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Hiring design and marketing staff vs. using an agency - which is right for you?

We're not biased, honest – sometimes you might be better off with your own team. But not always. It's worth looking closely at both options.

Digital agency staff working together and just smashing it tbh
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Posted by Greg
5 March 2018

A common scenario for SMEs, this: you're thinking getting a new website, or stepping up your digital marketing, or something along these lines. But, being a relatively smaller business, focused around delivering a certain product or service, your team lacks someone with the skillset to make that happen.

Or, maybe, you've got someone who does it already, but their day-to-day workload is taken up entirely with what you've got going on at the moment – so there's never really any time to expand. Either way, it's a problem of resources, with one solution: more resources.

But, of course, it's not that simple, is it? You can either hire someone new to join the team, or outsource to an agency. And that's why you're here: to work out which is best for you.

You might think we're going to tell you to go with agencies every time, seeing as how we are one, but that's not the case. Agencies and clients (or business and suppliers, if you want to look at it from the other side) need to be a good, relevant fit – if not, it can be a waste of everyone's time!

Let's take a look at some things you'll need to consider when making the decision, starting with the one that's most likely to be weighing on your mind…


Which will cost more?

This is a tricky one to calculate, because it's not as simple as saying hiring someone at £2,000 per month is cheaper than paying an agency £4,000 a month, so we'll hire instead of outsourcing. You also need to consider:

  • Set-up costs. For a designer, for example, this might be an iMac rather than the cheaper desktops everyone else is using, and an Adobe creative suite subscription. For marketers, it could be access to a whole range of tools. These will need to be factored in.
  • The work you're getting for that figure from the agency. Depending on the activity, it could be much more than one person could handle internally. But what about a team of two? Could that be more cost-effective?
  • Growth plans. Working with an agency is often more cost-effective in the short-term. Adding a few hours of AdWords a month to your agency budget is cheaper than hiring your own AdWords pro, for example. But if you're looking to invest heavily in certain activities, it can be more cost-effective to recruit in the long-term. Initial staff costs can be high, but once you have an infrastructure and experienced leaders in place, lower salaried junior staff can be brought in. Sticking with an agency provides less risk if this doesn't pan out, on the other hand.
  • You might have room for one more person, but if you suddenly find you need to expand to a full team, then you could be looking at a costly move.
  • Your new employee's salary will, of course, include paid holiday time. Your agency fees won't.
  • Depending on where your agency is based, you could be spending considerable time and money on travel for meetings, whereas your new marketing exec is in the next room.

The numbers used above aren't necessarily representative of what you will or should be paying for things, by the way – they're just very simple examples. It's essential to get quotes from agencies and consider them alongside not just your own pay grades, but industry standards for certain job roles. A junior marketing exec to run your social media account will be on a completely different level to a designer with plenty of experience under their belts, for example.

Of course, sometimes you get lucky, and a superstar developer turns up for work experience, just like our boy Ash Kwil there. Bit of a digression, but click on his happy little face if you want to find out more about why you should take a chance on young talent.


Where do you start?

If you know what you need to do, and have the resources to deliver it, then why would you need to get anyone else involved?

But do you know what you need to do? A lot of businesses we talk to have reached a point where they realise they need to grow online, and be seen by more search engine users, but don't really have much of an idea how to make that happen.

That's where an agency can be helpful. They've helped plenty of businesses in your position get started, and they know what works by now. And they act as a bit of a safety net when you're just starting out, letting you try different aspects of digital marketing before investing in recruiting someone to do them for you full time.


Industry knowledge

Any digital team, whether they're internal or external, will need to balance a knowledge of your industry and business with a knowledge of the digital industry.

Simply put, the former means they're able to sing your praises in the most effective language, and the latter means they're able to sing your praises in the most effective places.

An in-house team, immersed in your business day-in, day-out, will have more time to learn about you – but it may be difficult for them to branch out and keep their digital knowledge sharp. 

It's in an agency team's interests to keep knowledge of their own industry as up to-date as they can – and ahead of the curve when possible – making recommendations based on new developments and digital success they've had elsewhere.

Digital marketing for Arville
We work really closely with Arville's marketing team, supporting their activity with behind-the-scenes technical bits, and making recommendations for future focuses. It's like one big happy family, but with Google AdWords.

A good agency team will also research your industry and your business extensively, making every effort to understand you. Sharing key info with an agency and answering any questions they have could see them as up-to-speed as any internal staff member.

But their outsider perspective will always be invaluable. Sometimes it helps to take a step back, and consider what you're doing from the point of view of someone who isn't so close to the project.


A few conclusions

Being a digital agency ourselves, it really doesn't seem fair to just say "using an agency is always better", so we just hope you've helped you think about all the factors involved in making an informed decision.

The most important factors, we think, aren't always cost – sometimes it may be worth paying more for the expertise, creativity, flexibility, and relatively lower risk of an agency than trying to cover everything internally.

Instead, you should consider growth. Will an agency help you grow, or will it simply see you putting off growing yourself?

Working with an agency may well be the perfect gateway to developing your own marketing team, setting up processes, best practices and areas of the business that you'll eventually feel confident enough in to recruit for.

But perhaps the most important factor is often just a gut reaction. If the idea of outsourcing fills you with dread, which is something we totally understand, then you may feel the need to keep your agency on a tight leash, restricting what they do – which isn't the best way of working for either side.

On the other hand, if you're happy to collaborate and welcome new perspectives, or just outright aren't sure where to start with all things digital, then working with an agency could unlock a huge amount of potential.

Our advice? Just talk to some agencies that catch your eye. See what they have to offer you. When you find the right one, you'll just click. If that click never comes, have a go yourself.

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