Perhaps you need to ramp up your marketing efforts and you're trying to figure out the best way to do it. Maybe you're working with an agency and thinking about bringing your marketing back in-house, or perhaps you're switching to another agency. Wherever you are in your thinking, we've written this article to help you.
Keep control of the basics in-house and outsource the more specialist tasks.
No agency knows your business as well as you do, but an agency will have a broader knowledge that comes from servicing many customers at the same time for many years.
Paying an agency to do the basics for you is an expensive solution. At the same time it's also not cost effective having the resources in-house to do specialist, occasional tasks.
Why did I write this article?
Every article I've read about whether to outsource or keep marketing in-house has had one of the following two goals:
- Convince you to use their agency by making the case for outsourcing
- Help an individual marketer to decide if they want to work in-house or for an agency
I've written this article with as neutral and unbiased perspective as possible, to help you understand the case for and against both options. In summary my personal opinion is you should use a blend of both, because alone neither is perfect.
This advice is written with the owner of a small business (5-50 employees) in mind. To be fully transparency my company helps our customers in both ways. I also have experience of working for 18 years as an in-house marketer and the last two years in an agency.
What does it mean to outsource your marketing?
You can outsource many aspects of your business and marketing is no different. Outsourcing your marketing is when you delegate responsibility for all, or part of your marketing to someone who is not an employee of your company. You can outsource marketing to an individual or a company.
Overview - What problem do you have?
Broadly speaking there are two different ways to market your business
- In-house - Do it yourself
- Outsource - Get someone else to do it
You can also use a hybrid of the two. Before we get stuck in I want to take a step back. I am going to assume that you have a desire to make more sales and you have identified marketing is an area you need to improve on.
What problem do you have?
The 4 possible root problems you have with your marketing:
- I don't know what to do
- I don't know how to do it
- I don't have the time
- I don't have the budget
You may have one or more of these problems. To some degree every business has all of these problems because no one knows everything or has infinite time and resources.
Even the boss experiences these problems
Any one who works in the company including the boss has the same problem - the more you know, the less time you have available. This happens because the more problems you can fix the bigger your to do list becomes. This creates a need to delegate tasks to others so you can focus on the tasks and decisions that no one else can make or do.
Everyone on your payroll sits somewhere on this graph.
Understanding this graph can help you to make some of the decisions about what type of help you want.
What sort of marketing help do you need?
- Do - Implementation e.g. I know what my problem is, fix it for me
- Think - Strategy e.g. I have a problem but i don't know how to fix it
- Teach - Training & Empowerment e.g. Can you show me and/or my employee how to work out what to do and/or how to do it.
Let's explore each of these different areas.
The easiest problem to fix is implementation. There are a whole host of different ways to get the work done. The quality of the job comes down to two things:
- The skill (and therefore cost) of whoever actually does the work.
- The description and instructions for the task you want implemented. The better the instructions, the higher the chance that the person doing the work will give you back what you want.
Your options for getting the implementation done are:
Do the marketing implementation in-house
- Find someone in the company who knows how to do it. Or train someone to do it
- Hire someone who knows how to do it
Outsource your marketing implementation
- Local freelancer
- Remote freelancer (in another country)
- Write blog posts
- Run digital advertising campaigns
Exploring the hidden costs
The higher the skill level you employ, the less instruction you will need to give, but the higher the cost. (That's the theory at least!)
You can find very low cost options to outsource work on sites like Upwork. I have personally used some amazing freelancers through that site. As well as factoring in the hidden time of finding a suitable freelancer. If you hire the cheapest options, you'll find that you get what you pay for. You may end up needing to give a lot more guidance and many more revisions to get what you want done. If you factor your time in to that scenario - you'll find you paid a lot more for the job compared with hiring a more experienced and more expensive freelancer.
When you use an agency, you should be paying for their experience and their management. A good agency should be able to deliver a better job than you can do using in-house resource or freelance resource. They should also get it done more efficiently than you, because they have experienced management who know what they are doing. If you don't get this experience from your agency, either they were over-committed or weren't well suited to the job you needed doing.
It takes experience to understand the business challenges and needs, to work out the strategy that will achieve the results in the most efficient way.
Strategy is about taking insights built from experience and data, then interpreting that information to decide on the best plan to get from where you are to where you want to be.
It covers defining and communicating fundamentals about why your business exist such your company vision and mission to marketing specific strategies such as the 5 Ps of marketing - Product, Price, Promotion, Place, and People.
Decide your marketing strategy in-house
- Find someone in the company who knows how to do it
- Hire someone who knows how to do it
Outsource your marketing strategy
Answering questions like:
- Why do we exist and why should anyone care?
- How do we find more customers?
- How do we reduce the amount of time and money spent to win a customer?
- How can we convert more leads into customers?
Adopting a growth mindset is one of the essentials you need to scale any organisation. To continually grow your company you need to believe that you and everyone in your company can always improve. If every employee gets better at their job then your company will grow.
This means that you want everyone in your business to be constantly learning. One of the best ways to accelerate this is with training.
Knowing how to do something yourself does not mean you have the skills to break it down and explain it to someone in a clear succinct and easy to follow way. Teaching is a skill in itself.
Train your marketing staff in-house
- Self learning - read blogs and watch videos
- Senior staff train junior staff
- Peer to peer training - each member of the team trains each other in their respective skill
- In-house mentor
- Create a process or framework that explains how to do the job whilst doing the job
- Buddy system/scheme
Outsource your marketing training
- Structured learn by doing / Experiential learning
- Online training course / eLearning
- External trainer
- External speakers at company or departmental events
Compare in-house marketing in-house vs outsourcing to agency, freelance etc
Pros and Cons of keeping marketing in-house
- You live and breath your products/service so you know them better than anyone else does. Even if an agency has lots of experience with a competitor they will never understand what you do as well as you do
- Employees understand your company culture, vision and mission so will make better decisions when it comes to your marketing
- You can focus all your efforts on your company without different clients pulling you in different directions
- Your marketing is always your priority, so you're in control of how things are prioritised
- You may have to deal with internal politics with other stakeholders with competing ideas about how things should be done
- You sometimes find that employees stick to the safe options which are very similar to what has been done before. Making the pace of change slower than it needs to be
- As an employee you may get complacent and maintain the status quo because you don't have to keep having to re-tender for or renew your contract
- Difficult to get all the skills you need to do marketing in one person or even a small team
Pros and cons of outsourcing your marketing
- A good outsource partner does not have to worry about the status quo or looking bad for asking the hard questions like "why are you spending all that money on X without any proof of ROI?"
- A good outsource partner will focus on ROI and want to justify their own existence. If they can provide a solid ROI then you will want to grow more and spend more money with them and it is a win-win
- If you need to ramp up your marketing and you don't have any marketing staff, hiring an agency might be quicker than recruiting staff
- If you need to bolt-on the services of some other marketing services provider, then an agency will probably know who to call and manage the process for you
- You don't learn anything if you get someone else to do the work for you. If you don't learn anything then you can not build repeatable, scalable processes to help your business grow
- You may find that the person that does the work is not as good as the person who you dealt with whilst tendering for the work
- You're just one of their clients so you may not find them at your beck and call all-day every-day like you would with an employee
- No outsource partner, whether agency or freelance, is an expert at everything, which means you may end up paying for them to do thing they aren't that great at. Or they may outsource it to someone else with a margin added or you might have to deal with multiple agencies. All of which add unnecessary overheads
- Agencies make their money from keeping control of what they do, so that you become dependant on them. If you want to bring it in-house or swap providers you may not always find them as cooperative as you like
So now you understand more about your options, what do you do?
Having personally worked in marketing both in-house working with agencies and at an agency that you can outsource your marketing too, I can honestly say that neither option is perfect.
The biggest problem with an agency is...
No agency will ever know your product as well as someone in-house who lives and breathes your widgets.
Your biggest challenge doing it in-house is...
However much experience you have, an agency has more (unless they're just starting out). Everything they do is tried and tested across a portfolio of different clients. They will either have a broad experience of general marketing for more companies or have much deeper specialist knowledge in some specific areas than you will ever have, unless you do the same thing all-day every-day.
The two most critical areas of your business
The two most critical areas of a business are producing or sourcing the product/service and marketing. Everything else just supports those two business functions.
If you were to ask me what I would do if was in your shoes? I would make sure the are in control of the two most important areas of your business: product and marketing. You will never be an expert in everything or have unlimited time so, you will need some external support in some shape or form.
Get 58% better results from same time investment
The table below shows that you are going to be 6.25% better in the first year if you do 48 weekly 1% improvement projects than if you did one annual 48% improvement project. Over 10 years the 1% a week approach is 58% better for exactly the same amount of effort.
|How much better off are you?|
|After 1 year||£1m||£1.5m||£1.6m||6.25%|
|After 3 years||£1m||£3.9m||£4.2m||7.1%|
|After 5 years||£1m||£6m||£10m||40%|
|After 10 years||£1m||£49m||£118m||58%|
This shows what really matters is not if you outsource it or not, it is "how can i make a consistent regular improvement to my marketing"?
Your biggest challenge to overcome
As an SME you don't have an unlimited budget, where you spend your marketing budget, so that you get the best ROI is the biggest problem you have to solve.
Some companies still work on an annual marketing plan, where they say "this year we are going to build an improved website and design a new brochure to go with it." Even if this does grow turnover by 48% (which alone it probably won't) - you would be 6.25% better off if you made 48 x 1% improvements each week. Rather than one or two big improvements in the year.
After 10 years of this approach of investing the same amount of effort in smaller, regular improvements the combined compounded effect of this approach is 58% higher.
The bottom line (or the cherry on the cake)
The reality is most SMEs do some elements of their marketing well, but overlook lots of other areas because they have limited time and resources.
If you can get the basics right in-house and continually improve them, then you can outsource the more specialist areas to put the cherry on the top
Think of yourself as the cake maker. You need to learn how to make a delicious cake and the agency puts the cherry on top.