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Outsourcing Content Creation: Agencies vs. Freelancers

Freelance woman content creationProducing 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:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Flexibility/Capacity
  • Breadth of Services
  • Infrastructure

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.

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Cost

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!

cost

Time

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.

Flexibility

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
  • Video/animation
  • Translation
  • 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.

freeancermultitask

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.

agency

In Summary

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.

Mitchell Hall

Mitchell Hall is Curata’s Content Marketing Director. Online since 1991, he has been writing for magazines and newspapers since 1997, and editing and managing websites since 2006. Mitchell has a BA in Political Science, Philosophy, and English. A generalist, his most covered topics are business and technology. Follow Mitchell on Twitter for links to unique and insightful stories: @mitchellhall

  • Michael, this is a great treatment of the agency vs freelancer debate and although I generally agree with a great deal of what you say, I do want to add a little extra color.

    Just as lawyers practice in different areas of law, writers do too. So whether you are using an agency or a freelancer you need to make sure they do the kind of writing you need. For example I don’t write long form direct response print mailers but I will do digital sales writing and brand journalism.

    In addition, if you are using an agency, ask questions about who will be doing the writing. Agencies don’t always pay the money to get the best writers on their teams, especially if they have an outsourcing model. And regardless of whether you go to a freelancer or your agency does, you get what you pay for.

    Not all writers are the same and doing a good job takes time, skill and talent. Poor content costs you a great deal more than the writer’s fee and unless you understand the down-and-dirty of copywriting you may not be able to recognize the brilliance or otherwise of the copy.

    Lastly, planning is vital to content success and most certainly not something that agencies do well and freelancers do badly. I plan everything, from the structure of the article to how it fits into a client’s business goals.

    Good content planning takes the combined skills of an experienced editor and a strategist. Many editors are also excellent writers. Many marketers are not writers and they are unlikely to be experienced editorial planners.

    So what do I recommend? If content is an important part of your marketing strategy, make sure your content team has the skill to deliver the content type and quality that you need. There are lots of excellent writers out there and they really want to be part of their clients success.

    • Michael Gerard

      You have some great points Janette. No doubt, it’s difficult to find great writers that meet your(and your audiences’) needs; and if you find those writers, don’t let’m go. I also like your point about the importance of identifying who within your agency will be doing the writing. Not having a connection to that writer can be detrimental to the success of your content marketing efforts.

      Thanks for adding such good insight.

  • Storewars News

    Really informative. I just read this article: Pernod
    Predicts China Improvement as Inventories Improve. Read it here http://bit.ly/1ieJpiO.

  • Great post. I agree with your article that it depends on the need of the organization. In curating content you need fresh content for your site that are relevant and unique that catch the attention of the viewers. In feed curator it filter the article that are relevant to your site.

  • This is a good comparative analysis. A good reference for companies who want to outsource their contents. Thanks for this post.

  • Arlette Measures

    “With 71 percent of companies increasing their content marketing budget, it’s becoming more and more apparent that content can no longer be treated as a part-time job.” This statement is tweet-worthy!

    • Michael Gerard

      Thanks Arlette. Another interesting stat is that only 43% of companies have an executive who’s directly responsible for an overall content marketing strategy. http://bit.ly/1krm5UT

  • Kuba

    All of the statistics out there point to the power of content marketing in engaging new clients,
    maintaining old clients, deepening brand loyalty and, most importantly,
    enhancing the bottom line. To find a legitimate content marketing agency that will help to take your business to the next level is very difficult but possible – http://www.d2mcreative.com

  • Nikko

    Content has always has been the primary method for selling products and services online. It’s how you attract new potential leads, how you convince them that you are worth listening to. Services like Hubstaff’s content writing teams come through at tasks like this. They have an accomplished team of writers, marketing specialists and SEO experts that work together to evaluate, produce and analyze the ideal creative content for a variety of industries. Check them out at – https://hubstaff.com/staffing_packages/content_marketing

  • Vo Hai Dang

    Thanks, this post gives helpful information to us, keep it up!
    Check out more at http://marcomm.vn/en/marketing-sales-outsourcing-services-vietnam/

  • Having quality content stand out and makes your website and product to rank high on Google.
    Get your content professionally written here: https://goo.gl/8zxjxO .

  • Outsourcing can be tricky at times, especially when it comes to content. Nowadays, quality content is highly appreciated, therefore it’s always better to be written only by people who have something valuable to share. Moreover, it is very difficult to find a suitable person, expecially a freelancer. From experience, LinkedIn or writology.com can probably be the best places to look for freelance writers.

    • SunShine

      It’s a tricky two-way street. Finding contractors who value your skill sufficiently to pay market rate for professionals is extremely challenging. As a result of decisions based upon price first, I am besieged these days with far more professionals leaving the field to go into other areas of work. The end result is changing the work force but the desired price is being achieved.

      • You are being right. Nowadays, writer is not just a writer, but also a journalist, learner, analyst and a professional in a particular sphere. With all that being said, going into other areas of work may bring more income. However, there always have been and will be people who like to put ideas on paper.

  • Henry John Kerr

    Too often, content marketers treat freelance writers as if they are cabs to be flagged down only when needed. There seems to be an asymmetrical view that the “cabs” are circling the block, constantly looking for a fare. But none of the great freelancers I know are wanting for work; their “cabs” almost always have fares on board. That can be a significant challenge when a new white paper or article comes up — the more so if it comes up on a short timeline. And that’s just one reason why, in my humble opinion, it makes more sense for content marketers to have a long-term relationship with an editorial agency (Full disclosure: yes, our firm, Ergo Editorial, is one such agency.) See my blog http://ergoeditorial.com/want-great-thought-leadership-content-for-the-long-haul-dont-just-flag-down-the-next-solo-freelancer/ to see more about what you get from agencies that you just don’t get with solo freelancers.

  • Mary Hall

    I would definitely prefer an agency to get my work done because you proper companies will server you professionally and make sure you get good after delivery support as well.

  • Hi Mitchell,

    really loved to read this post for Writing strategies and tips for professionals writer . http://www.dissertationeditinguk.com/ is also providing Dissertation Proposal Editing Services in UK for PhD or Master’s students.

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