#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?

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Till next time,