174394329Should I do my own inbound marketing or should I hire an agency to do it for me?

If you’re reading this article then chances are you are either asking yourself this question right now, or will be soon.

You might be a Business Owner, CEO, or Marketing Director, struggling to decide whether to place your marketing in the hands of an agency or to take it on yourself can be a daunting task. I intend to help make that decision a bit easier on you.

In this article I am going to briefly take a look at what inbound marketing is (so there is no confusion) and what an effective inbound marketing campaign requires.  Then I am going to dive into the two biggest areas I feel will impact your decision: Time and Money.  Finally I will list out pros and cons of both approaches and give you a few questions to mull over.

By the end of the article my goal is that you have enough information so that you can confidently decide whether your organization will be doing your inbound marketing yourselves, or hiring an agency to partner with.

Here’s my moment of full disclosure: I am a partner at an inbound marketing agency (called 98toGo) that is a HubSpot partner. Therefore I come with my own biases. However, I am taking off my agency hat for this article and will do my best to provide you with objective information so that you can make your own well informed decision.

Are we all set?  Great, let’s jump right in!

Getting a Clear Picture of Inbound Marketing

In very simple terms: Inbound marketing is the practice of using content to attract quality visitors to your website, convert those visitors into leads, and turn those leads into happy customers. It uses content (such as blog articles, videos, and ebooks) to appeal to your ideal customer by addressing their basic questions and pain points, and demonstrating that you offer the best solution for them. 

Inbound marketing is not hard selling. Instead, you are giving your target customer resources only when they ask for them.  Inbound marketing is less intrusive than other methods, and is based around winning over your prospects trust and business.

Inbound marketing makes use of tools such as your website, email and social media, to deliver content to your target customer at specific intervals as they move through the buying process. It is intelligent (based off of behavioral data) and personal (the most effective messages are customized to the individual).

Many falsely believe that inbound marketing is all about blogging.  Yes blogging plays an important role in an inbound strategy (it’s the mechanism that attracts people to your website), however it’s only one part of an inbound marketing machine.  There are other components that work together to make a well rounded inbound marketing strategy.

A typical inbound marketing strategy makes use of the following:

  • Blogging
  • Calls-to-action Buttons
  • Landing Pages
  • Forms
  • Premium Offers (ebooks, white papers, case studies, etc.)
  • Video
  • Email Nurturing
  • Social Media
  • Digital PR
  • And even Online Advertising

Inbound marketing has grown in popularity because of the shifts happening in the consumer landscape.  Today, consumers have all of the power, and marketers have had to adapt to that power shift.  Inbound marketing is an effective strategy for growing your business online and is used by businesses of all types and in all industries.

Now that we’ve discussed what inbound marketing is, let’s talk about what inbound marketing requires.

What Does it Take to Run an Effective Inbound Marketing Campaign? 

Inbound marketing is not rocket science (it’s not even bottle rocket science).  The barrier to entry is very low and anyone can get a solid inbound marketing education online for little to no cost.

But, that does not necessarily translate into knowing what it takes to run an inbound marketing campaign, let alone to doing it well.

I can set up a Google Adwords account right now and start running ads online, but that does not mean I know what the heck I’m doing!

So what does it actually take to run an effective inbound marketing campaign?

Understanding - because inbound marketing attempts to meet consumers where and when they search for information online, inbound marketers must have a deep understanding of their target audience and their behavior.  Without this understanding your content won’t be found, your messages won’t hit home, the website visitors you do attract will not convert, and you’ll be left wondering why.  Or worse, believing that inbound marketing simply won’t work for your business.

Processes - inbound marketing involves creating and promoting content, and doing those things well often require sound processes and workflows.  Everything from blog writing, to optimizing, to promotion, to digital PR, works more effectively with a process that you can breeze through in check-list format. 

Tools - a typical inbound campaign will use a whole slew of tools. Blogging tools, social media tools, email tools, analytics tools, and more depending on the specifics of your campaign.  Your toolbox will help you create, design, write, and analyze more efficiently.

Consistency - inbound marketing is not a start and stop endeavor. The most successful inbound marketers will tell you that they’ve been at it consistently over the course of many years.  Why is consistency important?  Because not only does it help you build a large amount of content over time, Google smiles upon websites that consistently produce valuable content that engages readers.

Quality - this is one of the most difficult things to do in inbound marketing -- produce content of high value to the reader.  Quality trumps just about everything else, because quality is what leads to people checking out your other website pages, downloading your other resources, sharing your content on their social media pages, and linking to you in their blogs.

Experience - it’s important to have experience designing and executing the individual parts of an inbound marketing campaign, even if you don’t know experience with inbound marketing as a whole.

So now that we’ve covered some of the necessities of an effective inbound marketing campaign, let’s look at the pros and cons of doing inbound yourself versus hiring an agency.

Time and Money

Now we’re getting to the juicy stuff! How long does it take to put together an inbound marketing campaign, and how much will it cost?

Because every campaign is different, I can only give you some general figures.  But they should be enough to give you a good idea. 

Below is a chart that looks at the components of an inbound marketing campaign from the side of what it would take to do it in-house (shown by the hours needed) versus what you would be paying if you hired an agency.

*Note, these numbers are rough estimates pulled from my experience of both managing inbound marketing campaigns as part of an in-house team, and at an agency. These are only meant to give you a relative idea as to what to expect. 

Campaign Component

In-house (cost in hours)

Agency (cost in $)

Buyer Persona Development

6 hours

$1000

Content Idea Development

3 hours

$200

8 blog articles

16 hours

$1600 (8 articles at $200/)

1 premium offer

6 hours

$1250

Call-to-action button & Landing page

1.5 hours

$150

Email nurturing series

3 hours

$200

Social Distribution

2 hours

$500

Paid Promotion

4 hours

$1000 (not include management cost)

TOTALS

41.5 hours

$5900

That’s means putting together a one-month inbound marketing campaign will require that you put in over 40 hours of work in-house, or spend close to $6000 to hire an agency to do it. 

On the agency side, please know that normally the costs will probably not be broken out line-by-line like I did above. Typically you’re paying a flat monthly retainer for a variety of activities that happen within a month.

Some months are heavy on one activity (such as buyer persona and idea development), while other months might be heavy on other activities (such as content development and distribution). Agency costs can also range greatly. But like many other things in the world, you get what you pay for.

The chart above is only meant to give you an idea of what it looks like from a cost and time perspective if you were to attempt an inbound marketing campaign in-house versus going with an agency. Don’t quote me on any of it!

The Pros and Cons

We’ve covered a lot of things in this article so far, including inbound marketing basics, the time investment required and the cost investment required.  Now we’re going to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of both doing inbound yourself and hiring an agency.

We’ll start first with looking at doing inbound yourself.

Doing Inbound Yourself: Pros 

  • You have complete control over every aspect of the process.  You control the voice, the tone, the style, and the visual look.  You are able to inject your expertise and opinions into more areas. You run the show.
  • You have oversight of all steps in the process, as they happen (not when they are complete).  If you have an in-house team you are able to delegate as much or as little as you like. 
  • Decisions can be made faster because the communication chain is shorter. 
  • You can have a deeper understanding of your full inbound marketing machine, because you’ve built it from start to finish.
  • You're able to pivot more quickly if you see or feel that one component of your campaign is not working.

Doing Inbound Yourself: Cons

  • It takes time to understand and master the moving parts of an inbound marketing campaign.  There is a learning curve that requires a time investment, as well as a period of trial and error.
  • You are limited by your own knowledge of and experience with inbound marketing.  You may not be able to do as good of a job as a marketing professional.
  • You will be pulled away from other areas of your business because of the significant time and energy investment required.
  • Favorable results may take longer to appear.

Now lets take a look at some pros and cons of hiring an agency.

Hiring an Agency: Pros 

  • You get a team of specialized experts working on your behalf.
  • Your inbound marketing campaigns can, theoretically, get up and running caster because of the simple fact that there will be more people working to get you results (it’s the difference between a 10 hour job for one person, versus that same job split 5 ways).
  • You are freed up to devote more time to other critical business functions.
  • You get to delegate instead of execute

Hiring an Agency: Cons

  • Hiring an agency can be a significant monthly expensive.
  • Although you do have input, because an external party is creating your content you are putting the voice of your company in the hands of an outsider.
  • You will lose some control; you will not be able to oversee every small detail and action that happens (which may not be a bad thing, if you’re a chronic micromanager).
  • You run the risk of the relationship not working out (which can cost you significant amounts of time and money).
  • You may also be putting your marketing in the hands of people who are not necessarily experts in your field (unless the agency specializes in your industry).

A Quick Recap

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article.  Here’s a quick recap:

  • What is inbound marketing?  It’s the process of using content to attract people to your website, turn them into leads, and win them as a customer.  Your goal is not just to get them to a transaction, but to transform them into your biggest brand advocate.  It makes use of many different marketing tools, including: blogging, email marketing, social media, graphic design, conversion optimization, and analytics. 
  • What does it require?  It requires a deep understanding of your customer, the use of processes and tools to execute effectively, consistency and quality of work.
  • What can I expect to invest in time (in-house) or money (agency)?  For a one-month inbound marketing campaign you can expect to spend around 40 hours doing it yourself, or pay an agency around $6000 to do it for you.
  • What are the pros and cons of both options?  Doing it yourself gives you control, speed, flexibility and insight. But you must invest significant time, you’re limited  by your abilities, and the pressure rests on your shoulders.  Hiring an agency gives you a team of specialists, offers quicker setup and execution, and can free you up to work on other parts of the business. But you give up control, you risk time and energy in the event things go sour, and you end up trusting your businesses success to non-insiders who may not have experience in your industry.

What I want you to do now is envision what life will be like over the next 12 months as you execute your own inbound marketing strategy, or as you partner with an agency.  Literally close your eyes and think about the two scenarios. 

In one scenario you're tasked with learning the inbound process, developing your personas, generating ideas, creating content, and sharing it with the world.  You’re executing all of this yourself, or leading an in-house team.

  • How much time will you need to devote each day or week to inbound marketing?  How much can you spare?
  • How much learning do you need to do before you feel confident to begin? 
  • Who will be writing your content?
  • Who will be designing and formatting your content?
  • Do you have an in-house team that you can delegate to?  What pieces of the team will you need to assemble?

In the other scenario you’re researching potential agencies, participating in strategy and content meetings, providing feedback and ideas, allowing access to your customer information and sharing your business processes.  

  • How much control are you willing to place in the hands of an agency? 
  • How comfortable are you stepping back and letting others run the show? 
  • How much time do you have for weekly meetings and phone calls? 
  • Are you the type that can work well with others?
  • Are you open to not only giving but also receiving feedback and suggestions?
  • Will you be the primary point of contact with the agency, or will someone else?

All of these are questions to consider while making your decision.

Final Thoughts

In the end I believe your gut will tell you which option is the best fit for you and your organization.  You have a good sense of what you can and cannot sustain, and what you need to meet your performance goals.  So trust your intuition and know that any decision you make is not final.  

The most important part is to enjoy what you’re about to get into. Inbound marketing can be extremely fun and rewarding (both personally and financially), whether you’re doing it solo or pairing with an agency. So enjoy the experience and create something your customers will love!

Now it’s time for your input. What helped you make your decision of doing inbound marketing yourself or hiring an agency? What was the ultimate factor that led to the decision you made? Let us know in the comments below, and help others going through the same situation.New Call-to-action

Originally published Jul 23, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

Topics:

Inbound Marketing