Director of Client Success, Partner, Speaker, 8+ Years Sales & Client Success Expertise
May 13th, 2019
If you’re reading this article, you probably have a good understanding of how critical creating and publishing content on your website really is. In many cases, content is the primary driver of more organic traffic, leads, and, of course, REVENUE.
For these reasons, you may already have a content marketing program in place where there’s helpful, educational content being published to your website multiple times each week and / or month.
(And don’t worry if you’re not. This article is still for you. It’ll save you a ton of time and money as you determine how to create a content marketing machine that works best for your company.)
But getting to a point where you’re publishing with that kind of frequency AND reaping the benefits of your investment in content is no easy task.
If you’ve been in the game for a while, you know there are two common ways to get there:
You pay a third-party to write content for your company (Outsourcing)
You create a culture of content within your organization and have all or specific members of your team write content (Insourcing)
Having helped hundreds of companies create content marketing programs of their own, we’ve interestingly enough discovered that the “who” element of your program is the second-most contributing factor to the long-term success of any content marketing program.
(Note: the highest contributing factor is the “what” - the production of educational content that addresses the five main concerns every, single buyer of any product or service has before making a decision: We call this philosophy the “Big 5.”)
However, it’s not as simple as just picking between option 1 or option 2.
Prior to making a decision as to how you’re going to build or change the way your company creates content, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of outsourcing content versus insourcing content and the long term effects of each.
Outsourcing Content vs Insourcing Content
This article will be an extremely honest, transparent, and in-depth comparison based on over nine years of helping companies outsource AND insource content.
You might see things in here that may make you say, “Hmm… never thought I’d hear an agency say that...” but you won’t find any “bashing” in this article either.
Simply put, there are countless organizations that are finding success with outsourcing and/or insourcing.
The purpose is to put it all on the table to empower you with everything you need to make the best decision for your organization.
Sound good? Let’s roll!
The Pros & Cons of Outsourcing Content
Companies that outsource their content production pay for and rely on a third party to create content on the company’s behalf.
These third parties are typically either an individually contracted or freelance writer, an online writing platform such as Scripted or Verblio that sources multiple writers, or a marketing agency that produces or outsources content on behalf of the client.
The pros and cons below take into consideration specific elements of all three outsourcing tactics listed above.
Pros of Outsourcing Content
Tons of Options
With at least three different ways to outsource your content, there’s no shortage of options. You can find and hire niche contract writers via LinkedIn, subscribe to a writing platform where the writers come to you, or have an agency do all of that legwork for you.
The combination of these channels places thousands of available writers of multiple specializations, styles, and skill levels at your fingertips, ultimately giving you a better chance of finding the ideal writer(s) for your specific content.
Fast & Easy Start-up
One of the keys to any successful content marketing program is simply launching the content as fast as possible. The faster you can get the content onto your website and into the hands of your sales team, the sooner you’ll see the benefits of your efforts.
When you outsource, you can sign up with a writing platform today, submit your first content outline, and have your first piece of content written within a week. That’s pretty impressive!
There’s a reason some enterprises leverage outsourced content creation --It works well at scale.
With thousands and thousands of writers available, it means that multiple pieces of content can be worked on simultaneously.
When working directly with freelancers on a per article basis or subscribing to an online writing platform, the initial costs are actually quite feasible in comparison to hiring an experienced, on-staff Content Marketing Manager.
Costs for articles in the 1,000-word range generally average around $300 per article (again, if you’re outsourcing it yourself). At two articles per week (at least), it’s roughly $600 per week or $2,400 per month.
One thing to consider, however, is this level of feasibility does not apply when working with agencies to create content as you’ll read below in the “cons” section.
Once just online marketplaces to have writers write your stuff, online writing platforms have evolved into mini content marketing “agencies.”
The companies mentioned above (Scripted & Verblio) now offer all-inclusive plans that include SEO support, content strategy, and even one-to-one account management.
This type of engagement is certainly available through marketing agencies as well, but in most cases, you won’t find this level of strategy with a freelance writer.
Much Improved Writer Rating & Match Systems
Early on, when writing platforms were just getting off the ground, it was very difficult to know who would be writing for you and the level of work they’d be able to deliver.
As the industry evolved, so too have these platforms. They now have matching technology to align the content you need with the writers that would be best suited to execute.
Cons of Outsourcing Content
Also -- Tons Of Options
Yes, this was just a pro, but sometimes having too many options creates noise and confusion as well.
Should you hire an industry-specific freelance writer from LinkedIn on a per-blog-article basis or go all-in on a writing platform? And if you leverage the writing platform, which monthly plan will you need based on your available internal resources? Which of the thousands of writers is right for your project?
Weighing these options can take time and, worse, choosing the wrong one can be detrimental.
Despite it being a lower initial investment, outsourcing can become difficult to forecast exactly what you’re going to spend over time.
As your need for content increases, so too do your outsourced expenses.
You may start with outsourcing blog articles, but that can expand into newsletters, social posts, historical blog optimization, and landing pages.
Consider also that as Google continues to rewrite it’s algorithm, favoring longer, more in-depth content, you’ll be forced to spend more for articles of a higher word count. Additionally, with some freelancers and writing platforms, you can be charged for additional revisions.
Finally, if you happen to be working with a marketing agency, you’re paying a healthy mark-up for them to outsource the work on your behalf.
Greater Risk of Plagiarism
This is real - we’ve seen it happen (and have seen the huge challenges it creates).
The good news is that many of the top writing platforms have integrated tools that scan the work of their writers for plagiarism. The increased risk, unfortunately, is more specific to individually contracted writers from LinkedIn, Upwork, or other unregulated sources.
Prospects and buyers are incredibly perceptive, especially when they’re in desperate need of something. They can easily recognize when something is “fluffy” or if it was written by the REAL expert.
This is especially true in very technical industries like healthcare, software, IT, and finance, among others.
For these types of buyers, the true value lies in the depth, breadth, accuracy, and specificity of the content they’re consuming.
They’re searching for companies that speak the same language with the same level of minutiae and detail.
All this to say that despite there being industry-specialized, third party writers available, the full value of the content is rarely appreciated by the technical buyer unless it comes directly from a subject matter expert (SME) on your team who is absorbed in the day-to-day operation.
In certain cases, the freelance writers found on LinkedIn or as part of online writing platforms, are not exclusive to a single channel or even a single profession.
In other words, they may either have multiple deadlines to meet at once or they may have another full-time, day job.
We’ve seen writers no-show to content planning meetings and blatantly miss final delivery deadlines.
Now, keep in mind that similar risks exist in any form of content production, but it can be more prevalent with someone who’s not a part of your company and doesn’t have the same level of accountability.
Dependency on the Third Party / Ownership
This is perhaps the greatest drawback from leveraging third-party writers.
Instead of building the expertise and proficiencies of your internal team, you’re investing in the growth and development of people outside your organization. Even if you find someone you like, if the platform, agency, or writer is no longer available, you’re left high-and-dry.
The bottom line is that content is directly tied to the growth of your business, and the companies that own the growth of their organization reap the greatest ROI.
The Pros & Cons of Insourcing Content
Now that we’ve dug into outsourcing, let’s see how insourcing stacks up.
Companies that insource their content have all or specific members of their team contributing content on a regular basis.
Companies that are most successful with content insourcing have:
Executive leadership buy-in that content creation is not just a marketing initiative - It’s an organizational initiative and requires that sales, service, and marketing all contribute as the subject matter experts (SMEs).
With the above in mind and thinking in the context of a truly successful insourced content marketing program, let’s dive into the pros and cons.
Pros of Insourcing Content
Eliminate Third Party Dependencies
By creating a system for content production within your organization, you’re effectively eliminating the risk of dependency on a third party.
In contrast to outsourcing content, no longer will you have the worry about losing the freelance writer that you’ve fallen in love with to another job, or of the potential cost of inflation with online writing platforms.
Should a member of your team that’s producing content within your organization leave, you’ve already set up a system that continues to feed precious content to marketing, eliminating the dips in traffic and leads that happens while a company goes through the process of vetting yet ANOTHER writer.
However… having this person at the helm of your content machine means that the only substantial variable in costs you’ll experience over time are:
When they’ve driven so much revenue from the website, they need a raise!
When you’ve realized so much success from these initial efforts that you decide to scale the content marketing team.
These are two really great problems to have, by the way.
Since they’ll have the ability to both produce content, as well as leverage other subject matter experts already on the team, the company won’t need to pay more to get more.
Should the number of articles per week need to be increased to drive more organic traffic and leads, the talent is already available to produce, only requiring additional time versus hard dollars. (Keep this thought in mind as it plays directly in a “pro” down below, “Control of Your Growth.”)
Finally, with time being the only “increasing cost” associated with insourcing, it directly attributes to an exponentially greater ROI on each piece of content.
Solve For All Buyers (Including Technical)
All buyers have the uncanny ability to sniff out “fluff” and “BS” in content.
When I’m researching photography (personal passion of mine) gear online, I can immediately tell if it was written by someone who’s actually held or sold that specific camera gear before or someone who was tasked with writing a blog article solely to improve search rankings.
One helps me make a buying decision, the other actually makes me question the efficacy of the business. That might sound dramatic... but it’s true.
While some outsourced writers are incredibly talented and may even have experience in your industry, they will never have the same brand, business, or operational level understanding of your business. They’re not in it.
The only people that will resonate most with your prospects and most accurately address technical (et all) buyer concerns are the people on your sales team, your engineering team, your customer support team, your executive team, and so on - your subject matter experts. Notice I didn’t say your marketing team.
Your marketing team may have the knowledge, but they’re not likely on the frontline like other members of your team.
Your SMEs are the ultimate source to the most honest, helpful, and transparent content available, anywhere.
Investment in Your Team
One of the beautiful byproducts that emerges when creating an in-house culture of content is your team gets smarter - a lot smarter.
Producing real, authentic content isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do.
It requires researching, interviewing, writing, reviewing and more, but through that process, every single contributor expands their skillset and improves their ability to communicate about the business.
Content production provides team members the ability to become thought-leaders within their specific niche - to control the conversation online.
They become more valuable as individuals, as employees to the company, and as solution providers to clients and customers.
Ultimately, looking at it through the lens of the business owner, providing more opportunities for your team to build their career makes your company “stickier.”
Investing in insourcing content is investing in your team’s professional growth. It’s a win-win.
Ability to Control Your Growth
Let’s keep our business owner hat on for second…
As owners (myself included), we got into the game because we have a desire to build, shape, and control the things we create in the best interest of our customers, our employees… and let’s face it… ourselves.
Operationalizing the entire content production process from start to finish within your own organization grants you control that otherwise isn’t accessible from an outsourcing perspective.
Insourcing content is like the knobs of a guitar amplifier: You have the ability to turn up the volume when more is needed, to tweak the output when results need improving, and to leverage additional inputs when more voices are needed.
This is all without having to react to the freelance market or work within a confined, third-party platform in order to do so.
Cons of Insourcing Content
Greater Initial Investment
Above, we discussed one of the pros of outsourcing content being the speed and relatively low cost at which you can find a freelance writer to help out.
By comparison, because insourcing content is a more holistic and longer-term play, it will cost more on the front end and take a bit more time to implement.
Once the right candidate is selected, the two to four-week onboarding process begins. Towards the latter half of the process, they should be at a point where they can well-represent the company, and begin to curate their first articles.
Sidenote: I use the term “initial investment” because if done right and done well, the CMM will maximize the knowledge of your SMEs, publishing amazing content at-scale, and without the need to continuously pay for more outsourced content or subscribe to platforms. Over the long term (6 to 12+ months), insourcing content becomes much more cost-effective.
Lack of Organizational Buy-in
Insourcing content requires that all parties from executives to marketing to sales are bought into and aligned on the vision of content as a main driver of growth within the organization.
This can certainly be a challenge.
The primary reason companies attempting to insource their content production struggle is because there’s a general lack of understanding of the following questions:
What is content marketing?
How is it done effectively?
Why should each individual within the company be a part of it?
Achieving stellar results with content marketing requires that each person contributing to the future content efforts of the organization must have a shared understanding of the above.