In-House vs. Agency vs. Freelancer
It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve accomplished, or how hard you work.
The fact is, no one builds a successful business alone.
Which brings me to this question: Who should you hire for social media: a freelancer, an in-house employee, or a marketing agency?
Well, that’s a loaded question, and of course, it all depends on your business and what you need.
All of these options serve a purpose, no doubt.
And there are advantages and disadvantages to each.
But how do you know which option is going to be the best for your business?
Keep reading to find out.Is it better to hire a #MarketingAgency, freelancer or an in-house employee? Find out here: Click To Tweet
Here is a video by our CEO Derric Haynie that walks you through our thought process on hiring in-house vs agency vs freelancer/consultant:
In some cases, hiring a freelance social media marketer may be a good option for your business.
Freelancers are typically going to be self-employed individuals who offer services, usually to multiple clients at a time.
Similar to an independent contractor, freelancers have their own ways of getting things done and should not rely heavily on a company to provide processes for them to achieve their results.
Working with a freelancer might cost less than either of the other two options, as a freelancer wouldn’t have the full overhead of an agency or carry the inherent risks of hiring in-house, but their scalability and expertise is much more limited (one person can’t be the best at everything).A freelancer might cost less than an agency or in-house employee, but won’t be as scalable. Click To Tweet
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Freelancer
Some of the advantages and disadvantages of hiring a freelancer over working with an agency or hiring an in-house employee might be:
It is true that hiring a freelancer is likely going to cost less than hiring an employee or working with an agency.
Employees come with liabilities and costs.
When you hire in-house, your company is responsible for paying for any benefits or trainings an employee may require. Then there’s the risk that after all is said and done, they leave you for a bigger title or salary in 6 months.
As for an agency, any agency worth hiring is going to cost more than a freelancer.
Agencies have teams of people who go to bat for your company, and they have their own in-house tools and technologies (some of which may be proprietary) which they can use on your account.
The costs of developing their strategies and their depth of knowledge is baked into their service fees.
But, if your company is not ready to invest in driving real results from social and is only looking to “show up,” you don’t need to pay more for the solutions an agency can offer.
A freelance social media marketer can easily create social media content and post a few times per day without breaking the bank.
This strategy probably won’t provide any real trackable ROI for your company, but at least you will appear to be active and have someone on-hand to respond to your customers if they come calling.
Since a freelancer will typically be working remotely, they can adapt their life around your schedule. They are able to make quick fixes and updates to your campaigns, and since you are only working with one person, there’s no corporate bureaucracy to deal with.
This also means that you will have a personal relationship with the person who is managing your account, and only one person to hold accountable if their efforts fall flat.
On the flip side, a freelance marketer will not only be working on your account as an in-house employee would.
They will have other clients and their own business to focus on, and since they work remotely, you might not be able to build the same relationship with them that you would an in-house person who comes into work every day.
If another client has an emergency or your freelancer decides to go to a conference to learn industry best practices, they might not be available to help you when you need them.
With an agency, you would have more than one person managing your account, so there is always someone available to help you and always someone running damage control.
Freelancers are used to flying solo and have no problem completing work without you looking over their shoulder.
Since they have their own tactics and processes for getting the work done, you won’t need to train them on the job (however, you will probably need to provide some guidance on your brand).
This means less time invested in training and more time on the execution of your campaign.
But, a freelancer might not work during the same hours you work, so communication will not be as fluid as when you have an in-house employee sitting right next to you.
Also, you won’t have as much control. If that is important to you, you might consider hiring an employee.
As with an agency, freelancers work with multiple clients who bring them valuable insight into different industries and business models. If the freelancer you hire is specialized in social media, this should mean that they have worked with a number of different brands in the specific area of social media marketing.
An in-house employee may not have the depth of experience that an agency or freelancer might have.
This also means they might not have as much insight into your company, since they are on the outside.
While they can pull innovative strategies from their past experiences, an in-house employee might understand your business and brand better.
There are many large networks of freelance marketers ready and willing to vie for your project.
Finding a freelancer who is specialized in social media is relatively easy, and if they don’t get the job done to your liking, they are much easier than an in-house employee to part ways with since they don’t collect unemployment and are a dime a dozen.
A freelancer might be a good fit for you if:
- You are on a budget,
- Need someone who doesn’t require training or hand-holding,
- You don’t have a large brand, yet
- You have a small-scale project and don’t have the time to manage it,
- You only want a social media presence and aren’t ready to implement a robust strategy
- You need someone to teach you to do it yourself, and you’re willing to put in the hours
Hiring in-house has significantly more risks and typically takes a larger, and more long-term investment. There are times when this is the best option, though, especially if you have a very complicated business or brand.
Pros and Cons of Hiring In-House
Before jumping too far into it, I will admit that there are some distinct advantages to in-house over hiring an agency or a freelancer:
- Cross-department functionality is typically better.
- Owned teams are a valuable asset to the company, whereas agencies and freelancers can’t really be company assets.
- If marketing or digital is a core competency of the business, hiring in-house keeps the company closer to the leading edge (hiring an agency helps support the agency staying on the leading edge).
- If in-house content creation is necessary or already exists, it is sometimes mandatory to have in-house media buyers or social media teams as opposed to hiring an agency or freelancer.
- Any legal constraints around your industry could limit the viability of hiring an agency.
And that’s not all.
Hiring in-house can also be advantageous for other reasons, but there are, of course, caveats.
When you hire in-house, you reap the benefits of having someone close to your company operations and brand. An in-house employee will always beat a freelancer or agency when it comes to knowing insider information.
In terms of social media specifically, an in-house employee dedicated to representing the brand online will have easier access to content like behind the scenes images and anecdotal stories about the inner workings of the company.
Most agencies wouldn’t have the resources or budget to document “a day in the life of” your company, whereas an in-house person could easily create and post this content on a whim.
That being said, it is fairly unlikely that this type of content is going to be what moves the needle for your business. While it is nice to have in some situations, your strategy needs to be ROI focused if you are paying an employee to create and execute on it.
Most in-house employees wouldn’t have the motivation or mindset to strategize and prioritize social media efforts that align with your business goals, which means that behind the scenes shots of the office dog might be all you get because it’s easier (and probably more fun) for them to produce than having to actually think about what your customers and audiences might want to see.
At the end of the day, they will still have a job because, well, unemployment costs are a bitch.
And as a business owner, you are not a social media expert and will have no way of knowing that there are much better ways to go about doing social media than talking about your company all day.
You will think to yourself “social media doesn’t work,” slash the budget and keep posting crappy content without empowering your employee to go the extra mile and think like a marketer.
But agencies, agencies have a reputation to withhold.
Office dog shots, while cute, are likely not going to be on the docket unless specifically passed the content and instructed to share it.
Your budget directly influences how an agency can drive results, so knowing where to allocate it for the biggest wins is what they do best.
It is true that one of the biggest benefit of hiring in-house is that you are paying one person to manage all of your social channels, and that is what their job is.
This means they can be totally dedicated to your brand, and can easily answer questions from your audience and represent you in a way that makes sense.
An outsider wouldn’t know the answers to all of the intricate questions a customer might ask.
There might be a specific way you would handle an inquiry and the nuances of these customer experiences is what keeps the brand consistent.
This person doesn’t have 10 other brand voices to match, just yours.
And they only have one list of FAQs, one website, one set of products or services, and one boss (or set of bosses) to please.
They also shouldn’t be thinking about anything outside of the scope of social media, which allows them to really hone in and understand the needs of the audience without distraction.
But, when there is only one person, it is far less scalable.
This is true of a freelancer as well.
An agency will have a team, all of whom have been trained on your brand and are able to represent you in the best way possible.
There is always the possibility that some brand equity will be lost and inconsistencies may arise when an outsider attempts to respond on your behalf, but for most companies, this is just the cost of doing business.
In the event that your brand IS the main selling point of your business, it might be better for you to build a team in-house and outsource components of the strategy to an agency under the guidance of your in-house team.
This allows you to scale while maintaining as much consistency as possible.
When you hire in-house, you have complete control over the tasks that person completes, and how they complete them.
Very minute details can be easily communicated, and in-house staff can be trained, molded, and adopted as a core part of your company and culture.
This control comes at a cost, though.
As most business owners already know, hiring the wrong person is VERY expensive.
This is why hiring is such a time-consuming and painstaking process. Even hiring the right person has it’s upfront costs (which are actually investments into the future success of the company, if everything works out) of training, benefits, taxes, etc.
Those drawbacks alone are enough to make a business owner think twice about hiring in-house for a role like social media, which can seemingly be outsourced without much effort to a freelancer or agency.
An employee might be a good fit for you if:
- Your brand is very specific and hard to embody or replicate
- Your industry is very niche and requires a lot of specific knowledge
- Marketing is a core competency of your company
- You want to build assets within your company
The last option to consider is hiring a marketing agency to do your social media.
Pros and Cons of Hiring an Agency
All an agency is, is an organization allowing you immediate and scalable access to aggregated resources, processes, and technology in that agency’s given field (Social, SEO, AdWords, whatever…).
Building that up inside your own business is often costly and impractical. Thus, agencies provide clear usefulness to the market.
But, not unlike the other two options, hiring an agency comes with its advantages and disadvantages.
Team and Talent
An agency is a business that relies on the quality of the team.
That is why agencies are able to aggregate experienced pools of talent, focused specifically in their field.
Agency employees are often well-versed in many areas.
When you hire an agency, you can get multiple people with specialized talent all working on your account for less than the price of hiring one employee (Ex. You get a graphic designer, strategic consultant, and media buyer for under $5k/month).
A freelancer or in-house employee might be able to offer support in some of these areas, but not without detracting from their other tasks and duties.
One of the benefits of having a team is that they are able to provide extra brain power and insight into your account.
An in-house employee or freelancer may work in a silo, but agency teams collaborate in order to come up with the best ideas to present to their clients.
Of course, the more people you have working on an account, the more convoluted the strategy can become. It’s best to hire an agency that has a strong company structure in which checks and balances and quality assurance are a big part of their process.
Economies of Scale
Since agencies are able to leverage economies of scale, they can reduce costs and increase efficiencies across multiple client accounts, and pass these benefits on to their clients.
Client accounts benefit from the use of tools and technology that might be out of a normal company’s marketing budget.
Agency employees are experienced with many different tools and technologies and can effortlessly build out a custom social media marketing stack, which is something an in-house employee might not be capable of doing.
And even if they were capable, the employee might require extra training just to use them, which makes it less cost-effective.
These tools are practically necessary if you’re implementing a robust strategy, and an agency can make sure your accounts are being managed and reported on in the best way possible.
Other than tools and technology, agencies are able to allocate and reallocate their internal resources as needed to accommodate changes in budget or optimize the strategy.
An in-house employee might not be able to suggest these changes, whether because of inexperience or trouble getting buy-in from upper management.
Of course, you still have to deal with the fact that an agency is not 100% dedicated to working on your accounts all the time.
The only reason they are able to afford these tools, technologies, and flexibilities is because they work on many client accounts and wouldn’t be able to use economies of scale if they didn’t.
Even though an agency may be working on several other client accounts, they have likely derived a lot of key learnings they apply to a variety of businesses.
The fact is, key learnings from one client often make for better campaigns for all other clients. A freelancer will have this capability as well, but an in-house person may not.
Also, agencies are expected to be on the leading edge of their industry.
They empower their employees to stay on top of industry trends, which gives them first in class strategies and ideas to test.
Agencies have reputations to uphold, so while an employee will often do what they are told, a good agency will tell you “no” when you are wrong, and instead tell you what you need to hear to be successful.
An agency looks bad when a client doesn’t succeed, so it’s in their best interest to be objective and get results as fast as possible.
An agency might be a good fit for you if:
- You have an internal marketing team, but don’t have specific on-channel experience
- You have experience working with strategic partners
- You are ready to invest in growing a strong digital brand, and have a robust strategy in mind
- You have a brand that is easy to understand and embody
- You’re seeing ROI on a channel and need to scale it fast
Determining a Good Agency From a Bad One
Not all agencies are created equal, and sometimes when you’re hiring them, it’s tough to tell a good one from a bad one.
This is why it’s highly desirable to have in-house resources that understand digital marketing and understand what you need from your agency, in order to ensure that you hire the right company, set the right expectations, assign the right budget, and ultimately can achieve success on both sides – the agency side and the in-house side.
Agencies are meant to scale existing internal resources and existing proven business growth strategies.
It’s very tough to hire an agency without having a working business model or without product-market fit.
While it can be done, it’s risky on both sides of the equation.
It’s risky on the side of the client because you could be hiring a Facebook advertising agency only to find out that Facebook ads is not for you… Hopefully you aren’t locked into a long term contract.
It’s risky on the agency side because associating yourself with failed clients and projects doesn’t positively affect your reputation, and even though you may make some money, you likely have better opportunities working with businesses that are more likely to win.
This is why we make it a point to address all of these concerns with new businesses, startups, or really any business that is thinking about investing in a channel like social, but without ever having tested the channel for viability with their existing business model.
Agency vs. In-House vs. Freelancer: Which Option Is Best for Your Business?
As it turns out, each option serves a different segment of the market and is able to provide value when chosen by the right companies for the right reasons.
A freelancer is a great option if you don’t have a large budget project, an in-house person is good if you have a complicated brand or need deep industry experience and knowledge, and an agency is the de facto choice for any company in which marketing (or at least digital marketing) is not a core competency of the business.Agencies are the de facto choice for any biz in which #marketing is not a core competency. Click To Tweet
In order to choose who you should hire for social media, you have to think of your company’s organizational structure, goals, and people, to really decide for yourself if you need to make a major investment into in-house resources in a field where you could basically just find, vet, and hire an agency that has those resources prepared for you.