Digital Marketing Agency, Freelancer or In House - Which to Choose?

Sooner or later, as your business grows, you are going to need some outside assistance and one of the primary areas in which businesses often need help is with their digital marketing. Generally, businesses don’t have the in-depth digital marketing expertise and experience necessary for success in today’s increasingly competitive market places. So what can they do?

  1. Recruit their own in-house digital marketing expertise.>
  2. Hire an agency.
  3. Employ appropriate freelancers.

Here’s a side-by-side summary of key comparisons.

In House Agency Freelancer
Expertise Low High Varied
Experience Low High Limited
Marketing Tools Limited Professional Limited
Recruitment Costs High Low< Low
Ongoing Costs High Medium-High Low-Medium

Here follows further examination of the pros and cons regarding each approach.

In House Expertise

Recruiting appropriately qualified and experienced digital marketing experts and building an in-house team is perhaps something to consider. Another related option is to undertake training of existing staff to raise their digital marketing skills levels.

The benefits of hiring and developing relevant in-house expertise include:

  • Your in-house people will be exclusively focused on your business and your website.
  • Your staff are immersed in your business and have a stake in your business success.
  • Communications and interaction is easy with in-house people./li>

But alongside these potential benefits there are many additional negative considerations. For example, if your business can afford to hire just one digital marketing expert it is highly unlikely they will be expert in all aspects of digital marketing. Here are some additional points to consider regarding the recruitment of in-house digital marketing personnel.

  • Staff recruitment is costly, time consuming and fraught with pitfalls.
  • Training new and existing staff takes time and expense.
  • Hiring an in house SEO expert, for example, will not necessarily help with all aspects of your digital marketing. Many digital marketers are specialised in one or two key areas such as SEO or content marketing.
  • To fulfil all of your digital marketing activities may require multiple new recruits.
  • You will need to budget for ongoing salaries which are attractive to top quality candidates.
  • Dealing with unsatisfactory staff can be difficult.
  • If you are a small business there may not be enough work to keep your new staff fully occupied.
  • Your new staff need to be managed which demands time and resources.

The costs involved in finding, recruiting and training in-house digital marketing and SEO experts tend to make other options more cost effective. In addition to the in-house staffing costs you will need to consider the digital marketing enterprise software needed to support your strategies and campaigns, which can cost many thousands.

An option that is worth consideration would be to recruit a digital marketer who is a generalist with broad experience. Their role would be to work closely with an outsourced service provider, such as an appropriate, small agency. Alternatively, an existing staff member who has some relevant skills and keen interest might be trained to undertake the in-house role.

Digital Marketing and SEO Agencies

When it comes to digital marketing agencies you need to understand that there are various ‘types’ of agency. Broadly they can be categorised as:

  • Specialised digital marketing agencies
  • Full-service agencies.
  • Hybrid agencies.

Digital Marketing Channels

Digital marketing is a top level term which encompasses a range of marketing activities and approaches. Here’s a list of key digital marketing categories with brief descriptions of each.

  • Search engine marketing (SEM). The term ‘search engine marketing’ refers to all marketing activity that’s intended to bring more traffic from search engines. This encompasses both SEO and PPC.
  • Search engine optimisation (SEO). Search engine optimisation is all about gaining prominence in the organic search results and attracting valuable, natural visitors who click on your high ranking pages.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC). Pay-per-click refers to programmes such as the Google AdWords system. Pay-per-click marketing requires expertise in paid search advertising.
  • Social media marketing (SMM). Social media marketing uses various social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Relevant expertise is required including knowledge of the advertising services provided by various social media platforms.
  • Content marketing. Content marketing involves the creation of web content which is appealing, valuable and authoritative. Content marketing requires creative skills and outreach capabilities.
  • Email marketing. Email marketing is a form of direct marketing that involves sending offers, newsletters and other information via email. Skill and expertise is needed when designing emails that will be opened and offers that will be clicked.
  • Website design and management. While website design and management isn’t dedicated to marketing it plays a very important role. An optimal website that offers fantastic user-experience is fundamental to online marketing success.
  • App development. Mobile software application development isn’t entirely focused on marketing, but it plays an important part.

Specialised Digital Marketing Agencies

Specialised digital marketing agencies or ‘niche’ agencies tend to be focused upon one or a number of specific digital marketing channels in which they have experience and expertise. For example you can find specialised SEO agencies and PPC agencies.

Here are some of the likely benefits you can derive from hiring a specialised digital marketing agency.

  • Specialised agencies tend to be highly expert in their specific fields.
  • Specialised agencies are highly familiar with the techniques, tools and trends related to their digital marketing channels.
  • Specialist agencies will have tools and resources that are relevant to their digital marketing channels.
  • Agencies that specialise in specific channels (e.g. SEO) share experiences and expertise between staff members, raising overall levels of knowledge.
  • The specialist knowledge and capabilities offered from these agencies will far exceed what’s on offer from non-specialised agencies.

But there are some important downsides to partnering with a specialist agency that you need to be aware of.

  • A specialised digital marketing agency will not be able to provide what’s required across multiple digital channels.
  • A specialised PPC agency, for example, might overly focus on paid search when other digital channels are more relevant to a business.
  • Using specialised agencies would potentially require multiple agencies to meet all digital marketing needs.

It’s worth keeping in mind that many specialised agencies are not restricted to just one marketing channel. They might typically offer services across a range of related channels such as: SEO, PPC, SMM and content marketing.

Full-Service Agencies

A full service digital agency can deal with all aspects of an organisation’s online digital presence. This would potentially include:

  • The business website.
  • Various business social media channels (Facebook, Instagram etc.)
  • The businesses video channels on Youtube and elsewhere.
  • Search engine optimisation.
  • Paid search advertising.
  • Content creation and marketing.
  • Email marketing.
  • ECommerce performance.
  • Customer experience optimisation.
  • App development.
  • Radio and TV advertising.
  • Offline and print advertising.

An important benefit in working with an experienced, expert full-service agency is that they can do everything for you and they are in touch with all aspects of your digital marketing strategy. They might, for example, be working on a new website design that’s informed by SEO whilst at the same time running PPC, SMM and Email marketing campaigns.

Using a full-service agency offers a number of benefits.

  • They have broad knowledge and experience across multiple channels.
  • Integrated teams of channel experts support cohesive, multi-channel digital marketing campaigns.
  • Dealing with just one agency supports communications efficiency and accuracy.
  • Brand messaging is consistent across all channels.
  • Information gathered from one area can be beneficially and easily shared with others (e.g. between PPC and SEO).
  • Working with a single agency can be more cost effective.

But there are some potential downsides to look out for.

  • Expertise and experience may be weak in some areas.
  • Staff turnover in larger agencies can be quite high.
  • Communications may be slowed by the need to deal with an account manager.>
  • Agencies may be inflexible regarding working hours.
  • They may be genuine experts in some areas but novices in others.

Hybrid Agencies

Hybrid agencies tend to be creative agencies which have introduced digital production capabilities alongside other services. A hybrid agency may have started out as a traditional creative agency and then built digital expertise in order to offer full-service capabilities.

The pros and cons that apply to full-service agencies also apply to hybrid agencies. It is perhaps important to examine the history of an agency to discover the areas in which they have expertise and experience.

Agency Size

An important consideration when evaluating prospective digital marketing agencies is their size. Large agencies with lots of staff, big offices and long client lists full of huge corporations may not be the ideal choice for a small to medium sized enterprise (SME). It is entirely possible that a small business may not get the attention it needs when there are far more valuable accounts demanding attention from the agencies experts.

Why You Need a Small Agency

If you run a small or medium sized business then partnering with an experienced small digital agency is most likely to be the best way to meet your needs, here’s why.

A small agency for which you are a significant client will be much more responsive than a large agency where your account is of lower importance. If you are working with a small agency that is providing SEO and PPC services then you will most likely be able to speak directly with the SEO and PPC experts who are working on your campaigns. Whereas, if you are working with a large agency your point of contact will be your account manager. The specific consultants dealing with your SEO and PPC might also be managing SEO and PPC for many other clients who may be more demanding of their time and more valuable to their business.

Another aspect of responsiveness is that a small agency is better able to immediately respond to changing needs and demands. For example, you might suddenly recognise an opportunity to run a potentially valuable email campaign. A small, agile agency is more likely to be able to respond to this immediate need than a large agency where resource allocation would need to be changed, approved and signed off.

Small agencies are much more able to be flexible. They are more likely to happily tailor their services to meet your specific needs rather than force your organisation to use a template based digital marketing approach. Another aspect of flexibility is that smaller agencies are more likely to change their working hours to fit in with you.

Smaller agencies can be hot-beds of creativity. A small group of experts working together across multiple digital disciplines, sharing ideas about your account and how to strategise for success is likely to be far more beneficial than the silo-based teams that exist in larger agencies.

Large agencies that work with well known, big brands tend to charge high fees. Small agencies with lower overheads who tend to deal with other small to medium sized enterprises are able to offer great digital marketing services at far lower costs.

Digital Marketing Freelancers

Finding and hiring the right freelancer may be the answer to your need for digital marketing expertise. Freelancers tend to have lower overheads so they are able to sell their services at lower rates than many agencies.

Another important benefit when working with freelancers is their flexibility. Unlike agencies, which often tend to work during the normal 9 to 5 working hours, freelancers are able to work outside of these hours and are often happy to do so.

A further significant benefit when working with freelancers is that you are interacting directly with the person responsible for carrying out the defined work. There are no account managers and no delays in communication making the process much more efficient.

But there are some important downsides to keep in mind when thinking about working with freelancers.

  • A digital marketing freelancer is likely to be specialised in one key area. For example SEO, paid search or maybe content marketing.
  • Freelance digital marketers primarily work with small to medium sized enterprises so they may not have the desired experience with larger organisations.
  • A freelancer may not have in depth knowledge and experience in your market sector.
  • A freelancer may not have access to the expensive, high quality, enterprise level digital marketing software suites used by many agencies.
  • Finding the right freelancer who has all of the required attributes can be time consuming.
  • A freelancer has a limited amount of time to dedicate to projects, especially if they work with multiple clients
  • Freelancers have trouble with scaling, as they are usually individuals and do not have extra resource to call upon when needed.
  • Another important point to keep in mind is that every freelancer is likely to promote themselves as an expert. So you may need to trial several before you find the right one who has genuine expertise.

Making the Right Choice

Deciding on the best way to fulfill your businesses digital marketing needs is not an easy task. As we have highlighted here, there are many considerations that need to be borne in mind and making the wrong decision can be both costly and have a high impact on your business development.

A safe and recommended way forward is to talk to friendly, helpful people who have already helped many small and medium sized enterprises move forward successfully with their digital marketing plans.

Daniel Bianchini

Author Daniel Bianchini

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