I think I’ve built up enough experience to give some advice on this topic, hiring a digital marketing consultant. Having worked with multinationals, small SME’s, EU agencies and been on both sides of the fence as a freelancer agency and marketing manager here’s my take.

To start we’ll break down Agency Vs Freelancer

An Agency can hire and fire people from your project a lot faster than a large enterprise can, not only that but they’ve spent years sourcing and maintaining the best of the best to ensure their output is the best it can be. A typical team will consist of a project manager, there might be an SEO specialist, a paid search specialist, a social media specialist, the list goes on and depending on your needs, these items might even be broken down further. Agencies also go into strategy, they tend to bring you on a journey of education and challenge you to deliver beyond your expectations.

A freelancer cannot provide expertise in all of the areas, I was once a freelancer and I focused on SEO, within SEO I focused on Link Building while having an above average working knowledge on on page and technical. Only a year a two before I set up an Agency was I able to understand paid advertising as well as SEO but there is simply too much industry changes to keep up with in order to stay an expert in all fields. Freelancers are very task oriented and may not have the over seeing end goal in mind in the majority of cases.

My advice is if you don’t really know what you’re doing or what your end goal is, get an agency, if you know what you are doing and what you’re end goal is and you don’t have the time to complete tasks then get a freelancer. It’s worth noting that you will probably need multiple freelancers to match an agency, you’ll need time to project manage and make sure you’re on track to reaching your targets. You’ll also need to have marketing knowledge to make up for the extra strategic advice you’d receive from an agency.

Freelancer or Agency Vs In House

Let me just say if you’ve never done online marketing and you’re starting off by hiring someone full time I’m just going to save you a lot of time and money by telling you don’t. Your all star marketing team of one you just hired will either expect you to get an agency in or else they’ll promise the world and won’t be able to deliver. Chances are if you’ve made it this far down the post you’re smart enough to know why you wouldn’t do this.

If you’ve hired an agency or freelancer and they’ve identified goals and their reporting is showing that these systems are working and they’re making you money it’s time to weight up is it worth bringing it in house. Inevitably there will always be a lull in productivity during a switch over as well as a knowledge gap as your team will probably start out small. Bare that in mind.

In our experience in working with marketing managers in house they tend to know what they don’t know but quite often won’t say it as they feel they need to be all knowing. They’re also put under immense pressure as measuring their capacity is not a common skill marketers adhere to. They also will accept targets that are unachievable in fear of losing their job.

If an agency is offering training take it, they should be able to show you what they are doing and if its not 100% transferable they’ll be able to help reduce the management fee if you’re able to do some of the heavy lifting.

Hiring A Digital Marketing Consultant
Pros & Cons

Hiring An Agency Pros

  • They can hire and fire people very fast
  • They have additional resources to help you understand what you (and they) want
  • Larger teams allow for more collaboration

Hiring An Agency Cons

  • Generally more expensive
  • Larger teams means more collaboration is needed to communicate
  • Team members can switch easily from project to project (or worse company to company)

Hiring A Freelancer Pros

  • Great for getting an individual job done
  • More often than not they tend to be cheaper than an agency

Hiring A Freelancer Cons

  • They tend to be specialists in one area
  • They can be overrun with work
  • Project management generally isn’t part of the service

Bringing Your Marketing In House Pros

  • Can work out very cheap depending on how you implement
  • If it works it’s a great way to scale
  • You have much more control 

Bringing Your Marketing In House Cons

  • You need to have someone with enough marketing knowledge and project management to deliver
  • You run a big risk that it might not pay off
  • You need to hire the right people
  • Once you hire those people it will be hard to replace them

Things To Think About Before Hiring

How Do You Value Their Work?

How do you plan on measuring their work, if you’re talking to someone about their time expect to pay for their time and nothing else, if you want results make sure you are paying for results and your aren;t being feed a shopping list of tasks. Don’t offer a pay per lead scheme cause this doesn’t work, there are too many ifs and buts in my experience but make sure that what you’ll get out of it is worth more than what you are paying.

Its also worth noting that you should take into account future revenue your campaign will make and the lifetime value of a customer. With marketing there is a lot of ground work to be added before you see a return and with Digital Marketing quite often the return continues for some time after the launch.

When Is The Right Time?

Generally something will have happened in order for you to want a marketing consultant. You’ve done out a plan and on the plan 20% of leads next year are to come from Digital. 

We’ve just launched our new site and we want it to start making a return, the last time it was a disaster

We’ve hired a marketing manager and want to support them in their tasks

Who’s Going To Help Them & How Much Time Will They Need From Us?

Make sure you have the internal resources to ensure your campaigns are a success. This goes for whether you’re getting an agency, freelancer or in house team. Someone will have to dedicate time to communicating your message, your goals and deliver feedback. The more time you put in the more you’ll be able to squeeze out of whatever you choose. 

This has often been a breaking point for us, where we don’t get enough feedback or the wrong feedback and the campaigns might not run as smoothly as you wish. It’s also one of our factors we use to determine whether we can work with someone or not, that is how much time they have available to give us feedback and input.

Its not a matter of saying I want more leads and its going to happen over night

Do I Even Need A Marketing Consultant?

One of my clients once turned around to me and said “every business needs your service really!” to which I replied “if only they knew it”. Every business needs some form of marketing, a consultant will tell you where to focus your time and the most likely tactics that will get you in front of your audience.

You need a consultant if you are unsure if you know who your audience is, if you aren’t sure or don’t have time to configure campaigns or tight for time.

You don’t need a consultant if you’re strapped for cash, you need time

What To Avoid

They have too much time

While some people might be too busy to relpy to emails and that might be a telltale sign that they’re overworked, you also want to make sure that they have enough work on their books that a) they don;t go out of business or decide to take a different route but also that they’ve proven themselves.

A freelancer with little work on means they either have just started off or else they’re not very good at their job

No on-boarding process / project management / communication

This is a tell tale sign you’ll have a bit of nightmare trying to catch them or they might say they’re completing tasks but they just aren;t organised enough to do so.

Agencies with A High Turn Over Rate

Any agency that’s decent won’t have many jobs advertised as they retain staff. I often see agencies looking for new staff quarterly but more often than not this is replacing existing staff and that all shows cracks that need fixing. This might affect your project if there are new people working on your account or if they hire sub standard.

You Don’t Get To Talk To The Owner

If you don’t get to talk to the owner or main person running the show, chances are you aren’t high priority on their books. Make sure that you aren’t going to get left behind and that they are giving you the attention you need