On paper, working for a content agency seems like a no-brainer for freelance writers. You get a steady stream of work delivered straight to your inbox, with none of the hassle of prospecting for new clients — right?
In practice, we all know it’s a bit more complicated than that.
There are plenty of content agencies out there that are little more than lipstick-on-a-content-mill-pig. Agencies that are just as ready to take advantage of you as the $5-an-article exploiters we’re all too familiar with.
Are content agencies all bad? Of course not. I run a content agency, so it’d be pretty disingenuous of me to suggest that we’re all scam artists ripping off talented writers!
The key lies in being able to distinguish between the two. What makes one agency a good option for advancing your career, and another no better than the content mills?
Let’s take a closer look at content agency writing work.
Why work for an agency?
Before we jump into what to look for in a content agency, I want to take a second to throw out a few benefits of this arrangement, since the phrase “content agency” tends to leave a bitter taste in some writers’ mouths:
As the owner of a content agency (read on to the end for more info on how you can join me), I work with several digital marketing agencies as my clients. And one of the beautiful things about this arrangement is that they have a nearly steady stream of content needs. Say they’re managing the blog content for a luxury resort. They’re going to want that blog updated regularly, and the ongoing nature of that work makes me and my writers very happy.
Another advantage to agency work is that having a consistent stream of work requires significantly less time spent prospecting in order to pay the bills. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought that having somebody send you regular work is a hell of a lot better than having to go out and find it yourself!
This particular perk doesn’t get mentioned that often, but writing for an agency often involves being put in touch directly with different clients. Do a good enough job, and you may find that these referrals result in new opportunities.
Now, while all of the benefits above apply to all of the different types of agencies out there, I do want to make one important distinction. As a freelance blogger, you can work directly with a company like a marketing agency (who’ll put you to work on multiple projects) or you can work with a content agency that coordinates multiple writers for different projects.
Neither arrangement is inherently better than the other, but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to be talking about content agencies specifically. There are many more content agency opportunities than there are marketing agency opportunities, and plenty of writers see content agencies as the next step up from the content mills.
What to look for in a content agency
Not all content agencies are created equal. There are lucrative agency opportunities out there, but to find them, you need to know what to look for.
Talking about money is often treated as taboo, but let’s face it — you’re in business. You aren’t writing for funsies. You’re writing to get paid, and that means protecting your bottom line.
I’m of the opinion that, if you’re a good writer, the minimum you should be working for is $50 per 1,000 word article (that’s $0.05 per word). You’re a skilled professional, and the work you do has value for the organization that’s hiring you. If the agency you’re working for doesn’t offer at least this rate, they aren’t compensating you fairly for these factors.
Now, to be clear, you’ll earn less working for an agency than you will seeking out projects on your own. The more people get involved in a hiring process, the more people there are that need to get a cut out of the project fees. If a client is paying an agency $100 per article, the agency can’t turn around and pay you $100. If they did, they wouldn’t be in business for long!
That said, if you can find an agency that still pays you fair rates out of the fees their clients are paying them, you can look at the discounted rate as compensation for the time you would have otherwise spent seeking out clients on your own.
Getting back to that “skilled professional” idea, one of the things I hate to see is an agency that posts bulk article topics and lets individual writers claim them. I get that it’s a quick way to make a buck if you’re already familiar with the topic, but to me, the process really devalues the expertise you bring to the table.
When I hire writers, I do so because the person I’m working with has a specific knowledge base or skill set. For instance, one of the clients I currently manage content for is an Australian tire shop (tyre shop, for all you Aussies out there). I’m not Australian, and the only thing I know about tires is how to check their pressure when they look low. I can’t deliver valuable content on the subject, which is why I’ve brought on a writer with automotive experience.
That’s a pretty granular example, but the idea I hope you take away from this is that your agency partner should value your subject area expertise. They should be the ones seeking you out. If they’re not, there’s a good chance they aren’t going to compensate you fairly for your work.
There aren’t many content agencies out there that require their writers write exclusively for them, so I won’t spend too much time hammering home this point.
Basically, unless you’re being compensated for giving up your right to pursue other customers and projects (and unless that compensation comes with the benefits that would traditionally be afforded to a full-time worker), an agency shouldn’t expect your exclusive commitment.
If they do — and they aren’t willing to pay for it — look elsewhere for your writing work.
Content agencies run the gamut from small shops (like mine) to massive conglomerates (like ExpressWriters or Constant Content). There are good seeds and bad seeds in both bunches, but regardless of the size of your employer, you should expect the following elements of professionalism:
- The agency should make all expectations clear up front, in advance of assigning you work. An agency that tacks on additional requirements after the project has begun, without being willing to offer additional compensation, isn’t one that you want to be working with.
- Deadlines should be clearly established, and should be set with adequate time to produce quality work. An agency that springs a too-short deadline on you needs to either be paying a rush fee or be cut loose from your client portfolio.
- Communication should be clear and prompt. Waiting three days for a response to a simple question (extenuating circumstances exempted, of course) is the mark of an agency that doesn’t respect your time.
- Your agency partner should provide you with all resources needed to complete the project. If certain style guidelines need to be followed or if particular pieces of information need to be included, you should be hearing about them before the project begins – not after you’ve already sent in your draft.
- Your agency should care about your long-term development as a writer. Agencies live or die on the quality of the writers they work with. The best agencies invest in their writers (whether through paid training opportunities, the chance to write on new topics or some other perk) in order to continue delivering their clients the caliber of work they’ve promised.
What do you bring to an agency?
Of course, no agency is going to score 100% marks on professionalism and the criteria described above. We’re human, after all. Mistakes get made, balls get dropped — you get the picture.
That said, if the agency you’re working with fails on all these counts, it’s time to take your talents elsewhere. There are good agencies out there that actually struggle to find good writers. I know this, because I own one of those agencies.
I didn’t set out to start a content agency. I’ve been working as a freelance blogger for eight years, and over time, the demand for content from the network I’ve grown has far exceeded my capacity to meet it on my own.
I now work with a team of eight writers, two editors and one administrative assistant, but reaching that point hasn’t been easy. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve done test projects with — or even hired — who’ve bailed on me, submitted barely readable work or missed deadline after deadline.
I figure there has to be a better way. There are great writers out there who need work, and there are agencies like mine that need to connect with those writers. That’s why I’ve started putting together a training course called “Higher and Hired: A Not-So-Basic Training for Motivated Freelance Writers” over on my Write Your Revolution website.
In it, we’re going to cover what agencies (and other types of clients) are looking for, and why you aren’t getting hired — and we’ll do that by looking at real queries and portfolio submissions from writers I both have and haven’t hired. After that, I’ll give you some brutally honest feedback about your portfolio and even offer top students the opportunity to join my private Facebook group, where I share listings for the actual jobs I’m hiring for (all of which pay $50 per post or more).
But to get this course off the ground, I need your help. To be sure I answer all of your questions about landing well-paying writing gigs, I’m looking for 5-10 “beta” students who will get free access to the course in exchange for their feedback on what works and what isn’t.
Sophie has graciously offered to help me find these “test not-so-dummies” by hosting a contest here on her site to fill these seats. If you want to score one of these limited free seats, click the link below to submit your application:
I want to join the inaugural class of Higher and Hired students!
The deadline for applications is July 27th, 2015. Winners will be notified by email on July 28th. The beta run of the course will begin on August 3rd, 2015, so get your portfolios out and get ready to kick them into shape to become irresistible to future clients. I look forward to seeing you on the inside!