Whether your company has just landed a new round of funding or whether you’re launching a new product or expanding to a new market, figuring out how to grow your marketing efforts is never a simple equation. You’re evaluating new strategies and tactics, considering new platforms and channels. You’re assessing your in-house team’s capabilities and areas of expertise. And, of course, you’re looking at who will be responsible for what.
You have options for getting outside help for your team. You can go with a generalist agency (less expensive but may not be familiar with SaaS) or a specialist agency (pricey, but you can have confidence in their expertise.) Or you can build a freelance team. Deciding between a generalist or specialist agency is straightforward. But evaluating the pros and cons of working with an agency vs. a freelance team isn’t so simple. There’s no one right answer. In this post, I aim to set aside my obvious bias and give you a framework for evaluating which is the best choice for your company, where you are today. Here are the six primary factors to consider.
1. Your team’s skills and the areas you need help with
One of the first things to think through is what you need help with. Graphic design, writing, most video production, social media work, podcast production, PR, and strategy work all lend well to freelance help. On the other hand, media buying, multi-channel supply planning, in-store experience management, and similar projects are usually best left to an agency.
Another consideration is whether you have someone on staff who can project manage a team of freelancers. This task may be simple if you’re managing a small freelance team, but if you need help with a broad spectrum of areas that require a large team, you’ll probably need a dedicated staff member.
2. The level of expertise you need
With a freelance team, you can hand-select the people who are doing the work. For example, you can choose to work with a highly-skilled graphic designer or video producer, an experienced writer with expertise in SaaS, someone with extensive knowledge of the social landscape, etc.
Experienced freelancers can also offer insights based on their experience. They have a close perspective on what’s working now and what’s not, and they can share fresh ideas that will boost the effectiveness of what they’re doing for you. This benefit may help you generate buy-in from your leadership.
With an agency, you’ll likely be working with less experienced specialists unless you have a very large budget. That might be ok, depending on what you need help with and the level of expertise you need. There’s no sense in paying for expertise if it won’t benefit you.
3. Your working style
Do you like to have a connection with the people on your team? With a freelance team, you’ll be able to communicate with the people doing the strategy and production work. Typically, with an agency, you’ll be dealing primarily with an account manager.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to deal with communication and prefer to be relatively hands-off, working with an account manager is ideal. You should certainly factor your working style into the decision.
4. The level of collaboration you desire
Beyond general communication, working with a freelance team allows you to collaborate more closely on the work itself. There’s certainly some level of collaboration that happens with agencies, but freelancers have more flexibility to step into your workflow and processes, functioning in an integrated way with your team. For a company with an existing marketing team, this capability can be invaluable.
Companies without an internal team, on the other hand, may benefit more from having an “outsourced marketing department” that can function somewhat independently. You won’t have to worry about close collaboration since the work will be contained to the agency.
5. Educational goals
Working closely with someone always involves knowledge sharing. If you’re collaborating with an experienced freelance team, you’ll inevitably pick up insights, information, and ideas along the way. Over time, your team can put this knowledge to use across all your marketing efforts.
But again, if you don’t have in-house marketing people, you may be better served by the outsourced marketing department model that an agency provides.
6. Your budget and priorities
A freelance team may be less expensive than a specialist agency because you’re not paying for account management or project management. If you have budget to spare, is handing over management valuable to you, or would you rather allocate spend elsewhere?
If you’re not excited about managing a team of freelancers, but you like the benefits you get with a freelance team, keep in mind that you can hire a freelance OBM or project manager to handle this for you — it’s not either/or.
A small, self-contained freelance team
Another option to consider is a small, self-contained freelance team. You can find an existing team of freelancers who regularly work together and offer a level of project management within the “pod.”
For example, I have two team members (Sam Glauser and Mara Woosley, who are amazing) that allow me to offer much more than I could on my own. But my clients only interface with me and know they’re getting expert-level work. I also frequently collaborate with a group of other top-notch specialists, including an experienced SEO professional who knows how to get results (Tim Lowry!), a highly-skilled PPC expert with a small team of his own (Emilio Garcia!), and an email marketing expert who’s also on the faculty of the Clemson MBA program (Robbie Fitzwater!). So my clients don’t need to go hunting for freelancers who can fill these needs. And I’m not the only freelancer with a network.
Agency or freelance team? Only you can decide.
What’s best for another SaaS company may not be best for your company. What’s best for a competitor may not even be what’s best for you. So much depends on your existing internal team and your goals. But thinking through the considerations above will help make the best choice for you more obvious.
By the way, here are three ways I can help you attract and convert your ideal customers:
1. For marketing teams at B2B SaaS companies, take the free Content Strategy Quiz to see how your strategy measures up and learn how you can improve.
2. For tech startups, grab my free workbook on how to craft a messaging platform that gets prospects excited about what you offer.
3. Schedule a call to share what’s holding you back from better content, and I’ll let you know if I can help and how. If I can’t help, I’ll recommend someone who can.