As we learned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the ultimate question of life is 42 (apologies for the spoiler). But does that help us determine how many content writers a marketing team should have on its roster? Well, sort of.
In today’s marketing landscape, having zero writers is pretty much out of the question. Content creation is simply too important to the overall marketing operation. On the flip side, unless you’re a major media outlet or Fortune 500 brand, having 42 writers might seem like a bit of an overkill. So for the vast majority of companies, the answer lies somewhere in between.
In order to arrive at an actual number, however, you must ask and answer three important questions:
Full-time or Freelance?
At the beginning of this post, we were careful to avoid equating writers to full-time hires, as not every writer on your team needs to be a W2. As the gig economy grows, brands of all sizes and industries have made use of freelance talent, and writing is no exception. So the first question you need to ask is what type of relationship you’ll have with these writers, as it will greatly affect the number.
Obviously, the cost of a full-time writer is constant, while that of freelancers is extremely flexible. So, in the end, it might come down to deciding between one full-time writer versus an on-demand team of five freelancers. There is no right or wrong decision here.
In our experience, we find that brands with at least one full-time, dedicated writer (augmented by 3-4 freelancers) tend to be more consistent and successful when it comes to content. Note the emphasis on the phrase “dedicated writer,” as this leads to our next question.
What is the role of your content marketing manager?
Unfortunately, we find that many content marketing managers do very little managing. Instead, they simply write everything. They are the lone voice of the brand, and hence, no one else is given the opportunity to contribute.
This is not a sustainable approach to content creation, as it leaves huge voids in content distribution, promotion, and strategy (all key roles of a true content marketing manager). Yes, they should be a key contributor and writer — even the lead writer in some cases. Still, to use a newsroom analogy, they should be the managing editor overseeing a content operation with lots of people and moving parts.
If the latter describes your content marketing manager, then you have an opportunity to get more people on board (either full-time or freelance). Your team could consist of a content marketing manager who sets the tone, strategy, and calendar but is executed by dozens of regular contributors. (Note: to see this approach in real life, check out the content operation over at OpenView Ventures).
This, of course, assumes that you’re only looking for top-of-funnel thought-leadership content, which might not be the case. Next question!
What types of content do you need most?
In short, if what you need most is a product-centric copy — stuff that requires deep knowledge of your product or service — then go with a full-time hire. But if the content you need is more industry or topic-focused, then consider spreading this out with several freelancers for the following reasons:
*The odds of finding a writer in your geographic area, who knows your industry inside and out, are slim
*If you do find them, the odds of them leaving for another job in less than two years are high
*Spreading the thought leadership content out among 4-5 people future-proofs your brand and helps you scale
In the end, it’s all about the gaps of expertise you need to fill. Personally, having worked with thousands of brands here at nDash, the team structure that I’ve seen work best is as follows:
*A content marketing manager at the helm, who writes original content, but who also interviews internal SMEs and handles most of the brand/product-specific stuff. This person is also the at the helm of the content calendar and acts as the point person for managing assignments and workflow.
*Three to four freelance writers augment them, two of whom are subject matter experts for long-form thought leadership pieces, with the other two being great copywriters for emails, landing pages, and social media posts.
*Everyone plays a valuable role with the precise division of labor, resulting in a content operation that delivers great results on a consistent basis
Final Thoughts on Content Writers
Apparently, 42 isn’t the answer to all of life’s great questions. For most brands, somewhere between 3-5 content writers tend to get the job done.