Hiring Freelance vs In-house vs Agency for Content Marketing

Hiring Freelance vs In-house vs Agency for Content Marketing 1

Like most forms of marketing, content marketing can seem like a pit of quicksand: take one step in, and you’ll get sucked into complicated mix of acronyms and buzzwords.

TOFU, MOFU, BOFU, anyone?

How about content upgrades and distribution?


Okay, you get the idea.

If you peel away all the layers, though, content marketing is primarily about the first word in that phrase: content.

So if you don’t produce high quality content, forget about what comes next.

Good writing should form the foundation of your content marketing strategy. Build your content marketing tower on crappy content, and all the Jengas will topple over sooner or later.

If you’re a marketer in Singapore—and indeed, Asia-Pacific—you’re probably aware of this. According to LinkedIn, at least 55 percent of you are concerned about creating better quality content.

The next question on the minds of startup CEOs and heads of marketing: should I hire a freelance writer, look for an in-house content marketer, or engage a content marketing agency (or studio) to help me with this?

Of course, each has its pros and cons. We’ll break it down for you.


Working with freelance writers in Singapore

As Asians, we tend to be a bit more careful with how we spend our money.

This extends to our businesses, too—we want to try before we buy.

As such, when it comes to testing the content marketing waters, a founder’s first instinct would be to find a freelance writer to deliver an article or two. If it works out, then he/she would find it justifiable to invest more resources into this area.

At the start, this is a good arrangement for companies who want to dip their toes in the water, as there is little to no commitment involved.

Try one article if you want, and another if it feels right—freelancers are often happy to accommodate.

Also, freelance writers tend to be experts in the niche they have carved for themselves. For example, in my freelancing days, I was often engaged to take on technology or startup-related topics.

However, it takes a considerable amount of time to find, vet, and then negotiate rates with good freelance writers (though, far less time than it takes to hire an in-house content marketer. More on that later).


Domain expertise

When I say “good,” I don’t mean in terms of writing prowess alone.

This is relatively easy to assess—just request for writing samples. It should be a non-negotiable step one in your vetting process.

You also need to consider whether the writer has the domain expertise required—or at least, the research chops—to cover the topics you assign well.

Yes, at some level, expertise is transferable. A writer who excels at penning startup profile stories might be able to quickly grasp certain technical topics.

But in order to deliver on a topic well, writers also need to grasp the nuances of the subject matter at hand, which usually requires years of experience writing for, or working in, that particular field or industry.


Content marketing expertise

Freelance writers in Singapore tend to have a background in publishing. Few have any marketing experience at all, let alone in content marketing (a relatively new field in Singapore).

As a business owner, however, you’re not interested in being known for beautiful prose.

You want good writing, yes, but only because it will bring (eventually) eyeballs to your products and services.

And for your blog posts and articles to achieve that, you need to ensure that they are crafted with content marketing best practices in mind. In other words: SEO-optimized, scannable, with internal and external links, heading tags, and so on.

Some freelance writers may be able to provide this, but only if you are able to walk them through a checklist for every piece.

If not, this would narrow down your pick of freelance writers considerably.



Then there’s the question of communication—something that’s near impossible to assess at the get-go.

Working with an employee is very different as compared to a freelancer. Employees know that they are on the clock, whereas freelancers operate on their own schedule, which you cannot dictate (besides deadlines. Always set deadlines).

The best freelance writers are excellent communicators as well. They constantly keep you updated on the status of your assignments, and are proactive about getting feedback and making suggestions.

The worst ones? They disappear on day one, and reappear a day after the deadline with a first draft that’s almost always way, way off-base.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know if you are working with the former or latter at the start. It is a necessary process of trial-and-error, which drags out the entire process.



Finally, let’s talk about capacity.

No matter how good a freelance writer is, he/she is just one person.

If your content marketing efforts begin to bear fruit, and you want to rapidly increase the rate of content production, your freelancer will likely not be able to scale right alongside you.

And so the work of finding and putting together a team of freelance writers begins. In other words, the process outlined above multiplied over and over.


Is it worth the trouble? Yes, if you have time

Still, when you manage to find the right freelance writer? It’s like a dream come true.

In the early days of With Content, we were approached by a large organization to take on a similarly sizable editorial project. This involved around 40 articles, which were to be produced within three weeks.

Of course, I took it up.

Me, and my army of three other freelance writers in Singapore.

Thus began a week of madness. Within the next seven days, I had sourced over 50 freelance writers, sent them writing tests, and quickly engaged those who performed well.

Today, our With Content writing team has been narrowed down to just seven of the finest freelancers from that batch. One of them even went on to join us full-time!

In other words, just 14 percent of the 50 freelance writers I had reached out to managed to tick off all the boxes above.

They consistently delivered good work in their respective domains, communicating with us effectively throughout, giving us little to no trouble—all for a very fair rate.

On that note: it goes without saying that good freelance writers can command a significant rate. Rightly so—we found that the best writers have at least four years of editorial experience under their belt.


Hiring an in-house content marketer

So, you’ve worked with a freelance writer or two, and have seen some promising results from your content marketing efforts. Time to double down.

Or you’ve received a huge tranche of funding, and believe that content marketing is the way to go for your business. Go big, or go home.

If only.

Limited skills and time

On paper, it makes sense to bring a content marketer onboard full-time.

You’ll have someone—likely sitting right next to you—who will theoretically own your entire content marketing machine from end-to-end.

Ideally, they’d be able to:

  • Develop multiple formats of content for various platforms including website, video guides, landing pages, email etc.
  • Create and disseminate content that will improve the Company’s brand recognition across the region
  • Work closely with the business development and marketing team to ensure that the company’s marketing efforts are communicated effectively to the public
  • Ensure that content is shareable, relevant, original, and engaging
  • Reach the public through social media to effectively communicate the Company’s marketing efforts
  • Interview customers and service providers to create content that will improve the company’s brand recognition and user adoption of the product
  • Plan monthly content calendar, promotional calendar, and marketing activities
  • Prepare detailed monthly reports of content marketing activity
  • Develop robust partnership strategies, deliver on partnership targets, and collaborate with existing and new partners and influencers on major initiatives as well as see them through to success
  • Create campaign landing pages

Wait, what?


(This was adapted from an actual job description I found online, btw)

To spare you months of wasted time trying to catch this unicorn, let me go ahead and just tell you the hard truth: you will not find him/her.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

At best, a great content marketer might be able to pull off half of that laundry list, let alone excel at content creation.

Whether he/she does it well? That’s another question. Chances are that he/she will be touch-and-go on every task just to keep up.

You’re facing the same conundrum as with a freelance writer—he/she is just one person. But as your in-house content marketer, he/she faces the added pressure of having to check off a list of tasks that dwarf the freelance writer’s.


Lack of (available) content marketing talent

There’s also another tiny problem: there just aren’t enough content marketers in Singapore to go around. Yet.

A content strategist job listing I put up a few months ago yielded a grand total of four applicants from the sunny island. None of them were a good fit.

It’s not just Singapore. The other 50+ applications I received were from various parts of Indonesia and the Philippines. Of those, only two seemed like they might have potential, but ultimately lacked the marketing experience required.

And if you’re a small business or startup, you probably won’t have the resources required to attract the right talent.

The laws of demand and supply condemn you. Coming from a small, precious pool of content marketing talent, candidates are in a good position to command a hefty pay cheque.

That’s not to mention all the perks and benefits your company offers to all employees. And stock options. And the lengthy hiring process that your HR team has to undergo…


Ideal, but only if you have the time and money

Having a content marketer on staff who is completely focused on your company’s work is a massive plus.

If you’re able to charm and recruit an experienced content person to join your ranks, all you need to do is hire a content production studio, or a freelancer or two, to come alongside him/her and cover all the bases of your content marketing machine.

If you’ve tried this and fallen short so far, though, there is one more solution.


Engaging a content marketing agency

There are a metric ton of marketing agencies in Singapore. Type “marketing agency in Singapore” into Google and see for yourself.

Many of these are full-service digital marketing agencies that – you guessed it – offer every type of marketing service possible. On earth. And possibly, beyond.

The good thing is, if you’re looking to try out a variety of marketing channels, you can rest assured that you’re covered from day one.

If you’re reading this article, though, you’re probably evaluating the possibility of going deep into content marketing in particular.

And with good reason. A study by Dentsu found that 70 percent of APAC marketers (that’s you) feel their content marketing efforts are limited, basic, or inconsistent.

As you’ve seen in the typical content marketer’s job description above, there are so many things to do within the confines of just content marketing alone. If content creation is just one of many things that an agency does, it is highly improbable that they’ll do it well—turn around and walk away quickly.

To do content marketing well, you’ll need a team of specialists who have deep experience in content strategy and writing. Ideally, they’d be able to quickly and efficiently drill down to what you need, and how to accomplish it, right away.

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.

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.

This might seem obvious, but not all agencies have the capacity to do this.



As they work with multiple clients, it’s just not realistic to expect your agency to be fully invested in your company’s long-term success.

While they might be 100 percent aligned on helping you to meet your content marketing goals—and they should!—an agency will likely not live and breathe your brand and mission as much as a full-timer would, no matter how much they profess to do so.



Similarly, because they work with multiple clients, you will always have a fraction of your agency’s attention.

Even if you’re one of the agency’s top-paying clients, you’d still not get the same amount of attention as you’d get from a full-timer.

This can be mitigated by ensuring that you have a dedicated account manager who you can reach out to as and when you have any problems or suggestions.



Like any other contractors, agencies are on the hook to make you happy by delivering the results that you are looking for.

In some cases, these results might not necessarily be those that matter.

Case in point: vanity metrics, like Twitter and Facebook ‘likes’.

Yes, they make you feel warm and tingly inside. But in most cases, they aren’t a good indicator of whether your content is performing well or not.

As a boutique content marketing agency, we know this well, and often advise clients against using this as a performance metric to watch.

It would probably make more sense to keep a look out for the average time spent on page per blog post, for instance, to see how readers are engaging with your content. An engaged reader is one step closer to becoming a lead for your business.

Yes, not a very sexy metric. But far more telling.

Faced with a potentially large contract, however, agencies might feel pressurized to conform to the client’s standards instead.

The result? The client might be happy for the first, second, and third month… And then he/she will suddenly realize that the bottom line hasn’t budged. At all.


No right answer (sorry)

At the end of the day? There’s really no right answer as to whether you should work with a freelance writer, in-house content marketer, or content marketing agency.

It all boils down to what your company’s needs are, at the point of consideration.

We regularly advise potential clients to go the freelance route, or recommend promising content marketers to them, if they’re just not at the right stage—budget or capacity-wise—to work with us.

Not sure where to go from here? We’d love to give you some advice—FOC, of course.

Just drop us a message here, and we’ll get back to you in 48 hours.

This article was first seen on the With Content blog.


If you have any comments or feedback on this article, feel free to reach me on LinkedIn.

Like what you read? Get my latest posts sent to your inbox by adding your email below.