The stage of your business and factors unique to your product or service will determine whether you should keep digital marketing tasks in-house or have them outsourced. Not wanting to relinquish control is understandable. And in many cases, there are strong arguments for keeping marketing in-house, but the same goes for outsourcing. In this article, we’ll break down these scenarios and give you a playbook for marketing operations at all stages of your business.
Startup (Revenue less than $250k)
In most instances, keeping your marketing efforts in-house is necessary to accommodate for the rapid change of a small startup. Issues can be addressed swiftly and collaboration can ignite in real-time, all without having to wait for an external outfit to be sourced and briefed. While you’re just setting out, some external services can prove to be more fruitful than others.
For instance, seeking help with your marketing strategy can prove futile if your business isn’t fully formed yet and your product hasn’t necessarily found its niche. In this case, you might be better off pooling together your team’s know-how and basic skills instead of frittering away money on industry experts when it really could’ve been done on a shoestring budget. But with lower-level bulk tasks like admin, however, outsourcing can have real advantages when you’re already stretched to your limits.
Why you should keep marketing in-house
One chief reason amongst many startup businesses to keep the circle tight is not wanting to compromise their business. If you feel the same way – that’s understandable! You’re still establishing yourselves and can’t afford any of your marketing efforts going off-script. Your distrust might not be personal, but you’re still wary that without having a fully functioning marketing department, agencies could take liberties with your brand. You also might be trying to protect your unique idea, so even if a partner signed a non-disclosure agreement, now is not the right time to share it with an outsider.
Whether you’re a founder who wants to do it yourself or you’re nurturing some in-house talent to be your go-to marketing guy or gal, learning by doing allows you to get a grasp of marketing functions. That way, you’re not at risk of being taken for a ride, if and when you do finally look to outsource
Developing existing staff
When you’re blessed with staff who have gotten to know the company intimately and are dedicating their blood, sweat and tears to making the business work – you might risk them feeling like their contributions and ideas are being ignored or rejected if you invite someone from outside the fold. Small businesses work best when input comes from all members, each with their own twist on what marketing works and how they envisage the brand communicating its values. If you have staff, try to cultivate their skills and knowledge first before outsourcing.
Keeping expenses down
If you’re bootstrapping (meaning funding the business in the lowest-cost way, normally yourself), every expense should be carefully scrutinised for a business that hasn’t even achieved a proof of concept or ability to generate revenue. In most instances, paying for external services you could conceivably do yourself is an activity you simply can’t afford.
Why you should outsource marketing
Customer acquisition and growth are key in the early stages of a startup – you’re typically operating in windows of investment cycles, racing to validate your business through results in the form of a growing customer base. Spend wisely on outsourcing and you’ll likely hit your targets much quicker.
On the top of your to-do list as a young startup are tasks like ironing out development creases, growing a user base and creating a PR buzz. But others not so much – and that’s where outsourcing comes into play. For instance, tasks like creating design assets are better outsourced than DIY. With platforms like Fiver and UpWork brimming with hungry freelancers, you can assign marketing projects to specialists from the whole gamut of marketing disciplines, leaving you free to focus on strategising.
Validated business (Revenue $250K – $20mill)
You’re in a better position to grow, but you still need to be frugal and selective with hires. Even if you could justify the costs of a resource dedicated entirely to marketing, what you would benefit from the most is hiring a jack of all trades (they’re rare and special) or someone strong in at least a few disciplines. The most tactical thing to do, then, is to bring in external marketing resources. Start off with activities where their impact is also easily measured – like social media and search advertising and SEO.
Why you should outsource marketing
Reduce your expenses
You can double, triple and expand your marketing efforts indefinitely without bearing all the costs that would be associated with hiring the same headcount internally. That includes superannuation/pension, benefits, payroll, tax etc.
Get better results
Let’s be real – by leveraging the skills of people for whom marketing is their bread and butter, you can optimise marketing activities on all fronts and expect better results. Marketing in 2020 is a specialists’ game! Experts in fields like SEO, Facebook ads, analytics etc. have devoted thousands of hours to honing their craft so it’s only fair that they are able to achieve better outcomes than non-specialists.
Stay nimble, vigilant and prepared
You might be growing but you still face a certain amount of risk. And as we’re all aware, especially at this moment in time, disaster can strike overnight when a crisis sweeps the rug from under businesses’ feet. Being able to quickly restructure and adapt is made all the more difficult and messy when you have to make employees redundant. Working with agencies gives you more options to pause, renegotiate, or carry on with less work than intended.
Expedite your learning
Having access to industry experts, who are up to date with the latest knowledge and practices applied across lots of businesses (not just yours), you don’t need to waste your time reading, training or figuring out stuff for yourself. Instead, you can quickly gather and utilise a lot of their insights and use them to help fuel your business’s growth.
Taking advantage of tech you couldn’t afford
As your marketing efforts grow, so does the need for investments in multiple software tools to better automate, track and analyse your marketing activity. By working with an agency who can afford a whole suite of marketing tools (as they spread the costs across their client base), you get access to all of them at a fraction of the price you’d have to pay yourself.
Don’t fire blind, reacting to the ebb and flow of your marketing efforts. Having a qualified digital agency on board means access to closed-looped reporting, so you’ll always know if an activity works and why (and have the numbers to prove it). So you can garner insights on which leads are fruitful and which are a lost cause, leading to greater inter-department transparency.
Why you should keep marketing in-house
You’ve found a unicorn
If you’ve found someone with a gift for all your required marketing areas, from copywriting to growth marketing, hold onto them. Maybe they’re a self-taught marketing enthusiast, an Olympic medallist child prodigy, or are some kind of deepmind marketing humanoid that sprung out and went AWOL. Reward their multi-functional abilities handsomely – this will far outweigh the long term costs of outsourcing.
Established business (Revenue $20mill+)
Now’s the time to finally establish your business’s marketing arm. Start scaling back your marketing agency projects and look to internalise the functions of greatest importance to your business. This is the time to hire an in-house stellar team to fully optimise your marketing efforts.
Why you should bring marketing in-house
You can afford the wages
At this size, the economics shift, making more sense for you to perform most of your marketing efforts in-house vs. via an agency. You can afford to build up the business-critical marketing roles and pay high performing marketing specialists the sort of money you need to retain them. Marketing budgets for 2020 are predicted to account for 12% of overall budget, so using that as a benchmark will help dictate the size and calibre of your internal marketing force.
Develop your own marketing IP
Delivering successful marketing requires considerable time, research, processes and systems. And as you get to this size of business, it is critical you build this IP in-house. It’s no good having an agency own this information as it presents too many business risks. What if the relationship turns sour or a competitor engages them and is able to quickly leverage their insights to gain considerable ground on your entrenched position.
Keeping marketing operations all under one roof will markedly improve internal knowledge-sharing and increase the speed of business. Having to brief an external partner is always going to take more time than diving right into where you left off with your own team – who, in most cases, will be leaps ahead of you.
Why you still might outsource to an agency
Not everything makes sense to have in house
Despite being able to grow your internal team, agencies should be used to support the functions that do not make economic sense i.e.stuff that isn’t a full-time job and are project-based like custom website work.
Elevate the efforts
With more specialists in-house, you now can upgrade the work done by an agency. For instance, an in-house person can manage the day-to-day SEO, while an agency can tackle a more complicated SEO project.
Time is money
Always weigh up the opportunity cost of time vs. money. For instance, if an internal resource would take months to perform a certain task whereas an agency could get it done in half the time, it may still be best to outsource, particularly when you’re performance-focused.
Not to say your team is going to be fudging the numbers, but having a specialist agency to provide strategic reporting can help to hone the teams’ focus and also direct efforts impartially on the things that are delivering results.
Knowing your limitations and when to introduce a fresh perspective
Objectivity can elude many founders and business owners who are emotionally attached to the idea or approach they coined. Bringing in an agency or outside consultant can remove any in-house creative conflicts, provide an impartial view and fill in the gaps of your knowledge or understanding.
Feel like you have the skills and resources in-house? Take a lead from Ogilvy. Despite being a highly renowned- global advertising and marketing behemoth, when they decided to rebrand- they employed the services of another agency, COLLINS, a specialist branding agency. Rather than tap into their infinite creative resources, the creative agency behind the “share a coke” campaign sought expertise that, though in the same ballpark, fell outside of their direct remit.
Appreciating the nuances of different disciplines and removing the chance for bias can truly help you get the most out of your marketing activities. Even if you’ve got relevant experience in a certain department, bringing in industry experts can actually teach you valuable lessons to make you a more competent marketer next time around.
Working around your trust issues
Ah yes, the old fox into the chicken pen dilemma. Handing over the keys to the castle doesn’t always sit right, especially with founders. Who are these strangers, dictating what our tone of voice should be or where I should be investing my advertising dollars?! Well, trust is key. Shop around. Chat to different agencies and go for the one you hit it off with. You’re entering a working relationship, so you need to believe in the individuals and the company’s credibility.
Do they lead by example?
Are they presenting themselves professionally? Is their social media presence a shining example to follow? If they want you to ramp up your email marketing efforts or overhaul your website – check theirs first! And their credentials too for that matter. Look for testimonials and reach out to some of their previous clients. They should be happy for you to do so., And if they aren’t – that’s a telltale sign to run to the hills.
Relinquishing some control over certain parts of the business is a given when outsourcing, but if you find a like-minded partner, you’ll be working with professionals who will only want you to succeed. In order to do so, you’ll need to give them some leeway, but ultimately, they’ll take all your concerns and views on board.
So, what will it be?
In essence, this whole “should you or shouldn’t you outsource” discussion really comes down to what matters most to you and your business: quality, time, or costs. Regardless of your business size, ask yourself – “what do we do best?”. Focus your efforts on those things and outsource the rest!