancers usually consists of merely a few emails back and forth, so if you need a project done by tomorrow, they’re probably your best bet for the short-term. Agencies—especially larger ones—typically have a more complex hierarchy of people and processes to work through, making the on-boarding process slower. However, when building the foundation of a long-term, successful content marketing strategy, it’s important to take your time to select the best partner(s) for your business.
Freelancers are also usually available in a pinch. Maybe you need an extra last minute piece of content during the holidays. A freelancer will be more likely to respond to this request in 24 hours—especially if you’re communicating outside of nine-to-five business hours, or on holidays when agencies are closed.
However, in the larger scheme of things, good freelancers often have other jobs they’re working on, resulting in a slower turnaround for content. Agencies are able to assign a full time writer (or multiple full time writers) to get a project done faster.
There is a lot of flexibility on both ends with freelancers.
- You can easily adjust for full-time, part-time, long-term, etc.
- You have the ability to hire as needed—allowing you to fit various pieces and projects into your schedule
- Freelancers often work on their own time—they have flexible hours
Many freelancers will work on or update content overnight so that it’s complete for the following morning, especially if they’re in a different time zone. However, a pure freelancer strategy may restrict your ability to ramp up your content creation quickly, due to freelancers’ capacity constraints.
Flexibility varies with agencies. But in general, an agency typically has a team of writers they can rapidly pull onto your account for increased content creation capacity (quality concerns aside).
Agencies typically expand more rapidly than freelancers! This may put a strain on an agency’s ability to respond to your needs. Therefore it’s important to establish your communication process with them and determine how responsive they can be as their organization grows. If you need fast response times and open, consistent communication, examine several agencies to get a feel for how each can adjust their schedule to suit your needs.
Breadth of Services
When considering content creation services offered by agencies and freelancers, the most important question to ask yourself is, “What am I going to need?”
Assuming you have a content strategy, determine how much support your strategy needs for success. At Curata we use the content marketing pyramid to plan our content; including research, assets, resource needs, and publishing and promotional plans. We use freelancers for some of our writing, and consider agencies when a broader set of activities is required.
Agencies can serve as a one-stop shop for your content needs if you’re looking for other services in addition to content creation. These could be, for example:
- Marketing strategy
- Web/graphic design
- Public relations
- Social media
If you have the budget for it, an agency can enable you to more cohesively execute a content marketing strategy in a shorter period of time. The collaboration of multiple agency staff members on projects, however, may just as easily inhibit ideas and collaboration if not managed properly.
If you have a more limited need for only writing services, freelancers may be able to provide more personal attention than agencies. You’ll be able to have much more direct interaction with the person creating your content. This may work better for those who want to collaborate directly with writers themselves.
Freelancers have less resources in terms of software, skills, etc. than agencies. However, experienced writers usually have a quality network of contacts whom they’ve worked with in graphic and web design, video, translation, social media, or analytics, and can provide referrals for you.
Niche Areas of Expertise
Freelancers can also be a good option if you need an expert in your specific niche and can handpick people from your field. Do plan on spending a significant amount of time finding the “right” person though.
A great agency or writing service can help you more quickly find that expert, since they provide a larger pool of writers from different backgrounds and industries.
International needs are better addressed by agencies. If you need content for specific geographical locations, use an agency that employs in-country writers and translators so that content can be adjusted for the culture—not just the language. It can be difficult to find and communicate with international, independent freelancers on your own, and could end up costing not just additional funds, but your reputation if it leads to any miscommunications.
Infrastructure (Process and Technology)
Here, you’ll find better infrastructure with agencies when it comes to:
- Content planning
- Editorial calendars
- Writing strategies
- Consistency of writing
As good as many freelancers can be, there are many contractors that will have a difficult time working within your own process and/or requirements. They may not be able to use certain tools or software you require.
Conversely, you may not understand the tools your agency is using, or they may use too many types of applications that don’t integrate with your own applications. This can lead to future problems when your organization is unfamiliar with the process, unable to make last minute edits, or unable to accommodate formatting issues.
There are certainly general distinctions to be made between freelancers compared to agency writing services. But as your typical consultant would say—it all depends on your organization’s needs. The best fit depends on your organization, your individual projects, and the type of outsourcing relationship you require. Great content leads to increased traffic and buyer engagement, regardless of whether it’s from an agency staff member or a freelancer. Whichever outsourcing strategy you go with, make sure it fits your audience and your needs.
A smart content marketing executive has a stable of content writers to tap into as needed, with a mixture of both freelancers and agencies. Select a go-to writing service—which may change based upon the type of writing you need, such as an eBook, infographic, or blog post—and have one as a back-up. In addition, build up a team of expert freelancers that know your industry and your buyers’ needs. Using a hybrid model of both types of writing sources will increase the depth and flexibility of your content creation.
Want more information on how to upgrade your content marketing strategy? Download Curata’s eBook, the 2016 Content Marketing Staffing & Tactics Study for additional best practices, successful tactics, and new insights.