How to Choose Between a Marketing Freelancer or Agency

Tl;Dr

Marketing freelancers are typically a better solution if you’re looking to fulfill a short-term requirement with highly focused subject matter expertise. That’s not to say that an agency can’t provide the same service, but since your needs are a little more focused, you’d likely be working with a single person at any agency anyway.

A marketing agency may be a better solution for those who are looking for an integrated team of resources who can pull off more complex interdepartmental projects or campaigns. Again, that’s not to say that a contractor wouldn’t be able to perform some of the same services, but agencies are typically built to support them.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Why Utilize Outsourced Marketing to Begin With?

Marketing and communication is the “tip of the spear” when it comes to driving growth. Before consumers (or other businesses) will buy your products and services, they need to know who you are, what you do, what differentiates you, and where they can find you. That said, the marketing ecosystem has gotten remarkably complex. Anyone interested in learning about a specific subject matter can usually find information, but the type complex omnichannel storytelling buyers have come to expect usually requires professional expertise.

Use cases for seeking outside marketing help:

Growth focused organizations, like startups, need rapidly scalable expertise to account for shifting strategies. Nonprofits typically run lean, and while they may need ongoing marketing resources, they can’t necessarily afford to bring on a team of them. Even larger organizations sometimes need specialized help in a particular field, where they don't necessarily need to hire ongoing talent.

“To stay responsive, growth-focused organizations, like startups, typically need scalable marketing resources to account for rapidly shifting strategies.”

Marketing freelancers and agencies are both great third-party solutions because they offer a higher level of expertise without the commitment of a full-time hire that allows you, the client, to “punch above your weight”.

Consequently, there’s a thriving economy of marketing pros - from independent contractors to fully integrated teams - just waiting to help you reach your goals. Both marketing freelancers and marketing agencies offer a range of service level expertise, from branding, to digital, to communications, and more. Freelancers and agencies can also focus specifically on departmental subject matter like marketing strategy, marketing technology, marketing operations, etc.

So, how do you decide? Well, there are a couple of important areas where your experience working with a marketing consultant vs a marketing agency will diverge. You’ll want to weigh how important each of them is to you before moving forward. They include:

Project Management

Diversity of Expertise

Depth of Knowledge

Level of Integration

Length of Relationship

The 'Pros' & 'Cons' of Marketing Freelancers

With a bevy of resources (including websites like Upwork, creative staffing agencies, and even mobile applications) that can connect you with the marketing pro of your choice, finding a great freelancer has never been easier. And to be honest, you can find some real talent out there - people who’ve spent time at Fortune 100 companies, worked at an agency themselves, or built a consultancy from the ground up. How cool is that? Here’s a couple things you should know before going in though. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should provide some things to chew on:

Specialization

Freelancers are great when you’re looking for a single, highly specialized extension of your team. It may be someone to run ads, design a landing page, build a press release, et al. At smaller organizations, it may be someone who’s versed in a broader range of skills, like “digital marketing”.

Depth of Knowledge

The marketing ecosystem is enormous. If you find one freelancer who says that they specialize in the whole thing, it probably seems too good to be true because it is. While there are highly skilled “generalists” out there, they tend to be in PM & strategy roles.

Overlap

For example SEM specialists don’t typically overlap with graphic designers, but you’ll need a graphic designer to run display or affiliate ads. Keep in mind that freelancers typically specialize in one thing.

Strategy

Generally speaking, freelancers will be looking to you for business strategy. They are a highly focused resource and you’ll need to drive them. If you get a good one, you shouldn’t have to babysit, but they’re here to do a very specific job and you’ll need to provide the tools to get it done.

Price

Freelancers may (depending on the area of expertise) be a cheaper solution. Since they don’t have to hold up an extra layer of project/relationship management, they can often charge lower rates. Many marketing managers are okay with this, just be sure to understand how that could affect your project.

The 'Pros' & 'Cons' of Marketing Agencies

Far be it from us - obviously a marketing agency - to let you in on the typical agency traps, but we’re all friends here, right?  That said, many of us have worked in both ecosystems and understand the nuances between them at a deep level.

Integration

Marketing agencies - even boutique ones - are integrated machines. They have added layers of project management to help facilitate ongoing interdepartmental objectives that require cooperation between marketing areas. That benefits you in a couple of ways:

Departments, especially in integrated marketing agencies, benefit from a shared knowledge base. For example, when an SEM can reach out and speak with a communication person, it drives better solutions.

You don’t have to manage communications, deliverables, and deadlines between multiple independent contractors who are generally fighting for their own interests, rather than yours.

Breadth of Knowledge

Agencies commonly have existing internal support resources. This helps make sure you don’t have to spend time making sure your freelancer has all the tools they need. For instance and in the previous example, most SEM agencies have at least one or two creatives to help build various ads

Expertise

Marketing agency is essentially a time-share marketing team - many of which have worked with top organizations. Because of that, you’ll gain access to marketing strategy, resources, and expertise at a level that helps you play with much larger competitors.

Access & Reach

Agencies typically have access to a much wider set of tools, relationships, and resources than freelancers. Even though they may not be spelled out on the invoice, more often than not, you end up being the beneficiary of those value added services.

Cost Tolerance

As stated above, marketing agencies can be a bit pricier. Keep in mind what that cost pays for though and make a decision not just on the partner’s ability to perform the work in question, but your time to provide ongoing direction and support.

Agency or Freelancer: The Final Decision

Keep in mind, whether you hire a marketing freelancer or agency, there is no "one size fits all" approach. The partner will need to understand your organizational needs, objectives, and capabilities. You'll be in charge of setting them up for success.

Negative experiences with outsourced marketing more commonly revolve around communication, than output. There’s nothing more frustrating than bringing an otherwise talented person in to fill a key role on your team and have it go South over personality conflicts. You’ll want to make sure that you’re comfortable with their style, that they keep you in the loop, and

Wondering whether you want to hire an internal marketing resource or an agency? We may be able to assist.

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