In-House vs. Freelance Writers: The Great Content Debate

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In-House vs. Freelance Writers: The Great Content Debate

 

content inhouse or freelancerInbound 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 kaperaStephanie 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

Comments

We've tried both routes and have found the most success with in-house writers. We now have two full-time content developers on staff and it has raised the quality of both our inbound marketing services and our website services, since we are able to include content development with website design. 
 
Having an in-house team that knows each other and is collectively invested in the success of the company makes a big difference.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 02, 2013 10:19 AM by Michael Reynolds
If you're serious about content, I think you need to do both. By having a full time staff, you are guaranteed a certain level of quality and quantity. Employing outside resources, including bloggers, can expand your repertoire and provide insights/direction for your internal staff.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 02, 2013 10:40 AM by Tom Richards
Michael, 
 
Thanks for your comment. I agree that the in-house route offers tremendous benefits. You hit the nail on the head with the idea of "collective investment in the success of the company." That's truly where in-house writers shine. 
 
I'm curious: could you elaborate on some specific problems you had with freelancers? I often wonder brands are simply choosing the wrong writers, or if the problem is specific to the freelancer/brand relationship. 
 
Posted @ Wednesday, January 02, 2013 10:51 AM by Stephanie Kapera
Tom, 
 
Thanks for bringing up the importance of outside perspective and fresh insight. One disadvantage of working exclusively with in-house content creators is their potential inability to see things from the target audience's point of view. It can turn into a liability if your writers get too caught up in company politics to remember the basic tenets of inbound.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 02, 2013 10:58 AM by Stephanie Kapera
Stephanie, 
 
Sure... I certainly don't want to imply that freelancing is bad. We have hired good freelancers before with success but mainly for website copywriting. The problem is, once you reach a certain volume of content, it becomes more cost-effective to hire in-house. Also, good freelance writers are difficult to find because the majority of them seem to be looking for a full-time job so you can only hold their attention for so long before they accept a job somewhere and are no longer available. 
 
That has often left us with writing "services" which (in our experience) tend to be pretty low quality. The writing services that we have used have just ended up spitting back poorly-written generic content that we had to reject or redo so it was just not worth it. 
 
In my opinion, content is just as critical as design, planning, or programming and it should be treated as such. I love having an integrated team of content developers, designers, web developers, and account managers who work together as a team. 
 
In short, we've found that: 
 
Freelance = send out a job to get content returned (low commitment) 
In-house = work as a team to get the job done together (high commitment) 
 
I think that in order to really "get" this, you have to truly value high-quality content.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 02, 2013 11:04 AM by Michael Reynolds
Michael, 
 
Those are all good points. I'd definitely never recommend using a "service" (love the way you put that) for the same reasons you mentioned. I honestly have no idea how those writers can stand all that constant bidding and client turnover. There are major, major benefits to long term writer/brand relationships. 
 
It's great that you've reached that "certain volume of content" where it has become more advantageous to hire in-house. I wish more companies were that confident about investing in a constant stream of quality content.  
 
Thanks for weighing in. I'm a perpetual student of content workflow processes, and I'm always interested in hearing how different companies manage their editorial.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 02, 2013 11:48 AM by Stephanie Kapera
Great points here!  
 
Well, it actually boils down to what you’re comfortable hiring with. But if I were to take my piece here I would rather want to hire a freelance writer, mainly because you can bid the job to a trusted website that offers excellent writers at a very affordable rate. I’ve tried it several times already and I would still stick on getting freelance writers than letting one of my employees do the writing for me.
Posted @ Thursday, January 03, 2013 3:13 AM by Norman Rodriguez
Thanks for spamming this conversation, Norman!
Posted @ Thursday, January 03, 2013 7:56 AM by Michael Reynolds
We use both in-house and outsourced content writers. The problem with outsourced writers at times is reliability. If the writer is just working for themselves and not a company that has some accountability, it is easy for them to flake out on you just before a deadline. 
 
I personally am an advocate of people working at home, whether they are considered in-house or contract, I think it is just a matter of accountability.
Posted @ Friday, January 04, 2013 2:00 PM by Pamela Ravenwood
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