#050: Writing for Ad Agencies and Marketing Firms: Two Freelance Writers Share What You Need to Know to Make it Work

What are the biggest pros and cons of working with agencies?

What types of writers (and personalities) are best suited for working with agencies?

What do agencies look for when hiring a freelance writer?

What would you say are the best ways to attract and land agency clients?

How can you avoid payment nightmares and other typical agency/freelancer challenges?

You’ll get the answers to all these questions in this week’s podcast!

My guests are Caryn Starr-Gates and Shanna Kurpe — two seasoned freelance writers who built their businesses through agencies and marketing firms.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.


Tell us about yourself

 Caryn Starr-Gates is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. With a background in advertising copywriting, she returned to copywriting about 10 years ago after spending time in other careers. She launched StarrGates Business Communications in 2009.

Shanna Kurpe is a freelance writer and founder of Grasp, a digital marketing and software development company based in Tampa, FL. Before she started freelancing three years ago, she was director of marketing for a digital marketing agency. She dreamed of traveling full time, which prompted her to strike out on her own.

What types of writers (and personalities) are best suited for working with agencies?

 Caryn: The top attributes are flexibility or having specific expertise in a particular vertical.

Shanna: Agencies want to service their clients and make a profit off you, so you have to deliver economic value. You have to be comfortable being in the background. The agency gets credit for your work, and you won’t be able to put in your portfolio.

What are the biggest pros and cons of working with agencies?

 Caryn: It’s never boring. You get a nice variety of work and, once you’ve established agency relationships, the work comes to you. You have to be organized and able to juggle different assignments. Because you’re billing at an agency rate and not a private client rate, you may make less. The spread is about 20% on an hourly rate and more on a flat rate.

Shanna: You don’t have to sell as much, so it’s a good fit for a writer who doesn’t want to look for work. But agencies do want to cut your rates so they can make more money from you. Shanna sometimes offers two rates: one for white-labeled content and one for content she can include in her portfolio. The spread is about 10-15%.

What pricing model do most agencies use?

 Caryn: Agencies that specialize in websites or Internet marketing typically want flat rate project pricing. Global marketing agencies tend to want an hourly rate.

Shanna: Shanna prefers to work on a flat rate monthly retainer where she bills the client the same amount every month. The retainer is based on a range of hours.

What pricing model do you prefer when hiring subcontractors?

 Caryn: It depends on the assignment. She’ll tell them an hourly rate, with a limit of how many hours they can spend on it.

Shanna: It’s about value. She’ll ask for a quote and then assess whether the project is worth the price. She tries to get freelancers to bill based on up-front value instead of hourly rates.


What would you say are the best ways to attract and land agency clients?

 Caryn: She gets a lot of queries from direct clients and agencies via LinkedIn. She posts quality content to social networks and follows targeted businesses and chimes in when appropriate. She also does a lot of networking.

Shanna: Ask who is the decision maker, what is important to them, how do they make hiring decisions and how do you get in front of them. A targeted approach is important. Among agencies, freelancers can have a reputation for being unreliable or unable to fully complete projects. To work successfully with agencies, you need more than talent. You need good processes and a strong relationship.

How can you leverage specific industry expertise to attract agency clients?

Caryn: If a freelancer has industry expertise that can help the agency win or maintain an account, that’s very valuable. Target agencies that go after clients in your area of expertise.

How do you manage expectations and avoid problems?

 Caryn: Contracts! Spell out your expectations and have the client sign it. Establish your protocols and workflow in advance.

Shanna: She tries to get agencies to conform to her process. If you set expectations at the outset, most agencies will respect them. Review your contract with clients verbally before they sign.

Any parting thoughts or advice?

 Caryn: If you’re a junior writer, start at a large, established agency. If you’re a seasoned writer, go after places where you can add value. Don’t burn any bridges in your market, especially if it’s small.

Shanna: Figure out the value that you bring to an agency and practice communicating that value until you’re confident.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Want More of This Stuff?

Want to get more tips and strategies for boosting your writing income? There are three ways you can enjoy these tips and strategies, share them with friends and help me grow this movement to banish the starving writer syndrome:

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Finally, if you have a question you’d potentially like answered on a future show —or if you’d like to be considered as a guest for a future episode — please let me know: ed at b2blauncher dot com.

Thanks again for your support!

Till next time,


  • Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you, Ed. I hope our paths cross again soon.

    • edgandia

      Thank YOU for sharing such great advice, Caryn!

  • Ryan C. McKay

    Great stuff- there are a lot of misconceptions as to what agencies are and what they are not!

    • edgandia

      Agreed! I know I learned a lot from what these ladies shared. Thanks for your comment and for checking out the show, Ryan.

  • Ed, thank you for this valuable podcast episode. Your podcast is one of only 2 others that I listen to religiously. I’m CMO of a company but looking to branch out on my own consulting work full-time. Your podcast has been invaluable to both my company and my consulting efforts.

    I will definitely check out Caryn … we are fellow New Jerseyans!

    • edgandia

      Oh, awesome! Thanks for the kudos, Mike. Great to hear you’re getting value from the show. Thanks for listening and for letting me know. 🙂

  • Susan Anderson

    Ed, loved the explanation of the pros and cons of working with an agency. I always have this conversation with writers who work for my firm. Seems important for writers to understand that while it’s nice to have projects sort of fall into their laps, not have to worry about whether they’ll get paid, and not have to do customer care, all of those benefits come at the cost of making lower rates.

    I used to feel funny about charging more than my writers charged me (haha – I know), until I realized that as the business owner, I was taking all the risk, doing all the marketing, doing the project management, doing the client care, etc. It still works out to be a win for everyone involved: the client gets great content quickly, the writers get steady work at decent rates, and I never have to worry about being too busy to write the projects these clients need (I could never do it all alone!).

    Keep up the great work on your podcasts!!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for your comment, Susan! Yours is a great perspective from someone on the hiring side. And you’re absolutely right — it’s a win/win/win in the right situations. Thanks for your kudos and encouragement! 😉

  • Pat Menchan

    Just came across this episode while doing a Google search. It is gold – which is why I’ve been following you all these years! Somehow, I knew you’d have a post on this. Thanks for your great work! 🙂