Hire Writers or Use Content Agency?

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I am planning to outsource a bunch of review and comparison articles for one of my sites.

I want whoever I hire to personally sign up for and use the product they are reviewing. That way they can test the product themselves, grab screenshots, and write a very high-quality, original review that's based on their experience.

Is this best suited for a freelance writer on Upwork, or could a content agency handle it? I ask because I find agencies way easier to work with and don't really have the time to train anyone right now. However, I'm skeptical about how much effort an agency writer would put into it compared to a freelancer.

Any thoughts or suggestions?
 

Ryuzaki

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You'll need to find a freelance writer to do that, I think. Any agency willing to accommodate that request is probably desperate for clients and not far off from being a typical freelancer.

In general, hiring and training a writer requires a lot of front end work, in order to get a less expensive result over a longer period of time if you can keep them around. You'll get an end result much closer to what you want since you can continually hound the same person until they get it right.

With using an agency, you can get what you want for the most part, but it can eat up a lot of your time and cost you a bit more. The benefit is you're getting your content back on time, every time, and probably about 80% as good as you hoped for (more than good enough, just not perfectly aligned with your idea of what it should be).

To get that out of an agency you'll need a general briefing that explains your site, your demographic, your mission statement, your tone, and the guidelines that you use for every single article. Send this in for every article. Then I recommend adding a per-article brief below that in the same file that you change for every article, that gets more detailed about what you need and want for that specific article.

That can eat up a ton of your time and is almost as bad as just writing the content yourself. Working with your own writer can end up leaving you with a mind-meld where you both understand each other without even speaking it eventually, like a sports team eventually does. That takes a lot of work too though.

It's a preference thing, I think. If at any point you hope to reach scale, you'll be operating your own content agency, except you won't sell the content. You'll have the same quality-wavering issues that aren't really a problem, but you'll get the content much cheaper. The trade off is you had to basically build an agency without the upside of selling content at a surplus. I'd rather pay someone their profit margin to do all that for me.

And just because it popped into my head: I think the way to be happy and get it done cheaper and scale harder and faster is to simplify everything, as simple as you can get it. Every article follows one of 5 formats already laid out in operating manuals. All images are the exact same size. Leave out as much fancy stuff as possible. Create templates for featured images. Anything you can do to erase thinking and reduce friction, do it.

Having content written in this way is better not because your expectations are lower, but because you stop having to try to explain a million details and the writers don't have to be psychic to read your mind about what you want. Instead, they can paint by numbers and everything moves smoother and faster.
 
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Well this topic caught my eye and attention, specially since I’ve been running a content agency myself for almost a decade, I think there’s no harm in chipping in.

This is my honest opinion (you might find it to be a little biased), but surely I feel working with a content agency is far easier and simpler then hiring writers from upwork or fiver. Firstly, an agency with a good reputation will own up to corrections or revisions if needed and will take the time to understand your requirements. On the other hand, freelancers are quite used to disappearing and taking on more work vs what they can chew.

Secondly, I feel that with an agency you get to use their experience because they are writing content for a bunch of different clients as opposed to a writer who may have tunnel vision or limited knowledge. For instance, I have writers who specialise in different niches and different types of content writing and everytime clients order, we make sure that their work goes to the writer they had a good experience with or someone who has speciality in that niche, this helps in delivering content which is informative.

Issue with an agency is that they’re a little expensive and just like you’d have to edit content with outsourcing to freelancers, you’d have to review the same and it might take some time for your wave length to match.

I do disagree with @Ryuzaki comments about only a desperate agency taking on this project. I’d do it and most agencies like us do provide free samples etc, and it’s not because we’re desperate, it’s because certain agencies want to establish themselves on forums because they’re in it for the longer run. I’m still getting dividends for relationships I established years ago!

Just my opinion. Good luck with your project man!
 

ToffeeLa

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And I might be biased as well, having worked (a long time ago) in the industry. But there are heaps of unemployed journalists/copy editors out there these days, wondering where their next gig is coming from. Let alone graduates from recent journalism courses. Surely one of them would be ideal for a "very high-quality, original review that's based on their experience".

They are also used to not being paid the earth for copy (see regular freelance rates*, although they might well be more than the online content mills).

*Note: those rates are self-reported UK rates mostly for national newspapers, so are likely top-end.
 

bernard

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I've hired a content agency for this year, several actually, but I would like to move more towards my own writers with an editor, like Ryu mentions.

What I've noticed is that you can get good quality with a content agency, close to "perfect", if the content agency manages to retain writers and then delegates the same type of articles. I've had one writer write me several different articles on skateboard, roller blades, etc. With a few of those under her belt, they now come out perfect, like no editing needed. Unfortunately, she'll probably bounce, because the agency doesn't pay them enough honestly. I would like to get her hired for that site, but that would be her initiative, because I don't communicate with them.

When working with an agency, I make sure to let them know, when they hit it out of the park. I want the writer to know. I also like to send them an url of the published post, so they can see what their work actually turns into. I like to think this might, give the writer a sense of ownership.
 

Potatoe

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I can speak from my own experience on this. I've worked with clients who have hired me as an editor and tasked me with interviewing and hiring writers for them, then training those writers, and then managing them. It looks a little different each time, but generally speaking, my client handles payments to the writers (I can track this for them, too), I take care of the writers and ensure they're following the guidelines, I answer their questions, keep them motivated and on point, etc. The client trains me on their specific requirements, I create a process from that and then content machine go BRRR.

The handful of times I've worked in an arrangement like this, my tasks have included some combination of: Recruiting writers, interviewing them, training them (including creating training documents/training videos), keyword research and curating trending topics to write about, assigning topics to writers, ensuring everything is completed on time and to spec (and stepping up to do it myself when it's running late), formatting and adding images (and training people to curate and format images correctly and safely), posting the articles, syndicating them across social media, and so on. Pretty much any step of the process that the site owner doesn't want to do themselves.

If you choose to do any parts of this yourself, you can definitely find someone who is experienced to take care of the rest for you, freeing you up to promote the content and do everything else you need to do within your business, knowing the content publishing side of things is handled.

You end up with an assembly line within your preferred project management software that yo can check up on at any moment and it's a beautiful thing once it's churning out top notch content on a regular basis and you aren't having to lift a finger. If you're already profitable on your sites, it's a no-brainer for scaling up, and gives you the best of all worlds (Complete control, access, better rates, consistency, a team that feels more secure and tied to your project with a greater sense of ownership, greater abiltiy to deal with issues directly, to adapt and act quickly, etc...)

I think it comes down to how much volume you need, and how high you'd like to keep your quality standards and consistency. For instance, you can probably manage a couple of freelancer writers who are doing a few posts a week on your own, but if you're wanting to publish daily or multiple posts per day, or across multiple sites, it may be worthwhile (both for your time and your wallet) to look into having an editor and creating your own little in-house team.

This isn't a knock on agencies whatsoever, just a different way to tackling a challenge. With an agency, that team is already built and trained and firing on all cylinders, just maybe not as bespoke to your exact specs, which can have its pros and cons. As was mentioned above, an agency could have a lot of different writers working on a lot of different topics in many different styles, but I'd tend to favor having a team that is laser-focused on my specific sites - I see that as a positive, not a negative. You can get an editor who is experienced in a lot of different styles for that extra perspective, and have them steering the ship of laser-focused writers who are totally dialed into your project. Also, it's not like you're going to go and hire a bunch of people who have never written an article before, anyways.

If you need even higher volume than that, you can even have an editor who coordinates content from multiple agencies for you as a liaison between your sites and the agencies to ensure they're all on point. That can quickly become a full time gig if you have a lot of content coming in each day. Beyond that, for even higher volume, you can have a team of editors with one person managing the jr editors who are managing the in-house team of writers or the collection of agencies you're using (or both). A good way to build this is by promoting your writers to jr editor roles, since they'll already be familiar with the process and requirements. Congrats, now you're a media empire!

If you can land an editor who has experience with building and working on sites, and understands that side of things beyond the normal tasks of an editor, it can really help to create a voice for your brand and they'll be able to bring a lot more to the table by pointing out opportunities you may not have noticed. They'll be very hands-on with your project, so they'll see things from a lens that you may not really get with some of the other ways of going about this. For a lot of people, "good enough" is good enough though, so it can make more sense to find a budget agency instead of building their own team. I've seen everything under the sun work successfully at this point so I'd struggle to definitively say one method is better than another, I think it's important to take inventory of your goals and what type of publisher you want to be.
 
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I'd say one key thing is it comes down to what you can afford to pay.

If you are building an Amazon affiliate site you probably do not have the margin to pay a great agency to make amazing content for you. You create the margin by creating the content for less.

However, if you run some B2B business where you are selling your own product you probably have more than enough margin to hire high-quality agencies and still have a good ROI.
 
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I'm in a similar situation, as @NeverStop I want to create a couple of software review posts, and I'm wondering how to scale it properly.

First I thought, I will create a kind of briefing/outline and take screenshots and give it to a writer. However, I have some doubts, that the result will be satisfying, if a writer writes a review post of a software that I tested.

Should I rather provide a rough outline and access to the software, so that the writer reviews/takes screenshots and writes the article?
 

Stones

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Nobody can answer that for you. There are some great affordable writers who could BS a great review and then there are others who can't.

The more info you give them the better a job they can do. But it's trial and error.
 
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For a lot of people, "good enough" is good enough though, so it can make more sense to find a budget agency instead of building their own team.
A lot boils down to what's good enough for you. That will make a big the difference in choosing/editing writers. On the lower end, you'll have plenty of options. With mid to higher end expectations, try a handful of higher priced writers and be prepared for most to not work out. Keep testing and hunting for one that fits - in terms of writing ability and attitude. A good start is being clear about your own expectations, and being realistic.
 
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I have never had a positive experience with agencies. The price is always way off and the volume they can provide is poor.

I have three writers an editor and two graphics people that I manage delivering 40k words a week and around 200-400 unique images too.

I shudder to think what an agency would charge and how long it would take to deliver.
 

felotus

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I would agree with MrMedia, my experience with agencies (never tried @Hemux though) is that they won't deliver on time and most often than not the amount of back and forth to get the content to the level we want is not worth it.

We've ordered around 50 articles from 6-7 different agencies back in early April and one month later, I think 3-4 are published, the rest are still far from being where they need to be.
 
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Nothing beats having in-house writers - Have hired about 3 new writers in the last 14 days and they have been working and delivering a lot of good, well researched content that we're looking for at an amazing word count rate (think below $2 per 100 words).

We're on pace for about 15-20 articles per week at this rate and scaling further with more new hires coming on.
 

bernard

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Nothing beats having in-house writers - Have hired about 3 new writers in the last 14 days and they have been working and delivering a lot of good, well researched content that we're looking for at an amazing word count rate (think below $2 per 100 words).

We're on pace for about 15-20 articles per week at this rate and scaling further with more new hires coming on.

In-house meaning paying pr. article or a fixed salary?
 

bernard

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Pay per word (or per 100 words). We ensure they are properly trained and dont fluff up content and articles with BS and non-sense.

My problem is, I just know writers will not be able to do enough research on a pay pr. word article, unless I make them fluff it with an extra long word count.

Not the type of articles I would prefer them to write.

I think it would honestly be cheaper quality wise, to pay them like $20 / hour, if it meant I could get to train them in person.

My way around this so far, is to hire writers who already know the niches, preferably from personal experience.
 
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I have outsourced more than 1200 articles in the last 12 months for my two authority sites. The biggest difference between using a content agency vs. hiring my own writers has been article formatting/template. I have noticed that for a larger project, you will be better off teaching your own writers how to conduct research, how to format the post, how to include internal/external links, & their ability to offer unique content such as images or videos.

I actually think that once a writer understands your instructions, future orders are completed at a quicker pace since they don't need to spend time understanding or interpreting your original instructions. I usually find that it takes about 3-5 articles before my writers fully understand what I'm looking for. To enhance that, I try to write the first article within each topic cluster as a template for the writers. At one point, I published over 200 articles in a single month with 9 writers - each writer focused on a different cluster which had the requirements for a specific format.
 
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My problem is, I just know writers will not be able to do enough research on a pay pr. word article, unless I make them fluff it with an extra long word count.

Not the type of articles I would prefer them to write.

I think it would honestly be cheaper quality wise, to pay them like $20 / hour, if it meant I could get to train them in person.

My way around this so far, is to hire writers who already know the niches, preferably from personal experience.

" I just know writers will not be able to do enough research on a pay pr. word article, unless I make them fluff it with an extra long word count."

Wut? That literally makes no sense?

I literally have a slew of Writers from PH who are Pediatricians, Computer Scientists, Dietitians @ $0.015 - $0.02 per word. Even my writers from the States/UK are $0.03 - $0.05 per word.

To be frank, the Pediatrician alone cites more Medical journals/sources than the average word length of most people's articles. Her intentions are to provide Parent's with the most insightful, researched backed articles on the web for very specific phrases. No holistic fluffed BS that Google has stopped caring for (isn't backed by science).

I mean she even messaged me a month into writing and stated that the initial rate was too low for the amount of research being done. I normally don't increase pay early on because Writers have a tendency to ghost. I obliged her request and it's been smooth sailing ever since.

So to say, "I just know..." sounds like you don't actually know, but ASSume something to be true.

Also these phrases don't belong with each other and it's something I explicitly outline in my SOPs:

"do enough research on a per pr. word article" ... "unless I make them fluff it"

Fluff =/= Research

If that's your attitude towards training writers, you're paying for bullshit that both a person nor a search engine care to read. A good writer should be able to answer the question/topic in a systematic way. They should first research the topic and come up with an initial outline/header breakdown, then research new information that existing articles aren't discussing (Writers should always be asking WHY -- because that's what people do), and format the article based on your SOP.

"I think it would honestly be cheaper quality wise, to pay them like $20 / hour, if it meant I could get to train them in person."

So have you actually ever done this? Because I have.

I can tell you straight up that most will find a way to game the system and state they've worked X amount of hours on an article and it ends up costing more. You could argue this is more or less a trust thing but even still, most writers will make more on a per word basis (even if they know the topic - which you noted above).

I can hear the comment in your brain: "Use software to monitor what they're doing..." -- I don't have time to watch writers research, format, and write an article, especially on scale. I barely enjoy logging into X amount of sites a day.

Finding an agreeable rate @ a cost per word is beneficial for both You and the Writer over time.

The adage of squeeze them till they squeal applies here; If a writer squeals and they're worth the output, adjust rates accordingly. If they squeal and they're not worth the amount requested, part ways amicably and find someone who is.
 
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@thisishatred The thing is that I don't have sites in english, so outsourcing to the Philippines or the US is not an option.
Moot point. I work with people around the globe. I used my folks from PH as that's what was discussed above.

I literally just hired someone from UAE today, and a person that travels back and forth from Luxembourg and Athens bi-monthly (speaks German) -- Both sourced from Reddit, both $0.015 per word. One is a Food Scientist (didn't allow me to use her credentials since she's a fresh graduate), and the other a Tech-fiend who knows how to write and research. If I asked either to write in their native languages, I'm willing to bet they'd oblige; The output would be to the same level of their English content as it's the same person doing research.

If you speak the same language they're writing about, you should be able to qualify what's fluff and what's garbage content. If you don't speak the language, hire an editor that does.