Faced with a mountain of content to create, you know you need help–but where are you going to get it? Expert writing support comes in three flavors: employee, freelance writer, and agency. Let’s look at the advantages and drawbacks of each, and give you a framework for making this important decision.
The benefits of hiring a freelance writer
Freelance writers are fantastically economical for quick-turn-around, one-off work. They are often guns for hire–rifles that can take aim at a particular copy project and nail it for you almost overnight. Most freelance writers work from home and have set hourly rates. (Some do charge by project.) Here’s a checklist of the kinds of projects that tend to be “best fit” for a copywriter.
Hire a freelancer if:
- Your project is small–a brochure, an annual report, a couple of sales letters, a monthly newsletter, or a few pages of web copy.
- Your industry is well understood (the freelancer won’t need a lot of ramp up time).
- You have samples of previous writing to guide the writer.
- Your budget is limited.
- You do not have a recurring variety of work.
- You do not need marketing strategy–you know exactly what you want.
For the best fit, hire the freelance writer who shows you exact samples of the type of writing you’re looking for. That way, your project is taken care of in a timely and practiced manner by an expert, and you experience the best the freelance writing industry has to offer.
The benefits of hiring a writer
On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes you actually need to hire a writer on staff.
Hire a writer on staff when:
- Your industry is complex and it will take weeks or months for one person to learn.
- You do not have a variety of work, but you do have a huge volume of the same kind of work, such as a lot of white papers or case studies, a lot of process documentation, tons of legal briefs, etc.
- You can guide the business writing strategy at a high level, but need the writer to execute judgment, too
- You have a budget of at least $70,000 (a starting salary of $50,000 for an inexperienced but credentialed writer, plus taxes and federal employer contributions of at least $20,000).
- You have tight deadlines–less than 24 hours.
Writers are like other professional service providers–although they may have a broad understanding of their industry, they tend to focus on sub-specialties. Hire a writer with a background that proves their mettle with the kind of work you need.
What’s more important than a full portfolio, however, is the right attitude and an understanding of your business. An effective business writer has the knack of empathizing with the reader, not their manager–that’s a key trait to hire for from direct marketing talents to technical writers.
The benefits of hiring a writing agency
Somewhere in the middle, is the option of hiring a business writing agency. Writing agencies hire a variety of expert freelancer writers and editors, train them in the agency’s standard process, manage them on client projects, and provide them with a steady stream of projects that suit their skills.
The agency environment allows writers to hone their abilities in a peer environmental benefit that hones the agency writer, and one that the lone freelance writer or employee has to make do without. Writers with agencies also tend to have access to education, software, and research databases that are less available to (or affordable for) freelance writers.
Clients of a writing agency are exploiting the bulk purchase advantage or economies of scale–a company that needs four white papers a year can’t afford to hire an expert white paper writer to sit on the bench the rest of the year, but through a writing agency, even a company that creates only one white paper a year can have a writer that specializes in effective white papers.
Hire a writing agency if:
- You need a senior professional writer, but don’t find it cost effective to employee one of these professionals (who often command six figure salaries).
- You’ve got more work than one person can do, but not so much work that you want to hire three or four types of writers (i.e.,direct marketing writer, a public relations writer, a technical writer).
- You have a significant number of content development and copywriting projects.
- You don’t want to manage the writer directly–you’d prefer a level of consultation and project management to ensure excellent work from your writing team.
- You want to empower a “brand voice” across all types of content for your company
- You don’t want to train the writer–you want an established professional.
- You want the advantages of a long-term, recurring relationship, a group of writers that can grow with you.
- You don’t want the overhead, expense, training, and hassle of hiring more creative staff.
Hiring an agency in these situations makes sense because you’ll enjoy the benefits of:
- A dedicated team composed of writers that meet your particular needs.
- A project manager who educates and enforces your brand with the copywriters on your team.
- A long-term relationship with a professional services firm that caters to you, and sees to your needs despite any turnover in your writing team.
- Cost effective rates that come from “consolidating” writing specialties.
- Tactical as well as strategic support for your business writing efforts (i.e., if you need to get a particular message out, a writing agency can often advise you on how and what makes most sense in addition to doing the copywriting).