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  • Writer's pictureJeanie Croasmun

Content Agency or Freelance Writer: Who Should You Hire for Your Website?

You've decided your current content program isn't working — or maybe it has never gotten off the ground. And you're thinking it's time to get some fresh ideas into the mix. Do you bring in a content agency or a freelancer? Or is the solution just to build up your own content team?

Just to make sure we're all talking about the same apples, marketing content consists of the articles, thought-leadership, case studies, solutions briefs, Facebook posts, TikToks, videos, and other messaging that tells your company’s story and empowers the audience. These are longer-form and focus more on relationships, education, and engagement and less on transactional "buy-now" messaging (that's advertising copy). Good content should get your audience talking, thinking ... and converting.

So who should produce your content? I’ve worked on all sides of this scenario — as a freelancer writer/editor/strategist, as the head of content at an agency, and as the in-house content lead who has employed both as well as internal teams, and I've seen each scenario succeed and each fail miserably. Here's what I've learned.

Option 1: Add an in-house, staff writer to your content team

  • Who: Always-available team member(s) who commits to deep learning about the business. In-house teams are adaptable and often require less direction once they're up to speed. Plus they build a relationship with other people in your organization and can find answers that you may have forgotten to provide.

  • How you do it: Hire a staff writer/editor to research and write the bulk of the content. This person may also own the content calendar and work with company leaders to formulate strategy so your content is meeting goals in terms of messaging, delivery and cadence. You’ll need access to a designer or art director as well as someone to code and publish content; while writers/editors may be able to handle some of these tasks, they’re usually not also gifted designers and often have limits beyond basic HTML coding. Be sure your writer/editor is poised to act as a project manager for all assets, too.

  • Your involvement: Company leaders and marketing teams help develop strategy and the content calendar and are usually the ones to approve all assets. Unless you have an entire content team, make sure someone you trust proofreads and fact checks everything before publication.

  • Great for: Big companies with budgets that can be dedicated to building out a full team. DIY is ideal for marketing teams that need content produced on an as-needed basis and organizations not ready to plan long-term messaging. Companies already producing considerable content and those that want to build a bigger team to tackle more or specific content channels may also benefit from in-house writers, although augmenting/supporting with freelancers can also add flexibility, expertise and creativity needed for those situations.

  • Downside: In-house writers/editors may lack the ability to see the company through the eyes of the audience, which makes lead-gen content more challenging to plan and create. You may also find that some writers/editors and designers are amazing with one aspect of your business or content but are limited in their experience or approach to other ones – so you’ll still need to bring on additional help.

  • Cost of a staff writer: $50,000 - $125,000/year, depending on experience and seniority, not including benefits, training, plus time-commitment of other team members who help strategize, plan and edit. While it can be tempting to take the cheap way out and hire someone with just a few years experience at a bargain-basement price, if you’re only bringing on one content person and you expect them to write and run the show, pay up. Your investment will be worth it.

  • Advice: Found a writer and/or designer you love? Keep the person happy and stay competitive with salary and benefits. If your in-house team leaves for greener pastures, the time and cost to find new content creators and train them on the company’s unique nuances can be big and can shut down the publishing efforts of a one-(wo)man show.

Option 2: Work with a freelance writer, editor, and/or content strategist

  • Who: Freelance writers, editors, and strategists work on an as-needed or retainer basis and can often provide you with polish and expertise at a lower cost than hiring internally because you get just the project you requested with no downtime or fluff to pay for. Freelancers may do more than just writer (consider tapping one for strategy, too), and likely work with other freelancers who you can hire for design, video production, etc. Have an ASAP need? Call a freelancer. Want someone with time and the right voice to ghostwrite for your CEO? Get a freelancer. Have a one-time project or want someone who can commit about 10 hours or 20 hours / week to anything you need? Freelancers. Want a content audit, SEO optimization, and overall consolidation or refresh? You guessed it: freelancer.

  • How you do it: Post for freelancers just like you would post for full-time workers or ask around for referrals. BTW, I recommend avoiding sites like Upwork and Fiverr: you'll usually pay less and get better quality with a simple post to your own network on LinkedIn. You can contact me at for more info and for rates and samples.

  • Your involvement: You have your choice with a freelancer: let your marketing team run the content show here and develop strategy, calendar, content, and assignments and have a point-person on staff to set schedules and edit and approve text from the freelancer — or work with a senior content professional who can do all of this and act as an extension of your content team. Highly experienced freelancers may be willing to post content, project manage, work with designers, or run the entire content program for your company. They'll act like an agency at a fraction of the cost.

  • Great for: Small businesses and startups, marketing teams that lack editorial expertise, ramp-up projects and testing the water. Freelancers may be geographically anywhere, so you're also not limited to talent in your own backyard.

  • Downside: Freelance writers are often the most affordable content-creation option but companies should always be cautious — you get what you pay for. Want someone with subject or industry expertise? You’ll pay more. Need to limit the amount of time you spend fixing the article, web page, or case study that the freelancer wrote? Work with a highly experienced freelancer ONLY. If deadlines are important to you, avoid the side-hustlers. Need someone with specified availability, who's adaptable and knows your business? Put your freelancer on retainer. Even if just for 8 hours per week, you'll know that they're dedicating Thursday (or whatever day) to you.

  • Cost of a freelance writer: $50+ per hour and up to $125, although most arrangements are billed by project rather than through tracked hours (you'll come out ahead that way and with no surprises). Price varies with experience, subject matter, type of project, etc. An experienced freelance writer can save you almost 100% of the time it would take to create the asset yourself and you'll end up with something professional and polished. Inexperienced freelancers may only save you about 25% of the time it would take you to write or edit the project. Note of caution: Watch out for freelancers who charge by the word. I've worked with freelancers who added fluff and nonsense to boost wordcounts and make more money. Also be cautious of bargain freelancers. You get what you pay for.

  • Advice: Start with a paid test project to see what you'll get and learn how your freelancer works since samples shown on a freelancer's website MAY have been edited by someone else. If the freelancer does NOT request a kick-off meeting to discuss audience, project goals, and all details, move on — you won't get what you want. Be sure your freelancer includes an agreed-upon round of edits in the price of the project (I include 2 rounds — 1 substantive, no-questions-asked edit in case either of us got the project wrong; and 1 copyedit to fix the nuances). No one likes a surprise on their bill.

Option 3: Hire a full-service content agency

  • Who: Content agencies are teams of professionals that may include marketers, strategists, marketing writers, journalists, editors, videographers, designers and project managers. Larger agencies retain the majority of services in house, although almost every agency augments with freelance/contract assistance, too.

  • How you do it: Search for agencies online and ask your professional network. Then, meet with the content agency to explain your goals. Your agency should do a deep dive into your audience, product, company and service, competition, goals, and existing content and will put together content plans based on your specific needs (and price) rather than provide a list of canned content plans.

  • Your involvement: No agency can do everything unless you're willing to hand over all of the keys and invite them to every meeting, every hallways discussion, give them access to everything on your website, turn ovr HubSpot, etc. In other words, you'll need someone inhouse to manage the agency and ensure they have the internal support from your company and access to all tools and SMEs. You'll also want to ensure they're meeting the goals you've set. Otherwise, your involvement with a content agency will be almost identical to your involvement with a freelancer, although you'll only write 1 check each month, even if the agency employs 10 people on your project.

  • Great for: Big companies with big budgets or one-time, large scale ASAP projects. New to producing content? An agency could be great ... or it could be overkill. Be sure you're comfortable with pricing before you sign. Unlike a freelance writer/editor, nothing your agency does will ever go un-billed. Seriously, nothing.

  • Downside: Good agencies come at a high cost. Found a really affordable agency? Be forewarned that you're likely only getting words, not custom content, the latter of which is usually required to help convert prospects to customers. Agencies that outsource to freelancers tack on a 15-300% (yes, 300%!) markup to the freelancer's rates as well as charge for the time they spend conveying assignments to the freelancer, shuffling files, etc. Does your organization frequently pivot? Agencies aren't nuts about this approach and you'll either pay for every out-of-scope pivot OR reduce the overall quantity of work you're receiving. (Seriously, if you're pivoters, hire a freelancer. They're the most agile players in this list.)

  • Cost of a content agency: $10,000 - 40,000 PER MONTH!!!! The price will depends on your needs, but it's not uncommon to see sky-high pricetags for an agency. It will also take a couple of months to ramp up production and most agencies want a 1-year contract. You will get almost everything included, provided you negotiate for all services up-front: writing and editing, design, project management and strategy.

  • Advice: Speak up. Ask for details about what you’ll be getting and how great your involvement will be before you enter into an agency agreement. State your budget so the agency can create a custom plan. Avoid any "packages" — your company is one-of-a-kind. Agency services should fit YOU, not the agency. Also, avoid "SEO content agencies." You do want SEO-optimized content. You honestly don't need anything labeled "SEO content." Please, get in touch with me for more info on this.

Still unsure who should create your content? Ask around. Send me an email and I'll help you determine whether a freelancer, in-house hire or agency is the best option for you. Even if I never work on a project with you, this assistance is still free, free, free.

Note: This is an updated version of a post I originally wrote a few years ago when I was the head of content and marketing at a startup content agency. We had a number of small business clients that paid top dollar for our services when all they really needed was a good, dependable freelancer (our owner and sales person, however, didn't see it that way). In the years since, I was able to view the agency vs. freelance writer vs. in-house team dilemma from a different angle: as the 1-person content team for a mid-sized tech company where content was 100% freelance-written. While that model works for some businesses, our goals, team size (1), and market competition required an agency, which we never hired, and which probably cost us more in terms of lost opportunities and missed goals. The moral here? There's no one-size-fits-all answer to creating content for all businesses. And if you ever find yourself working with an agency or a freelancer who tries to sell you on a solution that doesn't feel like it fits, it's time to look elsewhere. Honestly and transparency are essential.

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