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Should You Use Freelance Writers or Staff Writers?

If you've been pursuing the marketing blogosphere for awhile, you've likely heard the phrase "Content Is King." And as much as we hate cliches around here, this one's the truth.

SEO, PPC, social media, and online advertising ALL exist in service of the blog articles, white papers, and eBooks you create. Translation: If your content sucks, you're just wasting money on all the other stuff. Which brings us to two very important questions:

1. How do you find the right people to create this content?

2. And should they be freelance writers or staff members?

Good writers are a dime a dozen. Great writers are hard to find. And outstanding writers who can quickly generate all the content you need with minimal management are the Holy Grail. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to assemble a great team. For the remainder of this article, we'll focus on how to do exactly that.

Hiring Freelance Writers: Pros

Building a team of dependable freelance writers is by far the most cost-effective option for most businesses. In doing so, you'll avoid expensive taxes, benefits, and overhead costs your company may not have the budget for. Additionally, you can sample a wide range of voices, expertise, and experience levels before deciding on developing a long-term relationship. Depending on your unique content strategy, you may require writers with a diverse array of abilities (i.e. long-form interviewing, website copywriting, storytelling). Thus, working with freelancers allows you to match the right writers to the right projects.

Hiring Freelance Writers: Cons

The downside to managing a team of freelancers? That you have to manage a team of freelancers! Unless someone on staff has the bandwidth to organize them, you'll most certainly need to hire a content marketing manager.

Of course, this person can also be a contract employee. They will need to develop and maintain the vision of your overall content strategy, create an editorial calendar, hand out assignments, and make sure everything gets completed on time and according to standard. Other potential downsides include having no legal right to dictate when or how freelancers work and the challenges of assembling a loyal team of writers that won't jump ship when a better-looking assignment comes along.

Hiring Staff Writers: Pros

The biggest benefit to hiring staff writers is content output. If someone is writing for you full-time, they are devoting 40 hours a week to writing exclusively for you. That means they're not charging based on the value of each piece. For example, a staff writer may spend 7 hours researching and writing a white paper. Based on their hourly salary, that may have cost you $140.

Compare that to a freelancer who is charging based on value. They might charge anywhere between $500 and $2,000, depending on your industry. That's not to say you can't make cheaper arrangements with freelancers in exchange for guaranteed, steady work, but it's something to consider. If you have the budget, along with a solid, existing content marketing plan, hiring a couple staff writers could be in your best interest.

Hiring Staff Writers: Cons

From what we've seen, companies expect entirely too much when looking for content writers. They're essentially looking for a magical unicorn who can develop an entire content strategy, write all the content, analyze KPI, improve on and off-site SEO, and then some. While most reputable writers will have someknowledge in all of these areas, very few will have expertise in all of them.

Spend the majority of your budget on staff writers and you risk running into a knowledge-gap situation. If your efforts aren't delivering your estimated ROI and it's time to re-evaluate, what are you going to do? You may have to re-allocate funds you don't have to bring on additional expertise.

How to Find Talented Writers

Since "content writing" is relatively new as a profession, you're unlikely to find many writers who studied it as a traditional vocation. Instead, you'll find lots of former journalists, advertising copywriters, and English-lit majors who have taken to the new medium.

1. Know Where to Post

Avoid Craigslist. No seriously, avoid Craigslist. Though it's not impossible to find quality talent there, it can feel a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. Likewise, bypass the "content farms" that have large amounts of writers churn out assignments at low rates. Go for quality or go home.

Instead, stick to more specialized and professional platforms liked LinkedIn, ProBlogger, and Inbound.org. Here you'll find writers who are more likely to understand your goals.

2. Know What to Look For

Some writers may have been self-taught in content marketing and others may have gained experience through an agency. Some may have received supplemental education and others may have no experience at all. Regardless, the most important initial criterion is that they understand the difference between writing for inbound and writing for other mediums —it's not the same. Beyond that, you'll want to look for:

  • A strong portfolio that demonstrates crisp, clear, and engaging writing.
  • Strong research skills (i.e. though they may not be a bona fide expert in your field, have they demonstrated the ability to quickly find, analyze, and understand reputable information?).
  • The ability to adapt to and understand a variety of brand voices.
  • Past demonstration of adhering to deadlines and deliveries.

3. Create a Trial Process

Unlike other positions that are routinely filled based on resumes and in-person interviews, writing positions should be filled based on writing ability. As such, you'll want to create a standard trial process to evaluate potential talent.

Begin by creating a document that provides a company overview, buyer persona information, and examples of preferred writing styles. Provide this to all potential candidates before assigning them 2-3 trial pieces. Why 2-3? One might not be enough to see their range. Ideally, you'll want to pay for these pieces—even if it's just a small stipend—to ensure you're getting their best work.

As you can see, there are many advantages and disadvantages to working with both freelance and staff writers. But there is a third option we haven't discussed—and that is hiring a digital marketing agencyThe right boutique agency will employ their writers on your behalf, while offering the additional expertise you need to execute an effective content marketing campaign.

Free Ebook: Climbing the Inbound Marketing Mountain

Written by Ashley Gwilliam / July 27, 2016

Ashley is a content writer and brand developer. After graduating with a degree in print-journalism, Ashley’s storytelling skills took her from the bizarre world of on-camera acting to the practice courts of NBA basketball players to the virtual meetings of inbound marketers. Today she specializes in building memorable brand voices online, with a focus on the travel & tourism, e-commerce and tech industries.

Articles by Ashley Gwilliam