Thursday, July 20, 2006

What's the Value of a Freelance Copywriter vs. a Staff Writer?

Lately I've noticed a big jump in job postings for staff writers. While I definitely like companies recognizing the value of copywriting, it does make me wonder - why so many staff positions? At most, a quarter of the job posts I see are for contracts.

Why aren't businesses paying more attention to freelance copywriters?

A simple explanation would be that they don't know about them, or don't realize their value. Given how many professionals I've educated on the subject, this seems the most likely.

I've been on the staff side and the freelancing side. So I do have some ground to stand on here when I say I think the freelancing side is the better option for almost all businesses marketing themselves.

A while back I wrote a Justification for Copywriting. Let me look at some of its principles from a comparison angle.

Advantages of Freelancers over Staff Writers
1. Cost-effective - Let's say your company needs 15 projects a year. 3 sales letters and 12 monthly newsletters, for instance. My own fees for such would range between $9,500-$14,000 for the newsletters, and $4,000-$7000 for the sales letters. So having a freelancer like myself handle these projects would cost a company about $13,500 to $21,000 a year.

A staff writer employed for a year, even at a low-end salary would cost $40,000 in salary alone.

2. Specialized Expertise - Every writer has a specialty. Most freelancers focus on one or two, so they'll enjoy their work more and get better at it. (Mine is, as I've said before, writing for the Web.) Companies can take advantage of specialization by hiring several writers, each for a specific project they'll be good at. Instead of having one staff writer scramble to learn about each new specialty area.

The best part is, companies can be as specific as they want. Need a writer for six executive bios? There are freelancers that do those. I even know a(n independent) photographer who specializes in underwater photographs!

3. Fresh Perspective - I think this is probably the most valuable advantage a freelancer has over a staff writer. Staffers face the same curse as all other employees - getting too close, too familiar with their products/services. That can wear on you over time, dulling your prose into endless rehashing that doesn't convince anyone.

A freelancer is close enough to see how to work a message, yet far enough away that they can pick out new ways of highlighting product values. That's their whole job.

4. No Hiring/Firing Costs - It costs what, a year's salary to find and train new employees? Freelancers come and go for fractions of the overall costs. And their ROI is much higher. Use this one for those companies who have their bottom on marquee across their eyeballs.

5. Higher Profits - Because there's a lower expense in hiring a freelancer, you'll automatically have higher profit margins. But that's not the only profit source.

The temptation for a staff writer is to copy old company documents, or pilfer competitors' words when no one's looking. Ask yourself - which would you buy from, the company that's using the exact same message as its competitors? Or the company that speaks in open language, proves its claims, and communicates its message in a way that really sticks in your head?

That's how a freelancer brings about higher profits.

Advantages of Staff Writers
I'm not trying to disparage staff writers here. There ARE situations when a staff writer makes more sense. One that comes right to mind is when a mid-sized company has a tremendous need for writing. As in, projects turned out daily. In this case, it's best to have a staff writer, and freelancers on call/retainer for the overflow. Or for certain specialties your staff writer's not as experienced in (I have very little expertise in or desire for print ads, for example).

How Freelance Copywriters Can Shine Value
I have a theory about why some companies believe staff writers are better - and how freelancers can disprove that notion. (Hey, I had to stick a practical portion in here somewhere.) They believe that hiring a staff writer will "guarantee" experience/skill at communicating their company's value. The only thing they're guaranteeing, however, is familiarity. That doesn't always equate to saleability.

Freelancers can overcome this perception by that old never-overestimated stalwart - a solid portfolio, focused on relevant specialties. Here's what I do. I have all my samples tucked into plastic binder sheets. My portfolio is a nice 3-ring binder. When I meet with a prospect, I pull out the samples that aren't relevant and insert ones that are. Click-click. Instant specialized objection-nullifier.

So there you have it. A slew of persuasion tactics and sales points on freelance copywriter value. Staff writers have their place in the communications world, and I'm glad for that. But sometimes, a freelancer's who you need right away.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to start emailing this post URL to some companies advertising for staff writers.

(Note: This post will be enhanced and made into a white paper in the next week or two. Check back for the PDF that'll give every writer the edge against value objections!)


P.S.: If someone has stats on freelancer ROI, I'd appreciate a comment or email. They're hard to find!


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