Agency vs. Freelance vs. In-House

“I work at an advertising agency.”

^This is an invitation for further conversation. If you’d rather snuff the small talk, try “I work on computers.” Everyone works on computers. Nobody cares.

Reserve “I work at an advertising agency” for business owners, where the probability of productive discussion is significantly higher. They always bite.

“I hate our website” means “How can I get / where can I find a better one?”

“Our social media isn’t very engaging” means “How do I get people to interact?”

“I know SEO is important, but I still don’t get how it works” means “Tell me what’s important / only what I need to know.”

Some of them will flat out ask if your agency can help or if you freelance. The answer to at least one of those questions is probably, “Yes.” If you feel as though the partnership would be mutually beneficial, then you should start working together.

But sometimes it’s not a good match. It could be any number of things. Maybe they don’t have the budget. They want hamburgers but you only sell hot dogs. They need to go “find themselves” so they moved to a city hundreds of miles away, but you’re both convinced that you can make it work–until one night she misses your Skype date. Her texts begin to sound more distant. You go a week without talking when out of nowhere she wants to “take a break.” On Facebook, she changes her profile picture to one with some dude named Marcus, but he’s “just a friend” (we’re still talking business here, right?).

Whatever the reason, they may find that they’re happier somewhere else, and you could be the one to help them find that happiness.

I know the right words can be hard to find in the moment. Advice often comes out segmented, jumbled, and with little takeaway value, which is why I decided to make a brief guide explaining three of the most popular options: Work with an agency, find a freelancer, or hire in-house. If you agree and know others who would benefit from reading this post, I’d be eternally grateful if you shared it with them.

 

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Before We Begin: Know What You Want (And Make It Known)

This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it because you wouldn’t believe how often it’s the reason for business-and-agency / freelance / employee break-ups: Know what you want and make it known.

No good marketer can deliver unless you tell them what you want. If you don’t make your goals clear, they’ll assume your definition of success is the same as theirs and structure your campaign accordingly. At Mudd Advertising, we work mostly with car dealers. Unless you say otherwise, we’re going to assume that you want leads, so our focus will be on driving phone calls and form fills. This would be disappointing if your primary objective was brand awareness.

You feeling me? Cool. Moving on…

 

Option 1: The Agency

Good For: Medium-Large Businesses With Equally Sized Budgets
Not So Much: Small Businesses & Bootstrapped Startups
But That's None Of My Business Kermit Meme
Agencies aren’t cheap, and when they are it’s probably because they either A) Automate the work with bots (which is bad) or B) Act as middle men and outsource the work to countries with cheap labor (usually bad). With that said, some agencies will charge you a kidney and still deliver equally crappy service, so remember that price isn’t always an indicator of quality. Good agencies perform at high efficiencies though, and they offer services you won’t find anywhere else. One of greatest benefits of working with an agency is having everything in one place. They know what other teams within the company are doing and collaborate with each other, providing a more holistic and integrated approach to your business’s marketing efforts. Reporting is top notch, and you can rest assured at least one person in the company is an expert at every service they offer.

 

Option 2: The Freelancer

God For: Small Businesses & Bootstrapped Startups
Not So Much: Medium-Large Businesses With Equally Sized Workloads

“I know a person who does [insert service here].” That’s usually how it starts. You need something done and someone you know tells you someone they know does the service you’re looking for. After a few degrees of separation you finally meet and explain what you’re looking to have done. It either goes extremely well and you’re a convert for life, or it goes terribly and you’ll never do it again.

This is how the experience goes for most people. Unfortunately it’s the freelance hobbyists who ruin it for the freelance businesses. It’s not fair, because freelancers are the right solution in a lot of cases. On a tight budget? Most freelancers don’t need an office, which keeps their prices down. Have a one time project? When you’re dealing with the decision maker as well as the implementer, it becomes pretty easy to strike a deal quickly. As long as your needs aren’t too demanding across multiple disciplines, a freelancer should be able to handle most things a small business can throw at them.

 

Option 3: In-House

For businesses and marketers alike, this is often the dream. You want complete and total control to alter your marketing efforts at the drop of a hat, and we want the internal knowledge that can only come from being in the business. But having your own team costs money. A lot of money. Like, Amazon or Disney kind of money.

Since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you don’t have that kind of money (but if you do, we should talk). The alternative is to hire one person and put them in charge of all of your marketing efforts. This doesn’t always go over well. Why? Because most marketers don’t know SEO, SEM, design, and development. The ones that do are chilling on a beach somewhere, sipping a Corona.
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No amount of money can buy these guys, so you’re left with marketers skilled in one particular discipline or fresh college graduates that “want to get a job in social media.” If you’re comfortable knowing that your marketing efforts are heavily one-sided, get an SEO or SEM specialist with at least a little bit of experience in the other. Honestly, this is a pretty good place to be, and is significantly better than a “marketer” that is “good at getting Likes on Facebook.” Likes aren’t profit. You cannot pay for overhead with Likes.

 

Know Who You’re Working With

If you disregard everything I just said, remember this: Know who you’re working with. A crappy marketer is still going to be crappy whether they’re at an agency, freelancing, or in-house; A good marketer will deliver results regardless of where they are. Work with someone you trust. But how do I know if I trust them? How did you learn to trust that your dog wouldn’t destroy everything when you left the house? You left for 5 minutes, not 3 hours. Likewise, start with the small stuff and work your way up.

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