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Content Marketing

Content Marketing Services: Agency vs. Freelancer - Which is Best?

If you are considering outsourcing your content marketing, you're definitely not alone. 62% of companies outsource some or all of their content to agencies or freelancers. 

While the benefits of content marketing are clear, it can be difficult to create enough high-quality content if you don't have a large staff of talented writers and marketers. If you lack the time to create high-quality content assets for every stage of the buyer's journey, it may be time to ask for help.

Common Signs That It's Time to Outsource Your Content

Maybe you're struggling to publish two blogs each week, and can't imagine finding the time to write another eBook. Perhaps you know that your blog content could be a lot better, but you don't have the time to write thought leadership-worthy blogs -- and your metrics are suffering as a result.

Per CMO, some of the most common reasons companies choose to hire agencies or contractors include:

  1. Lack of tactical ability (knowledge)
  2. Inadequate bandwidth
  3. A desire to tightly manage costs
  4. A need to integrate best practices
  5. Rapid growth plans or aggressive inbound marketing metrics

Ultimately, it's probably time to outsource if you answer "yes" to the following question:

Is there a gap between your content marketing metrics and ability to execute?

However, choosing the right contractor arrangement is important. Freelance writers and content marketing agencies both carry unique benefits, pros, and cons. The solution that's right for you depends on your company's needs and preferences. In this blog, you'll learn factors to consider when choosing between an agency or a freelancer to manage your content marketing services.

Pros and Cons of Agency Content Marketing Services

Advantages of Hiring Content Marketing Agencies:

As a client of a content marketing agency, you can benefit from "groupthink." Instead of a single contractor, you can leverage the expertise of multiple marketing and content experts. This can include access to deep industry knowledge or highly specific technical skill sets, such as video editing. Depending on your businesses' needs, you may also benefit from strategic assistance.

  • Collective/group knowledge
  • Costs are often lower than in-house content management
  • Access to varied skill sets
  • Potentially high bandwidth for scaling services and special projects
  • Expertise in drafting contracts and agreements
  • Strategic consultation
  • Potential for deep vertical expertise

The Disadvantages of Hiring Content Marketing Agencies:

There can be significant variation between agencies. While some content marketing agencies have exceptional customer service and results, others are not so well-regarded. The cons associated with selecting a content marketing agency are largely connected to some company's processes and culture. If you're considering an agency, screen for the following factors:

  • Some large agencies may not build strong client relationships, due to changes in account management
  • There is a potential for friction between in-house and agency teams
  • Your company may need to adjust to an agency's established onboarding and editorial processes
  • Some potential for a lack of direct communication with individuals executing content marketing

For more insights on how to screen an agency properly, we recommend our blog How to Hire an Inbound Marketing Agency.

Pros and Cons of Freelancer Content Marketing Services

Advantages of Hiring Freelancers:

When you hire a freelancer, you have direct access to your contractor. Provided you are able to screen candidates carefully and make the right hiring choice, you can save significant costs while achieving flexibility. Pros can include:

  • Potential for significant cost savings
  • Can have deep expertise in content marketing and/or your industry
  • Direct line of communication with your workers
  • May have extreme flexibility in scheduling and bandwidth
  • Could have a varied skill set

The Downside of Hiring Freelancers:

It's important to note there's a vast difference between freelancer expertise, much like you can expect when considering agencies. A freelancer could represent a non-native English speaker writing words for pennies a paragraph, or you could score the services of an industry expert with decades of experience, who works solo. Cons associated with hiring any freelancer may include:

  • You will be responsible for hiring and management
  • You will also likely be responsible for drafting contracts and agreements
  • Potential for failure and delays is high due to a single point of failure
  • You will be responsible for quality control (including editing and verifying originality)
  • Onboarding and education processes could be poorly-defined
  • Limited time availability compared to agencies

Which Content Marketing Service is Right For Me?

The right choice for your business depends on your needs. Companies with low budgets and a great deal of time for management may prefer a freelancer. On the other hand, if you are time-poor and require a variety of skillsets, a content agency can offer a lot more flexibility. Here are some questions to consider when evaluating your needs.

1. How Much Time Can You Commit to Management?

While the details of freelancer engagements can vary significantly, you will be responsible for management. Even the most self-motivated freelancers will look to your team to set deadlines, perform some level of quality control, and provide training for your company. In general, a freelancer represents a much more significant management time commitment than an agency.

2. Do You Need Strategy Assistance?

Understanding your content marketing needs and how they could evolve in the near future is important in making a decision that's right for your company over time -- not just for the moment. If you need help with any of the following, it's best to understand your needs upfront:

  • Buyer persona research
  • Keyword research
  • Content strategy
  • Documentation (industry resources, creating a style guide)

While freelancers exist with experience and access to all of the tools and skill sets needed to execute an entire content marketing strategy, they are relatively rare compared to agencies

3. Will You Be Expanding Your Outsourced Inbound Marketing?

Does your business plan to expand to PPC, SEO, web design, UX, graphic design, video, or more in the near future? Also, will you be considering expanding your content marketing services from blogs to eBooks, research reports, web content, or other forms of content?

If a freelance contractor cannot provide the other services you need, you will need to hire an agency or additional freelancers. This can represent additional training and management time commitments, as well as multiple points of communication. If you plan to expand your content marketing formats or promotion strategy, an agency could be the right resource.

4. Can You Juggle Multiple Contracts?

Multiple contracts entail multiple contacts for training, quality control, payment, and other forms of management. Be realistic about how many individuals you can communicate with and manage on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

In general, marketers are provided with a single point-of-contact at an agency for marketing deliverables. If your bandwidth (or let's be honest -- organization skills) are low, you likely want a single point-of-contact for your content marketing.

5. Do You Have the Ability to Absorb Some Risk?

If a freelance writer becomes ill or chooses to terminate a contract, you could find yourself without a continuity plan. Relying on a single freelance writer for content marketing deliverables presents a significant risk that's not present with an agency.

If your business can afford to run the risk of finding yourself without blogs until you can hire a new contractor, a freelancer may be the right choice. If you are hoping to mitigate risk by outsourcing content, consider an agency.

6. Can You Commit to Training and Education?

Most experienced freelancers will look to you to dictate aspects of content like style and formatting.You can expect to provide the following assets to a freelance writer:

  • Style Guide
  • Preferred Industry Resources
  • Competitors and Partners
  • Buyer Persona Profiles
  • Productivity and Collaboration Tools

During the first several weeks of a freelance writer engagement, you will need to spend time carefully reviewing and providing feedback, as well as answering questions.

You will also need to provide an agency with the information necessary to successfully execute content, but they have existing processes in place. In addition, many agencies have the skill sets or infrastructures necessary to successfully define audience and style, which can be a benefit to busy organizations or companies just getting started with content

7. Do You Have On-Site Editing Resources?

Some freelance content marketers are highly adept self-editors, with professional experience and certifications in copy-editing. These professionals are usually well-adapted to working solo, and will submit content that's virtually free or major spelling or grammatical issues. However, these professionals aren't necessarily the norm. In many cases, a second pair of eyes is always preferable to self-editing

If you cannot commit the time necessary to careful review, you may need to look towards agencies. Fast-track prospective agencies that have established internal content approval processes, including line editing expertise on-staff.

8. How Rapid is Your Growth Trajectory?

For companies that choose to work with freelancers, a rapid growth trajectory can present a challenge. Not only is there a possibility you will need to hire, train, and onboard additional freelancers in the future, you may hit this need during an intensely busy period for your marketing team.

In general, marketing agencies have higher bandwidth and better ability to absorb requests to scale up or perform special projects. If you hope to increase your revenue to the point where you can afford to double or triple your content marketing volume, ensure prospective agencies you may hire offer flexibility and no financial penalties for increasing contracts.

9. What is Your Budget?

Agencies are typically costlier than most freelancers, due to the fact you are paying for risk mitigation, flexibility, quality control and managed services. For companies executing content on an extremely tight shoestring budget, a freelancer may be a way to stretch money as far as possible. For organizations that are time-poor but able to spend a bit more, agencies can represent convenience and a safety net.

10. Do You Want to Control Communication and Collaboration Processes?

Agencies typically have very well-defined business processes, which can be a pro or con depending on your organization's needs and preferences. If your organization is going to be splitting content marketing duties, it may make the most sense to hire a freelancer or an agency with the process flexibility to adapt to your existing tools. Consider whether or not you want to maintain control of the following aspects when making your decision regarding a freelancer versus agency:

  • Content research, outlining, and general strategy
  • Editorial calendar tools and management
  • Writing strategies and style definition
  • Consistency of writing, editing, and approval

11. What Kinds of Expertise Do You Need?

If you are unsure what kind of content marketing expertise you need, it may be a sign to work with an expert agency who can manage your strategy and metrics. Again, there is enormous variation in the skill sets and experience levels of freelance writers, and to a lesser extent, agencies.

However, putting some thought towards the kind of relationship you would like and your needs can shape your outsourcing decision.

The Best Depends on You

Ultimately, there is no wrong or right way to approach outsourcing content marketing services. After all, the majority of modern organizations outsource at least some of their content marketing. This can range from total outsourcing to occasional help on complex projects. The decision between an agency and freelancer should ultimately depend on a number of factors, including your bandwidth, processes, risk, and ability to closely manage your contractors.

For more insight on managed content marketing strategy and creation, contact Lean Labs.

Free Ebook: Climbing the Inbound Marketing Mountain

Written by Jasmine Gordon / January 20, 2016

Jasmine W. Gordon is a copywriter at Lean Labs. She's written for digital audiences for over 5 years, and her background includes agencies, tech startups, health care, big data analytics, energy, and more. Jasmine loves new marketing statistics, optimization studies, and live music.

Articles by Jasmine Gordon