If you’ve been around startups long enough, you’re likely aware of all the statistics related to business survival. There’s no doubt that a friend or family member has cautioned you that more than half of small businesses fail in their first year.
Thankfully, this isn’t entirely true. But, the actual figures aren’t very encouraging either.
According to a quick summary of data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics offered by Investopedia, roughly 20% of companies fail in their first year. Of course, this percentage keep increasing as the years go by with less than 70% surviving past the first ten years.
One of the most commonly recognized reasons is poor research and lack of product market fit. But, a more general culprit is simply bad decision-making when it comes to hiring.
As a startup or a small company, every decision you make matters from what to do with your seed funding to who you should hire in your marketing team. Insignificant as each spend and hiring choice might seem on its own, it could have a compounding effect that ultimately leads to unintended consequences. For this reason, it’s important to pick each member of your team with utmost care. That sentiment extends to the marketing team as well.
In this article, we’ll offer a detailed guide on hiring in-house content specialists vs outsourcing. Read on to learn which is better for your marketing goals and for the survival of your company.
In-house Content Specialists vs. Freelancers and Agencies: Who Are They and How Do They Work?
In this analysis, there are two distinct sides – in-house content marketing specialists and third-party professionals offering the same as a service.
In-house content specialists refers to all the members of an in-house content marketing team. This includes the videographers/video editors, visual designers and art directors, long form content writers and everyone else that contributes to the content creation process of a company.
The defining feature of all these individuals is that they work full-time with the company. While they might have other engagements on the side, depending on company policy and culture, their professional loyalty lies first in the company before their external professional engagements.
In-house content marketing specialists usually work a predictable shift five days a week. This isn’t set in stone given the flexibility that remote work offers. Regardless, they often follow a predetermined schedule to meet deadlines and turn in deliverables.
Third-party professionals offering content services in the context of this article include agencies and freelancers. We’re grouping them together in this article because working with either of them implies outsourcing your content. However, they’re not entirely the same. A freelancer or independent consultant is often a single person who has built experience over the years and sells their sharpened skills and expertise to as many companies as they can.
An agency, on the other hand, is often a group of people offering content marketing services with some of them numbering as high as a thousand members, depending on the volume of work offered by their clients.
Both of these entities are often fairly independent and aren’t always bound by the same 9-5 rules of in-house employees. Depending on how busy they are, they often need to be booked in advance but, all things considered, are still capable of offering great services.
Differences Between In-house Content Specialists and Freelancers/Agencies
The job of these entities is as straightforward as it comes – to create and/or implement content strategies that help the company achieve its revenue goals. But, in between this, there are substantial differences between an in-house content team and a team of freelancers. Familiarizing yourself with them will make your decision of which to bring into your marketing team easier:
Running a business at the lowest possible cost for the highest possible profit is the primary aim of most companies. So, it’s only normal that this point comes first.
To cut right through the chase, the cost of hiring an in-house content specialist – or a team of them – is multifaceted. At the very least, an in-house content specialist is entitled to a salary that is commensurate with their experience.
In this regard, the figures vary based on region, company, and a few other factors. Zippia puts the average content specialist salary at $62,000 and $44,000 yearly for entry-level candidates. This is according to a report updated in 2022.
Ziprecruiter puts the average digital content specialist salary at approximately $57,000. Keep in mind that these numbers do not account for very specific skills. For example, video is an important part of content marketing and video editing would come in handy when you’re repurposing webinars and other such visually heavy content.
Glassdoor puts the total pay – base income and additional benefits – of a video editor with 4 – 6 years of experience at approximately $99,000 yearly.
All of these salaries are within the United States and could be higher or lower in different countries. Furthermore, senior roles would certainly be more financially demanding for any company looking to hire experienced hands.
Beyond the salary of an in-house content specialist, there are other benefits you’ll have to consider. If your team members are giving their time and expertise to build your company, they should get something in return. Many companies offer a retirement benefit of some sort, stock options, dental and medical insurance, etc. All of these contribute to the expenses.
But that’s not nearly all. The average company in the US spends about $4,000 when hiring new team members. This addition to the expenses are complemented by tools that the in-house specialists would need to do their jobs. Semrush Pro, for example, costs $119.95 per month per user at the time of writing this article.
These numbers do not apply to every company and there are several ways to remain cost-efficient. But, it goes without saying that hiring a team of in-house content specialists requires a fair bit of financial investment.
On the other side of the spectrum are freelancers and agencies. They do not usually have noticeable acquisition and onboarding. More often than not, you’ll get a pitch for a specific service and you can quickly evaluate quality and references. Beyond this, freelancers and agencies don’t require nearly as many benefits as in-house specialists. They simply come in, get paid for their services and move along.
While the cost of services vary significantly from one freelancer to another, a survey conducted by Superpath puts the income of the average freelancer at $105,787 per year. All of this clearly doesn’t come from one organization but it should offer some insight into the charging and inevitable earning potential of the average freelancer.
Insights into the Cost of Hiring Freelance Content Specialists
To offer a bit more insight into the cost of freelance content specialists, we dug into the pricing of some of the best “publicly-known” freelancers. In the process, we found a few interesting things. But, before delving into them, it’s important to note a few details:
For starters, our quick study covered freelance content specialists and compared their pricing next to their experience level. To simplify things as much as possible, we selected the minimum pricing for their monthly services instead of one-off projects that can vary wildly depending on several factors. The only exception is the content specialist who charges $4000 for white papers and case studies as opposed to monthly content work.
Secondly, we only noted the years/months of experience they have as freelance content specialists. While their in-house content roles would certainly contribute to their knowledge and expertise, it would’ve made the study and findings more complex to understand and illustrate.
That said, we found that years of experience do not necessarily equal an increase or decrease in pricing. Several other factors like volume of work, complexity of client brief, and duration go into the pricing as mentioned by each freelancer on their website. On the higher end of the spectrum, we found that some freelancers can charge as high as $15,000 – $25,000 per month.
However, the difference between them and in-house specialists and what makes them relatively more affordable is the freedom to determine how long you’d like to work with them and how much work you want them to do for you. With an in-house content specialist, the salary is a constant. But, with a freelancer (or an agency), the spend is determined on a project basis.
2. Industry and Brand Experience
The average in-house content specialist has (or will develop) experience with your brand and industry. This will make it significantly easier for them to write about industry/brand-specific topics with a greater deal of accuracy and without necessarily needing to schedule research-oriented interviews with executives to figure out what’s what.
This unique advantage improves the quality of content created, increases the efficiency of the marketing team, and reduces back and forths as well as the average amount of time spent creating content, fact-checking said content, and publishing it.
A freelancer or an agency, on the other hand, might not quite work the same way. This is not to say it is impossible to find freelancers and agencies with industry experience. With brands focusing significantly on people with skills unique to their area of service, more freelance content specialists are niching down. But, freelancers and agencies can only niche down as far as a business’ industry.
Every business is different and while a freelancer might have experience in your industry, experience with your brand is likely the icing on the cake that your business needs.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that a freelancer or an agency’s multiplicity of experience isn’t always a disadvantage. If you’re a content marketing agency looking for a few extra hands, a freelancer or white label agency with experience handling different industries could prove incredibly useful as they’ll be able to serve multiple clients as required. This is something not all in-house content specialists can offer.
In terms of availability, there is a slight distinction between freelancers and agencies that’s important to note before discussing in-house content specialists. When work exceeds an agency’s capacity, this usually means that they’ve grown beyond their initial projections. More often than not, an agency would simply hire more qualified content specialists to meet their clients’ demands. A noteworthy point in this regard is that if all doesn’t go well, the hiring process can take a detrimental amount of time – considering the purpose of its initiation and this might limit a company’s ability to work with said agency.
For a freelancer, however, things are slightly different. A solo freelancer with a fair amount of clients and expertise managing their time would likely create a system where their clients book their services months in advance. This means that until their calendar opens up, you wouldn’t be able to work with them.
In summary, for agencies, availability is often not an issue. When it is, it can often be corrected by more hires but that could go wrong. For freelancers, availability could almost certainly become an issue in the long run.
With in-house content specialists, the tables turn drastically. While an in-house marketer might have other engagements, as a full-time staff member, depending on the details of their offer, their loyalty lies with the company. As such, they’re often available within the agreed times and days of the week, making it significantly easier to get work done when it needs to be done.
4. Recruitment Process
The recruitment process for freelancers and agencies is fairly straightforward. It usually begins with a pitch, recommendation, active search, or even an advert and outreach. Either way, once both parties – you and the outsourced content service provider – come together, three things are often discussed and reviewed: price, portfolio, desired results. If the agency/freelancer and the company can come to appropriate terms, that’s usually the end of the recruitment process.
For an in-house specialist, things tend to get a bit more complicated. Because it’s a long-term commitment, many in-house content specialists are often carefully selected over the course of several weeks with two weeks seeming to be the average minimum. During those two weeks, there are often multiple stages, including:
- Resume review
- Interview with the hiring manager
- Interview with a team lead and/or direct superior
- Job offer/salary negotiation
If you’re looking to put together an in-house marketing team, here is some advice on the order to hire each position:
The time between each step could be at least one week each as the company has to go through them all for every candidate that applied and qualified for the next stage. That’s at least a month of active hiring and considerations, putting in-house content specialists slightly behind freelancers and agencies in terms of difficulty of acquisition.
Key Factors to Consider Before Deciding Which One to Go For
In reality, there is no straightforward answer to the question of whether to choose in-house or contract marketers, as both entities have their pros and cons. Furthermore, every company is different and could potentially find one more rewarding than the other. To figure out which is right for you, a few factors worth considering include:
1. Stage of Company Growth
There are several things a young company needs to check off its list before it gets into the market for a freelancer or an agency. Among others, this includes its brand identity, core content strategy, and the guiding principles of its marketing efforts. The reasons these are important are that most freelancers offer skills that are more tilted towards execution.
Creating a strategy, defining the brand identity and everything else in between requires a fair amount of commitment that in-house specialists are often better suited for. Without all those things established, bringing in a freelancer or an agency could be detrimental as every piece of content written would stray a little from what the brand could be. This could leave the target audience confused as to the brand’s authority or defining characteristics. Unfortunately, a confused audience doesn’t quite do much for anyone.
With a young brand, you might want to go for in-house specialists. At the very least, one in-house content specialist taking a leadership role would be able to set the foundation upon which freelancers can work in the future.
In contrast, an older brand with a defined strategy and brand identity can afford to hire freelancers and agencies as they already have the existing principles that guide the content creation process for whomever they bring on board.
2. Amount of Content Needing to be Created
Ahrefs is one of the leading SEO tools on the market. In May 2022, the company published over 20 blog posts, several of which were attributed to in-house content specialists.
This impressive amount of content is possible because Ahrefs has scaled over the years, achieving phenomenal growth and user acquisition at the same time. This has afforded them the opportunity to create a team of in-house content specialists that can match their content requirements.
While your company might not have achieved the level of growth required to hire and fairly pay multiple in-house content specialists, your weekly/monthly content requirements might still be very large. In such a case, a team of freelancers or an agency would be the best decision. As highlighted above, one of their defining features is a reduced cost compared to their in-house counterparts.
3. Technicality of Your Industry
Earlier, we mentioned that an in-house content specialist would either have brand and industry experience or they’ll develop it as they go, given the long term nature of their relationship with the company.
Well, this is especially important for companies operating in technical industries. Industries like cybersecurity, blockchain and web 3, artificial intelligence, etc. would pose an awful challenge to a freelancer or an agency that doesn’t have the required experience. On the other hand, an in-house content marketer might find it significantly easier to cover highly specialized topics without losing their quality of content in the process owing to their notable experience in that area.
On a final note, before deciding whether or not to go for in-house specialists, consider your projected revenue over the next few months/years side by side your marketing budget. If the numbers don’t look too good, you should, without a doubt, look towards the most affordable option that would provide maximum value for your money over an extended period. Anything short of that would be unsustainable.
Ultimately, the choice of whom to hire to create and execute your content marketing strategies needs to be made carefully as it could have a ripple effect on your marketing efforts. As a general rule of thumb, you want to consider all the factors we’ve covered and place them side by side with your company to see what works best for you.