As an agency, you sure don’t need to be told the impact of good design, for yourself and clients alike. In fact, you understand probably better than any that good design is essentially table-stakes at this point to communicate a brand effectively and what it stands for.
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.
Undeniably, design is skyrocketing in importance in online marketing (i.e. infographics, banner or social media ads, website components, CTAs, to name a few), and will only continue to. You simply can’t succeed without design that entices, sparks inspiration, or tells a story, human to human.
But design is only the yin. Without the yang of content, you’d have no real messaging opportunities, limited ability to truly connect to visitors and their pain points, and it’d prove tough to direct visitors around a site.
This means that if you’re running a digital agency in 2018, you need to be adept at marrying design with content in order to achieve competitive, top-notch marketing results for your clients. In this post, we’ll explore the various options you have for creating content as an agency (both for your own agency, as well as for your clients).
But first, a couple discussion points on how to think realistically about content.
The content dilemma for agencies
Like high-quality design, high-quality content (think blog posts, SEO-building website copy, and informative marketing collateral) takes a significant time investment, a healthy dose of industry/SEO expertise, and an intimate understanding of a company and its audience to create. The notable difference between design and content is that you might not actually be able to make a logo design yourself, not knowing design programs or the finer points of color or balancing visual components. But… everyone can technically write.
That doesn’t mean everyone should write.
And, unless you work as a full-time writer by trade, the honest truth is that it’s really hard to prioritize writing, especially among the slew of daily tasks in the life of an agency. I bet writing a blog post for your own agency’s marketing would not crack the top 5 of your priorities on any given day. (Heck, not even the top 10.) And when it comes to content for clients, unless your digital agency specifically focuses on content creation, writing will probably be one of the most tedious and time-intensive (and thus lowest prioritized) services you want to offer in-house.
Plus, in-house writers are valuable! They deserve more challenge and variance of tasks than just churning out blog posts week after week after week for the same client or for internal purposes.
Truly investing in content as an offering can help your agency in more ways than one. You can strengthen and nurture existing client relationships through sharing pieces of high value. You can build clients a holistic strategy for digital marketing and SEO (of which content is a very important gear to turn). And, selfishly, you can showcase your agency’s stellar work or demonstrate thought leadership and professional expertise to build credibility and trust for current clients and prospects through meaty case studies and testimonials.
Which then begs the question: Who is going to do all this writing for our agency? Who is going to bob and weave with us to capture the unending faucet of content needs?
The good news is… you’ve got options. And good ones at that.
A note about in-house writers
You probably have an in-house writer or a few, which is a solid starting point. But it’s just that—a starting point.
In-house writers are optimal for strategy, management of other copywriters, and more challenging projects like high-value gated content pieces, sales pages, or pillar pages. Their focus on higher-level tasks leaves them overqualified and less available to churn out blog posts week in and week out.
To keep your valuable in-house writers happy, challenged, and engaged, while still dreaming bigger and taking on more (and potentially more demanding) clients for your agency, you’ll probably want another content solution, or two, in your back pocket to extend your team’s capabilities and grow your agency.
Now, let’s talk about hiring and the potential of engaging reliable, high-quality freelance content solutions to get content handled and out the door. Here, we’ve compiled a comprehensive menu of tried-and-true ways to source and start working with freelance writers.
Feel free to choose just one or sample many, like a menu. But unlike a menu, review the pros and cons to each option to assist in making an efficient and informed decision (and because, as we’ve already established, you’re short on time!).
Options for outsourcing content creation
What you’re looking for will boil down to an ideal intersection of writing skills, industry knowledge (or research skills), a freelancer mindset, and digital marketing knowledge. Narrowing in on a freelance writer using a traditional in-person vetting process that you’d use to find an employee would prove to be very challenging.
For this reason, we recommend heading to the internet.
To help you get started on your search for writers online, let’s break down the spread of options:
Old-school classifieds are still alive and well in connecting folks looking to hire and be hired. Now in digital form, a notable classifieds site is the everpresent Craigslist. Craigslist is everywhere, or just about. You may have even used the service to hire in the past for your agency locally, and that is one of the primary benefits of Craigslist—you may find someone local enough to meet for coffee to get acquainted before starting work.
- Potential of connecting with someone local.
- Inexpensive postings.
- A high volume of responses can prove overwhelming.
- You’ll need to evaluate 100% of respondents yourself.
- Craigslist is notoriously full of scammers. Cindy who was your #1 choice for writing about the location of your client’s business may actually be Bob on the other side of the country, who does not have any familiarity with the local area after all.
Individual consultants or writers (found through job boards, Google searches, etc) can range from students at the local university hustling for a few extra dollars, to professional freelance consultants specializing in SEO, strategy, industry-specific work, or specific content types.
- Possible to find highly qualified individuals that narrow-focus on a particular industry.
- Lots of good independent freelancers and consultants. Those that are worth working with will deliver both excellent service AND results.
- Evaluating quality is 100% on you. You likely won’t be able to find accurate, unbiased ratings or reviews out there about an individual.
- Price, quality of work, and service vary drastically. It’s oftentimes difficult to tell when you’re getting good work AND service at a fair price.
- Requires putting together, reviewing, signing, and adhering to a contract.
- Very challenging to get variety when working with a single freelance writer—you’ll likely be limited to a singular style or range of tones/voices/perspectives.
Online networks of freelancers
Networks like Upwork and Freelancer.com have vast amounts of freelancers of all stripes—you can tap freelancers who can help you with anything from accounting to website development to writing.
- Large selection of freelancers.
- Rating systems allow you to get a sense of skills from accounts of previous clients’ experiences.
- Freelancers may post portfolios or samples of their past work.
- Payments are securely handled by the company platform.
- With so many categories of work, it can be hard to know how to get exactly what you want.
- Requires describing your project in detail, asking freelancers to submit proposals, and sifting through them (and potentially guessing as to the best fit) as part of the vetting process.
- The platform is not tailored to just writing gigs—communicating edits with your writer may be challenging.
- You’ll be charged an ongoing management fee to the platform doing the freelancer matching.
Crowdsourced content services
Upwork and Freelancer.com are marketplaces for freelance work as a whole, but there are a few companies that serve as freelancer marketplaces specifically for crowdsourcing writing—BlogMutt as a notable example (and one of 99designs’ featured partners). Companies like BlogMutt have a platform that makes the process of finding and interacting with freelance writers, as well as requesting edits, much easier.
- Platform is built specifically for writing.
- Access to a crowd of writers, rated by previous customers, to make finding a good writer with experience in your industry easier.
- Some of these services allow you to get multiple submissions from different writers, meaning you’ll be able to see diverse takes on your project (similar to 99designs’ contest model).
- Much of the content creation process is controlled by the system, so you won’t have to deal with inconsistent freelancers, and you’ll more reliably adhere to timelines.
- Straightforward payments and paperwork is covered.
- Some platforms make it challenging to develop an ongoing relationship with writers, complicating the process of fostering a writer into an expert in your client’s business.
- Often involves monthly or ongoing investment.
- Likely requires learning a new system to get writing needs done.
Additional considerations in your decision
Of course, these options are merely one facet of the decision of getting content done for your agency, and priorities and weighing of pros and cons against each other will vary vastly from agency to agency depending on pain points, how (or if) you exchange edits with clients, and how much time you can spend managing a team of writers, to name a few.
Here are a few additional questions to consider in your search for a freelance writer:
- How much control will you need over the process and final product?
- How closely will you know and be in touch with the writer(s)?
- How will you conduct an adequate initial and ongoing Q&A with prospective freelancers?
- Will your agency benefit from having a variety of writing tones and styles to offer clients?
- Is it important that you procure expert content in your industry vertical(s)?
- How much are you willing to pay for content (and per client)?
- Do you feel confident in your content solution to tackle large projects (and therefore a high volume of content) and scale quickly depending on a client’s content strategy?
For example, if you need to write a lot of content quickly for large projects, receive a variety of tones/styles of writing, and keep costs down while doing it, you’re going to have to add a few heads (at least). In this instance, in order to adhere to tight deadlines and scale quickly, the best option is to hire on an online platform or freelance writing service to get you in touch with several writers quickly, keep projects on-deadline, and (bonus!) remain budget-friendly.
Once you’ve got your approach to finding a writer mapped out, you’ve completed a critical first step down the journey to a fruitful, rewarding relationship with your outsourced writing team. But it is just a first step.
Download this ebook to learn more about how to best work with freelancer writers, effectively kick off new projects, foster collaborative, communicative, long-term working relationships with them, and other important considerations in scaling your content creation efforts as an agency.
About the author
Kali Greff is the head of content and marketing manager for BlogMutt. She’s as passionate about effective content marketing as BlogMutt’s platform of 3,000 U.S.-based freelance writers are about creating high-quality content for businesses and marketing agencies alike.