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10 Tips for Freelance Writers on Working with Content Marketing Agencies

By Kathryn Hawkins. Agency Process
Woman talking on phone and typing on laptop
bst2012 via 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.

As a content marketing agency, we often receive inquiries from freelance writers who are interested in supporting out clients with content strategy, content creation, SEO, social media, and other digital marketing needs. Here’s how to partner with an agency like ours.

Before founding our content marketing agency, Eucalypt, I worked as an independent freelance journalist. In the years since growing from a solo freelance writing business to an agency team that can scale to take on large-scale SEO and content marketing projects, we’ve received a lot of inquiries from freelance writers and other digital marketing specialists 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 freelance writers get more work with content marketing agencies? While we’re a smaller digital marketing shop and speak for all marketing companies, here’s what I wish I’d known when I was on the other side of the equation:

If possible, get referred by a contact. The best way to step in the door for content creation work with a content marketing or communications firm is to get a referral from another freelance writer 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 content marketing agency has submission guidelines for specific magazines or websites it publishes available on its website, it rarely makes sense to send a specific freelance writing “pitch”, 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 copywriting experience across particular industries, particularly those that are relevant to the agency’s existing case studies. 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.

Follow up (in moderation).

As a content marketing agency principal, most of my time is now spent talking on business development, building out content marketing strategies for new clients, and overseeing existing content creation projects, which leaves unfortunately little time to respond to unsolicited messages. 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.

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 for a new client, I go into overdrive selecting curated freelance writers and other marketers for specialized teams, 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 be afraid to follow up on your initial letter, though following up in a month or two is preferable to sending another note within days. Freelance writers who we bring on to projects are often the ones who contact us at exactly the right time, and our workload is far more likely to change in the space of months than a day or two.

Don’t expect the same per-word rate from one project to the next. 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. In some situations, the agency may offer an hourly rate for digital marketing work instead of a per-word rate, particularly if the deliverable is likely to have a lot of iterations and reviews. While your fee may not be quite as high as working directly with a client, 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. We’re often one of several potential vendors for a new client project, 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 copywriting 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). If we’ve come this far, we’ll be sure to let you know when we get a yes or no.

Be willing to learn new tools and technologies. We’re always evaluating the technologies and processes that can make us more effective in supporting our clients. In some cases, we might ask our freelancers to use these tools as well, which could include project management tools, SEO tools, and social media tools. In order to make yourself as valuable as possible, it’s worth becoming comfortable with the technology stack of an agency you hope to work with on an ongoing basis. The agency shouldn’t expect you to invest substantial time without reward, but if a certain project requires a brief onboarding process, make the most of it and use your new skills to increase your value in the freelance writing marketplace.

Don’t take it personally if your content gets changed.

Even great content often goes through a lot of revisions: Maybe it doesn’t fit the client’s messaging guidelines or writing style, or it includes data from competitors that the client would prefer not to mention. When it comes to content marketing, you can’t get too precious about your work: Just gather as much detail about the deliverable going in as you can, so that you’ll be able to create a great draft. In our content marketing agency, we generally try to limit our freelance writers’ involvement in revision cycles as much as possible, so we might request more substantive changes but handle smaller tweaks internally.

You probably won’t get byline credit, and that’s OK.

While there are some exceptions, many companies prefer to attribute their content marketing assets to their own executives or marketing team—so be prepared to sacrifice your byline, and be aware that you may not be able to disclose your work for the client publicly. If in doubt, check in with the content marketing agency to find out what restrictions they’re working under before publishing samples on your website.

Some projects can take a long time to finalize.

While freelance writers who are used to writing for newspapers or magazines might be used to writing, editing, and finalizing their articles within just a few days to meet a publication’s deadline, timeframes in the content marketing world are far less concrete, and may rely on getting approvals from many project stakeholders, or they may be tied to specific product launches or PR initiatives. Try to get a sense of the timing at the start of the engagement on when the project might be finalized, but be prepared to submit a draft and then spend weeks waiting for feedback.

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 freelance writing work is to simply deliver on your promise. Make sure you understand the terms of any content writing 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.

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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