When you’re ready to get help with some or all of your between-launch, nurture content writing, you have lots of choices. Which one is right for you? Because I’m living and breathing this content world as the head of a fractional marketing team, I tend to know a lot about our competitors and contemporaries. Here’s what I see most often:
Lists of Topics or Templates
These are those $37–$97 products you see often in your social media feed. They usually start out by sympathizing that you don’t know what to write about, or that your emails aren’t converting — and end with the assertion is that all you need is their templates or prompts and you will be rollin’ in the dough.
And hey, I get it. Sometimes a template or a swipe file or a prompt is exactly what you need to get the creative juices flowing. And if that’s the case, I’ve got 201 topic ideas you can grab right here and my “perfect” blog post template — for free.
These ads usually also include how the creator made $XX amount of sales with a single email. I get that, too — having generated $300k in angel funding for a company once with a single email.
But here’s the deal: I could show you that email, tell you exactly what I wrote and why, and it almost certainly wouldn’t do you any good… Because the reason that email worked is the four years of nurturing we did prior to making the ask.
So, yeah: if prompts and templates will help you get started, go for one of these products (or grab mine for free), but it will still be YOU doing the work each week.
AI Assisted Copywriting
There seem to be several AI copywriting platforms coming out these days. I personally find this interesting because I’m a copywriter and a nerd, but having tested a couple out for myself… Well, let’s just say I’m not too worried for my job yet.
This is a solution similar to the prompts and templates above, that goes one half step further. You plug in a topic of phrase (maybe gleaned from one of those lists of topics you purchased!) and the AI spits out some copy or pieces of copy that you can use to create a finished product.
As I mentioned in my previous review of this kind of tech, this seems awesome at first blush, and indeed, it could be helpful to get the creative juices flowing. But the very nature of AI means that the algorithm has scraped the phrases it chucks back at you from thousands of other pages of copy — it’s literally copying what others have done and changing it up just enough so that it’s not plagiarism.
This could be fine for certain types of people / companies / products, but the real problem here is that the copy it produces still isn’t a finished product. Someone still needs to understand where to put the paragraphs, why to choose this version over that version, how to tie it all together into a cohesive story, etc.
Like the prompts and templates, it will still be YOU doing much of the writing — or, perhaps, in this case, the editing to make it sound like a person and not a robot wrote it. As an expert copywriter, starting with an AI didn’t save me any time when I tried it — and I can only assume it might actually take a more novice copywriter longer to incorporate.
Large Content Agencies (Content Farms) are NOT Fractional Content Teams
When you start to get into scaling a content service so that it can serve hundreds or thousands of customers, a few things have to happen. First, you have to have hundreds of writers willing to write at your “scale” prices. Many times this means the writers are writing on “spec” — that means the writer writes the article (or whatever) before they get paid for it, with no guarantee that they will get paid for it.
Generally it works like this: The client pays a flat monthly cost, usually pretty absurdly low and less than they could hire a freelancer for (otherwise, why hire the farm?). Then they submit a topic. Several writers accept the gig and write their version of the assignment. The client chooses the one they like best, and that writer gets paid. The other writers get nothing.
The second option is that the platform does more of the work to match and assign the writers to the clients, but the writer still gets paid a low fee (which some are willing to accept because they don’t have to do the work of prospecting and selling on their own).
There’s one platform out right now that claims to have the best content writers in the industry with a “less than 1%” acceptance rate of writers that apply to the platform.
But here’s the truth: When you do the math, this content farm is charging $0.075 per word. Seven and a half cents per word. But according to a 2018 survey, copywriters charging between $0.01 and $0.10 per word were overwhelmingly beginning copywriters. Expert copywriters were generally charging $0.75–$1.00 per word. So there’s already some disconnect here; most of the truly “expert” copywriters I know would never accept so little for a project.
Now, maybe this company is scooping up talented beginning copywriters — that’s absolutely a possibility, especially as they’re taking care of things like prospecting and selling that lots of freelancers don’t like to do. But think about this: That $0.075 per word has to not only pay the copywriter but also cover the operating costs for the agency and any profit margins. So the writer is only getting a fraction of that already pretty fractional rate.
The FAQ says that once you submit your brief (yet again, YOU have to come up with the topics and give direction), they assign a writer. But there’s no mention of whether you’ll get the same writer every time. It’s much more likely they’ll pick whomever is available and willing to write the piece at that time — meaning you’ll probably end up with a different writer for every piece you request.
And, having been a writer for this type of content in my early days, here’s the other problem you’re going to run into: When I’m getting paid pennies for a piece of writing, I’m going to churn it out as quickly as possible so that I can take more assignments to get whatever salary I need to live during the month.
You’ve probably heard the adage that things can be cheap, fast, and good — but you only get to pick two for any given project:
Unfortunately, this service falls into cheap and fast — not because of the turnaround time (which they say is 10 business days for a 1,000-word piece) but because of how much time the writer is likely actually going to put into it.
(Just to do the math: At $0.075 per word, a 1,000-word blog post is going to cost you, the client, $75. Let’s assume the writer gets 30% (which could be generous, I have no idea). That’s $22.50. If it takes them 3 hours to write your blog post, they’re earning $7.50 an hour — less than minimum wage. Which is why they’re incentivized to write it as quickly as possible. If they can churn something out in an hour, they’re making $22.50 per hour. See where I’m going with this?)
What does it look like to work with a fractional marketing team?
Well, of course all agencies are going to look a little different, but here’s what it’s like to work with our fractional marketing team.
(I’m saying “fractional” marketing team — meaning we work with more than one client.)
First, we price at a flat rate, not by the hour or by the word. This has a couple of benefits:
- The writer knows exactly how much she is going to be paid for each project. This helps her plan and balance her time accordingly.
- The client also knows exactly what their cost will be each month. No more surprise bills.
- A flat rate gives the writer room to take her time with a post — but also incentivizes her to get the job done at a reasonable speed. (The same math equation applies as above, but our writers are getting a much better hourly rate.)
- We pay pretty well for blog posts, so we can attract actual expert writers who appreciate not having to prospect or sell.
- We maintain long-term relationships with our writers, so clients often work with the same writer for years at a time. That means the writer gets to know the business, ideal customers, and products intimately.
Second, the client doesn’t have to come up with anything — nothing — to get the piece written, if they choose not to. Because we have a strategist (me!) as part of our fractional marketing team, we include strategy as part of every package, we come up with the strategy, we choose the topics, and we can even source and research the content fully on our own if that’s what the client desires.
Of course, some clients are rightly concerned that the nurture content still have their voice, their thought leadership, their ideas. In that case, we interview the client in order to get those pieces we can’t possibly Google. (This is impossible to do with a list of prompts or an AI; and it’s more work for the client to write out in a super detailed brief.)
Because you’re working with just one writer, the writer gets to know the business and voice extremely well over the course of the relationship. She becomes a mini-expert in your field.
But, because she is part of your fractional marketing team, you’re never left hanging out to dry if something happens. If a writer quits or must take a leave of absence (or even just goes on vacation!) we have a team of other talented writers who can immediately step in and take over.
We fall closer to the Good and Fast side of the diagram; we turn out up to 1,500 words for our clients every single week, and those words will be high quality because a) we’ve put a lot of thought and strategy into choosing what to write and b) the writer has ample time to deliver good work because she’s being paid well.
And while we’re not cheap, hiring a fractional marketing team is often less expensive than hiring that expert freelancer on their own or hiring an equivalent full-time copywriter.
Hiring a Freelancer or full or part-time content writer
The other option is to hire in-house. In my experience, this becomes a good idea when a business reaches a certain size or has a certain amount of copy that needs to be written. We worked with a client and when he got to the point that he was making about $5 million a year in revenue, we both agreed it was time for him to hire someone in house.
The first question to ask is how much work you have for a content writer (and how much budget you have to pay for it). A freelancer can be a good choice, but you have to do all the hiring and vetting yourself (how do you spot a good content writer?). Of course, as a contractor, they will set their own hours and prices and have other clients.
You can bring in a part-time or even full-time copywriter, but that requires more budget and more available work to keep them busy and productive. At a certain point, hiring in-house will save you money over an agency or even a freelancer — but there’s more management on your end that will need to happen. Who will the writer report to? Will they also be in charge of strategy? Who will be checking their work?
Having a fractional marketing team with a project manager and a strategist eliminates a lot of these questions.
What’s right for you?
Which option is right for you? Only you can say for sure! Of course, I’m a little bit biased towards my model as a fractional marketing agency, but if you’re curious if it could be right for you, let’s set up a time to chat.