Usually, the hardest part of content marketing is creating the actual content. People starting out in content marketing often think the content will come naturally—but they soon realize just how tricky content creation is without experienced writers and designers.
In this blog post, we review five of the many ways to create content. As with any other marketing project, you’ll need to consider the budget, how long-term the commitment is, how quickly you need the finished content, and how much time you can dedicate to it.
Option 1. Build an in-house team.
If you can make at least a two- to three-year commitment to content marketing, building an in-house team is the way to go. You can start with a team of three or four people who can execute both online and offline work. You’ll need a writer, a designer, and someone who can monitor and analyze the content’s performance.
The ability to hand-pick team members is the main advantage of building an in-house team. Doing it will take some time, however. It’s not uncommon for finding, interviewing, and onboarding employees to take two to three months. Among the additional advantages of an in-house team is that it’s pretty cost effective if you have enough work for the whole team. Your costs are fixed each year, and you can create as much content as you can schedule for the team.
Through working together and using similar processes to create similar content over time, the team will also become very efficient and able to create content faster. In addition, a full-time in-house writer will eventually develop expertise about your business’s subject matter.
Naturally, building your own team has some disadvantages. It can be hard to find the right talent. Why? Many content creators are independent contractors because they enjoy the flexibility of working on multiple brands and being able to say no to a project or increasing their rates when busy. And if one of the content creators leaves, it can throw a wrench into everything for a couple months, until the person can be replaced.
In addition, building an in-house team requires spending a substantial sum upfront. You need to factor in expenses like office space, benefits, and training. Plus, if you want to expand the team over time, you’ll need to factor in hiring someone to manage the work.
Option 2. Hire an agency.
Love-hate relationships between agencies and their clients are not uncommon. Some agencies are great partners. Others say anything to win the job and figure out later whether they can deliver it. Some agencies focus too much on their own agendas, such as winning awards, which causes headaches for their clients.
However, hiring an agency is an excellent approach if you want to both scale up your content marketing quickly and tap into people who know how it should work. These benefits come at a premium, of course, since agencies have to make money to survive and grow. Clients are often frustrated by the high cost, but that comes with the territory. Most agencies will bill based on the hourly rates of their various team members. Some are open to considering fixed-bid pricing, but only when they are comfortable with the scope of what’s being created.
In addition, agencies are not known for having lean teams. It’s rare to find an agency of only two or three people. Midsize agencies usually staff an account with four to six people. As for large agencies, it’s not uncommon to have six to twelve people on an account’s team. Extra layers can slow down the content creation and increase its cost.
Of all the B2B content-creation models, using an agency is the most unpredictable for clients. The team assigned to an account often changes over time, because someone either left the agency or wanted to work on a different account. And it’s not unheard of for agency leadership not to spend as much time on your account as they should, perhaps, because instead they are focusing on winning a new account or increasing their margin on a fixed-bid project, and only show up for client meetings.
When the relationship is scoped right and the people on the account are good, an agency can produce outstanding work. They usually excel at conceptual thinking, generating big ideas and creating campaigns rather than just a bunch of one-off deliverables. Upon hiring an agency, you can instantly leverage its process, people, and knowledge. It’s relatively easy to find and hire an agency, although the scoping process can take some time.
If you need to create content quickly, you could use an outside perspective, and are willing to pay a premium, working with any agency is an excellent option.
Option 3. Use a staffing firm to find freelancers.
I’ve used staffing firms before, when I worked inside Fortune 1000 companies. They’re a great model if you need quick access to specialized talent and don’t want to invest time in finding the right team. Within twenty-four hours of our initial phone call, the firm's account representative had two or three candidates ready for me to interview over the phone. Most of the candidates could start working within a couple days.
The primary benefit of using a staffing firm is the avoidance of the red tape required to hire a company employee, which can take weeks or even months. No long-term decisions are required; if you need someone for a three- or four-week project, that’s completely fine, as long as you have set with the firm upfront the expectations for the length of the project.
The main disadvantage of working with a staffing agency is that it can take up to 50 percent of the worker’s total hourly billable rate. This raises the chance of the person you’re working with being underpaid, based on his or her market rate. And, if underpaid, the person is less likely to want to have a long-term relationship with the staffing company, or with you.
But if you like the agency’s persons, can’t you work directly with him or her and pay the worker’s own billable rate? Nope. Most staffing agencies have both clients and freelancers sign one-year nonsolicitation agreements that prevent them from working directly with each other. You can, however, choose to pay a one-time fee to “convert” a freelancer into your company’s full-time employee. This is a fair approach, and going down this path would probably be a little less expensive than paying a recruiting fee.
Another disadvantage is that a staffing agency handles only the matchmaking and billing. It isn’t around during the project and brings no thinking to the table, which can be frustrating. You need to be comfortable with the staffing agency finding the right person for you, and that’s it.
Option 4. Find and manage freelancers yourself.
Finding and managing freelancers yourself is an excellent option if you’re connected to various types of freelancers. Before jumping in, however, you should have experience managing content creators or other creative professionals. You need to understand how the creative process works and the type of structure required to get the best work out of a person. Sometimes it means providing specific guidance. Other times, it’s about defining a problem and letting the freelancer solve it creatively.
If you’re able to find freelancers on your own, this is usually a cost-effective solution. You’re not paying for an in-house team, and you’re not paying the markup fee of an agency or staffing firm.
But, as with option one, the best part is you hand-pick your team. You know upfront who you will be working with, rather than being at the mercy of people who have been assigned to your account. The flexibility of being able to hire a freelancer only when one is needed is a benefit as well. For example, if you need someone to write one or two articles, you can hire a person just for that. You don’t need to commit to paying someone for forty hours a week for three or four weeks.
The biggest challenge of working with freelancers is that their schedules change all the time. Sometimes, they’re available when needed and everything works out perfectly. Other times they’re booked solid and have no time to work with you. This is why it’s good to have in your “stable” of freelancers multiple people who can perform similar tasks—and to plan ahead, so that you can book the freelancers you will need in at least three to five weeks.
Option 5. Use a content marketing platform.
Content-marketing platforms gained traction around 2015, when marketplaces like NewsCred, Contently, Skyword, and Upwork became a legitimate way to find content creators. They work similarly to staffing agencies, except that you go online to search for the workers you need instead of working with an account rep or salesperson. When you find someone you want to hire, you are charged a fee but it is nowhere as steep as a staffing agency’s fee.
These platforms can be great when you have a specific need. For example, using an advanced search, in less than five minutes it’s possible to find a writer who has twenty-plus years of experience, works with SaaS startups, and is an expert in enterprise network security. Once you find what you’re working for, you can review their online work samples to confirm whether they would be a good fit.
Quick, easy access to talent is what makes content-marketing platforms so valuable. Some of them offer services beyond finding talent. For example, Contently has content-management software that helps with collaboration, governance, and performance tracking of content, which could be helpful for those just getting started with content marketing. Some platforms offer packages that include account-management services. This is a nice option for those at larger companies who don’t want to manage a team of freelancers and don’t mind paying extra for help with the heavy lifting.
Option 6. Use a content collective.
A relatively new approach, a content collective is a blend of the agency, staffing, and freelance models. The collective option uses an on-demand approach—that is, the client pays only when its content is being created. It’s ideal for companies that need content marketing but can’t invest a large sum in building a team or signing an agreement with an agency.
Collective approaches are good for clients that don’t have large budgets and are looking for people with expertise. The client receives agency-like service, as someone at the collective manages all the client’s freelancers. And transparency allows the client to know the team it’s getting. Often the client can even hand-pick its content-creating freelancers.
The collective model is also efficient, able to kick off a project quickly. Some collectives have moved to a fixed-pricing model. At my content collective, 26 Characters, we created a menu of the more popular deliverable items and services that includes various pricing assumptions. It virtually eliminates the scoping process, which is appealing to companies that need to have content created quickly. On the downside, unless a client books a collective’s team for months at a time, a collective won’t have dedicated resources focused only on your business. They might also work across different cities, so in-person meetings with the client can’t be guaranteed. And, because the team members usually don’t work on-site, one can’t enjoy the luxury of walking down the hall and seeing them every day.
As with all the content-creation options, the pros and cons of the collective model must be weighed. But, it’s an excellent approach for those looking to create content and wanting to avoid building an in-house team or contracting with an expensive agency.
Now that you know more about ways to publish your content, have a look at different content types and when to use them.
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