Two men fist-bump on the floor of a gym with weightlifting equipment nearby.

Reviewing your content plans, it becomes obvious that you can’t do all that yourself. Maybe you’re pivoting more of your work to content because the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled your event, maybe you lost some team capacity recently – or maybe, you never had enough support to start with! Whatever the reason, you find yourself looking around for ways to produce and deliver the content your company needs. You need the skilled outside help of a freelance content writer.

What Content Writers Do

As a marketer, you know that content is a powerful tool to move potential customers and clients toward a sale. Content writers are skilled producers of that media, which can include:

  • Long, in-depth content like whitepapers, reports, and eBooks
  • Website content like feature pages, blogs, pillar pages, case studies, and testimonials
  • Sales enablement content like slide decks
  • Onboarding materials, training resources, and documentation

Content writers also generally produce media that helps deliver content, such as emails and social media posts. Many content writers are marketers by trade but some have a technical or creative writing background. Those that have a marketing background are going to be a great resource for you in marketing strategy, especially if you’re time-strapped or in a hurry.

Hiring an Inhouse Content Writer vs Engaging a Freelancer

How do you know whether to hire a staff content writer or get a freelancer to help? The answer depends on the nature of the content you need to produce, your budget, and your own time demands. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What kinds of content do you need?

If you have a content plan already, you should know what kinds of media you need. Are they mostly of one type (ie: twenty blogs) or is there a spread (ie: four blogs, one whitepaper, 40 social media messages, and two infographics)? The types of content will dictate the kind of skills you will need in the producer. Freelancers tend to be more generalist than corporate marketers, which means the broader your content spread, the less likely you will find an inhouse content marketer who can do it all well – especially if you’re hiring at an associate or manager level.

Who is the content for and what level is it pitched at?

Not all audiences are created equal. If your content must authoritatively speak to a niche audience or particular industry, you’ll want to bring on someone who understands how those audiences talk, what motivates them, and what their pain points are. That kind of specialist knowledge, especially for B2B and technology audiences, is really hard to come by. Additionally, you’ll want a writer who excels at producing content at the level you need it – whether that’s lead generation, lead nurture, sales, or all three.

How much time do you have?

This is about your capacity. No matter which way you go, you’ll need to share information about your company, its offer, your prospects, and what is currently successful. The difference is that a skilled freelancer can pick that up in a fraction of the time an employee can. They do this all day every day, so they know what questions to ask to get to the heart of your unique value proposition, and they likely have templates and other resources to help them hit the ground quickly once you engage them. In-house content marketing staff need considerably more onboarding and ongoing support.

Do you even know what content you need? A high-level employee may, after several weeks, be able to work out what would put your company on track for success. A freelancer, backed by considerably more experience and good process, should be able to cut short that task and give you a place to start after your first meeting.

What is your budget and how long can you wait for RoI?

This is where the rubber hits the road for many marketing outfits. On paper, a new hire seems like a great idea: They’re cheaper per hour, they can get started immediately, in time they’ll have a deep understanding of your company’s offer and operations, and they’re malleable so you can turn them into exactly the content marketer you need. But of course, they also come with more ongoing costs, professional development, and human needs. They require a thorough onboarding to the company and its tools, procedures, and culture as well as the work required. And here’s the rub: If you’re looking for sophisticated content production, you will need to pay top dollar to hire someone inhouse for that. The cost difference per hour narrows considerably when you consider the vast experience most freelance content writers have compared with their corporate cousins.

Hiring an in-house content marketer will probably be the best move for you if the following are true:

  • You have a content plan and you know exactly what you need
  • Your content types are fairly homogenous
  • You are planning a sustained, long-term content play
  • You have time now and forever to teach, support, and grow them.

A freelancer will probably be a better option if:

  • You don’t know exactly what kind of content you need
  • You need someone to have a deep understanding of an audience or topic
  • You’re in a hurry
  • You just want someone who can take care of it without needing constant guidance

A Note on Agencies

Many marketing teams’ first experience with outsourcing is with a content marketing agency. While agencies can be a good option, it’s worth noting some differences between them and an individual freelancer. Most agencies are generalist and constructed in a hub-and-spoke model. There’s a creative director and project manager in the hub for each project and they plug in whatever spokes they need for this particular undertaking – for example, a graphic designer, a content writer, and a video producer for an Instagram ad campaign. The content writer in this scenario is likely to be a great copywriter and a great marketer but unless the agency specializes in your field, they’re unlikely to know much about your vertical or your audiences. Dedicated content marketing agencies, especially those with related specialties, are more likely to have access to the writers you need but they’re still going to plug in their team in a way that supports their business.

By contrast, working with freelance writers means you always know what you’re going to get. You have a single point of contact and that is the person doing the work. That means communication and accountability are extremely efficient and you never have to worry about your message being lost in translation. You can find someone who is an exact match for your audience and vertical and who is experienced in the types of content you need. When you need to pivot, they can do so quickly, without needing to corral a team meeting and produce a fancy slide deck. Hiring an individual freelancer is generally about half the price of hiring an agency because you’re not paying for all that overhead. And you know they’re paying attention to you because you’re the one who signs their checks.

The pendulum swings back in agency favor when you need to scale up quickly or when you need everything done fast – for example, a new product that needs a new email campaign, presentation materials, social media, and 20 blogs in three weeks. An agency can tap into resources more easily to expand a project quickly. Having said that, if you’re working with a freelancer and you need to expand, hit them up first. We rely on our networks with other freelancers and creatives for our survival so we can usually find the right people for our clients in a pinch.

How to Set Your Freelancer Up for Success

First, get the business stuff squared away. A freelancer won’t be able to work out what they can commit to until they know:

  • How much work there is
  • The rate you’ll pay and other terms, like hourly vs retainer, how they’ll be paid and when
  • The scope of work involved
  • How you will communicate with them

The next thing you need to do is gather resources that will help your freelancer understand your company and what it does. Look for documents that answer the following questions:

  • What is the company’s offer or UVP?
  • Why do most people become customers?
  • How does the company talk about itself? What tone does it employ?

Next, you want to anticipate the content and workflow questions they might have. Ask yourself:

  • What do you need the content to do?
  • What is the journey this content will be part of? (For example, a blog post with related SEO keywords will attract search traffic, which is then converted into email subscribers through a popup subscription window, and then those email subscribers are sent a five-part nurture series of emails about the product.)
  • What is the approval process? Will you be the only one giving feedback or are others involved? How available are they? How can you streamline this process?

If you are in a hurry to start a project and you know what content you need, you can accelerate the onboarding by producing a scope of work and a creative brief. Even if they are rough sketches, it will get you on the same page immediately and save time.

Before After A note on retainers for freelance writers.A note on retainers for freelance writers.

Throughout the relationship, try to be as explicit as you can about your needs, priorities, and upcoming plans. If you keep the communication channels open and give thorough and actionable feedback, it will help preserve a relationship that will continue to deepen and bear fruit for months or years.

Are you actively looking for a freelance content writer? Lyndal Frazier-Cairns of No Pants Consulting is a technology and education specialist with twenty years' experience. Get in touch to find out how she can help you realize your content plans.