I know that hiring freelancers can be scary...
Agency or freelancer, freelancer or agency? Is this rolling around in your head right now as you try to solve your company's marketing talent conundrum?
You wouldn't be alone. And it's an important decision to make, because it costs money, and if you're concerned about budget, you're already half-way to your answer.
Here are the top reasons as to why you'd want to hire an agency vs a digital marketing consultant (and vice versa)
To learn more about the pros of working with a marketing agency, check out this article: When a Digital Marketing Agency is the Right Choice vs a Consultant
The Pros & Cons of a Marketing Consultant -
There are many reasons why a marketing consultant will be the right choice for your company. The most obvious is the cost, although I don't necessarily mean the overall cost for the deliverable. I just mean general fixed fee costs that agencies typically charge.
But if you're looking for a specific outcome, like lead generation from inbound marketing, you might try the agency route first if you can spend $3,500/month or more. Click HERE to learn more about what inbound marketing entails.
To start, there are two different types of digital marketing consultants: There are the specialists and the "unicorns."
Specialists tend to be very compartmentalized in their knowledge and skills, whereas unicorns can do a bit of everything. That said, even unicorns are typically specialized in their overall methodology. For example, you'll get unicorns who specialize in inbound, and those who specialize in outbound.
There are pros and cons to each, and to using a consultant vs an agency as a general rule.
Pros of either consultant option:
- They're flexible - You don't have to hire them as full-time employees, and you can hire and fire them at a moment's notice.
- They're modular - If you already have a marketing investment in play, you may only need a single skill-set, like blogging or social media marketing. Consultants will be able to plug right into your existing plan without necessarily trying to rewrite how it functions.
- They're typically cheaper & you see where your $ is going - Agencies bill in one of two ways - either a cost-plus arrangement, where they are simply marking up the cost of doing business with you, OR a value arrangement, where they are charging against the ultimate value of their deliverable.With digital marketing consultants, you're paying based on an hourly rate or some sort of flat fee schedule that they create (per blog).
Cons of either option:
- They may not be based in the United States - some freelancers sites like upwork.com will help minimize this, but you also may be drawn to the cheaper off-shore options, which can have major tax implications as well as major quality challenges. I suggest keeping your marketing talent here in the US and paying the premium that they come with. You get what you pay for.
- You have little to no recourse when they disappear - If working through a freelancer website, you don't necessarily lose all of your money, but what happens when the consultant you spent so much time finding and finally liking disappears? What if they get sick or in a car accident...? Or they simply take on too much work, and yours somehow finds its way to the bottom of their priorities?
- They aren't vetted - True, a freelancer website WILL have a stars rating system, but you only get to see what information is available to you, so the high ratings may not even be applicable to your specific job. And they will often provide testing, but testing is biased to the one writing it, and unless YOU plan on taking the test too, you'll never really know what it means to get a good score.
- There is no succession planning, and they WILL eventually leave - When you hire a consultant, regardless of how much they say they LOVE working as a freelancer, they will eventually leave - and they'll do it for a full-time job when somebody makes the right offer.
Then you have to start over. When you do that, your next consultant will have their own way of doing things, which can add to your troubles.
MORE LIKE THIS: Marketing Generalist vs Social Media Consultant
Pros of the "unicorn" option:
Remember, these are the folks who can wear many hats. They have the most desirable skill sets, because they take flexibility to a whole new level, but they're also the most difficult to find and retain.
- Jack of all trades - The most talented unicorns are experts in something, but can also do everything else relatively well. This means that you'll only need to hire ONE consultant vs 2 or 3 or more for the bigger jobs. It also means that they can pivot with the requirements of your business as it grows and your demands change.
- They cut down on overall time required - Agencies harness the skills of many, which means that communication is critical. With your unicorns, since they're doing everything, time and expense can be cut because they only have to communicate with themselves during the creative process. So, you don't necessarily need the transparent delivery system and a few of the other perks that come along with an agency.
- They can work independently - Unlike specialist consultants, your unicorns won't need hand-holding. If there is something missing, they're equipped to figure it out or track down the person with answers.
Cons of the "unicorn option:
- They're expensive - Expect to pay more - quite a bit more, actually, than your typical specialist consultant. They know they're valuable, and they're used to getting paid double and triple for their work. Think about that as you have a unicorn doing something that can easily be trained. To give you some perspective, a unicorn STARTS at $50/hour, and you can pay over $150/hour for the stronger talent out there.
- They're very hard to find - They're called "unicorns" for a reason, and it's not because they shit rainbows. They're rare... extremely rare. You are definitely going to see a lot of applications come through for the unicorn roles though, which makes it even more daunting. The reality is that most of the people out there wanting to be unicorns aren't there yet, and they're looking for their big breaks... and for your company to be the one that gives it to them.
Many CAN develop marketing strategy, project manage, growth hack, blog, and post on social media... but most of the self-proclaimed unicorns out there are only decent at one of those things, and suck (badly) at everything else.... which actually makes them mislabeled specialists.
Finding a good one truly feels like discovering an actual unicorn, and unless you are incredibly well-versed in recruiting digital marketing consultants, you're going to struggle with this one.
I guarantee it.
- They're typically not great at everything - Even the best unicorns have their shortcomings. I've seen some incredible project managers/strategists/content creators just completely fall apart when it comes to posting in Facebook or writing a simple blog. And it's not necessarily because they don't have the aptitude for it, but rather, it's just a different skill-set, and it can be difficult to flip the switch from something that is more complex and demanding like project management and growth hacking to slapping a blog post together.
- They can get bored, burned out, and poached - In my experience, the unicorns who excel at the more important, valuable tasks, don't mind executing less specialized tasks like social media or blogging, but it is exhausting going back and forth... then, after dealing with your constant demands for updates, etc, they can burn out quite quickly.
Think about it in your world. Most business owners I know can't stand accounting or HR, and asking a marketer to do all of those things I mentioned is akin to asking a rainmaker type balance a P&L in the same breath.
They also tend to get bored when their roles don't evolve quickly. They hack and problem solve, and once they get the ship moving in the right direction, they start looking for the next challenge.
- You will take them for granted - Because they work so well on their own, you'll likely never see how much work they actually do, and you'll start pressing them for more than what you paid for. You'll likely even start questioning their contributions, wondering if you're paying too much.
And being that they're unicorns, they won't have the documentation to show all of the steps they take in delivering something to you.
This makes it easy to take them for granted and assume that you'll be better off with a specialist. It won't be until you fire them and take on said specialist(s) that you'll realize your mistake, and then you'll go through the pain of trying to find yet another unicorn, which will definitely try your patience.
Pros of the specialist option:
- They are experts in their field - You will get the very best talent for any specific deliverable when using a specialist. That's the point, after all, and why your agencies prefer to create teams of specialists rather than dump all of the work on the shoulders of solo unicorns.
- They don't fizzle out as easily as unicorns - You may never have to find a career-path for your specialist consultants. They're doing what they love to do, and prefer to stay in that world.
- They are loyal - They know their place, and as long as they are treated with respect and dignity, and always have clear direction, they're stick around.
- They are cheaper than unicorns - You could pay half as much or even less than your typical unicorn, and they'll likely be better than the unicorn at the one task they specialize in... Mind you, a writer may actually charge MORE per hour if they are particularly talented, but they'll get it done in half the time and require less editing and re-writes.
Cons of the specialist option:
- They require direction - There is no nice way to put this, but specialists require hand-holding. They need a process to follow and somebody to assign tasks to them and hold them accountable. If you don't have that resource available internally, you're going to have some issues here.
- They don't think outside the box - They're hired to do what they do, and expecting more of them is not fair. Even if they do offer more than what you hired them for, their advice should be taken with a grain of salt since they only actively operate in one space.
- There are a lot of non-writers claiming to be writers - This is a big, big deal. Everybody and their mother are posting resumes on upwork.com or applying to your gigs, and claiming to be "expert" writers, which is one of the more important skills. But good writers are hard to find. So are good A/B hackers and SEO specialists. The market is flooded with terrible specialists banking on the fact that you may not know anything about what they do.
Consider a GROWTH agency
Unlike your traditional digital marketing agency, growth agencies focus on the entire continuum of sales--from first touch in the ether of existence all the way through the entire sales journey... and then some.
Digital marketing tends to focus on marketing KPIs, and subsequently, digital marketing agencies tend to delivery KPIs.... not necessarily growth.
Lead generation is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to growth... and committing to long term marketing plans may not be in your best interest when the world around you (and your business) is constantly changing.