In-house vs. agency vs. freelance copywriter: what’s the best strategy?

Hiring a copywriter in 2024? Here are a few things to consider
Three copywriters discussing their work over coffee

A note from Heydays: This post was originally published in 2022. It has been updated to include more relevant, up-to-date information.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of wonderful and illuminating conversations with various leaders in the creative space. One big topic of conversation? Copywriters (of course), and whether to hire in-house or outsource their copy and content needs.

Here’s my take: they’re both great options. But in 2024, outsourcing may be the way to go. Now, I get it. I run a white label copywriting agency, so this sentiment is fairly self-serving.

But hear me out. I’ve been in your shoes before. In a former life, I headed up a content team for a quickly-scaling business, and we needed writers to supplement our aggressive content strategy. Our options? Outsource or hire. But had risks. Both had advantages.

Let’s take a look.

Hiring in-house copywriter

Now, in my personal opinion, hiring an in-house writer is the gold standard. It’s so good for your agency to have a copywriting eye look over all your projects before you send them out the door. I believe that if every agency had its own writer, even on a part-time basis, it would eliminate terrible copy on great design.

So, why isn’t this commonplace?

In my experience, there are four things preventing agencies from hiring in-house writers:

  1. The cost. Writing well is a skill — usually a University-qualified skill — and good writers charge a lot for that skill. If you’re trying to run a lean organisation, hiring an expensive additional staff member is probably not the way to go.
  2. The writing needs of the business go up and down. 🎢 Unlike design, where requests remain fairly constant, writing requests seem to come in thick and fast… and then disappear for months on end.
  3. The types of writing you require vary a lot, and it’s hard to find a single writer who can handle all them. While some writers are excellent at executing brand messaging, they may struggle to write long-form content. Other writers can’t adapt a brand brief to save their life, but they excel when it comes to corporate comms work.
  4. Finding good writers is really hard. I could bang on about what a ‘good’ writer looks like and why good copywriters are so hard to find — but I’ve already written those posts.

Hiring a freelance copywriter

I know we’ve taken a few digs at ‘flaky freelancers’ here at Heydays. And a lot of that criticism is unfair. In fact, I started my copywriting career a decade ago by freelancing for publications like Music Feeds and Life Music Media. Here at Heydays, we’ve also collaborated with a number of wonderful and incredible freelance writers on various projects, like Felicity Van Rysbergen, Carmen Spencer, Rebecca Cofrancesco and Eleanor Bridger. (Need a freelance writer? These wonderful women are worth their weight in gold.)

However, I do think the poor reputation that freelance writers have earned for themselves is somewhat warranted. Here are some reasons why agencies hesitate when hiring freelancers:

  1. They often completely derail design projects — either by ignoring the brief or making (incorrect) assumptions and confusing the client.
  2. Many also have the nasty habit of treating deadlines as guidelines and going AWOL when they miss them. Just ask any editor of any reputable Aussie publication. Or ask fellow writer John Carlton:

    From the complaints I’ve fielded over the years about my cohorts, the average copywriter misses approximately half their deadlines.

    From rookie to top dog. It’s appalling.

  3. They can also seriously delay your projects — leading to missed milestones, late payment and a whole lotta rebriefing and rework.

Hiring a copywriting agency

More and more copywriters are banding together to start their own specialised agencies. We partner and refer work to many of them, including our pals over at Wordfetti. Most of these agencies have a specialisation — either the types of clients they work with, the types of content they prefer to tackle, or their ‘house style’.

Like Heydays, these agencies have a team of writers with different strengths, different styles and different backgrounds. And because they have a team, they usually have a little more availability to take on urgent or last-minute work.

Sounds pretty good. So why don’t studios all partner with a copywriting agency? Here’s what we’ve found.

  1. The cost. Copywriting agencies usually try to hire the best of the best writers — no flaky freelancers here! — because their reputation depends on it. This means you’re usually paying a higher price to get access to the best.
  2. You might have to change your workflow. Compared to working with in-house writers (the dream!) or your trusty freelancer, working with a team can sometimes require a little more forward planning and more thorough briefing.
  3. Those last-minute requests can add up. Especially if the agency charges a rush fee for work that needs to be delivered in a short timeframe. Comparatively, if you’re working with an in-house writer or very flexible freelancer, you can pull them off jobs and put them on new ones at will.

The 2024 factor

Hopefully, I’ve made the case that in-house, freelance and agency copywriters all have their pros and cons. There’s one more factor to throw into the mix: the 2024 factor.

I don’t think it’s a secret that this year, particularly the start of this year, has been one of the trickiest and weirdest seasons for creative professionals — ever. And we have no idea what the rest of the year, or the next year holds.

We are seeing layoffs and closures across the industry — from big internationals to small studios — and we’re not out of the woods yet. With all this insecurity, outsourcing your copywriting function may not be the worst idea. It saves you from paying an additional salary + super + recruitment costs and in return you get a team of A-players who can jump into projects as needed.


The verdict

There’s no clear-cut winner, as hiring a freelancer, agency or in-house writer can be a fantastic option for your studio. It all depends on what you need from your writers. 

You should hire in-house if:

  • You have lots of last-minute copy needs and require someone to be incredibly flexible and agile (rush charges from an agency can really add up!)
  • You can afford to offer a competitive salary.
You should hire a freelancer if:
  • You have a smaller budget but still need great writing to complement your design projects.
  • It’s not essential that your writers meet deadlines, and you have plenty of time to walk them through the brief.

You should hire a copywriting agency if:

  • Your writing needs change month to month and you need to scale your services up and down
  • You need a diverse set of writers to take on different copy tasks.

The TL;DR? Hiring Heydays might be the way to go. If you’d like to hear more about how we can support your studio, I’d love to chat. 

Well. This is awkward.