Hiring a Content Writing Agency vs Hiring a Freelance Content Writer: How Do They Compare?
by Agnes Gaddis
You’re looking to expand content creation for your business but you’re confronted by the reality that is time. There’s just not enough time in the day. Your options? Search out, vet and outsource content writing to an agency or do the same for a bunch of freelancers in your niche. There are a number of things to consider, primarily, your budget. While both of these are viable options for businesses, one will offer better ROI for your business than the other.
This article will compare both of these content outsourcing options in terms of writing quality, fees, scope of content services, speed and scalability, industry specialization and commitment to projects. But first an overview of what hiring a freelance content writer and hiring a content writing agency entail.
- Hiring a freelance content writer: the lowdown
- What should I look for when hiring a content writer?
- What does a content writing agency do?
- Writing Quality
- Scope of Content services
- Speed and Scalability
- Commitment to your projects
- Should you hire a freelance content writer or a content writing agency?
Hiring a freelance content writer: the lowdown
One of the advantages of working with a professional freelance writer is that they take on the voice of your brand. The freelance content writer job description includes telling your brand’s stories and giving targeted advice the way you want it said. With an agency, you might have a writer complete a project, then an editor works on it, removing paragraphs that are critical to the piece. Pro writers are their own editors. Professional freelance writers are also skilled editors who live and die by the comma. As such, you get the best of both worlds.
Freelance writers have spent years creating and honing their content writing skills. Personally, I’ve spent 7 years creating content for real estate and marketing brands writing over 100 pieces of content every year.
As such, I thoroughly understand both niches. I know what topics are likely to get attention and what topics are just meh. I understand what phrases are cliché and the creative approaches that engage readers. I also know how to rank content easily. Writing is a talent, and freelance content writers have honed that talent and know how to translate it to profit for your business.
Writing rates would depend on:
1. How quickly a writer can deliver high quality writing.
2. Pricing models (hourly, per project or per word).
3. Business goals.
According to Peak Freelance’s 2022 data, most writers charge per project. $250 to $399 is the most popular rate for writing a 1,500 word blog post. $500 to $999 is what the majority of writers charge for writing a whitepaper.
Yes, you might come across some writers that charge below $100 for 2000 words. Yes! But there is enough proof and case studies to show that you get what you pay for. The final content is usually an editing nightmare, that is if it’s even usable.
What should I look for when hiring a content writer?
1. Ability to create engagement. Your audience does not have a lot of time to waste. And so your content must capture attention within the first few seconds. Even in boring niches such as law, skilled writers know how to create compelling content from boring subject matters.
This is one of the reasons why you want to hire writers with a portfolio of work relevant to your industry. For example, a professional commercial real estate writer probably understands the needs of commercial real estate consumers to an extent. They are tuned into the industry and are abreast of major changes that impact their clients’ business and the end users.
2. Availability. Knowing how to create engaging content is good. But this should not be at the expense of the deadline. Odds are that you already have a content calendar with deadlines for each content project. Typically, you’d want to hire writers that can deliver final drafts sooner while at the same time delivering high quality material.
As such, you want to check their availability ahead of time. Some writers present information about their availability on their personal websites. Others offer links to their Calendly pages.
In most cases, you can assess writer availability from the amount of time it takes them to reply to your emails. If they take more than 24 hours to respond to every email, they probably have a lot on their plate. But you still need to be flexible. Consider that your writer might be living in a different time zone from you or have fixed schedules for responding to emails.
3. Writing and editing proficiency. When it comes to business writing and most forms of online writing, a writer’s proficiency isn’t usually academic. For example, someone might study journalism in school but not understand how to write to match a brand’s voice or how to create content for search engines. Those are things you’ll have to learn on your own, primarily through practice.
There could be occasional errors, but if you spend hours on heavy editing every time you probably need to hire a new writer. This is why it’s a must to ask for more than 1 sample from prospective writers when deciding on whom to hire. It is the freelance writer’s job to write clear, error-free content, keep a consistent style throughout and incorporate keywords without distorting the meaning. Ideally, a freelance writer resume should contain at least 1 year of active writing experience.
4. An eye for detail and ability to help fine-tune your content strategy. If you’re a one-person content team, you probably might benefit from having an outside opinion on your content strategy. Even if you have a whole team of content strategists, you can get too familiar with how you do things that you fail to recognize new opportunities.
An experienced content writer can point out opportunities to capture share of voice or rank your pages higher. They can even offer additional services like guest blogging (add link) to help you build authority links. Since they are familiar with the processes used by other companies in your industry, they can offer advice to help streamline your content process.
What does a content writing agency do?
Content writing agencies are like middle men that have a number of freelance writers on their payroll. They do the same things freelance writers do: writing, editing, SEO and sometimes distribution.
But while a writer can focus on just one to three industries or niches, a b2b content writing agency could write for at least 10 industries. Also while a freelance writer may be a blog content writer, case study writer, etc, agencies market themselves as jacks of all trades. They manage the creation of different types of content – case studies, articles, product descriptions, webpages, white papers, infographics and sometimes videos.
A b2b content writing agency typically has several departments. There are editors, project managers, sales reps and writers. The project manager identifies the specifics of each blog post, your business’s voice and your target audience. These are usually content strategists that can help refine your content ideas. They send over writing projects and due dates to writers, and then pass on completed drafts to editors.
This process brings more organization to content projects, especially when you have a ton of content pieces to write and publish per month.
According to WebFx, SMBs spend between $2000 and $10,000 on content writing services each month. Costs vary based on the services you select, the extent of your campaigns, the agency you work with, and other factors.
Each service an agency provides will be itemized in the cost. So you’ll usually pay more for other services than for the actual writing.
There is no industry standard when it comes to agency pricing for content. One agency might charge upwards of $25,000 for content research and auditing while another might charge just $200 for the same task.
Freelance content writer vs content writing agency
You’re primarily responsible for selecting the right freelance writer. If you choose the wrong writer, they produce content that reflects poorly on your brand.
However, expert freelance writers have strict editing standards for their own work. They have mastered how to create content that fits the tone and style of a brand, how to do in-depth research to add credibility to content. They also know how to interview experts in the field.
There are multiple times when I’ve had to source information from experts without getting paid for it. It’s part of the job. Apart from this, they have to stay on top of SEO trends. And this is why expert freelance writers charge more than novices.
They have to maintain a high quality portfolio. If they keep creating low quality articles, then it’s probably going to be curtains for their freelance writing career soon enough. So essentially, their livelihood depends on the quality of their writing.
Content writing agencies promise to help you vet writers. Since content agency writers are essentially freelance writers, they also have to be able to produce high quality content consistently. Agencies however have a lot of writers who can get the job done quickly. But these are sometimes agency-trained writers or interns. So don’t always expect the same kind of quality you’ll get from an experienced freelance writer.
One thing you should also understand is that writing content that engages an audience isn’t going to be done in a day. It takes time. So if an agency promises to deliver high quality content in 1-2 days, you should probably not expect content that’ll steal the show.
There are lots of incompetent freelance writers just as there are lots of agencies producing shoddy content. You’ll need to do your homework carefully.
Writers charge per word, per hour or per project. The average freelance content writer salary per hour is $25.36 per hour. Understand that experienced writers do not charge per word or per hour. That’s something content managers have to come to terms with. Yet, there are instances when the most effective way to charge for a content piece is per word. But that would mostly be one off instances.
Many writers today charge per project. A freelance writer would charge you between $150 – $400 per 1500 words blog writing project. For 8 pieces of writing per month, which many companies adhere to, you’ll spend between $1200 – $3200 per month. This price usually includes research, editing and SEO. Some freelance writers charge for content audits as well.
Also, a freelance writer who specializes in technical writing would probably charge more than a web copywriter. According to Glassdoor, the average freelance content writer salary is $53,972 while the average freelance technical writer salary is $65,416.
As mentioned before, hiring a content agency would cost you between $2000 – $10,000 per month, depending on the add-ons you want for SEO, social media posts, research and website copywriting. Generally, hiring a freelance writer is less expensive than working with a content writing agency.
Scope of Content services
A freelance writer might be able to create an article that knocks your socks off every time. But tell them to write an email and they’ll fumble. On the other hand, an agency hires expert writers from multiple industries and writing niches. You get a kind of one-stop shop for your writing needs.
You get access to specific skillsets such as video editing, infographic creation, etc., depending on what you pay for. So, for example, if you’re creating web pages, emails and new content pieces for a new arm of your company, then working with an agency would be your best bet. That’s because you can access the talents you need in one place.
Speed and Scalability
The best freelance writers can only write 4-5 pieces of content per week. Plus they have other clients so they are probably not available to fulfill your 20 projects per month content needs. And then they have to handle other things including sales, editing, client correspondence, invoicing, social media. They also need to spend time with their loved ones among other things. These are not as necessary as the fulfillment part but without handling sales, invoicing, emails, their freelance writing business will be short-lived.
Personally, I can attest to the fact that the above is true. Each week, I write 4 2000-word content pieces. And I still have to make up time to do other necessary stuff like cold pitching. I’ve neglected social media marketing for a while now to make time for other activities.
While agencies will saddle you with a bunch of extra fees like research fees, SEO, social media, analysis and reporting etc., they already have a more organized process in place. Writers write, editors edit, project managers handle projects. They also have sales and customer care reps.
If you wanted to scale content production up to 20 posts per month, you could hire 5 content writers to produce 4 pieces per month. This means that you’d have to devote time to managing writers which is stressful on its own, unless you’re working with experienced writers. You can hire someone to manage your writers if you have the budget to handle this.
On the other hand, you could just outsource this to an agency. It costs more, but it’s probably going to be the smarter choice.
Commitment to your projects
It’s difficult to gauge how committed freelance writers or content agency writers are to your work. But freelance writers have more stakes in your content marketing success. If your article has more shares, that’s proof of their expertise. They boast about it, whereas in the case of the content agency, the agency takes all the credits.
So a freelance writer has to be good at their job because their livelihood literally depends on how proficient they are. If they are flaky or obsessed with playing World of Warcraft, they are not going to secure many projects. No jobs means utility bills aren’t getting paid.
In many cases, agency writers are also freelancers. They are not employed by the agency, they are paid based on the quantity of work done. They are not working in-house for the most part. But since there is a middle-man or middle-men, you can’t expect the same level of commitment you get from a professional freelance writer.
If a content writer from a content agency gets your brand’s voice and keeps turning in stellar work, try to hire that writer for more projects without the middleman. But with agencies, odds are that you won’t be communicating directly with the people creating the content. In addition, it’s likely that some agency clients will be dissatisfied in the future due to account management turnovers.
Should you hire a freelance content writer or a content writing agency?
I am a freelance writer so I won’t be biased here. But if you’ve read this article from the beginning, you’ll see that a freelance writer will help you with small to medium content marketing needs. They can help with EAT content and adapt to your workflow quickly.
However, if you have a big budget and need to scale content marketing, you should hire a content writing agency. They already have a streamlined process and possibly vetted writers for each niche.
However, whether you’re working with freelance writers or content agencies, you want to keep some tips in mind. Don’t just opt for the first cheap content writing services provider:
1. Ask for up to three samples of their writing relevant to your vertical and writing niche. A content agency that produces real estate copy should be able to produce three samples of real estate web page copywriting.
2. When you hire a full service agency, ensure they have the numbers to back it up. A full service agency offering CRO, SEO, graphic designs, writing, link building, video creation and more, should probably have more than 40 employees. If it does not, it’s spreading itself too thin. This means the work quality will not be up to par.
3. If a content agency works across more than 10 industries, check out their writers. Odds are that they feature each writer’s bio on their about me page. So, if they write in construction, legal, health, they should have writers that have experience writing for or working in these industries.
Now you know the nitty-gritty, pros and cons of working with freelance writers vs a content writing agency. Both of these are ideal for companies at different growth stages. If you need an experienced real estate freelance content writer or marketing content writer, check out my content writing services.
Image attribution: FirmBee, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons