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Rakefet Yacoby From
Rakefet Yacoby From 19 September 2019

Choosing Between a Freelancer and Digital Agency for Your Marketing Needs

It doesn’t matter if you’re a one-man-band or the head of a multinational company, doing everything required to keep a modern business running is a challenge. There are times when it can all seem a bit overwhelming but, in those times, it is worth remembering that you don’t have to do it all yourself.

​No-one succeeds all on their own, so when you do get to the point that you need to reach outside of your business for support in marketing, it is vitally important that you get the right people and the right skill sets on board. This can be difficult in itself. How do you find the right person (or people) for the job? Do you opt to employ a single freelancer to fill the marketing role for a few days a week, or go for a full service agency?

If this is your first time handing the marketing function over to someone else, how are you supposed to know what is right for you? If anything, this choice has become harder in recent years. Freelancers used to be the go-to for small scale projects, but marketing agencies have become increasingly open to ‘micro projects’, as the nature of marketing has continued to change. Conversely, an agency’s capacity to offer a full multi-faceted service can now be easily replicated by a network of freelancers for a similar cost. Thankfully there are some categories you can sort by to help narrow down your choices. 

Skills

‍Because freelancers have usually worked in a few companies before deciding to strike out on their own, they are usually well rounded professionals with a reliable set of skills built around the sector in which they have the most experience working. This means that when looking for a freelancer, you will almost always be able to find someone who can satisfy your exact need  (website building, SEO, social. etc) and someone who has experience working in your exact industry. But if you are doing the searching yourself, it can take a while to find them.

Digital agencies are certainly easier to find, and can usually be relied upon to provide a broader range of skills and services in one package. The trade off is that you do not get to pick who you work with. This is where the old adage of going to bed with the sales team and waking up with the accounts team comes into play, as the agency will allocate people to work on your account based on their resources and the size of your business. Larger businesses may be able to guarantee the attention of an agency’s best and brightest, but smaller businesses are likely to be managed by less experienced staff.

Service

While both freelancers and agencies live and die by their reputations, with freelancers the need to deliver an excellent service is obviously more personal. This means that it is in the best interests of the freelancer to push for results, and this extra motivation means you will often get more bang for your buck from a good freelancer. With freelancers who aren’t so good however, you can come up against the unique problem of them sometimes disappearing without a trace at the most inopportune time. 

With agencies you can always guarantee that you’ll be able to speak to someone. Even if that someone is not working on your account, they will be able to put you in touch with someone else who can help. This more organised structure also means ‍that the agency will likely host regular meetings to check in on the business progress against the official contract. There is a lot to be said for sticking to a plan and a schedule for cutting down the amount of time needed to manage the marketing function of a business. 

Priority level

As a rule, freelancers will generally work on less projects than a larger digital agency, and so have the ability to make your project their priority during the time they are paid to work on it. Sometimes freelancers may work on only one project at a time, if it is large enough, which is the closest thing to having an in-house marketer without actually having one. That said, a lack of resources, a lack of direction and inefficient time management can all impact how well a freelancer prioritises your project over another.

Digital agencies will often insist on a plan ahead of time for this exact reason. While digital agencies can often be inundated with projects and be under enormous pressure to get the results, they are, by their nature, designed to manage this in an effective manner. Sometimes it may take a little bit of pressure from you to get the results you want, but this sort of interaction is often worth it for agencies to be able to execute quickly and reallocate available resources on the fly.  

Flexibility

Freelancing is virtually synonymous with flexibility, which is very useful when you’re met with a potential crisis in the wee hours of the morning or over the weekend. Having someone ready to step into the breach at short notice can be extremely liberating, but it is worth remembering that they are (usually) just one person. If they have other projects or other commitments there is a chance that they might not be there in the clutch, and that they might charge you extra for working those evenings or weekends.

Digital agencies are much more 9-5 focused, making it easy for you to plan your business around that. While this does mean that they will usually only be available for business hours, it also means there is always someone going to be there during those hours, as internally people and resources can be moved around to address emerging problems. This is particularly important if facing a crisis that requires more than one person on the job. While you can create this sort of cover with multiple freelancers, the extra time spent arranging this may not be well spent compared to hiring an agency.

Price

Freelancers won’t demand a full-time, in-house salary and might offer a per-project per hour price, allowing you to pay for what you need and nothing more. There is also the added bonus that they aren’t affected by office disruptions that may be more prevalent in an agency. The payment schedule however might be a little tighter than when working with an agency.

Digital agencies are usually able to offer you a comfortable payment schedule but, in terms of overall cost, it will be likely to have much higher overheads. Rented office space and hiring multiple staff may equip an agenct to be more flexible and reprioritise quickly, but it does come with a bigger price tag. This isn’t to say that agencies will always be more expensive, there are certainly many expensive experienced freelancers out there, but it can be useful for a smaller business to be aware of exactly how its marketing budget is being used. 

Ultimately the choice between a freelancer or a digital agency depends on your company itself. Experience in your industry, knowledge of your product or service and positive recommendations from past clients are an essential starting point before you begin thinking about the best fit. 

Make sure to check if the freelancer or digital agency has experience in your industry or niche. Check the brands they’ve worked with and their knowledge. If they’re clueless about the industry, the chances are they’ll have difficulty working on a business plan. While this can end up being a lot of work, you don’t have to do it yourself. There are services available that  help you make the right decision for your unique industry needs that take the hassle out of finding the right agency or freelancer. Whichever you end up choosing you can end up with a high-quality partner. So it is just as important to make sure you have a smooth journey reaching that decision in the first place. 

Lars Emeb Schwarz
Lars Emeb Schwarz

I've worked with good agencies and bad freelancers, and vice versa.
There is no clear cut answer here - but it does seem like quality talent today is drifting out of agencies and towards managing themselves and taking control of their own schedules and salaries.
So there's that.

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