If the best strategy for mixing in-house content with various outsourced options was the same for every company, this article would be a lot shorter. However, your company's resources and goals determine the best content strategy.
I sometimes have the following conversation with people, though generally not in exactly these words:
Now, this is where the conversation diverges. Very rarely, the conversation continues with:
More often, however, the conversation continues with:
I wrote this article to explore the most common outcomes of this conversation. There are links at the end of each section if you think you've found a good fit. Feel free to contact me with any questions this article doesn't answer, I'd love to hear from you and potentially make a recommendation for your business's needs.
Do It In-House
Writing your own content takes lots of time but little to no money. You also have the most control over topic selection, tone, style, schedule, everything.
The tradeoff is that you have to do it yourself, where "it" is not just writing but also planning, editing, graphics, publishing, and distributing. Don't let this discourage you. You DO NOT need to have a complete content strategy to start publishing content! Content without a strategy is much more valuable than a strategy without content.
If your only option is doing it yourself, first ask yourself if writing content is the best thing to spend your time on for your business. If there are more pressing needs, content can wait.
If you have the money to outsource content but could also do it yourself, instead ask: is content written by you going to uniquely move the needle, and do you have better stuff to work on plus the funds for an agency?
For my own website, obviously, I write my own content. After all, it's named after me.
If you have employees, the question is the same. If you're paying an engineer to write your technical content, there should be a strong business justification for why it needs to be handled in-house rather than brought to an agency to let your employees focus on product.
I'm not saying you shouldn't write your own content. Often, the most successful and impactful content is written by startup owners, senior engineers, and other people close to the systems they're writing about. I think that every software engineer becomes better at coding by writing about it. Writing your own content is a great way to get started and inject authenticity into your technical content marketing.
If you're planning to write for a developer audience, check out my book: Writing for Software Developers.
Run a Community Writer Program
Running a community writer program balances investments of some time and some money. Technical content marketing roughly breaks down into two activities: the actual writing and everything else.
With a community writer program, you outsource the actual writing while building an in-house system for editing and publishing.
For examples of community writer programs, go to Who Pays Technical Writers and look at a few publications.
The challenge for community writer programs is finding capable, reliable freelance writers who are interested in your product. Getting listed on sites like mine helps (it's totally free, just email me the details) but attracting strong writers is much easier when you pay top-of-market rates and have clear expectations on a "write for us" page.
A side benefit of a community writer program is that it can produce more organic engagement with your product and company. When writers publish with you, they'll promote the post (and thus your company) to their audience. They'll be more likely to choose your product for projects they're involved with. If you send them a T-shirt with your logo on it, they might wear it to the gym.
Alternately, if running a community writer program is a bit much, you may want to work with one or a few dedicated freelancers. If you can find the right people, that's great, but if you're going that route, an agency is probably a better bet.
Hire an Agency
Agencies cost the most money and take the least time (which may save you money overall as employees are expensive and your time is valuable). A good agency will handle both the writing and the "everything else" of a technical content marketing operation. You need someone to spend an hour a month talking to the agency and an hour a week validating the work, tracking metrics, and hitting publish.
Depending on your needs and budget, you can get started with an agency for as little as $1,500 per month, and if you can invest up to ten times that as a larger company, you can quickly build up an enviable library.
Some agencies offer other marketing services as a value-add, while others depart from the traditional article format and can help you with everything from lead-gen ebooks to documenting your API.
If you think an agency would be a good fit for your company, send me an email to email@example.com with a bit of information about your company and budget, and I can refer you to the agency that I think would be the best fit for your needs. If you prefer to talk it out, you can grab 30 minutes on my calendar.
The Right Mix for You
For almost every company or team, the right answer is going to be a mix that evolves over time. Maybe your co-founder writes a major post once a quarter that headlines the blog while an agency fills out most of the content. Maybe you decide to hire a part-time freelancer to take point on narrative documentation and set aside the blog. Maybe you find that a community writer program is great for fostering community and encourages your internal engineers to get involved too.
What matters is that you're putting out legitimate, useful, and relevant content and the right people are finding it.