Most businesses realize that outsourcing is the way to go when it comes to content creation.
For smaller businesses, outsourcing to a professional writing service gives you a competitive edge with search engine optimized, well-research content. For larger businesses, outsourcing means more salability and flexibility than hiring someone in-house.
However, the big question is this: Who should you hire? Ultimately, the question comes down to a freelance writer or content agency. Here’s a thorough comparison between these two choices.
What’s The Difference?
If you’ve never hired a writer before, it’s easy to get misled by all of the jargon that people throw around. For the purposes of this article, here’s how I define these terms:
Freelance Writer: An individual who you hire directly, either through their own website or through a third-party peer-to-peer (P2P) platform like Fiverr or Upwork.
Content Agency: An agency that specializes in content production. They have a pool of writers to assign projects to and you will have to pay a membership fee and/or a higher per-word rate because they have vetted writers for you. Agencies help with keyword research, briefing, and editing.
Technically, the writers working with most content agencies are still “freelancers” in the sense that they are not traditionally employed full-time or part-time by the agency, but that won’t impact your experience as a customer. So, let’s explore each of these options more in-depth.
Working With A Freelance Writer
Pros of a Freelance Writer
There are many pros that come along with hiring a freelance writer and working with them directly.
Ever-Growing Selection of Writers
While it takes time to find a trustworthy and talented freelance writer, your options will seem limitless. There are so many freelance writers out there, you won’t have any problem finding one regardless of your budget or niche.
Some writers also work exclusively through their own website, which means you won’t be able to find them on third-party platforms at all. In fact, only the best writing agencies are able to grow and maintain a large database of talented writers, which takes strong backend communication, fair pay, and a steady stream of good clients.
No Middleman or Communication Delays
When you hire a freelancer directly, you don’t have someone passing the things you say onto the writer. Instead, you get to directly connect with the writer to explain things yourself. This makes meeting tight deadlines and requesting changes much easier because there are fewer people in the equation.
Lower Rates You Can Negotiate
Most agencies have set rates (or, at the very least, set minimums) that you’ll have to pay in order to use their writing services. In contrast, freelancers are usually negotiable, especially if you have a large project that you’d like to pay for up-front.
When it comes to budget restraints, hiring a freelancer directly is almost always going to get you a lower rate than working with an agency, simply because a freelancer has far less overhead to contend with.
Plus, in addition to the fees an agency charges, writers also tend to charge more when working on a managed platform because of the time they must spend pitching to clients and the effort they put in contending with project briefs (which tend to be significantly more complex). For instance, I charge just $0.05/word for direct clients, but I charge up to $0.10/word when working on platforms like Scripted.
When you hire a freelancer directly, you’re not going to have to commit to a certain amount of content each week, month, or year. Freelancers are hired on an as-needed basis, making them the best choice if you have a one-off project or occasional/sporadic work.
If you have a frequent need for content, simply ask the freelancer in advance what their capacity is. This will change with time as other clients’ needs change, but they will be able to tell you whether they can reasonably produce the content you need on an on-going basis.
Cons of a Freelance Writer
I’ve already alluded to the fact that working with a freelance writer generally takes more time commitment, but there are actually a few considerations to keep in mind.
Writing is one of the first services many people offer when looking to break into the world of freelancing. That means plenty of options, but it also means there is an excess of unskilled individuals trying to learn “on the job” while you pay them. That can add up to a lot of wasted time and money, which further proves why you must do your research when hiring a freelance writer.
Do you need content on a regular basis? Most freelancers can write thousands of words per month, but certain clients will need a much larger capacity. For instance, if you are a web developer looking for content for multiple website or if you are a digital marketer with multiple clients of your own, you may need more than a single freelancer to meet your needs.
This is when an agency really begins to shine. Thanks to a large pool of writers, an agency is going to be able to take on just about every project you throw at them and they’ll divide the work up for you.
Perhaps the biggest risk of working with a freelance writer is that they may become unexpectedly unavailable for a short (or long) period of time. They may also have a varying capacity to take on projects, which could throw off your content calendar.
The best way around this, of course, is to have a backup writer (or two) that you have vetted in the past so that you can turn to them if your go-to writer becomes unavailable. This will minimize publishing delays and keep you on track.
Where To Hire A Freelance Writer
You can hire a freelance writer directly through their website, which will generally get you the best price and most flexibility. That’s because you nor the writer has to conform to a third-party platform’s terms.
Of course, this can also put you in a risky position because there’s no third-party escrow service or support to protect you. That’s why many people choose to hire freelance writers through third-party platforms like Fiverr and Upwork.
When I began offering writing services online, I actually started on Fiverr and I still have an active account on the platform. However, I know that the policies can get annoying for customers. For instance, Fiverr never allows anyone to contact each other outside of the platform (like over the phone), which can hinder communication about a project.
Still, if you are hesitant to spend money on a writing service, a third-party platform’s refund policies and customer support can help give you the confidence to go ahead and test out a writer’s service. With that said, you still need to research your writer to make sure they deliver quality work.
Working With A Writing Agency
Content agencies cost more per word than a freelancer, but these agencies verify writers’ skills for you and they usually offer other services to help with your projects. Some services are even fully-managed so you won’t have to spend any time coming up with content ideas, selecting writers, or finalizing content.
Pros of a Writing Agency
If you have the budget and you want to save time by simplifying and streamlining your content production, an agency is probably your best option.
Pre-Vetted Pool of Writers
The big time-saver that comes along with hiring an agency is the fact that they have already taken the time to find great writers. While the pool of freelance writers can be hit-or-miss and is filled with people across all skill levels and abilities, most agencies have very strict standards when it comes to who can write for them.
All of the agencies I have joined had a thorough application process. In addition to spelling and comprehension tests, most request writing samples and often put new writers trough a “trial period” where their work is carefully reviewed before the client ever sees it. Many also have metrics that writers must continuously maintain to stay on the platform.
Excellent Scalability and Availability
You never have to worry about getting a dreaded “out of office” autoresponder when working with an agency because they’re on call around-the-clock. While major holidays could bring some minor delays, an agency has a large pool of writers to assign to, which means you won’t be dependent on a single freelancer’s availability or capacity.
This means you can request as many words as you need with no reasonable fears of delays or burnout. Instead, the agency will divide up your large projects across multiple writers to ensure everyone is able to complete things on time and with the quality you expect.
Hands-On Support Staff
All of the content agencies I have worked with have an excellent team of support staff for both writers and clients. If you opt for a managed account, you’ll generally receive a dedicated account manager who will be your sole point of contact to handle any issues or requests you have relating to your content. Even if you don’t have a managed account, an agency will have support staff on standby in case you run into problems.
This means you won’t typically have to deal with writers missing deadlines, delivering poor quality work, or otherwise making your life difficult. Agencies take great care in making sure every client has a seamless, stress-free experience on their platform.
While a fully managed account can cost upwards of $999/month with a service like Cruise Control, most agencies offer a number of time-saving services that don’t require such an expensive monthly subscription. For instance, ContentFly has add-on services like ResearchFly to help you come up with keywords and topics.
While you’ll have to pay for these services (either as a separate subscription or rolled into your writing costs), they can save you a substantial amount of time and simplify your content production process.
Cons of a Writing Agency
While features, costs, and processes vary between agencies, there are some general considerations you’ll want to keep in mind before subscribing to one.
As mentioned, one of the biggest perks of working with an agency is that they can handle a large volume of work. With that said, this could lead to inconsistency in tone and style if the agency fails to brief writers properly or if they constantly select different writers for your projects.
When you work through an agency, there are instances where you won’t get to communicate directly with your writer. Instead, a project manager or another person will act as the middleman between you and the writing team. This is supposed to make things easier for you, but it can work against you, especially if you’re tight on time or have very specific requirements.
Membership Fees and Added Costs
Most content agencies are moving to a subscription model, which means you’ll pay a base fee every month just to gain access to the platform. Some subscriptions include a certain number of words in your plan while others require you to pay for content on top of your subscription fee.
To give you an idea of what a content agency costs, here are some examples:
ContentFly charges $499/month, which includes 4,000 words of content each month (working out to about $0.12/word).
Scripted charges $124/month, which does not include the cost of content. I generally charge $0.10/word on this platform (writers cannot charge less than $0.06/word).
Monthly or Annual Commitment
Alongside the cost of a subscription model, you must also anticipate the monthly or annual commitment that comes along with signing up for an agency platform. If you only need content on a sporadic or occasional basis, an agency might not be the best fit due to the financial commitment of using one.
Popular Writing Agencies
There are a number of writing agencies that you can compare if you think an agency is the best way to go for your business. When comparing writing agencies, be sure to consider membership fees alongside average per-word rates, included services, optional services, and the overall user-friendliness of the platform itself.
I have personally worked with Scripted, CopyPress, and ContentFly as a writer and I believe all three to be excellent choices for those seeking a flexible content creation service. Of course, each one works in a slightly different way. I cover these platforms (and others) in my article on Where To Find Writers for Hire Online.
Making Your Decision
When it comes down to it, there is no one right answer when choosing between a freelance writer or content agency. Your decision will depend on your budget and volume requirements. If you need scalability, a writing agency may be your best bet. On the other hand, a freelance writer may help you stretch your budget further.