6 Tips for Freelance Writers on Working with Content Marketing Agencies

By Kathryn Hawkins.
Image Credit: bst2012/Depositphotos

As a content marketing agency, we often receive inquiries from freelance writers. Here are some tips on what to expect when working with a company like ours.

I’m now a principal at a small content marketing agency, but previously, I worked as an independent freelance journalist. In the last year, since rebranding as Eucalypt Media and shifting our company’s focus specifically to inbound marketing strategy and content development, we’ve been building up our company’s presence. As a result, we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries from freelance writers and other consultants about potential work opportunities. We love working with freelance journalists, but we don’t have the budget or workload at this point to provide work opportunities to every qualified writer who sends an inquiry.

How can freelancers get more work with content marketing agencies? While we’re just a small agency and can’t speak for all marketing companies, here’s what I wish I’d known when I was on the other side of the equation:

Get referred by a contact. The best way to step in the door with a content marketing or communications firm is to get a referral from another freelancer who is already working with the agency. We’re much more likely to try out a freelancer that an existing contact has already vouched for than someone who is contacting us out of the blue. That’s where it helps to build up your network on LinkedIn or freelance writers’ boards—be generous in sharing your own contacts and referrals, and you might benefit from referrals to content marketing companies and other prospects in return.

Write a letter of introduction pointing out your specific industry expertise, or fill out the agency’s intake form. Unless a custom content firm has submission guidelines for specific magazines or websites it publishes available on its website, it rarely makes sense to send a specific story “pitch” to an agency, since you don’t know exactly what the company is looking for. If you don’t have a referral, the best way to introduce yourself is with a letter of introduction that highlights your experience across particular industries, particularly those that are relevant to the agency’s portfolio. If the agency has an application form for writers and other creative talent, use that rather than trying to find a personal contact—following the stated guidelines simplifies the process on the company’s end.

If you don’t hear back immediately, it doesn’t mean you’re being rejected. As an agency principal, most of my time is now spent talking with potential clients, developing proposals, working on our own and our clients’ marketing strategy plans, and writing and editing content. We receive at least a few letters of introduction from freelancers every week, and responding in a timely matter is one area where I often fall short, though I vow to do better. (Going forward, we’ll be developing an intake form to streamline the process.)

If you don’t hear from us right away, this doesn’t mean that we haven’t received your note or don’t want to work with you—typically, when staffing for an upcoming or potential project, I go into overdrive confirming writers and other consultants whose skill sets match the client’s needs, but if I’m not in recruiting mode, I don’t spend much time looking at resumes and clips. Larger agencies often have more resources to devote to the talent sourcing process, but ours are stretched thin, so reviewing freelancer portfolios when we’re not actively looking for additional help is low on the priority list. (We keep all of our letters of introduction on file, though, so there’s every chance you might get an inquiry from us a month or two down the line when we have a project that fits the bill.)

Don’t specify your rates unless requested. This depends on the agency, but typically, each client project has its own specific budget, so freelancer rates are often determined on a project-by-project basis, factoring in the level of work involved and what the client has agreed to pay for the entire package, which may involve numerous moving parts. If we know you and have worked with you before, we may offer you a slightly higher rate than those who are new to us or less experienced, but by and large, it makes things much more complicated to negotiate fees on an individual basis—we’d rather propose a fixed project fee that we feel is fair, which it’s up to you to accept or reject. The fee may not be quite as high as you'd like when working directly with a client, but collaborating with a marketing agency takes pitching out of the process, and most agencies aim to make the entire process (from client interaction to getting paid) as painless as possible, reducing the effort required on your part.

When an agency contacts you about a potential project, understand that it’s not always going to come through. Now that we are bidding on larger projects, we’re often one of several potential vendors for a client job, and in some cases, the client is still deliberating whether they want to do the project at all. In order to have a chance at getting the gig, we often need to come up with a firm estimate of costs, and provide examples of our writers’ work in relevant fields (disclosing any potential conflicts of interest they may have as well). If a content marketing agency contacts you to inquire about availability for a project, it’s a great sign, but don’t count on getting the gig until you have a contract in hand.

Personally speaking, we never ask our writers to provide work on speculation (and reject prospects’ requests for the same), but we may occasionally request details of relevant samples that you already have. Feel free to check in after we’ve discussed a potential project with you, but if you haven’t heard from us, we’re likely still in client negotiations (which can take weeks or even months). We’ll be sure to let you know when we get a yes or no.

If you want to keep getting agency work, be reliable and available. Once you’re in the door with a marketing agency, the best way to keep getting work is to simply deliver on your promise. Make sure you understand the terms of any assignment before getting started (if you don’t, please ask!), meet your deadlines, and don’t drop off the radar while a project is in active development. In some cases, you might interact solely with an agency contact; in others, you might communicate with the end client. Keep in mind that any work you do on the project reflects (positively or negatively) on the agency, so be sure to keep the agency team in the loop on everything you do if you’re running into complications or getting requests from the client that weren’t in the original contract, so that the agency can keep the project on track and on budget.

Some agencies are much larger than ours and may have different processes, but this advice reflects on what we’ve learned in the last year of managing freelance writers and other consultants. If you run or work for a marketing agency, are there any tips you’d add? And if you’re a freelancer, do you have any additional questions that we haven’t covered about working with content marketing firms?

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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