Should you outsource your content creation or keep it in house?

Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 5 Jun, 2017
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Content creation is one of the cornerstones of any effective digital marketing activity but it's often difficult to keep up with the volume required when you have a small team. Should you outsource? Read on to find out the answer to this common content conundrum.

Whether or not you use an on-demand team to fulfill some elements of your marketing tasks – such as social media management, graphic design or web development – making the decision to outsource content marketing is often a much bigger deal.

Content is the cornerstone of digital marketing. It’s the foundation on which successful brands are built. Landing pages, blog posts, inbound links, social media, email marketing and most importantly, conversions, all rest on the quality of your content. Content is also an important tool for building engagement, raising brand awareness, nurturing brand loyalty,

While it’s easy to see that you need a good volume of content on a regular basis, it’s this importance which has many business owners and marketers balking about outsourcing. After all, do you want one of the most important success factors resting in the hands of outsiders? It might seem beneficial to keep it in house on the face of it, but, do you have the expertise and time to keep on track?

There is no right answer to this question. Weighing up the pros and cons in light of your own business structure and resources is the only way to arrive at a decision.

Do you have the resources in house, right now, to carry out content marketing effectively?

There’s much more to content marketing than meets the eye. The most obvious place to start is deciding if you have a capable writer on your staff. If not, then you’ll need to outsource at least in the short term.

As this matrix from Econsultancy shows, effective content marketing calls for much more than a wordsmith capable of writing a blog post and publishing on site. This is the scenario and won’t be realistic if you’re a small business to have all of the required skill sets in house. It’s a good idea here to look at the matrix in terms of existing staff skills and upskilling potential. If you have a good writer, could they also be trained on keyword research and content creation for example?

You need someone with an understanding of SEO, someone to proofread and edit, create graphics, strategize content direction, curate content, research and manage. Econsultancy categorizes this as four stage cycle: Leadership > Insight > Execution > Feedback.

If you don’t have a person in place capable of filling some or all of these roles, you will need to outsource in order to maximize content potential in the short term. Try to skip some of the stages and you’re unlikely to see a return on any of your efforts.

If you have a big enough budget or see content marketing as being intrinsic to your success, building an in-house team is a strong long term solution.

Do you have enough time to create a content strategy, good content, distribute that content and measure its success?

As we’ve already mentioned, there’s much more to content marketing than simply cranking out a blog post or uploading social media posts daily. To achieve your business goals, you need a well rounded approach to content, including a documented strategy, analysis, production, distribution and measurement. Many organisations find that they don’t have the resources in house to tick all of those boxes effectively, simply because there aren’t enough staff with enough hours in the day to do everything that is needed.

According to the 2017 B2B Content Marketing Trends—North America report by Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs:

  • 57% of marketers reporting a decreased success from their content marketing activities in the last year cite a lack of time as a contributing factor
  • 49% of marketers seeing stagnant performance cite content creation challenges
  • 22% blame a lack of content marketing training
  • 22% blame a lack of content marketing tools or systems and technologies that have a learning curve

If you are also seeing stagnant or decreasing success from content for any of the above reasons, outsourcing to fill those gaps offers a more immediate way to get back on track than recruitment and training.

Using an outsourcing or on-demand platform such as Upwork or People Per Hour provides a quick way to access professionals with the skills you lack in-house. Whether you approach this as a temporary measure while recruiting or see it as a permanent fix, you can tap into talent from around the world, seek out very specific skill sets and use the built in reviews function from previous clients to highlight the best fit for the skills gap in your organisation. Adding an outsourced element to your team also adds extra hours, which can be used to bridge the shortfall your own in-house team faces.

What’s your budget?

Budget will play a big role in whether you outsource or keep content in house (or if you invest in a hybrid solution which mixes the two). The 2016 Benchmark, Budgets and Trends – North America report found:

  • B2B marketers allocate 28% of their total marketing budget, on average, to content marketing
  • The most effective allocate 42%
  • And the most sophisticated/mature allocate 46%

If you have a small budget (less than $1000), it will be almost impossible to find a good content marketing agency to deliver all of your content needs. Likewise, it will be next to impossible to recruit, hire and train a full-time member of staff. Outsourcing to an on-demand team will be your only realistic option – but keep in mind that you still likely won’t get all of your content needs met.

On People Per Hour and Upwork, you’ll find freelancers offering blog posts for as little as $10, but the really good content markers will realistically command more like $100+ per hour. While articles, slideshares, white papers, social media posts and other content formats can also be purchased low cost, quality can be hit and miss if you’re working with multiple outsourced providers. Try posting an advert and solicit bids from content professionals for a set fee each month across a defined set of deliverables to give you some measure of control.

If you’re taking the time to create content, it makes sense to do it properly. You want high quality content that justifies its investment and is as good as, if not better than, what your competition is putting out.

Think of outsourcing like you think of a timeshare. In such as competitive field as digital marketing and content production, where expertise is in high demand, truly qualified, capable and proven professionals are rare. They are that luxury villa with sea view on a private island. Outsourcing offers at least a timeshare option on knowledge and capability, giving you a small window to enjoy what they have to offer. You might not have the funds to purchase the entire island for your exclusive use (or to work to the scale you’d like with your professional or agency of choice), but it doesn’t mean you can’t stay a couple of nights.

What are the downsides of outsourcing?

It’s clear that hiring an in-house team is going to be expensive. You’ll need to factor in the cost of recruitment, salaries, office space, equipment and software or technology purchases. In many instances, we have seen that outsourcing offers a stop gap – and often it can be combined with an in-house manager appointed to lead the project.

Many small businesses face small budgets though and the pressure to do a lot with a little. A small budget isn’t enough to hire the best staff. Outsourcing becomes the only option. But what are the downsides and potential pitfalls to be aware of when working with an on demand team?

  • It can be hard to find someone who knows your subject at the required depth to produce really great pieces of content.
  • With so many service providers out there, whether you go to an agency or to a freelancer, costs can vary massively, causing budgeting headaches month to month.
  • Reviews and portfolios won’t always give you an idea of how good your external provider will be when it comes to your own content.
  • If you select an individual freelancer rather than an agency, dependability and reliability may be hit and miss.
  • There’s a big difference between creating a quantity of content and producing engaging content relevant to your niche. You’ll need to find a way to pin down how the outsourced partner will do both.

Keep in mind that the relevance of the pros and cons, plus how beneficial or practical each is, will change as your business evolves. You’ll need to revisit these considerations regularly to ensure you’re still choosing the correct path and using the right team and right method for content production.

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