When building out your marketing function, does it make sense to hire an agency, build your in-house team, or hire freelancers?
It can be difficult to determine the best route for growing your marketing. This article lays out the benefits and downsides of all three of the most common options: in-house, agency, or freelancers.
Making this decision can be difficult, and it can come down to your specific situation many times. This blog intends to inform you of all the possible advantages and disadvantages of the most common options for growing your marketing efforts.
Some of the benefits of hiring a freelance are that they're quick to access, easy to obtain, and onboard. There's little to no recruiting or hiring process. If you need someone who knows how to do copywriting for a specific industry, you can quickly find someone who specializes in that space as a freelancer. This situation often makes sense for one-off projects. If you only need someone for a short amount of time that isn't going to be a long-term investment, hiring a talented freelancer for specific items or projects is wise. Freelancers also give you some flexibility as far as cost goes. Unlike agencies and full-time staff, freelancers you can use once or a dozen times.
The drawbacks are all the opposites of what we just mentioned. They aren't on the payroll; you're not committed to the long term, so things like dependability and turnaround times can waiver based on what other projects they have going on—often causing your specific task or project to be pushed to the back burner. Another con with working with freelancers is they aren't familiar with your brand, product, or service. Based on a few conversations, they're left to figure these things out on the fly. Sometimes, that can be a bit disjointed, especially if you're creating very in-depth specific industry-type content. Leading us to probably the biggest drawback of a freelancer: trying to band together a bunch of freelancers to be your marketing function is ultimately you default to a project manager. Most of the time, those freelancers aren't communicating, interacting, etc. So you're required to play middle person, which often can take time away from where you need to be spending your time.
Next up is In-house marketing. Some benefit to in-house marketing is hiring a full-time team to run your marketing efforts. There are a lot of benefits to having an in-house team. The first is that your team is always working on your brand, understanding your messaging and position, and getting your culture. All those things can benefit your marketing campaigns. The in-house team collaborates on projects, meetings, etc., so the in-house team will understand your brand, product, and service better than any other outsider could. Another benefit of having an in-house team is they are full-time. They are committed to you for 40 hours a week, and you can use that however you see fit. If you have new projects or new things going on, that person is there to handle those things. By being full-time and sitting with the team, there's also the benefit of camaraderie and culture created when people come up with great ideas at happy hour, over lunch, etc.
In the same way, communication is more efficient in-house. When you have an in-house team, your communication is streamlined. If you need something, you can ask for it, and you know they have no outside priorities working against your timeline or projects.
The drawbacks of an in-house team would be that when your job is specific to one company and industry, you can get so far into your role that you forget to look at what is going on in the industry and marketing efforts in general. For example, someone full-time may be so used to the vocabulary, terminology, and data acronyms inside your organization that they forget to consider how people in the marketplace perceive information.
There is also the big downside; cost. You're committing to salary, benefits, taxes, technology, subscriptions, training, and all of the things that go into having a full-time team. There is always a significantly more extended list of expenses with a full-time employee than with freelancers or in-house agencies. Especially when you need various specialists with experience, they often come with a high salary requirement for full-time. Another downside is when you invest in someone full-time on a specific trade and your strategy changes. For example, if you hire someone for paid media and realize paid media isn't a good fit for your goals, you need to shift, but the person in that role doesn't have the new skillset. Now you're left with deciding on letting that person go and having to hire someone again for a new position or investing in training to get the original hire up to speed.
Additionally, the same thing goes in the other direction. If you're trying to scale up quickly, it takes time to interview, recruit, bring people in and get approvals. There's just a bunch of red tape, a longer onboarding process, and a different commitment to hiring full-time employees than freelancers and agencies. Additionally, depending on your needs, the person may need to wear a few hats or possess experience with multiple tasks, which may be hard to find in one individual and will require multiple experts in different fields.
The pros of agency: first and foremost, it costs less than hiring a full-time team, but you still get access to people who are experts in their space. You're not committed to everything we mentioned before, like technology and training, the payroll and benefits, and all the things that come in-house. You get a wide variety of skill sets without paying additional costs and are significantly lower than going with freelance OR in-house. You get access to the expensive, various specialists while trying to grow your business and can't necessarily afford someone full-time. For example, if you want to focus on demand gen and then the next month's scale in media, you can shift the agency's time and resources to be aligned with your goals without losing a huge investment of time or money. There's no onboarding, no recruiting, and you don't have to go through the hiring process every time you want to move quickly on an effort. An agency will usually have someone already on board they can pull in to achieve your goals. It makes things more agile and more strategic in decision making. Unlike freelancers, an agency all works together. They can talk strategy and move from project to project on your account without missing a beat. You're also getting exposure to what works in other verticals or industries as well as a wide array of experts in different disciplines. We could go on and on about the benefits of an agency, but those are the high levels.
Downsides to an agency are often the communication gap. There will always be downtime in reporting, replies, etc., because agencies are working with other clients and need to spend their time accordingly. They often can't drop everything to respond to your email request (unless it's a fire, they should be dropping everything!), but these issues can be addressed in many ways, such as a Slack channel, Whatsapp, weekly meetings, etc. Regardless, agencies are going to be slower to respond than others. Agencies will never understand your industry as you do. And that's fair; clients of agencies are the subject matter experts, and agencies depend on the collaboration WITH their clients to achieve results. That being said, you can try to work with an agency that specializes in your industry.
So there you have it—the pros and cons of each option. And like we mentioned, it comes down to what are your needs? What are you trying to accomplish? A freelancer makes sense if you need a quick short video for one project. If an established company with a runway to scale slowly, an in-house team makes sense for you. And if your organization needs access to a whole spread marketing team without the slow processes and high costs, then an agency makes the most sense in that scenario.