When we are discussing new projects with potential clients, we often get asked, “Why shouldn’t I just hire a writer to do this?” Granted, our fees can roughly equate to a staff writer’s monthly salary, but this is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Hiring a new staff writer is completely different from hiring an agency because with an agency you get an entire team of people with very specialized skills.
In this article, we will explore why one person is unlikely to pull off the content campaign of your dreams. Then, with as little bias as we can, we will compare the work of building an internal content team vs. hiring an agency.
One Person Can’t Execute an Entire Content Campaign Alone
If your budget allows you to hire three or four people, then there may be some advantages to bringing all of your content marketing in-house. If you choose that route, we encourage you to go into it with your eyes wide open.
Consider the work that goes into a single piece of content:
- Strategy. There must be a larger strategy that informs the angle each piece takes. More on that in a moment.
- Research. Any blog post worth reading requires at least three hours of good research.
- Writing. Most writers will need to carve out blocks of hours for the focused work of writing.
- Editing. Someone with subject-matter understanding needs to put their eyes on the copy. Ideally, that person would also understand things like adherence to style guidelines, rhythm, flow, grammar and all the other basics of copy editing. If not, the piece needs a third pair of eyes.
- Promotion. For our content, two dozen emails might get sent out to influencers. Someone has to manage those response threads and take any number of actions. That work could include coordinating future content partnerships, making corrections to the published copy or vetting responses for their lead potential. For some of our clients, there’s a followup round of social media promotion.
Now, think about everyone you know. Think about the people on your team. Think about all of the people you’ve interviewed but not hired. Those you’ve met at networking events. How many could own — actually succeed at — each one of these tasks?
Before you commit to an answer, let’s return to the lingering question of strategy.
Content Strategies Are Collaborative
A good content agency will have executed hundreds of campaigns, and their strategies evolve as they test out ideas, analyze results, make changes and iterate. We outlined our strategy process in this post, but here’s the quick and dirty version:
- We establish the throughline that connects a client’s mission, their business model and their audience.
- We map out that audience’s needs, the publications they read and the influencers they trust.
- We pitch topics and generate an entire editorial calendar that, topic by topic, speaks to all the nuanced concerns an audience could have.
It takes a team to brainstorm a coherent strategy. This reason, above all, is why a single writer cannot successfully execute a content campaign by themselves.
Benji Hyam, cofounder of Grow and Convert, makes a similar point on his company’s blog: “I’d say hiring an in-house writer or team of in-house writers is a good option if you’re a larger company and can afford to pay someone or multiple people full-time to do mostly writing. It also might be a good option if you need one person with deep industry expertise to constantly write about one space.
“However, for most businesses, hiring one person in-house with the intention of having them write content, manage a content calendar, distribute content, etc. is not a good idea.”
Vetting and Hiring a Good Writer Takes a Lot of Time
Here’s a number that’s remained pretty consistent in our five-plus years as a company: It takes about 300 applications for us to find one or two writers we want to work with.
That means we have to read 300 emails, 300 resumes and 300 sets of clips before we identify a couple of people who demonstrate the experience, curiosity and skill we need to publish thoughtful longform content.
Then, we hire a handful of writers for several rounds of test projects. (Note: Those have to be paid test projects. You won’t recruit any good writers by handing out unpaid assignments.) A good baseline we’ve found: Pay at least three different writers to take on three projects. In order to vet these writers effectively, we have found that we need to give them the same three test projects. This costs thousands of dollars and delivers a surprisingly small amount of useful copy.
All in all, the time between a candidate’s initial application and their first round of regular assignments is at least a month or more. During those weeks, in addition to the time and costs outlined above, our leadership team spends many hours reviewing, editing and training these candidates. You can expect the same for your company if you want to hire an in-house writer or a freelancer.
Keep in mind this is for the writing work only. The strategy, content promotion and other necessary components of a healthy, profitable campaign will require different personalities and skill sets, all of which get separate hiring processes.
Content Promotion Requires a Different Mindset Than Writing
The best writers tend to be introverted. The best promoters tend to be extroverted. Asking someone who is good at one to do the other is a recipe for disaster.
For someone who isn’t a natural promoter and networker, it can be deceptively difficult to learn content promotion. There is no shortage of blog posts, videos and various other tutorials about promoting content. The problem, however, is this world evolves quickly. Once you’re reading someone’s how-to guide on content promotion, that tactic’s effectiveness has already expired.
Trying to train an in-house writer to handle content promotion is futile. You need to hire for that skill. To do so, you need to look for someone who has lots of experience. They will know what methods of promotion no longer work, and which do.
Remember, too, that any content promoter is only as good as the networks they are plugged into, both online and offline. If your content outreach candidate cannot clearly describe how they keep up with trends, you should probably keep looking.
All of this is to say that a good content promoter — someone who is connected, energetic and inspired — is incredibly hard to find.
Internal Teams Cannot Scale a Campaign at a Moment’s Notice
Let’s say your company has been the exception to the rules above.
You have a killer writer who knows your audience and creates content that consistently resonates with them. Your head of marketing puts eyes on all the copy before it goes live, so posts are going up clean. And there’s still enough time during the week for promo emails, tweets and LinkedIn updates.
Things are going great, in fact. Your blog’s traffic is seeing month-on-month growth, people are engaging with your promotional tactics, and your content funnel is generating leads.
That’s when you run into one of the iron-clad laws of marketing: When something works, do more of it.
So, how do you scale your content efforts? Your awesome writer is at capacity, and your head of marketing doesn’t have the time to read additional drafts.
Hiring one or two new writers is an option. Of course, that means someone has to vet hundreds of applications and test out writers. In the very best case scenario, you’re a month away from being able to double your output.
It takes a team to actually scale at a rate that will keep pace with the growth of your marketing successes. That team must include writers, editors, content promoters and strategists.
“With a boutique content marketing agency, you get an account manager that puts together the content strategy, and a team of expert writers who deliver on it, well, expertly,” writes Daniel Tay, cofounder of the Singapore agency With Content. “Equally, as your content marketing efforts begin to grow, they should also be able to tap into their resources and produce more content for you readily.”
With a team, you don’t need to wait 30 days to double your content output. You can quadruple that output from tomorrow if you need to.
If you don’t have the budget to hire an in-house team, and even hiring an agency is a stretch financially, then it may not be the right time for you to invest in content marketing. In most industries, the competition is already too steep for semi-committed content marketing to work. Perhaps it would be better to spend marketing dollars elsewhere.
If you’re stuck, we’d be happy to discuss this with you. Exploring what an agency can do for your content marketing can be a revelatory conversation that shines a light on some fundamental need your company has.
Please send any questions you might have to us via our contact form. Seriously — we love the chance to help someone get their marketing on track, whether that’s via collaboration with us or through some other means.
Images by: Joe Gardner, Headway, Bonneval Sebastien
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