The True Cost of Content Writing Services

You might get what you pay for, but when it comes to content writing services…what exactly are you paying for?  And, what exactly is a “writing service” anyways?  For some, “writing service” can mean a guy in the Philippines working at a thesaurus for $5 an hour.  For others, it can be a posh company that charges lawyer-like fees.

Let’s take a look into the five main types of content writing services out there today.  We’ll investigate what they are, what they cost you, where your money goes, pros, cons, and more.  Treat this as your guide to finding and using the type of writing service that’s best for your needs.

The Big Box Sites

Let’s start with the “big box sites” (as we like to call them at CEM).  This is usually the first impression most people have about content writing services.  They dominate the Adsense arena with those little grabby offers like “500 words of copy for just $10.”

You’d be wrong to assume that these are all scam companies.  There are totally legitimate big box sites out there like Ecopywriters, Writer Access, and Textbroker.  All three are trusted businesses, affordable options—and they get the job done.  These sites have (literally) thousands of writers, hundreds (or thousands) of editors, and work on a massive scale.

Many of the big box sites claim to have U.S.-based writers, but there’s really no way to know for sure.  Even we’ve been tricked by overseas writers who provide U.S. addresses on their W-9 forms – and we only deal with a handful of writers.

When it comes to the big box sites, the “you get what you pay for” adage is truer than ever.  With Textbroker, you can make out with a 300-word “three star” piece, which the writing service classifies as “average,” for $5.10.  The same thing will cost you either $10.79 or $17.44 from Writer Access, which uses a slightly different rankings system.  Ecopywriters will charge you anywhere from $15 to $30.

Clearly, the price range of the big box companies is all over the map.  However, they tend to stay in the low- to mid-range.  Really, you’re paying for top dollar marketing budgets and their transaction fees.  These companies pay for a lot of glossy marketing so they can pick up clients. Additionally, with thousands of employees and small payouts, the big box sites have to spend a lot on accounting and transaction fees.

The management of these companies is oftentimes far removed from the actual product, and clients miss out on personal attention and custom-tailored assignments.  Lastly, revisions can be difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming.

Independent Freelancers

Businesses that become frustrated with the big box content writing services often end up running the opposite direction: toward the independent freelancers.  These guys are typically one to three man shops, haunting the halls of places like Guru.com.  There are also freelancers that use traditional advertising to get clients, or do referral work. Some are even so accomplished as to be generally known in the industry for which they write, and are able to earn work that way.

Browse through the freelance writers of Guru, and you’ll find some impressive portfolios that cover every single niche under the sun.  There are truly some talented people on Guru and other freelance sites.  However, they’re also expensive.

After all, these independent freelancers are… independent.  That means no one is paying their health insurance; there are no sick days; and, it’s either feast or famine with client work (with no safety net to fall back on).

Choose the right independent freelancer, and you might decide to kiss all other content writing services goodbye.  You can often develop a close working relationship with your independent freelancer, ensuring that each piece of content you purchase is written in your voice and no one else’s!

Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach, too.  Because independent freelancers are independent, they usually don’t have anyone editing their work.  The good ones aren’t going to have any trouble self-editing from a technical standpoint; they’ll catch the grammatical errors and major syntactical flaws.

However, they may not catch the bigger thematic issues that could be in their copy.  As a writer, I can tell you that it’s not easy to realize and admit that a piece of writing completely misses the mark.  Anyone can see that they typed “their” when they intended “there,” but issues of theme can be hard to address once you become attached to a piece.

Also, independent freelancers can have long turn around times because they do it all: contracting, profiling clients, writing, editing, submitting, billing, etc.  And, the better they are, the more they’re booked.

Overseas Writers

Okay, stop laughing… people do still use these services.  I think.  These are the content writing services I mentioned at the beginning of this post that work for $5 an hour.  But, on second thought, even that’s top-dollar pricing.  These sites will sell you blog posts for next to nothing, but that shouldn’t be terribly appealing.

What are you paying for when you use these services?  Mainly the managerial costs.  But, depending on the organizational structure of these sites, which frequently have hundreds of landing pages and hubs, your money could be helping someone make a full time income.  Chances are that someone isn’t the guy who’s actually writing your blog posts.  If anyone makes money with these sites, it’s the owner.

So, what are the drawbacks?  Unfortunately, these writing services often lack basic grammar skills and frequently miss out on idioms and other points of cultural relevancy.  Unless you’re looking for technically unique content that’s stuffed with SEO and offers no value, then you probably don’t want to deal with an overseas writing service.  (Though even the SEO-stuffed approach has plenty of its own problems.)

Many of these businesses are outright scams, and come along with a host of drawbacks (time zone issues, poor communication, international transaction fees, etc.).  Whew!  Time for a breath of fresh air…

Boutique Content Writing Services

Full disclosure: Hey, that’s us!  Boutique writing services typically have about 10-20 writers, many of them with niche specialties, and a few editors.  They’re usually U.S.-based and competitively priced.  Once you start looking, you’ll find there are a lot of these companies out there.

The writers for boutique companies are typically independent contractors, which means that they – like their fellow freelancers – aren’t getting vacation days, health insurance, retirement plans, or corporate gym memberships.  So, you’re the one who pays for all of that.

But, unlike the independent freelancer, the managerial expenses and other overhead is spread out over dozens of clients.  While independent freelancers can only handle one project at a time, boutique content writing services can handle multiple projects simultaneously.  CEM, for example, cranks out about 25-30 thousand words each day.

Prices for boutique content writing services are all over the map, but tend to aggregate in the mid- to high-end range.  Then again, there’s a lot of value attached to a boutique writing service: personal attention, fast turn-around times, rush availability, and more.

If these services are missing anything, then it’s probably top-tier knowledge.  The truth is, if you want the very best hospitality writer (i.e. a published – not self-published – one) to cover your hotel’s blog, then that person probably isn’t writing for a boutique writing service.  It’s more likely that person has her own content shop that targets the hospitality industry exclusively.  However, most people don’t need to have “the number one writer in the world” behind their blog, which makes boutique writing services the next best thing.

Marketing Companies

The fifth and final type of writing service you might hire is the marketing company you’re already using.  Almost all marketing companies these days offer copywriting services.  They either have their own writers on staff, or they insource it, and tack it onto your final bill.

More often than not, you’re overpaying your marketing company when you use them for copy.  A lot of the copy that’s written by these marketing companies is either handled by interns or contracted out to a writing service like us, meaning the product is pure profit for the marketing company.

However, that’s not always the case.  Some marketing companies have highly developed content writing departments staffed with their own top-tier writers.  If you’re curious about who exactly is writing your content, just ask your marketing company!

The price is usually medium to high, but shouldn’t deviate much from what you pay for other marketing services.  The two drawbacks are (1) you might not know who is writing your content, and (2) the price tag (plus commission) gets passed on to you.

One upside, however, is that it’s super-convenient to get your content through your marketing company.  Who doesn’t love one-stop shopping?

Plenty of Options

I hope you can see that writing services can’t be defined by any single structure or business model.  Consumers today have so many different business models and approaches to choose from, with companies and freelancers from all kinds of backgrounds eager to take on projects.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more type of writing service: you.  If none of these options appeal to you, feel free to give it a shot yourself!

If you have any questions about content writing services, feel free to ask away in the comments, and I’ll be happy to share what I know with you!

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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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