Make or Buy: What’s the Best Way for Your Business to Get Content?

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I’ve learned a lot of valuable things during my MBA studies, not the least of which is that there are two ways a business can complete its value chain: It can make the various links or it can buy them. It’s an important and underappreciated dynamic, and in an August 25, 2006, article, Conor Dougherty of The Wall Street Journal illustrates how it works while reporting on the craft beer industry:

[T]he bigger problem is getting the hops in the mix before they’ve spoiled. Victory Brewing Co. contracts a refrigerated truck to collect hops from a grower in upstate to New York then drive straight back to the brewery in Downingtown, Pa. Come fall Russian River Brewing owner/brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo gathers about a dozen friends and family members to pick hops on a quarter acre plot a few miles from his brewery in Santa Rosa, Calif. … And for brewers who don’t have their own hop farm, this often means paying to have fresh hops sent overnight, multiplying their hop tab.

The make-or-buy decision matters for businesses, because each option imposes its own unique cost—namely time or money. And nowhere is that more evident that with content writing.

When it comes to creating website copy or pumping out blog posts, many businesses default to the “make” option. After all, who knows your business better than you and your employees? But an equal amount also forget that content writing requires a substantial investment in both expertise and effort. Not everyone knows how to craft compelling copy, and not every manager wants to commit a salaried employee to content creation. In some ways, keeping content in-house allows for the most control at the greatest expense.

That being said, the “buy” option has complexities all its own.

If you don’t want to worry about managing people, services such as Textbroker, Scripted, and Copify offer low-cost, push-button content writing. All you have to do is send out a short description of what kind of content you want, and someone from a pool of approved writers types it up within a short window of opportunity—bing, bang, boom. These services are easy to use and work great for straightforward, cookie-cutter assignments. But their inherently low pay (sometimes as little as a fraction of a cent per word) tends to draw less-skilled authors who lack serious writing experience. There’s a reason why freelancers sometimes derisively refer to them as content mills.

Hiring a freelancer directly through a third-party service can alleviate quality concerns. Upwork, Elance, Freelancer, Guru, and other similar outfits offer worldwide talent pools, user reviews, online portfolios, work verification, and secured payment options. Of course, they also introduce problems of their own. Since they have a global reach, you may find yourself inadvertently interacting with freelancers who have, er, flexible work and personal ethics. The bidding process, wherein various freelancers pitch their talents to you, can prove time-consuming. And learning each site’s proprietary interface often makes even the simplest tasks a proverbial pain.

The final option is to hire a content writer directly. If finding and vetting a content writer all on your own sounds time consuming, well, that’s because it is. You need to ensure that you’re dealing with someone who’s competent, professional, and responsive. That means surveying portfolios, reviewing testimonials, requesting sample work, and comparing contracts. But a good freelancer can provide excellent work again and again at a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee.

The good news about the make-or-buy decision is that there’s no one right answer. Each business has different needs, and any of the options can work well given the correct set of circumstances. So shop around. See what works best for you. And feel free to email me with any questions you might have.