If you are looking to scale up your marketing, you will need talented people that can take charge of and execute your strategy.
But should you build your own in-house marketing team or hire an agency partner?
There are compelling reasons for both, and it mostly depends on your situation.
Read on to find out which decision is better for you.
The Benefits of Working With a Digital Marketing Agency
Digital agencies are companies that help other businesses perform a specific function such as marketing, development, or design.
They act as a substitute for an in-house team, serving the same labor function but outside of the organization.
They typically specialize in certain areas, depending on how big their team is and what expertise they have.
Other ways to think about digital agencies are as an outsourced team or in some cases a group of freelancers working together.
Here are the benefits of working with a digital marketing agency:
Digital marketing agencies are more likely to have deeper expertise when it comes to a specific role or industry. This is because they most likely specialize in a certain area or have worked with clients in your space before.
Specialty – Most agencies specialize in one or two things, such as content marketing or performance advertising. Combined with the fact that they provide these services to multiple clients, it is likely that any given agency has a high level of competence and expertise in their domain.
Industry insights – Agencies can work with dozens of clients at a time. Chances are, they’ve worked with a company in a similar situation or industry as your own.
When you hire an agency, you are not just hiring one person. You are hiring a whole team and their network, which can sometimes be ten or more people.
Although you may be hiring an agency to help you with SEO, you may find that they have team members that can help advise on producing content or even designers that can help improve your user experience.
This provides benefits such as:
More perspective – A diverse team can help solve problems faster. Diversity allows teams to see things from different perspectives and come up with creative solutions.
Flexibility – It may be the case that you need to expand into a different marketing channel or adapt your strategy based on a changing environment. Agencies give you more flexibility with your strategy, so if social media isn’t working you can easily change to something else.
Scaling a business isn’t easy. Two of the key challenges that come with scaling are getting the right talent and getting enough new customers.
Using the right digital marketing agency can help alleviate these two key scaling challenges.
On the talent side, you won’t need to think about having to find and hire senior marketing people. You won’t have to build out a management structure for that department either.
When scaling your growth, it’s simply a case of double downing on what’s already working with your agency and fully exhausting that marketing channel. If at some point that marketing channel stops working, you can simply leverage your agency’s diversity to test out new channels.
When hiring in house, it can be hard to accurately vet the quality of the hire. For a start, it can be hard to validate the accuracy of the claims on their resume.
References can be useful, but employers typically stay on the safe side and give a positive reference to avoid any potential legal trouble.
Agencies have it a bit different, however, and clients are very transparent and vocal if an agency has underperformed.
You can easily find and read client reviews about a particular agency on websites such as Trustpilot before deciding to work with an agency.
The dynamic between working with an agency and hiring an employee is very different.
An employee understands that they are part of a chain of command. This means that it is unlikely they will be thinking on a strategic level unless they are part of senior management.
A digital marketing agency is different in that they work with you as a partner. So in many ways, you aren’t paying for an extra team of employees, but more so a marketing partner or even co-founder.
This enables the following benefits:
Results-driven – Your agency partner knows that if they don’t deliver results, you won’t have a working relationship for much longer. This means that the incentives are properly aligned and there is an urgency to make things happen.
Strategic insight – Your digital marketing agency will come in with an outside perspective. This will help you see problems that you didn’t know even existed. They will also be thinking on a much higher level about how to really grow your business.
The Pros of Going In House
Building an in house team will make sense in some cases, and comes with a few benefits. As a general rule, in house teams provide greater control with a tighter, more focused team.
They Believe In The Mission
When hiring in house, your success will largely depend on how you attract and select potential hires. Finding the right fit for your organization is key.
Assuming you get the hiring process right, you will ideally be working with people who truly believe in your company and your mission.
The right employee will be more invested on an emotional level more than any agency partner as they are fully immersed in your company’s journey.
Engagement – Highly engaged employees can be one of the most powerful tools a business has. A high level of engagement means that your employees are likely to go above and beyond to help the business succeed, be that through working extra hours or solving difficult problems.
Talent cultivation – There is no guarantee that you will retain your employees, but if done right you can cultivate your own all-star team. This of course will take many years of active investment, but you could potentially build a powerful team organically.
Employees Are More Focused
When working with an agency, chances are that the people assigned to your project are likely working with other clients too.
Juggling multiple responsibilities means that the agency you work with may not be able to give you their full brain power, as would be the case of an employee solely working in your business.
But keep in mind that focus may not be enough to get results, and even if an agency is working with multiple clients, they may still have the experience to help achieve your business goals.
Building an in-house team comes with the benefit of your employees being fully immersed in your brand.
This means that they will naturally have a higher level of brand familiarity, and understand why you exist on a more visceral level, compared to an agency.
A digital marketing agency will of course become accustomed to your brand over time, but it will take longer than someone in house.
Customer insight – Better brand familiarity means better customer insight. Your in house team will have a stronger idea of what your customer’s pain points are, what messaging resonates with them and how you can better serve their needs.
Capabilities – Your employees will also have a more realistic assessment of what your business is capable of in relation to marketing and product development. For instance, they will better be able to leverage the different teams in your organization to enhance marketing activities, such as providing salespeople with content.
Hiring in house gives you greater control over the execution of your marketing strategy.
Although it is generally not a good idea to micro-manage (why are you hiring in the first place?), having your own team means that you will have a better oversight of what is happening.
Many agencies don’t offer that close working relationship and typically have their own processes and ideas about the best way to get things done.
Accessibility – Your in house team are always there during working hours. If you are in a physical office space, you get the benefits of much closer collaboration compared to an external agency. But even with remote working, you can easily jump into a meeting with your team as needed.
Flexibility – Typically with agencies, you agree on a scope of work and enshrine it within a contract. It’s hard to deviate from this scope without incurring extra costs and renegotiating. With an in house team, you have more flexibility to change direction, even though you may be constrained by a lack of skills.
When Should You Build an In House Team?
Evolutions in the modern economy has opened up new ways of structuring how we work.
The traditional model of needing employees is being challenged with more flexible arrangements with agencies and freelancers.
But it’s not a one size fits all situation. Depending on your business and current situation, it still may make sense to build an in house marketing team.
Here are three scenarios where building an in house team may make sense.
Scenario 1: Venture Funded
If you have just received a large injection of capital, then you will have the money to attract and build the best possible team.
This is even more relevant for early stage startups who can dish out some equity to potential hires so that they can actively poach top talent from other companies.
Venture funded companies will also be expected to build their own in house team as part of the scaling process, which is a significant reason for receiving the capital in the first place.
Scenario 2: Access to Talent
If you are living in an area where you have access to the best talent, then building an in house team may make sense to you.
Having a robust network or visibility through your personal brand or thought leadership is also a scenario where it would make sense to leverage that to build a great team.
Having access to the right people is one of the main reasons why you would use a digital marketing agency, so if you could bring them onto your team then it makes sense to do so.
Scenario 3: Difficult Market
Some products and markets can be better executed with an in house team. This is particularly true for very niche or sophisticated markets.
Innovative Products – If you are working with a very innovative product that is sold at the enterprise level for instance, chances are you will need very technical people that can help with the sales process. This isn’t something that can be delegated to a digital marketing agency.
Obscure market – Some markets may rely on very specific marketing channels that can’t be scaled in a linear, predictable way. For instance, if you rely on government contracts or seasonal cycles. In these cases, it’s probably better to get in house people who can adapt to your unique circumstances.
The True Cost of Hiring In House
People often have the misconception that hiring an agency is more expensive than hiring in house.
It naturally depends on the agency you hire and the scope of work, but there are a lot of hidden costs when hiring in house that many people don’t consider.
When accounting for hiring the best talent, the cost of building an in house team quickly adds up.
Recruitment cost – First, you have to set aside a budget to actually finding the right person. This includes costs such as ads, networking events, recruitment personnel and so on. There is also the cost associated with not having a role filled, which could take months.
Training and onboarding – Each new employee also has a ramp up time before they reach full productivity. At the beginning, each new hire represents a cost which needs to be taken into consideration.
New software – Consider also the costs of tools that your team may need to do their job such as analytics, communication and HR tools.
Salaries – The biggest cost of employees comes in the form of their salaries. The better the talent the higher the cost.
Retention – A bad hire can really set you back. In the worst case, they may do damage to your brand and stall your marketing operations. But even if it’s simply not a good fit, you already spent a lot of money acquiring them and you are losing money by not having the role filled.
Legal – Employees come with legal consequences. If somebody is proving to be a bad fit after the probation period, it may be difficult to release them.
Whether you go in house or build out your own team will come down to your unique situation.
You will have to consider all the variables such as cost, your market and even your ability to build a great team.
Keep in mind also that it may not have to be a binary decision.
The best route forward may be a combination of some in house hires supplemented with a digital marketing agency.