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The Outsourcing Dilemma: Content Agency vs. Freelancers vs. In-House Teams

Tijana Radivojevic
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Are you building a content marketing team in 2022 but unsure who to partner up with?

“Do I hire everyone in-house?”

“Do I pay a premium for a specialized agency?”

“What about someone on Fiverr? Agh that usually doesn’t work.”

“Maybe it’s best to postpone this for 2023.”

Well, postponing it will certainly result in a loss of market share and so much money left on the table.

But, here’s a promise.

If you read this article or briefly skim it, you’ll know the math and clear advantages and disadvantages of picking any (or all) options available.

Busy as Elon Musk?? Read the TL;DR:

  1. In-House Team: Best for creating content that requires subject matter expertise. The downside? It’s expensive, requires many hires and is time-consuming.
  2. Freelancers: Best for affordable, quick first & last-minute hiring. Don’t expect too high consistency, availability, and commitments.
  3. Content Agency: Expensive at first glance, but often cost-effective upon further inspection. Great optional extension to your in-house team. You can easily scale content production without sacrificing quality or consistency.

Let’s dive deeper.

Advantages of hiring a content marketing agency

Deep and diverse expertise is on board.

Say you want to add unique visuals to content — just ask, and it will be delivered. It’s much more complicated if you don’t have a designer in-house or if you work with a freelance writer.

Content agencies consist of content and SEO experts, tried and tested writers, editors, designers, copywriters, and sometimes even developers.

Scalable growth without compromising quality.

Do you want to increase the number of content pieces produced per month without compromising quality or hiring more people?

You can quickly scale production up and down depending on your current needs and budget.

Industry insights worth years of experience.

Specialized content agencies work only in one industry.

Say you’re B2B SaaS. For maximum impact, I recommend you choose a content agency specializing in the B2B SaaS industry.

They worked with dozens of companies with problems and goals similar to yours. They know and understand industry trends, audience, and how to communicate offers effectively.

That is crucial to nail the SEO and content game the first time, which is nearly impossible with the other two options. Even if you hire in-house content and SEO experts, they’ll still need time to hire, onboard, and train writers, setting you back for almost three months.

With agencies, in three months, you can have at least nine content pieces published and maybe even see some results.

Existing processes that enable you to kick-start content production ASAP.

Processes ensure quality, consistency, and scalability.

They are the bread and butter of every organization, ensuring time and cost-effectivness. But, creating processes takes time and a lot of testing.

Companies work for months before they have all processes in place. To remain relevant and effective over time, processes have to be updated and tweaked quite often.

Which you don’t have time to think about if you just got funding and need to showcase results ASAP.

Hiring a specialized top-tier agency is not only cheaper and quicker than hiring an in-house team but is also more effective and lean.

Transparent vetting and processes.

Ideally, agencies should be transparent about their processes and results.

If not, they are probably hiding something — either outsourcing work to cheap third parties or having no idea what they’re doing.

Good agencies have processes outlined on the website and will be able to answer your questions.

You are hiring a dedicated partner.

Employees come and go. Freelancers aren’t always available and results-driven.

But the agency will act as your partner in growth and help you reach your goals consistently.

Regardless of the project length, most agencies will do their best to ensure you are satisfied. They understand the power of word of mouth and referrals, so they wouldn’t do anything to stain their reputation.

Disadvantages of hiring a content marketing agency

You aren’t the center of their world.

Agencies have deliverables for numerous clients, and while you have a dedicated content manager, they are often in charge of three to five more clients.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t do quality work, but you won’t get the same treatment your employees would give you.

You won’t be in complete control.

Depending on the agency, you might have less control over the creative process and the final result.

This is fine since you hired experts, and they know what moves the needle.

Agencies will ask for your opinion and approval, but they will pitch and push their ideas forward unless you provide them with clear reasons backed up by data.

That’s because many clients have no idea what they’re doing and what good, value, and SEO-driven content should look like.

Changing workload will require changes to pricing, contract, etc.

Almost nothing you ask for won’t come for free.

You want unique visuals added to the articles? It will be priced.

You want them to do a quick audit that wasn’t included in the contract? You’ll have to pay for it anyway.

While agencies will immediately deliver anything you ask for, it comes with a price. That’s because those unique visuals can take two to ten hours to create, and a quick content audit is never quick.

The price you pay is either based on the project or invested hours.

Cost breakdown of hiring a content marketing agency:

Data source: We analyzed the costs of hiring over 100 content agencies across industries. Content strategy is usually a one-time payment or a reoccurring fee every six months.

The graph shows the cost of content services across different agencies.

The top tier being the few most expensive agencies, low-tier agencies we wouldn’t recommend, and the average cost is what you will most likely pay if you opt for quality content.

Scenarios when it makes sense to hire a content marketing agency:

Say you just got hired as a CMO in a lean startup (Series B funding), and you must deliver results ASAP.

You have no time to build an in-house team right away, so you should hire a content agency while you slowly recruit and onboard employees. In some cases, you might not need to create an internal team, as the agency will be sufficient.

If you want to get the most cost-effective solution to kick-start high-quality content production immediately, an agency is a way to go.

To avoid the risks of freelancers and the costs of an in-house team, hiring a content agency is the way to go.

We created a list of 10 reasons you should hire a content agency, so feel free to check it out.

Advantages of hiring an in-house team:

They give a sh*t.

In-house employees work on one project at a time and know the ins and outs of it.

They are closely supervised by managers and incentivized by salary increases and bonuses based on performance metrics.

To illustrate, employees’ livelihood depends on their job. Losing it due to poor performance is not an option. In comparison, agencies and freelancers have multiple income streams, so the stakes aren’t as high.

An infinite amount of free requests.

You have granular control over content production, ensuring brand consistency over every published article.

For example, agencies and freelancers offer you 1-2 free draft edits, but with in-house employees, you can ask them to rewrite it until it’s to your liking.

Complete independence and stability.

With in-house teams, all SOPs stay in-house, giving you stability and independence you otherwise wouldn’t have.

For example, your content agency suddenly stops working with you for whatever reason, leaving you in darkness.

You have no process in place for literally anything.

  • How to create an efficient in-house team quickly?
  • How to find another good content agency?
  • How to find suitable freelance writers?

But, if you have a solid in-house team and SOPs in place, you can hire an agency as an extension without being utterly reliant on them.

You have full ownership of expertise and, as a result, a fully independent and operating company.

No one knows you better than you do.

Employees are usually more familiar with your brand and offer.

For example, employees spend 40 hours per week concerned about your product/service and how to improve it. They know every aspect of it and every pain point it solves.

Agencies and freelancers only have a dedicated amount of hours they spend working on your project. They will rather stick with a predetermined project plan than innovate and propose new ideas on the go.

Unless you have hired a content agency specialized in your industry, they can’t compare with an in-house team who spends all their time chasing after the best possible strategy.

Disadvantages of hiring an in-house team:

All things recruitment.

First, you’ll have to estimate the total number of hires and plan future hires.

Then, post job boards (LinkedIn, Indeed, StackOverflow Careers, Upwork, AngelList, etc.) and advertise them to attract candidates.

For every 50 hires per year, you should have an in-house recruiter or HR team. If you are hiring less, then you can outsource it to recruitment agencies.

The annual salary of an in-house recruiter ranges from $70k to $110k.

Source: annual salaries for in-house recruiters.

Recruitment agencies usually take 10-30% of an employee’s first-year salary. This means if your employee’s salary is $100k, then they actually cost you $110,000-$130,000.

You’ll have to plan for all-year-long hiring because the marketing industry’s turnover rate is around 12%.

The graph below shows that if you plan on having 500 employees by the end of the year, with a 10% turnover rate, you’ll have to hire 50 new employees to replace that turnover.

Source: Workable, How to calculate recruitment costs for budget planning.

Demand for skilled marketers has increased by 63%, resulting in an even higher turnover rate — most of them switch jobs every 12 – 18 months.

Recruitment costs alone can set you back more than $100k for a small internal content team of 5 employees (cost breakdown is explained below).

Training and onboarding.

New employees need time to get familiar with your product/service, company culture, and processes. This can take weeks or even months.

Training new writers will be trial and error for the first 5 – 10 articles.

Not to mention that someone, usually a content manager, has to set up and optimize processes and a content management system, which can take up to three months.

An estimated cost of onboarding a new hire is $4,100, which is almost around a mid-tier agency monthly retainer.

If you are to hire an agency, none of this would concern you. But, if you opt for freelancers, you’d need someone to oversee their work.

One employee’s annual salary can be similar to the annual agency retainer.

A content manager is an essential part of a content marketing team. You can’t go without them unless you have a marketing strategist with experience in content.

The annual income of the experienced content manager ranges from $80k to $150k.

Source: Glassdoor, How much does a content manager make?

And the content manager is only a part of the equation. They should focus on delivering value, distribution, repurposing, and writer oversight, while you want writers to do the bulk of the content creation.

Monthly retainers for good content agencies start at $5k, as discussed in the section above, or check the agency cost breakdown here.

Cost breakdown of in-house marketing teams:

Graph showing the average annual cost of an in-house team. Data resources: Glassdoor.

Based on the graph above, the total average base cost of an in-house content team sums up to $886,500.

But, there are a few more things to add up.

Annual software costs can go up to a few thousand dollars:

  • Content management software (Airtable: $240 per user)
  • Keyword research tools (aHrefs standard plan: $2,388)
  • Design tools (Canva: $149, Adobe LR and PS: $120)
  • Editing tools (Grammarly: $180 per user)
  • Stock images (Adobe Stock: $359,88)

Benefits and perks are the hidden cost of in-house teams. The most common benefits employees expect are:

  • Insurance (medical, life disability)
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Sick leave
  • Free parental leave
  • Free equipment
  • Mentorship opportunities
  • Flexible work schedule
  • Professional development stipend
  • Bonuses
  • Equity/stock options

Easily, you are paying almost a million dollars to maintain your in-house team.

Now, you might not need every role listed.

For example, you could settle for one strategist, designer, writer, and SEO specialist, which lowers your total costs to around $350,000 (additional charges included).

At the same time, you can create a much bigger content team.

But how much does it cost to produce one content piece in-house?

From my experience, one writer will complete three high-quality articles per week.

On the image below is a simple equation that can help you estimate the cost of one content piece if the writer writes three articles per week, every week of the year:

Based on the equation, for example, if your team with one writer costs you $350,000 per year, the cost of one article is $2,240.

But in reality, your employees will have 20-30 paid days off, which decreases the amount of produced content.

In my experience, in-house content is too expensive if you don’t plan on hiring more than two writers.

So, when does it make sense to hire an entire in-house team?

Say you are a startup that has just raised Series B or C funding. Your primary focus in this stage is to grow and expand market reach.

In this case, we recommend that you don’t go with a whole in-house team but opt for a Hybrid model — have a smart in-house CMO, content strategist, and maybe 1-3 writers, and outsource the bulk of the work to agencies.

It also makes sense to hire an in-house content team if you have over 100 employees or more than $10 million ARR.

In most industries, you should invest 10% of your annual revenue into marketing. And content shouldn’t and, in most cases, won’t be the only marketing strategy you’ll utilize.

Advantages and disadvantages of hiring freelancers

As you know, it’s hit or miss.

Working with freelancers is a double-edged sword, hence why every advantage that came to my mind while writing this article could easily be debunked as a disadvantage, too — if mismanaged.

It’s cheaper but riskier.

It’s a no-brainer that freelancers are cheaper than internal writers or agencies. But, if you don’t know how to choose the right one, and if there’s no one to manage them properly, it can be a massive time and money waste.

From our experience, if you want mid-tier content, you won’t get it unless you pay at least $0,15 per word — $225 per 1,500-word article.

This is a Twitter pool asking freelancers for their rates per 1,500-word article:

Source: Freelance writer rates per 1,500 words articles.

The quality of their work depends on you.

If you can’t vet and guide the freelancers, they will deliver poor content.

Besides, you’ll have to explain what you want and how you want it every time, provide in-depth content briefs and brand guidelines until you find a suitable freelancer.

The best way to go about freelance writers is to have at least one person in-house (ideally a content strategist) who will find the right freelancers, manage them, and rewrite the piece to match your brand voice.

Tracey Wallace, content director at Klaviyo, emphasized that it’s great if you get only 60% of what you need, and we couldn’t agree more:

Source: Tracey Wallace, LinkedIn post on working with freelancers.

Quick, flexible, and commitment-free.

Undoubtedly the most tempting thing about freelancers.

Hire them when you want and scale up or down as your needs change.

People imagine that working with freelancers is as simple as going up on Fiverr or Upwork, searching for content writers, hiring the first person who fits the budget, getting the content you wish for, and happily publishing it.

In reality, you’ll go over dozens of profiles, checking sample work, and then once you settle for a freelancer, you’ll be dissatisfied with most of the content. You’ll ask for a few adjustments because they won’t rewrite it, and it will still SUCK.

On the flip side, once you find the right freelancer, you better remember them and pray to god they’ll be available when you need them again in the future.

They don’t fit your deadlines; you fit theirs.

Freelancers aren’t available on demand. That’s why I said to pray to god they’ll be available the next time you need them :).

All the good ones are already taken, and you’ll have to wait before they can fit you in their schedule.

How much does it cost to hire content freelancers?

Freelance writers charge per word, per hour, or project basis.

Here’s how much freelancers on Upwork charge per hour:

Prices per word range between $0,03 to $1,5.

Besides years of experience, rates depend on:

  • Niche
  • Industry
  • Content type (blog post, case study, ebook)

So how much do freelancers charge per post?

From our experience, freelance writers charge between $50 to $1,500> per 1,500 words.

The difference in costs between the lower and higher end is massive. The same goes for quality.

When does it make sense to hire freelance writers?

In my opinion, it only makes sense when you have someone in-house who can create detailed content briefs, find appropriate freelancers, and edit their work to match brand voice and narrative.

We saw the best results with that approach.

If you want quality content, even if it’s just a few content pieces, reach out to an agency. At DuoQ, we offer content sprints, quick, high-quality, one-time content production.

The graph below shows an annual cost comparison between in-house teams, freelancers, and content agencies:

Looking to scale content production & acquire new customers effortlessly? Partner up with DuoQ Digital

Schedule a free consultation call with us to discuss your goals and check if we’re the right fit.

If you are still debating between different options, we can help you make the best decision.

Schedule a free discovery call with us.


Tijana Radivojevic

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We’ve helped other tech companies scale revenue through strategic content marketing. Learn how we help you too.

We’ve helped other tech companies scale revenue through strategic content marketing. Learn how we help you too.