Hiring For Your Marketing Team: Agency vs Freelancer
As a client, you are often faced with the choice of either hiring an agency or a freelancer. In today’s post, we will dive deep into the pros and cons of hiring an agency or a freelancer.
ADVANTAGES OF HIRING AGENCIES
Agencies have a lot of experience from dealing with many clients from various industries and it goes without saying that they also have a set of proven frameworks. It can be said that agencies are experts in targeting your specific needs as a client.
Larger agencies can cater to you using different levels of skills amongst their staff. Hiring agencies also helps you save time on headhunting for the most suitable freelancer for your project. Unless you have an HR department to carry out the process for you, hiring an agency saves you a lot of trouble of filtering through hundreds of resumes and portfolios.
DISADVANTAGES OF HIRING AGENCIES
The biggest disadvantage of hiring agencies is definitely the cost. Hiring a freelancer directly or delegating internally can save you a lot of money. Apart from that, hiring an agency can mean that your project may not be prioritized.
There is a tendency amongst agencies to over promise or tell you what you want to hear because of course, you are paying them. My experience working with agencies is that they typically focus on clients who pay more. It is not necessarily a bad thing but I find it complicated at times.
On top of that, due to the fact that agencies work with a tight margin, competing with a lot of other agencies, you will have to be tied down with them for a long period of time. In Europe, the contract can range anywhere between six and twenty four months and if you somehow find out halfway that the agency does not jive well with your needs as a client, it can get really expensive to end the contract and source out a new agency.
Nonetheless, if you end up with an ideal agency, this will not pose a problem. But that said, you as a client need to take a lot into consideration before committing to a long contract with an agency.
It is also worth mentioning that turnovers are high within agencies so you may discover the account manager you are working with has suddenly left the agency and you are assigned a new individual halfway through your project. I find this process a waste of time as you will have to onboard the new account manager and update them on where you currently are.
SUITABILITY OF AN AGENCY
This depends on what you are looking for as a client but typically, marketing agencies provide three types of growth marketing services: Pay Per Click (PPC), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content Marketing
Since I’m an SEO specialist, I usually use this option for marketing or I hire a freelancer to do it but since I am not as familiar with PPC, that is when I hire an agency to run the campaign.
Depending on the budget, a larger one usually affords me the ability to hire an agency. But when faced with a project with a smaller budget, a freelancer is the best bet.
Startups which are cash rich and looking to grow exponentially in a short amount of time can benefit greatly from hiring an agency. Having said that, large corporations can also enjoy the convenience of an agency, especially when starting a new project and not wanting to spend time looking for freelancers.
BUILDING A GOOD RAPPORT WITH AN AGENCY
I like to ask a lot of questions during the proposal stage, so I can be better acquainted with the team I am about to spend the next few months working with. Additionally, tasks can be smoother sailing when you have a healthy relationship with the agency.
Reading body language during meetings and observing their e-mails can also give one a better insight into who they are. It allows you to gauge if their identity as an agency fits well with your own company’s work culture.
Meeting with the agency’s team instead of just the account manager helps in building a solid relationship with the agency. It gives them a sense of who they are dealing with and perhaps even motivate them to do a better job for you.
I prefer doing video calls instead of e-mails because it enables me to read their facial expressions. They might tell me everything is going well but their expression may say otherwise.
ADVANTAGES OF HIRING FREELANCERS
Personally, I prefer hiring freelancers. To begin with, they are value for money because you are paying them directly as compared to paying the agency a commission fee.
Freelancers are specific in their skills so if you know exactly what you want for your project, work moves much faster. Communication wise, it is also not as time-consuming as dealing with an agency where you will have to go through the account manager to get your message across to the freelancer.
DISADVANTAGES OF HIRING FREELANCERS
As mentioned above, freelancers are specific in their skills, which can also work as a disadvantage in this case because the field of expertise is more narrow in comparison to hiring an agency.
Startups which do not have an HR department will struggle with the hiring process of freelancers. Filling a particular position may not be fast enough to meet your business’ demands or growth.
On top of that, because most clients prefer to hire freelancers, finding a good one can prove to be a difficult task. Most highly skilled freelancers have either been snatched up by other clients or fully booked for months or even years. An average-skilled freelancer might be easily available, but they will need a lot of guidance and this is time-consuming.
Highly experienced freelancers are more independent in a sense that you only need to provide them with a simple brief, and they can run the task with minimal supervision from your end.
PROCESS OF HIRING FREELANCERS
From an employer’s point of view, it can be a grueling task. What I like to do is ask for recommendations from my network of colleagues within the same industry. However, this option usually leaves me with a pool of freelancers who are already engaged in other projects for the next few months.
Another alternative solution would be to post my search on social media, mainly LinkedIn. On of the things to keep in mind when hiring via social media is there should not be any bias or discrimination when filtering through resumes and portfolios. What I personally do is I utilize a system that blocks out names, their social media details and other personal details that might influence my decision.
This leaves me with only a review of their answers on job related questions. Once a choice has been made, then and only then will I check out their LinkedIn profile, and personal details which are required in order to hire the individual.
DO FREELANCERS HAVE MORE INTEGRITY THAN AGENCIES
I would not say one is more trustworthy than the other. However, I prefer freelancers because I can get trusted individuals to personally vouch for their work, unlike with agencies.
On the other hand, people within my network might also recommend an agency but since the turnover rate is high, I as a client may end up being assigned an individual who does not reflect the agency’s integrity or work culture.
A FREELANCER’S POINT OF VIEW
Initially, I found working with agencies helped build my reputation as a freelancer and expand my horizon but after a few years, I discovered I could make more money dealing directly with clients.
Depending on where you are in the world, in certain countries, agencies have a tendency of handling freelancers without involving a contract. This is where the freelancers lose out. Agencies can simply quote a rate and the freelancer agrees without having it in writing. This leads to a lot of other problems for the freelancer.
On the flip side, agencies can offer freelancers a consistent flow of jobs, given that the freelancer is efficient and highly skilled.
BUILDING A REPUTATION AS A FREELANCER
Because you are your own agent and manager, freelancers need to put themselves out there in order for clients to discover them. Having a positive social media presence helps, especially on LinkedIn.
Having your own website allows clients to look you up and learn more about who you are both professionally and personally. Adding a blog and/or a podcast will enable clients to listen to your tone of voice whether in writing or audio. The key is to build your own brand and be your authentic self.
If like me, you are a marketing freelancer, having a blog really helps in connecting with potential clients. Having an online presence is key as a freelancer. In this day and age, your willingness to share knowledge online for free is an attractive trait in the eyes of clients.
I have also signed up to speak at conferences and organized private webinars, spreading my knowledge as an SEO specialist to those who are interested to learn more and also to potential clients.
IS IT MORE CONVENIENT FOR FREELANCERS TO BE MANAGED BY AGENCIES
When you are starting out as a freelancer, having an agency represent you will not only be convenient for you, but it will also teach you many valuable things. You learn to wear multiple hats, experience dealing with different people, and basically expand your know-hows within your industry.
Once you have accumulated enough knowledge, you can branch out on your own. Personally, I prefer working on my own because I am able to be flexible with my time and manage my own expectations. Whereas being affiliated with an agency means you will have to work around their set time and adhere to their culture.
HOW DO FREELANCERS MANAGE THEMSELVES EFFICIENTLY
When it comes to dealing with clients or agencies, it is of utmost importance that you protect yourself with contracts. Without a binding contract, you can face issues ranging from payment, being forced to deliver more than initially agreed upon, and in some cases even being blamed for things you never even consented to.
I am very firm when it comes to payment terms in my contract with a client or agency. If a payment is ever late, I will immediately cease work. In order to protect yourself, you need to know what you want, what you can deliver and not be afraid to state it. To be a freelancer, you need to know your worth. An important thing to remember here is that, you have the right to fire a client if they do not deliver.
Working for agencies can be hard work, for a lot less money. You can end up putting in twelve hours a day, depending on your type of business. On the other hand, venturing out on your own means you will have to handle a lot of paperwork yourself.
Depending on where you are in the world, filing taxes can prove to be a major headache. If you are to set up your own company and hire an accountant, it still means you need to manage everything on your own prior to handing them over to your accountant.
If you have read past blog posts, you will see that I have registered my company in Estonia and that has afforded me a lot of luxuries in terms of dealing with my efficient European based accounting company mainly online. Instead of having to collect every little receipt or invoice, I simply need to upload everything online and they will take care of the rest. At the end of the day, I just need to sign the papers, and rest easy.
SHOULD FREELANCERS ACCEPT FULL TIME POSITIONS
As time goes by and you become better at your field, you may run into clients who are willing to hire you full time. There are no handbooks for this but I would say, ultimately, it depends on what you want.
If like me, you value your freedom, ask the client if they are willing to work around your flexible time. Make sure that it is a win-win situation. After all, they are the ones who are chasing you. Better still, if they do not have a clause that says you cannot continue to take on freelance projects on the side, take full advantage of it. Given of course that you can handle the workload.
In some countries, clients may state in your contract that you are not permitted to take on projects or freelance work that is associated with their competitors. These are the little things that you need to take note of in your contract. As mentioned earlier, it is entirely up to you but make sure you are on the winning end.
Next, look into the company’s publicly available documents before signing on the dotted line. Some organizations look perfect on the outside but are crumbling where their finances are concerned. Also, speak to employees of the company so you can gauge whether or not this company is a good fit for you. Bottomline is, accepting a fulltime position should mean additional benefits for you, instead of losing your current status as a succesful freelancer.
CRITERIA CLIENTS LOOK FOR AGENCIES / FREELANCERS
Recommendations based on past performance is the number one thing most clients look for prior to hiring. Personally, I like to speak to companies which have ended their contracts with a particular agency or freelancer and find out why the contract ended. The contract may not have been renewed due to budget issues or organizational issues.
Finding out these things will not only help you gauge what can be foreseen in the future, but it can help you entirely avoid the problems altogether.