In-house, agency or freelance marketing?

A small business which needs marketing support normally has three options available to them:

  • You can employ a marketer to work in-house
  • You can work with an agency
  • Or you can use a freelancer

An in-house marketer is employed by your company. You’ll have access to this person at any time during work hours. They will really get to know the business and they will grow with the business. This is one of the most expensive options, especially if you have multiple team members.

An agency is a company that does your marketing on an outsourced basis. You will work with their team, who are usually experts in their area. You probably won’t have the option to choose who you work with. Agencies work with a number of clients and you could be asked to commit to a long-term retainer contract.

A freelancer is an individual who works with you for a number of days or deliverables per month or for a set project. You will work with one person, and they are usually flexible with their time but that sets limitations to their support. This is often the most cost-effective option but the most difficult to scale.

I work mostly alone, occasionally bringing in outside support for design and development. Sometimes that’s a great fit for a client, and sometimes I’ll recommend hiring in-house or working through an agency. What’s going to work for your business depends on a wide variety of factors. Here are some options to consider:

1. Why do you need a marketer?

Businesses usually decide that they need to start marketing when they have more interest than they can handle, or they need to drum up some more interest. If your product is absolutely outstanding or you have been relying on word of mouth, you have probably needed very little marketing until now. Perhaps a shiny new competitor (or a global pandemic) has come along and now you need help.

If your business is brand new, an experienced freelancer specialising in start-ups would be a good fit. You can do a trial for three to six months and see how it goes. If you want to transition to a permanent member of staff in the future, the freelancer can help you recruit and support the transition. If you get a marketer who’s a coach or a mentor, they could even mentor your new recruits for a few months.

If you are expecting fast growth and need a lot of help, try an agency. They will have many team members to scale up and down as you need. And if you do decide to grow a team, you can do this alongside your agency.

2. What do you need a marketer to do?

Do you need somebody to come in and work on your strategy with you? Do you need somebody to look at your customer groups and figure out the direction of the company? Do you need events management support? Do you need PR? Do you need somebody who can take orders and do admin?

Unsurprisingly, one person can’t do all of these things. Consider the output and support you need:

  • Is there a lot of marketing admin?
  • Do you need support for a short-term project, or ongoing support?
  • Do you need strategic support? Is this ongoing, or just to set a strategy that somebody else can implement?
  • Do you need specialist skills, such as SEO, design or knowledge of a particular sector?

If your in-house marketing team is going to be a team of one, you will get more value from bringing in an all-rounder, bringing in specialist or short-term support when it’s needed. If there isn’t enough work for an in-house all-rounder, or budgets are limited, a freelancer would be a better fit.

3. What’s your budget?

Let’s say you have a budget of £20,000. Here’s how you could use this:

  1. Hire a full-time marketing assistant
  2. Hire a mid-level agency on retainer
  3. Hire an experienced freelancer for one day per week

A small budget might be the perfect fit for somebody to run your marketing in-house. But don’t assume it restricts you from bringing in outside expertise. For the same cost, an agency or freelancer can do the work a lot quicker with less hand-holding.

4. Which skills and how much experience do you need?

This is links to your budget and the outputs you need, but it’s something to consider. A specialist skill can be easier and cheaper to hire through an agency or a freelancer. If you get an in-house marketer, a generalist will cover multiple marketing skills to an acceptable level for most businesses.

5. How much of your own time and effort do you need to put in?

Hiring a marketer and seeing them grow and make an impact is incredibly rewarding. It’s also incredibly time consuming. If marketing is going to be a big part of your business going forwards, then invest in a team and hire a full-time marketer.

However, if you need someone to just get things moving and take things off your plate, look at an agency or a freelancer. The main difference being; with an agency you’re going to work with a team and with a freelancer you’re working with one person. So, if you want the flexibility of an agency, but a single point of contact, a freelancer ticks both of those boxes.

Here to help

A good agency or freelancer will have an honest conversation with you about the type of support you need. Most of us have a wide network of freelance and agency contacts.

If you’ve looked at what I do and want to have an open chat about whether I’m a good fit for you, just ask. If we aren’t the right fit, chances are I can recommend somebody who is.