Is it better to do your marketing in-house or hire a digital marketing agency? Typically, two factors come into play when making that decision: time and, of course, money.
In this post, we’ll cover the pros and cons of hiring an agency versus doing marketing yourself, and give you a few questions to mull over as you consider both options.
By the end, you’ll have enough information to confidently decide whether your organization will be doing inbound marketing in-house or hiring an agency. Let’s get started.
Pros and Cons of In-House Marketing vs. Hiring an Agency
You might be struggling to decide whether to place your marketing in the hands of an agency or to take it on yourself (which can be a daunting task). My goal is to make that decision a bit easier on you.
First up, let’s talk about the benefits and drawbacks of both doing inbound yourself and hiring an agency.
Doing Marketing Yourself: Pros
- You have complete control over every aspect of the process. You control the voice, the tone, and the style of your campaigns. You have oversight of all steps in the process, as they happen (not when they are complete). This means you can always change the strategies or direction of the campaign anytime you want to. You can make decisions more agilely because the communication chain is shorter.
- You have access to every piece of your marketing process. While using an agency, you won’t have access to every tactic or process, because some partners choose to hide some of their marketing techniques. Otherwise, what would you pay them for? The point is that they save you the headache of thinking about marketing processes.
Doing Marketing 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 and experience of inbound marketing. You may neglect other areas of your business because of the significant time and energy required in marketing.
- It may take longer to get results compared to when you’re using a marketing agency. Agencies are more knowledgeable, and they’ll have at least two to three people working on your campaigns. For that reason, you’ll see results more quickly.
Now let's 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. You don’t have to go through the headache of hiring an all-star marketing team; the agency will provide that for you. Plus, your in-house marketing team may learn a thing or two from the marketing agency.
- You’ll see results quickly. Hiring an agency saves you time because it already has a system in place that they’ve used to get results for other clients.
- You get more time to do actual revenue-generating activities. Digital marketing is a long game. By delegating inbound marketing, you get to focus on the more crucial and immediately beneficial parts of your business.
- You’ll see better results. Marketing agencies have access to valuable tools and resources, which increases your chances of getting better results. Additionally, it may cost you thousands of dollars if you decide to purchase these tools.
Hiring an Agency: Cons
- Digital marketing agencies aren’t as agile. It may take longer to make decisions because of the long chain of communication.
- Agencies are costly. Hiring an agency can be a significant monthly expense.
- You don’t have much control in the marketing process. For example, you just can’t decide to change or terminate the process overnight.
- You run the risk of the relationship not working out. This can cost you significant amounts of time and money.
What does it cost to hire an agency for digital marketing?
Every digital marketing campaign is different depending on the service or product being promoted, and it's important to note that prices for agency work is going to vary significantly based on the level of expertise, support and involvement you need.
Below is a chart that looks at the components of a marketing campaign completed in-house (shown by the hours needed) versus what you could potentially be paying if you hired an agency. These numbers are intended to give you a general idea of cost expectations as you enter the initial planning phase. If you decide to work with an agency, they'll be able to share more details on their specific offerings and prices.
|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 including management cost)|
Putting together a one-month digital 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. Remember that in-house marketing teams may not have the necessary expertise to undertake some of these tasks. You should take into account hours of research and training for your team members, which will elongate the process.
When working with an agency, chances are that you’ll be required to pay the charges on a retainer. In some months they might focus on building content and on others they may spend all hours on content distribution. All marketing agencies have their terms and conditions, so it’s important to get into a call and discuss specifics before you sign any contract.
Questions to Ask When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency
Digital marketing companies come in all sizes and shapes, so choosing one that works for your business can be very hectic. However, there are some questions that you can ask prospective digital marketing companies to get a good fit.
- What processes and tools do you use to get results?
- Which strategies do you use for your brand, and what has been working out for you?
- How much will you involve the in-house team?
- How do you measure success for your clients, and how often do you do so?
- When can I expect to start seeing results?
- How much do your services cost? Will I incur extra costs, such as any subscriptions needed to implement the strategy?
- What are some of your recent failures, and how did you remediate them?
This last question may seem too direct, but sometimes the best way to know a prospective partner is not by their successes but how they handle their downfalls. You need to know that if anything should go poorly, your agency has your back.
Tips to Hire the Right Digital Marketing Agency
Besides asking the right questions, there are other few hacks that can help you hire the right agency. Here are a few of them:
- Learn about the agency’s work from its customers. Find their past and current customers and ask them about their experience working with the agency.
- Check the agency's reviews and testimonials. They will give you an idea of what working with the company is like and whether it's worth your time.
- Review the company's website. You want to hire a marketing company that's already implementing what they're selling you on their website. If they’re missing details on their website, chances are they’ll be a little flaky with your site too.
- Don't ignore the red flags. Ask yourself how realistic their promises are and whether it's possible to deliver them without any spammy outbound tactics. Black hat marketing methods can be very risky for your brand in the future.
- Give it the beer test. You want to work with a person you can get along with. So, ask yourself whether you'd be comfortable sharing a beer with the professional you've been assigned to work with. If the answer is no, you’re probably not compatible.
- Do a trial run. Many marketing agencies are going to demand that you sign a contract. Start with their lowest timeframe (like 3 months) before you commit long term.
How to Set Expectations and Goals When Working with a Digital Marketing Agency
Before you commit to a marketing agency, you need to ensure you set your expectations in the right place. One way to set goals for your inbound marketing campaign is to use the S.M.A.R.T method. Below is a detailed example:
- Specific. For example, you might say, “We want to grow our email list by 30% by the end of Q4.”
- Measurable. Your main goal should have a number attached to it, e.g. “We want to get 3,000 new email subscribers.”
- Attainable. It's very important to be realistic with what you ask the marketing agency to achieve. For example, if you're currently getting 2,000 organic site visits, a goal of 10k would be a bit of an overreach. On the other hand, 3,000 to 3,500 organic visits is attainable.
- Relevant. Ensure your marketing requests match your goals. For example, if you want more email subscribers, the agency should focus on launching an eBook or an offer to encourage more sign-ups.
- Timely. This is an estimate of the time you’re hoping to get the results. A good example is saying you want to have 3,000 email subscribers in six months.
Now that we have a clear picture of working with a digital marketing agency, let’s go over what a digital marketing strategy looks like. That way, you can estimate whether you can take it on in-house — or whether you should outsource it to a marketing agency.
Should You Do Digital Marketing In-House?
If you feel like you have the manpower to create a strong, multi-faceted digital marketing strategy, then yes, you should do it in-house. But if you feel that you fall short in some ways or could use help, then hiring an agency is ideal.
To help you understand where there may be gaps in either your team or your knowledge, let’s get a clear picture of digital marketing.
Digital marketing is the practice of attracting quality visitors to your website, converting those visitors into leads, and turning those leads into happy customers. This digital strategy relies on content — such as blog articles, videos, social media posts, and ebooks — to appeal to an ideal customer by addressing their basic questions and pain points, and demonstrating that you offer the best solution for them.
It makes use of tools — such as your website, email list, and social media — to deliver content to your target customer at specific intervals as they move through the buying process. It is both intelligent (based off of behavioral data) and personal (the most effective messages are customized to the individual).
There are other components that work together to make a well-rounded digital marketing strategy, including:
- Call-to-action buttons
- Landing pages
- Premium offers (ebooks, white papers, case studies, etc.)
- Email nurturing
- Social media
- Digital PR
- Online advertising
Digital marketing is an effective strategy for growing your business online and is used by businesses of all types and in all industries. Whether you do it in-house or through an agency, you’ll be sure to reap long-term and sustained benefits.
What Does it Take to Run an Effective Digital Marketing Campaign In-House?
If you choose to do your digital marketing in-house, you want to ensure that you’re getting results from your efforts. To do that end, you need to understand the main pillars of running an inbound digital marketing campaign.
A Clear Target Market and Persona
Since digital marketing attempts to meet consumers where and when they search for information online, digital marketers must have a deep understanding of their target audience and their behavior. Otherwise, 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.
Digital 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 system. Otherwise, you end up being all over the place with half-baked projects.
A typical digital marketing campaign will use a whole slew of marketing tools. These include 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 your marketing results more efficiently.
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? Your readers start viewing you as a trusted source in your industry, and the more they read your content, the better Google will rank you.
You can’t compromise on quality when running any inbound marketing campaign. Whether it’s an email or a blog post, ensure it’s packed with meaningful information that solves your readers’ problems. That’s the only thing that will keep them coming back to your website and convert them into buyers. To write quality content, you must fully understand your target buyer first.
Digital Marketing Can Be Done In-House or With an Agency
In the end, you’ll know which marketing agency is the best fit for you and your organization. You now have a good sense of what you can and cannot sustain and what you need to meet your performance goals. Trust your intuition and know that any decision you make can be changed to reach and exceed your marketing objectives.
Digital marketing can be extremely rewarding, whether you’re doing it solo or pairing with an agency. So, enjoy the experience and create something your potential customers will love.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published May 25, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated January 20 2023