Guest post by Jade Bloom from The Content Panel.
Every project manager and business owner knows that marketing requires content. Regardless of your industry or your brand, the need for content is a near-universal constant.
Today, customers expect your messaging to go beyond simply promoting your products or services. They're looking for brands to supply impartial information (and even entertainment) consistently and continually.
If that sounds like a lot of work, you're not wrong. This is why many brands will consider either hiring someone in-house or outsourcing the work to a content writing service or a freelance writer.
But which option is best? We're going to take a look at a few things to consider before committing to one option or the other. Let's get started.
Content Writers versus Copywriters
We're going to start this piece off with a little explanation of the difference between copywriters and content writers, as the two terms are incorrectly used interchangeably quite often.
Copywriters: These guys write sales copy. It's often written to grab attention, with headlines that encourage taking action right away. Sometimes it's more subtle, but this is traditionally the kind of writing you see in advertising, be it on the radio, television, or internet. Think landing pages, product descriptions, sales funnels, etc.
Content Writing: These guys write informational content. Think blog content, articles, email newsletters, newsy content, white papers, and other non-promotional media.
Copywriting is a far more difficult and skillful task than content writing. The work of a copywriter can increase revenue by double-digit percentage points. This is perhaps why good copywriters sometimes charge more than lawyers for their services.
Due to this, unless you're a mega-sized corporation, you should always outsource your copywriting.
The time it takes to learn how to create good copy isn't worth training a staff member on (it's like assigning them a new career), and you'd need a massive, constantly evolving product range to benefit from hiring a full-time copywriter in house.
This article focuses solely on content writers, which is where the decision to outsource or hire in-house is far less clear cut than it is with copywriting.
Cross out the option of cross-training
When content demands first rear their heads, people often think of delegating writing to an existing team member. After all, they're already up to speed on the business's current activities and culture, and there's no getting around the fact that having a team member write your content feels more "wholesome".
But that's where the benefits of cross-training end and the issues begin.
For starters, writing is a creative task that some people consider to be an art form. Even with training, if someone doesn't have a natural affinity for writing, their content can still be subpar.
Additionally, hiring a writer (outsourced or in-house) frees up your employees to focus on their real jobs (that they are actually good at) and lets the writers do what they are good at.
Cross-training is not only ineffective; it's also a poor decision based on cost too.
Suppose you are paying an existing employee their regular rate for content writing. In that case, there's a good chance that their hourly rate is higher than what a content writer charges (as content writers are surprisingly affordable).
Putting that to one side, unless you're pumping out a considerable amount of content - thousands of words per week, then it's almost always cheaper to outsource your content writing.
You've got normal employee overheads to consider when hiring in-house, none of which you have to worry about with a freelancer.
There's also a tremendous amount of competition in the world of freelance content writing, which keeps costs low there too.
While in house writers are more expensive, they're generally much easier to manage. They're your team's member, and their finger is on the pulse of what needs to be done. There's a little bit of additional work in terms of general HR tasks compared to hiring a freelancer, but it's nothing out of the ordinary.
Cross-training an employee will cause headache after headache. They usually have other projects that are more urgent to attend to, meaning loaded schedules. This doesn't always make for happy employees and makes meeting deadlines on time difficult.
On the other hand, working directly with freelance writers can be a real-time sink.
You've got to find them, test them, vet them, train them on your brand, communicate your tone of voice before you even get your first piece of usable content.
There are content writing services out there that handle some of this for you, but even they cannot overcome the main issue of freelance writers wandering off on to other projects.
Freelance writers put the "free" into freelance. They're usually continually looking for other opportunities at higher pay rates, and most of the time, they're trying to land copywriting work that's far more lucrative (and interesting). When something better comes along, there's a good chance they're going to leave your project - which means you have to start the hiring process again.
You probably won't be surprised to learn that cross-training an existing employee will give you the worst quality end product. It's similar to painting a house - anyone can learn to use a brush, but you're not going to get the same results as you would from a professional decorator.
There's very little difference between in-house and freelance content writers in terms of quality. Great and terrible writers apply for in-house jobs, and there are great and terrible freelancers.
Portfolios are a great place to start your search, but you should always request a trial period before committing to working with someone long term. By their very nature, portfolio pieces are designed to be the best that the writer can produce. They will have paid attention to every word, making it as perfect as it can be, which is sometimes not what they will be doing in a real-world work situation.
The only category we are discussing today that cross-trained writers have a chance at coming out on top in is this one. There's a good chance that the person who is being cross-trained as a content writer is from your marketing department, and if that does happen, they might know more about SEO than the average content writer does.
Admittedly, that's a situation with many "ifs" and "mights" in it, but it's far from impossible.
That being said, the advantage of having that additional knowledge is slight. Content writers know that one of the main reasons they are hired is due to SEO. It's one of the first things potential clients ask about, and as such, it's something every content writer worth their salt has trained in.
Writing for SEO purposes (effectively) isn't particularly hard these days. Google loves content created for humans first, but a few tricks and tips should be paid attention to (things like long-tail keywords, featured snippets, etc.).
Freelance writers and in-house writers are likely to have a similar capability to optimize their content, so there's not much difference between the two options here.
Unless you've got a team member who has a lot of spare time on their hands, getting an existing employee to write your content is rarely a good option.
However, hiring an in-house writer and outsourcing are both excellent ideas.
Picking the right one for you really comes down to the size of your company and the amount of content you need. Larger companies who have large enough content needs to occupy a writer full time should probably hire in-house, as they're much easier to manage than freelance writers at that kind of scale.
Everyone else should probably consider working with a freelance writer on a job by job basis.
Order content as and when you need it without committing, and if your content needs to start to grow, you've always got the option of hiring someone in-house in the future.