Who you gonna call? No, not the Ghostbusters – a digital marketing agency. At least, that’s how most people react when they realize they need help with online advertising. Increasingly, online marketing is a massive deal – with 86% of B2C marketers reflecting that content marketing is a key strategy for success. Hence, it makes sense to hire a professional that understands the core industry principles. Right? Well, hiring a marketing agency isn’t always the only answer, even the best answer to your success.
Rushing right in to hire a professional marketing team isn’t always the best answer. After all, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy that guarantees success. For your business to grow and expand, you must utilize tools, strategies, and tactics tailored to your company, your goals, and your values. Otherwise, you’ll fail, and unlike Frank Sinatra, you won’t do it your way.
The cold reality is this: you don’t always require a digital marketing agency to ride in on white horses and save the day. Sometimes, whether your marketing is working or plateauing, it just doesn’t make sense. Here are four occasions to keep in mind.
Benefits of hiring a marketing agency
First, let’s be clear about what a marketing agency is and what they do.
When most business folks say “marketing agency” what they often mean is an advertising agency. It’s important to be clear that these two types of agencies aren’t the same, just as marketing is bigger than just advertising. Learn more about how marketing and advertising are different here.
In keeping with this vernacular, we’ll use the term marketing agency because, in fact, few true marketing agencies exist as most firms handle the strategic marketing of their brand internally. Rather, firms promoting their businesses as marketing agencies are normally media agencies of one flavor or another. Similarly, we use the term marketing agency as a catch-all term that includes consultants, as well as a wide range of advertising options including digital, search (SEO), social media, PPC (pay-per-click), and traditional advertising agencies.
Among the benefits you get by hiring a marketing agency are:
- Expert knowledge on advertising and, if you choose a niche agency, they have in-depth knowledge of your market, as well.
- Experience, which isn’t always the same as knowledge.
- Relationships that support their advertising efforts, such as with content providers, influencers, and agency sub-contractors for specialized applications.
- Extra hands that reduce the demand on your existing staff and, with larger agencies, scalability to handle short-term demands without the high cost that hiring dedicated employees entails.
- A proven track record.
- Economies of scale reflected by spreading the costs of tools across a number of clients.
Of course, hiring a marketing agency involves disadvantages, as well, including:
- Lack of control, which is especially problematic in the case of digital marketing, where short timelines reduce approval options.
- You’re sharing resources with other clients. Thus, the demands of other clients might derail your efforts as your project shifts to the back burner in favor of more important clients.
- Differences in vision and strategy.
- Time. It takes time and effort to work effectively with a marketing agency. Sometimes, it’s easier and less taxing to do a project yourself rather than hiring a marketing agency.
In addition to these disadvantages, there are some situations where it’s simply not a good idea to use an agency.
Your foundations are shaky
The foundations of your advertising strategy revolve around your website and operational elements of your business. If either of these critical functions isn’t ready and optimized for customers, your advertising only exacerbates failures in other parts of your business. For instance, gaining sales more quickly than you can handle orders results in backlogs and late deliveries with the resulting low customer satisfaction generated by delays. Promoting products then failing to have sufficient stock on hand to meet demand results in backorders or out-of-stock situations that not only generate poor customer experiences but waste critical advertising dollars to boot.
The same is true for a website or other elements critical for lead nurturing, like your marketing automation system, that isn’t optimized. In essence, your website is a vital component of your marketing efforts because it helps convert leads and turn them into sales while being accessible twenty-four-hours a day. Unfortunately, lots of companies don’t treat their website with the respect it deserves.
The result of failures in operations or website user experiences results in complaints, poor reviews, and negative word of mouth that spreads quickly in an increasingly digital world.
A careful audit will uncover problems with your website, your operations, or other aspects suggesting you’re not quite ready for promotion.
But, can’t a marketing agency do this for you, among other things? Yes, the task falls within their wheelhouse, but most marketing agencies don’t have the expertise and broad knowledge needed to effectively evaluate your business and you’re still left with implementing their suggestions, which isn’t as easy or straightforward as it appears on the surface. Until your business is ready to accommodate the traffic that you hope to generate with your advertising, shoppers will bounce due to the poor customer experience and Google will penalize you. Between those penalties, that last far into the future, and negative reviews, your business will struggle to recover.
Therefore, it’s better to invest in a sound audit and fit operational problems first. Once operations are optimized for extra traffic and bigger bandwidth, you can consider an agency. Before then, it’s counterproductive and a waste of valuable resources.
Marketing is too expensive
There’s a bigger reason why businesses elect not to hire an agency comes down to the fees. There isn’t a threshold for how much you must spend on marketing, but a general figure is around 7% to 8% of your gross revenue. That’s almost 10% of your budget on a single sector of the company, which seems excessive. Take a look at the image below for hourly rates charged by agencies as a function of their company size based on a survey by Credo.
Image courtesy of Credo
Agencies will tell you that it’s an investment in the future of your brand, promising returns of advertising spend that support their claims. And, they’re right. As the old saying goes, “you must break a few eggs to make an omelet”. But, another saying goes like this; “you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip”.
Hence, hiring a marketing agency might not be in the cards right now. Maybe you’re starting a small gig business, funding it through your job and credit cards. It happens, so don’t be deterred by pundits telling you that you must start big.
Recognize, however, that this is a short-term solution to your marketing problems. In the long-run, you’ll need marketing help and an advertising budget if you wish to grow beyond your garage. Don’t put off marketing forever and don’t relegate it to low importance. As soon as possible, marketing must happen, even before some other purchases. And, hiring an agency is must cheaper than hiring dedicated employees to handle your marketing until you reach a certain critical size.
You can do marketing yourself
Doing your own marketing may make sense in the very early stages, like those mentioned above. With a PPC audit checklist, attention to best practices shared by experts, and a passion for succeeding, you may achieve your immediate goals. It goes without saying that it isn’t a simple journey since you’ll need to learn about marketing basics while keeping up to date with the latest trends, and running a marketing campaign by the seat of your pants almost never works.
Instead, firms think that hiring employees save money over an agency, which is certainly the case for larger businesses. For most SMEs (small and mid-sized enterprises), the cost of employees (with the right skills and experience), necessary software, and other essentials far exceed the cost of hiring an agency. See below.
Image courtesy of Alfredo Media
You don’t have time
Entrepreneurs see the financial aspects of investments and nothing else. As a money person, you’re bound to focus on how much it will cost and what you stand to gain in the short, medium, and long-term. However, another resource is as essential that you must factor into your decision – time.
Offloading the task to an agency and expecting them to take sole responsibility for your marketing effort is an unhealthy approach. To get the most from a partnership, you should work as a team and create ways to move forward. This means communicating regularly and asking for updates.
Those who don’t feel like they have the time to commit to a relationship should seriously consider signing on the dotted line. Otherwise, you could instantly regret the commitment.
However, this isn’t a sound strategy in the long run. For early startups, committing to an agency relationship might overwhelm your bandwidth, but it’s something you must do to support long-term growth.