So, you’ve made the decision to outsource your marketing. Great! But, like so many others, are you left wondering ‘What is better for my small business – a freelancer or an agency?’
Running a business is hard and many small business owners face the extra challenge of splitting time between line management, daily operations, finances, supporting customers, selling and – let’s not forget – finding time to promote the business!
If you don’t want to hire a permanent member of marketing staff, or you simply need an extra pair of hands for a particular project, then outsourcing the work is a great solution for your business. But where do you start?
How do you decide whether to use an agency or freelancer for outsourcing your marketing?
There are already some great articles on this topic where bloggers have drafted some compelling arguments both for and against agencies and freelancers for marketing outsourcing. However, in a bid to remove the stresses of research I plan on presenting this a little differently. I’m going to take a look at some of the most common small business scenarios or marketing requirements and address each one to assess which option is right for you.
One last thing. All of my opinions are based on genuine findings of working with both agencies, for small projects to national campaigns, and independent freelancers or consultants.
Logo design, website build – The full monty
If your business is new you will need a lot of design elements; from logos to websites, business cards to company name. If you are in the early stages of creating a business I would always suggest taking advice and direction from any marketing and, or creative professional – be it freelancer or agency.
A professional can help assess the market in which your business is competing and will therefore create a strong and competitive business identity.
The Agency: Successful agencies have the ability to churn out top notch work. This is largely due to the collaborative approach given to every project. Also, a good agency will attract and retain talent meaning that a single project will be contributed to by a team of marvellous minds.
The Freelancer: Most freelancers specialise in one particular area; whether it’s logo design, social media marketing or copywriting. So if you’re looking for a fully integrated marketing campaign that requires full design and attention across every marketing discipline then an agency might be your best bet.
That said, if you really wanted the very best talent then you could approach individual freelancers for contributions to every aspect of your marketing mix, but this would require a strong knowledge of what is required in the first place, in order to achieve your marketing objectives, and plenty of project management.
On the flip side to this, I have worked with many freelancers who have been able to outsource particular tasks to other freelancers within their circles, managing the entire project from start to finish.
In need of an urgent proofread
We all have deadlines of ‘yesterday’ but sometimes you really, really need help urgently. Whether it’s drafting up a 500 word article, resizing images, help with a presentation or proofreading a pitch, there will always be someone willing and able, but who is most likely to come to your rescue – a freelancer or agency?
The Agency: Agencies will have many different clients on their books and will organise projects and schedules days or weeks in advance. Yes, they can be flexible but if you do not have an established working relationship with the agency you are approaching, the answer will probably be ‘sorry, we can’t do it.’
Also, unless there is a guarantee of continued work, agencies may regard a ‘one off’ job as a bit of lost leader as it will probably take more time to process the request due to internal processes (obtaining client brief, allocating the work, getting it signed off, internal checking, generating invoices) compared with actually doing the work.
The Freelancer: In comparison, the freelancer is free from heavy duty processes and policies and if, like myself, I get the odd call at 4pm – children permitting – I will rarely decline a person in distress. For a freelancer the smaller ‘one off’ jobs are just as important as the larger, on-going projects as these can often be the start of a lasting business relationship. In short, the freelancer is always more likely to have better availability and flexibility.
SEO for my small business
If you are a small business and need your site optimised for better visibility on Search Engines it’s tempting to go with one of the multiple agencies that appear at the very top of your Google search results (you can’t be blamed for trying to save time). But, this isn’t necessarily a testament to their SEO abilities, but more an indication of the large marketing budget available to spend on advertising. Instead, skip past the adverts and see who has been listed in the organic results.
But why wouldn’t you use an agency when they promise:
- Page 1 on Google
- Increased traffic
- Better brand awareness
- Award winning
The Agency: Agencies have a pool of talent; web developers for your technical needs, pro AdWord campaigners and account managers. They will also undoubtedly use sophisticated software to crawl, measure and report on your site. But not so fast!
There are a few downsides to using agencies for SEO.
- Hounded by sales team: Whenever I have shown even the slightest interest in using agencies for SEO in the past I have been bombarded with emails, phone calls and endless ‘pick up’ lines by pushy sales people whose personas lie somewhere in the middle of Wolf of Wall Street and the flirty waiter from your holiday in Faliraki.
- Promise things that can’t be delivered: Sales teams don’t normally have a strong working knowledge of SEO – just theoretical. So, they sometimes find themselves promising things to the client that aren’t technically possible or are extremely hard to implement, upsetting their fellow developers.
- Don’t take the time to get to know your business: Account managers exist to keep the customer happy. Therefore, they will charge ahead with optimising your site for your favourite search terms without looking at your business as a whole. Some agencies do not invest time in getting to know the business, your customers, your future plans and your wider business objectives and so, it’s not often a holistic approach.
- Black Hat Techniques: Because agencies are under pressure to get clients to the top of SERPs and fast, some agencies may employ dodgy tactics (Black Hat SEO) such as paid links, spammy comments on blogs, cloaking, article spinning and even duplicating content, which are all punishable offences by Google and could result in a lower ranking. This is a great article for more information.
- Cost: Because agencies can generally deliver results quickly you will have to pay a premium rate for it. Average prices range from £500 – £3,000+ per month for larger sites.
It goes without saying that not all agencies are the same. However, if you are a new or small business with a limited budget then a freelancer for your SEO might be a better option. I personally charge by the hour (or project budget if you prefer) for specific SEO tasks which are drafted into a personalised report when you request a free initial website health check. Results are produced organically and by looking at your business objectives as a whole, real strategies are suggested for continued growth.
The Freelancer: Freelancers that specialise in SEO will too invest in a tool to carry out audits and monitor progress. I personally use WooRank which is super-efficient, packed full of technical features and helpful insights and has a great SERPs/keyword feature.
Outsourcing marketing on a small budget
On the whole ‘you get what you pay for’. However, in this debate this does not mean that if you spend less on outsourcing your marketing you won’t see a return on investment. Let’s take a look.
The Agency: At the risk of repeating myself agencies tend to be a collection of mixed ability and varying talent that work collaboratively to produce good quality work that will definitely add value to your business. This will mean that you are paying premium prices for other services such as account management, project management, reporting and you may even find a little retention fee on your invoice too. If you go with an agency you will undoubtedly end up paying more.
The Freelancer: Freelancers on the other hand, charge by the project (this will normally involve negotiating a fixed rate for the entire project), by the hour, or charge a day rate. Whilst freelancer rates will vary wildly depending on skill level, experience and specialism, it’s likely that freelancers, with their significantly lower overheads, are the cheaper option.
Blogging, articles and content creation
Publishing regular content is vital for any business with an online presence. Check out the benefits of producing content and other online marketing tactics here. If you are the owner of your business you are, without a doubt, the expert in your field and with so much knowledge and experience your audience will definitely want to hear from you. It is therefore tempting to create the content yourself, however outsourcing this type of work can have a number of benefits:
- Expert bloggers are experienced in distributing content far and wide so it will have a better chance of reaching a larger audience
- An expert will approach blogging with key words in mind to ensure that your blog will get found on search engines
- If writing isn’t your forte then a specialist can create something that is well written and researched in a remarkably short amount of time. It should also adequately reflect your knowledge and business’ tone of voice.
The Agency: There are plenty of agencies that specialise in content marketing offering a huge range of services including, white papers, podcasts, infographics, blog writing, ebooks and more. If choosing an agency for this type of output most will charge a retention fee for managing a continued surge of content, but this is also an advantage. If you wanted to hand over complete responsibility of your content marketing then an agency has far more resources (man power) to manage multiple large accounts and should be able to continually churn out well written, insightful content that leave your audience wanting more.
The freelancer: There are freelancers that will inevitably be able to offer this too however it is more likely that a freelancer will specialise in the production of one particular ‘thing’ or will be willing to lead a campaign over a period of time. On the whole though, most freelancers will have a speciality – blog, article, press release – and will produce the goods on demand, so you will need to have some understanding of what you want, when you want it and where you plan on distributing it.
Hopefully, you are no longer in the dark. If you’re wondering who to outsource your marketing projects to then hopefully you can look at the 5 scenarios above to find your answer. In a nutshell it all boils down to two major factors that most small business or sole trader can identify with.
In my experience small businesses operate in a reactionary environment and therefore need suppliers that can offer a personal, cost effective and flexible service. Agencies that have a lot of clients will struggle to squeeze in what they regard to be sporadic, tit-bits of work because they have a pre-committed schedule. Freelancers, on the other hand have the ability to work flexibly and responsively to your requests (but maybe not at 4am).
Obviously, not all small business will have small budgets but if you weren’t intending on investing a great deal in marketing then freelancers will normally always be a more suitable option. Agencies, like any other business have processes, a tiered account/project management approach to ensure that work is completed on-time while keeping the customer, happy. While they will be proficient in completing the task at hand you will, unfortunately, have to pay for the extra frills.
If you’ve already made the decision to use a freelancer for your marketing then keep your eyes peeled for the next blog from us, which will focus on how to find and select a freelancer for your business.