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Using a freelance copywriter isn't just about flexibility and convenience. It's often the best way to get a quality result.
A few weeks ago, Sharon Flaherty wrote a guest post here entitled Want quality content? Produce it in-house. As her title suggests, Sharon argues that the best way to get high-quality content is to employ an in-house copywriter.
Although I commented on the post, I feel it deserves a more considered response, so here it is.
Disclosure: I am a freelance copywriter, so it’s obvious which side of the debate I am on. Even so, I hope my argument can stand on its merits.
Flexibility and scalability
My first two points will be obvious to anyone from an SME who buys content. If you’re not in a position to commit to an in-house writer, or if you can’t afford one, then a freelance copywriter is your only option.
Even if you are large or rich enough to employ a copywriter, you still might prefer to be able to scale your writing resource up and down, match different copywriters to different projects or get fresh eyes on your own text. And you might also not want the obligation to find a steady stream of work for your in-house writer(s) that will snugly fit a nine-to-five role.
Of course, you can get someone who already has another role to double as a copywriter and ‘just’ write your stuff. In my experience, everyday work will keep getting in the way, and the content will never be produced.
Even marketing managers find it hard to give copywriting the time and space it needs. And as with anything else, compromised commitment brings compromised results.
Retention of learning
On the face of it, employing an in-house copywriter seems like a good way to keep control and ownership of writing know-how, and the business knowledge that comes with it.
In fact, it’s the opposite, because your in-house copywriter can leave at any time. When that happens, you lose all their company-specific experience and the techniques they’ve developed (unless you’ve captured them somehow, which most firms don’t). And they might well take their knowledge straight to a competitor.
In contrast, a freelance copywriter will always be there for you – at least, until they retire or die from RSI. Many will agree not to serve direct competitors (and some prefer not to anyway). By allowing a little distance between you and your copywriter, you actually keep them closer.
The copywriter’s perspective
One of the most valuable things a freelance copywriter offers in an outsider’s view. Whereas in-house staff ‘go native’ and adopt your company’s way of thinking, a copywriter (like any external consultant) brings a new and different perspective that can be refreshing and revealing.
Product launches are a good example. Firms will very often approach the market with something that is pretty much ready to be sold, but has no fully developed value proposition. Before marketing can begin, the features of the product need to be ‘turned outwards’ – that is, re-expressed as benefits to which prospective customers will respond.
A diligent copywriter can’t do their work until they understand how people value a product, so they have no choice but to question their client until they get to the heart of it. But if you’ve been around for the product development phase, it’s easy to settle for features rather than searching out the benefits. The copywriter breaks up the party by asking ‘so what?’
For some clients and projects, the rigour of this briefing and discussion phase is just as important as the actual writing; perhaps even more so.
This close relationship between writer and business is the reason I recommend working with a freelance rather than an agency that offers writing: extra management layers can hamper the transmission of ideas.
The same problem can arise if the copywriter deals with, for example, a marketing manager in the client organisation who isn’t that close to the features of specific technical products.
This word, which I’ve just made up, means ‘diversity of ideas’.
A copywriter who works for many different clients is exposed to a lot of ideas and approaches in the course of their work, many of which are ripe for repurposing or adapting in another industry.
As writers age, they gain experience of more and more sectors, which is one reason why choosing an older copywriter can be worthwhile. What you lose in dynamism, you gain in wisdom.
Even if these new ideas aren’t suitable for re-use, just throwing them into the pot may stimulate some productive thinking. A good freelance copywriter can come in and mix things up a bit intellectually, opening up some previously unseen avenues of thought.
On the face of it, you might expect someone outside your organisation to care less about it than someone who’s part of it. But if you look deeper, it’s easy to argue the exact opposite.
A freelance copywriter cares a lot about what you think, because they depend on positive reviews and referrals to keep their business alive. A freelancer is only as good as their last job, which is why copywriters try to make every assignment count.
Freelancers also know the deep value that’s unlocked by long-term collaboration, so they work hard to keep their client relationships strong and stable.
By contrast, I’m sure you have met plenty of employees who cared little for the organisation where they worked, or actively disliked it. The security of employment reduces the incentive to perform. (Sorry, salary slaves…)
I hope I’ve shown that, at the very least, there’s no reason why freelance copywriters can’t match the quality of their in-house counterparts. But I also hope I’ve argued convincingly that working with a freelance is very often the best way to get the best result, not just a contractual convenience or a fire-fighting stopgap. And that’s particularly true when it comes to quality content.
Image credit: kewi via Flickr