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It’s obvious to anyone in business that an effective marketing strategy, and a way to implement it, is vital to growth.
But businesses often face dilemmas on how to manage their marketing needs. Especially if you’ve been DIYing, and you’re at the point where you know you need some help. Should you hire a full-time marketing manager, engage a freelancer, or contract a marketing agency?
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Each of these options has its unique benefits and potential drawbacks. If you’re trying to choose, you’ll want to think about various factors including budget, business size, industry, and your specific marketing needs.
In this post, we delve into each option, providing you with a comprehensive comparison that will help you make an informed decision.
One of the first signs that a small business needs external marketing help is a consistent lack of growth and low customer retention. DIY marketing can often get you started well, but then you plateau. If your business finds itself in a continual struggle to attract new customers or maintain existing ones, it’s likely that your marketing strategies aren’t optimal.
Another key indicator is feeling overwhelmed. As a small business owner, you’re wearing multiple hats. And if your marketing hat is on your head far more than you’d like, you’ll feel stressed, because you won’t be focusing on actually running your business in the way you’d like.
Realising your own lack of expertise can also be a sign that you need external help. Marketing is a complex field that encompasses a variety of areas, including digital marketing, content creation, SEO, and social media management. Trying to learn about and do all of these is hard, if not impossible in the long term.
Finally, if your marketing strategy just isn’t working, you probably need some support. A good marketing campaign should generate leads and convert them into paying customers. If this isn’t happening, then it’s a strong sign that you need help with your marketing strategy.
Hiring a marketing agency can seem daunting, but it has several advantages for small businesses.
First, it provides access to a team of experienced professionals who have the expertise and knowledge in every aspect of marketing (whereas a freelancer might only have deep knowledge of one). This usually means cutting-edge strategies, and better results.
Hiring an agency can be the best way to free up your time so you can focus more on running your business. The agency should be able to handle everything with minimal involvement from you, allowing you to concentrate on everything else that needs doing day to day. If you use a freelancer or hire a manager, you’ll still need to manage them.
Many small businesses are put off hiring an agency by the cost. And it’s true that marketing agencies aren’t always the cheapest option. But any good agency should be able to give you a clear idea of the ROI you can expect. We always do this at Traffic Radius, because most of our clients are smaller businesses.
Almost any small business can benefit from hiring an agency, but there are some situations where it makes perfect sense.
One is where you’re looking to scale or move into new markets. Perhaps expanding into new areas if you have a physical presence, or developing a new service. The expertise and broad perspective of a marketing agency can be invaluable here, as they’ll have helped many others do this before.
Another is when you want to run a complex marketing campaign but lack the in-house resources or expertise. Even if you were to hire a marketing manager, you’ll need to be able to brief them and work with them – which can be hard if you don’t have the expertise yourself.
A marketing agency can also be very helpful if you’re rebranding. Many small businesses start out with a DIY brand that they outgrow. It’s important to get it right 2nd time around, and a marketing agency has the ability to provide a strong, branded website based on audience data rather than assumptions.
If you’re a small businesses that’s growing, or with capacity for growth that you want to realise, then a marketing agency can often be the best and most effective option. And you should see ROI relatively quickly.
Hiring a full-time marketing manager for a small business can seem like an attractive option. It means you have someone on tap, as part of your team, who can handle all your marketing in-house.
One of the key benefits is the in-depth understanding of the business that a full-time manager can develop. Being embedded in your team, they get to know everything there is to know about your culture, values, products, and customers. This deep knowledge can make it natural for them to create a marketing strategy that aligns perfectly with your business’s ethos and objectives.
A dedicated marketing manager can focus solely on you and your marketing needs. If they’re good at what they do, this can be a great way to get consistent messaging, quicker decision-making, and easy collaboration. That said, it’s worth noting that a good agency should be able to provide all of this too.
Then there’s the fact that a full-time marketing manager will rarely be able to provide the same broad perspective and diverse experience that an agency can.
Cost can also be an issue. When you hire a full-time marketing manager, you’ll have to pay their salary as well as benefits, equipment, and training. Once hired, you have little flexibility on this. Which is especially problematic if you find that you don’t need a full-time marketing resource.
Hiring a full-time marketing manager can be a good solution if you’re experiencing rapid growth. If this is the case, you might find that you need a dedicated marketer working with you in house, where they can easily adapt your strategy as you grow.
You might even find that you have a need for both a marketing manager and an agency. Even the largest businesses will often hire agencies alongside their in-house marketers, to provide skills they lack or extra capacity at busy times.
Hiring a freelancer can seem like the obvious choice for small businesses. They’re usually very flexible compared to other options, and work on a project basis. This means you’re not tied into a commitment and can simply use their services when needed. This can make them highly cost-effective.
They can also bring a breadth of experience from working across different industries and clients, which can bring new ideas into your marketing strategy.
However, the drawbacks must also be recognised. Freelancers may be juggling numerous clients simultaneously, which can affect their availability and response time. Their understanding of your business and brand might not be as deep or holistic as a full-time employee or agency, which can make their work less effective. Continuity can also be an issue, because if a freelancer decides not to renew a contract, you’ll be left to find a replacement at potentially short notice.
There are several scenarios where hiring a freelancer can be a good choice for your small business.
One is where you need experience in a niche area that does not justify the cost of a full-time hire. This could include SEO, social media management, or copywriting. It’s worth noting here that many marketing agencies will also be able to provide this kind of targeted, expert help – as we do at Traffic Radius.
Another is where you are growing quickly and you need help on board fast, especially if you want someone to work with you in-house. It takes much more time to onboard a new employee, and while marketing agencies can also often onboard fast, they won’t usually be able to provide someone to work with you in your offices as a freelancer can.
Another potential benefit of using a freelancer is that you’ll get all the flexibility you need, while developing a working relationship with a single person. Many agencies will also provide something similar, where you’ll have one point of contact, but not all do – it’s worth asking this question if you’re comparing agencies with potential freelancers.
Finally, small businesses operating on tight budgets will often want to use freelancers as they tend to be the cheapest option. However, it’s worth weighing up the relative costs of all three options with the likely outcomes. An agency might be more expensive, but they might also be more likely to deliver ROI, for example.
If you choose to hire a full-time employee, you’ll not only need to pay their salary and benefits such as their pension, you’ll need to provide a workspace and resources. This makes them a significant investment that you need to commit to long term.
Agencies will naturally not need you to provide any physical resources, and there should not be any hidden costs, as there can be with employees. They might seem like a more expensive option, but look for an agency that’s dedicated to small business and you might find they’re more affordable than you think.
Freelancers are usually the most cost-effective option on the face of it, as they only charge for the work done and require no additional benefits or resources. But be careful – as they’re working alone, the risk that they won’t deliver results is higher than it is with an agency.
Full time employees offer little flexibility in terms of your contract with them, but they might provide a good degree of flexibility in terms of their ability to respond to events, since they’re working directly with you full time.
Freelancers offer more flexible contracts than either of the other options, and can have flexible availability (though not always).
Agencies will usually use a contract, which limits flexibility in one sense. However, because they have a wide range of knowledge and skills in house, they’re the most flexible and responsive option in terms of being able to adapt their work to your needs.
Expertise varies hugely, making it hard to compare.
Full-time employees can become experts in their specific roles over time, and agencies often have a team of experts in multiple fields.
Freelancers vary greatly in expertise, with some offering specialist skills in niche areas. It’s essential to verify their expertise though, through past work samples and references.
There’s no right or wrong answer. But (as you might expect), we believe that for most small businesses, most of the time, an agency is likely to produce the best results. And to provide the right balance of flexibility, affordability and expertise.
Agencies like ours come with a team of seasoned experts, each with their own specialism. They learn from each other and their collective knowledge and experience can prove invaluable, especially if you want to create strategies that cut across different disciplines (such as a joint PPC/SEO campaign).
Plus, hiring a marketing agency can be cost-effective in the long run. Think what putting together an in-house team with similar competence and versatility to an agency would cost – it would be impossible for most small businesses, and much more expensive than agency fees.
Finally, engaging an agency means you stay focused on your core work. There’s no need to manage anyone – you can simply hand it all over to the agency and let them get the leads and revenue flowing.