In-House vs. Freelance Writers: The Great Content Debate
Inbound marketers use quality content to attract traffic, engage readers and convert them into customers. But where do they get that content? If you ask 10 CMOs and marketing managers, you’re going to get 10 different answers. The truth is most marketers haven’t really figured it out yet.
A lot of companies and agencies are at a turning point. They’ve accepted they’re going to need a constant supply of well-written, SEO-rich content well into the foreseeable future. The question they’re trying to answer now is, “Should I hire someone full-time, or should I work with freelance writers?”
How Brands Are Developing Content
Right now, it looks like there are more than a few models of content production in use, including these common ones:
- Corporate Newsroom – “All of our writers and editors are full-time employees, and we have an entire department devoted to content production.” (Example: Cisco)
- Outsourced Editorial Department – “We contract with an agency that plans and writes our content.” (Example: ShoreTel Sky)
- Outsourced Marketing and Editorial – “We contract with an agency that plans and writes all our content and manages our marketing campaigns.” (Example: Kurios Energy, Morse Constructions)
- Hybrid Outsourced Editorial – “We write some of our content in-house and we also use freelancers for some of it.” (Example: 3M, Time Warner Cable, New York Life)
There are probably dozens of variations on these four models, and if you’ve experienced any of them in action, please share your experiences in the comments.
In-House Employees vs. Outsourced Writers
The in-house newsroom model is a pretty great option, if you can afford it. It allows you to work with writers you know and trust who also know and are invested in your company. When a writer cares about his or her subject matter, it shows. It also shows when the writer has first-hand experience with your product or service. (But there is also a solution to developing this familiarity with freelancers we will discuss later.)
Working with an agency that manages your content is also a good option. It might seem less ideal, since the writers assigned to your account might also work on other accounts. From a brand’s perspective, that can seem limiting. Companies might wonder how a writer managing multiple accounts could possibly do a better job than a dedicated in-house writer.
In truth, the quality of the writer matters more than which office he or she works out of. You might think you need an in-house writer, but are you sure you know how to hire one? And who will manage that person once he or she is hired? Do you even know what to look for? Your company’s CMO might be a whiz with HubSpot, but has she ever managed an editorial team? One advantage of working with an inbound marketing agency is that you inherit its collective talent. The best agencies already have a seasoned writing team in place.
If you do decide to develop an in-house team, hire an expert to setup, staff and train your new operation. Content marketing is still young, and it moves fast, so consult with someone who keeps his or her finger on the pulse of the latest developments in digital and inbound marketing before you start.
Going the Freelancer Route
If you’re thinking about working with freelancers, you’re probably worried about finding people you can trust. You might also be worried about how well a freelancer can write about your company when he’s writing from his living room. Some things to consider:
You can find trustworthy freelancers. When you work with a freelance writer, you’re not working with someone whose office is down the hall. You’re often working with a remote employee who you’ve never met. You don’t even know if this person is actually going to do anything he said he would. For all you know, he could disappear off the face of the earth tomorrow.
That’s a big problem brands have with freelancers, and it’s completely understandable. Freelancers can be unreliable. They can say they’ll do something and then flake on it. But if you do your due diligence and hire a writer that’s been vetted by previous clients, you’re probably not going to have any reliability issues.
Seasoned freelance writers aren’t hard to find: they’re running their own copywriting businesses, advertising their services on LinkedIn, and working for high-end clients through sites like Contently. Freelancers you can trust are out there; you just have to know where to look for them.
Freelance writers don’t need to work on-site to do a phenomenal job. While it may be true writers working off-site might not be able to capture what’s unique about your brand, that’s not always the case. A good freelancer will possess interview skills and the editorial savvy to turn what she learns into a compelling narrative.
One way to up your chances of success is to give your freelancers generous access to you and your staff. Remember: they’re developing what will hopefully become some of your most important business assets (i.e., your voice and your web presence.) If you let them ask questions and help them understand your organization, your ROI will skyrocket.
Marketers, how do you feel about the “in-house vs. freelance” debate? Leave your answers in the comments!
Stephanie Kapera is a freelance writer and the co-founder of Up All Night Creative, a Raleigh-based content marketing agency that helps B2B and B2C companies develop magazine-quality web content. Connect with Up All Night on LinkedIn and Twitter to find out more!
photo credit: s_falkow