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Freelance writers are usually less expensive than top-tier agencies, primarily because the latter incur higher expenses. While price is usually an important consideration, other key factors may also bear on the decision. If an agency provides more effective deliverables on a tight schedule, with the flexibility to accommodate more work in the future, is that worth the difference of a few thousand dollars? Quality, response time, and ongoing availability (see below) may actually be more important than cost for many companies, especially when time to market is important and competition is acute.
Is a freelancer or an agency more likely to produce a high quality white paper? There is no clear answer to this question. Evaluating whether a particular agency or freelancer is likely to produce a high quality white paper on time and within budget involves a careful screening process. Reviewing work samples, viewing client lists, requesting client testimonials, and checking references provides useful information to aid contractor selection. Generally, agencies provide more information that is easily accessible via a well organized Web site, but most freelancers are able to deliver this information upon request. If a Web site does not provide sufficient information to inform a decision, request more information before entering into an agreement.
Identifying a freelancer or agency with specific subject matter experience also has pros and cons. Freelancers with specific subject knowledge may not produce a higher quality paper than an agency without this experience; a fresh perspective from a high quality writer at an agency may yield a higher quality paper. Similarly, an agency with subject matter experience might not necessarily produce a better paper than a freelancer without this experience.
A writer's ability to gather, comprehend, and synthesize new subject matter is far more important than extensive domain expertise. Clearly, a writer needs experience conducting the sort of information gathering, synthesis, and writing on complex business and technical topics that white papers require, but deep subject expertise may not be necessary to produce effective results. Seek a freelancer or agency that has repeatedly demonstrated these more fundamental skills, rather than a resource that presents the most experience in the subject area. In short, a better writer is better than a better informed writer.
Freelancers have limited bandwidth. Depending on their workloads, freelancers may not be able to respond to requests as quickly as an agency, which can task additional writers as needed. Freelancers often work for multiple clients concurrently, and the best of them have very tight, busy schedules. These writers may become overwhelmed very quickly if a business requires several deliverables in a short period of time.
A properly-staffed agency is able to absorb a greater amount of work before becoming saturated. Because a dedicated staff typically handles business development, agency writers can dedicate more of their workdays to producing deliverables. Agencies simply have more writers available for additional projects. And because various projects have different turnaround times, agencies are often able to insert new fast-turnaround projects into available time slots with their writers, without jeopardizing the timely delivery of existing projects.
Even the most loyal freelance writer is only one person. Freelancers work with multiple clients, and may engage in contracts that limit their availability for extended periods of time. Freelancers go on vacation, catch colds, decide to scale back their workloads, go back to school, move to another state, take a maternity/paternity leave, return to the full-time workforce as employees, or retire. This uncertainty as to the short-term and long-term availability of a freelancer can disrupt continuity. In the bigger picture, these uncertainties limit the strategic value of freelancers as a primary resource, especially on high-visibility deliverables where there is no room for error.
By contrast, agencies provide a form of "insurance" for a business' intellectual capital. They offer always-on availability to provide deliverables. If one writer becomes unavailable, another writer can pick up the slack. Many agencies ensure that more than one writer is up to speed on the subject matter and deliverables of a particular client. Hence, as one writer becomes temporarily or permanently unavailable (e.g., via turnover in the agency), the agency can smooth transitions and ensure that any handoffs occur with an efficient transfer of background and context.
Table 1: Capabilities of Freelance Writers versus Agencies
While freelance writers can produce high-quality work and may be fairly inexpensive, they lack the strategic advantages of agencies. Agencies are able to employ multiple writers, mitigating risk, providing broader coverage, and offering faster response times when business conditions call for quick action. Agencies provide an ongoing, consistent resource-at-the-ready -- a partner that allows businesses to consistently and effectively communicate to target audiences in timely fashion.
Steve Hoffman is President and CEO of Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc., which specializes in writing white papers for leading technology companies around the world. View more Hoffman articles on white paper writing, including best practices, at http://www.hoffmanmarcom.com/whitepapers.php.
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