The people you choose to handle your marketing approach will make or break your brand. It’s a decision with repercussions that will ripple throughout the life of your company. The daunting choice looms before you: do you hire an agency or a freelancer? Your palms get sweaty. Somewhere the 8 Mile soundtrack plays in the background. Suddenly it feels like you have one shot to get your marketing strategy right, and you don’t want to blow it with the wrong choice.
Before you become paralyzed with indecision, there’s good news. When you examine the pros and cons of hiring an agency vs. a freelancer, there are a few logical things to consider, regardless of the size of your organization. And when you weigh those against the values and realities of your brand, the right decision should become clearer than Eminem’s lyrics.
To define our terms, a marketing agency is a group of people who work together for a common goal. It’s an entire company dedicated to creating, planning and executing advertising, creative, digital engagement, and awareness for their clients. A freelancer is generally one person who consults with companies to achieve all these things on their own, or they operate independently in one specialized area. So how do you know the right fit for your company? Let’s find out.
Working styles: how does each operate?
Say you need a new logo for your company. You hire a freelance graphic designer. They know logos. They’re fluent in fonts and colors. It’s their specialty. They’ll take the assignment, present multiple options, work with your feedback, and deliver the final files. The logo is on your website within a week. You and the freelancer part ways. Now let’s pretend you hired an agency to complete that job. To start, an entire team would be at your disposal—not only the designer but also a branding expert, a digital strategist, writers, engineers, data researchers, and more. Led by a senior leader, they start by deep diving into your goals. They ask a lot of questions. Who is your current audience? Will this change in the future? What is your brand really about? The discussion goes beyond colors and fonts. It drills down to the essence of your brand. The team counts on the talent across disciplines to cross-check ideas and ensure the right choices are being made. There are more meetings, more strategies, more hands that play into the details of every decision. In the end, you’ll feel a thoroughness. The agency will follow up, willing to stay engaged with your brand. The freelancer may have been faster, but the agency prioritized quality.
Cost & time: how do they compare?
For a lot of companies, it’s all about the benjamins. Which option is cheaper? To put it plainly, a freelancer may be less expensive than an agency. They are one person. You are supporting one person’s expertise and singular input on the project. They logically have less overhead than a team of people. A freelancer may even be undervaluing themselves to secure work, further imbalancing the cost.
Freelancers are also more likely to be strict with the hours dedicated to a project. This is usually because they have simultaneous projects with multiple clients and allot their time accordingly. An agency has more support and flexibility to dedicate more hours and manpower if the needs of the project change. They will likely spend more time with you in meetings, asking questions and communicating frequently to keep you updated. A freelancer may be accustomed to receiving the assignment and not contacting you again until the work is done. They adhere to their own schedule; planning and communication starts and ends with them. An agency will generally align with a corporate schedule and keep the deadlines and expectations organized with a project manager. It will feel more formalized like you’re going into business with another company. A relationship with a freelancer will be more relaxed. So relaxed that when a project finishes, you might never hear from them again, even if you want to (hey, it happens).
Data & Security: what are the risks?
At times, a freelancer may be able to operate faster. As an army of one, they can be more agile and deliver work quicker. Sounds great, right? Not always. The reason why most agencies take longer to deliver the work is not because they’re slower. It’s not because they’re off golfing. They don’t lack the technology. It’s because they have safeguards. They perform due diligence. They test. They have processes and rounds in place to ensure that the work is thoughtful and aligns with the brand and purpose. They ensure everything is secure. Many eyes have signed off and given the green light. The freelancer is an expert in their avenue. They may be a stellar designer. But they’re not a digital marketer. Not a content strategist. Not an engineer. They aren’t supported by lawyers or business developers. A freelancer may miss something or make a mistake. And the consequences could be catastrophic.
A harsh reality of using a freelancer is they might be putting your company’s data at risk. Consider a nightmare scenario where your freelancer is working on your brand from Starbucks and they ask the sweet old man sitting next to them to watch their laptop while they use the restroom. When they get back the spry old geezer is high-tailing it to his car and skipping away with your brand’s data and intel. The freelancer has no recourse in place. No way to recover the stolen property or protect your brand. Your data, passwords, and secret sauce are off in cyberspace for the taking. Agencies are bonded and insured, backed by legal measures, and equipped for any catastrophe so they can support your brand.
Additionally, freelancers generally set up their businesses so that they are working with multiple clients. You may assume these clients are in a different industry from yours. But the reality is some could be conflicting, and you wouldn’t know it. The freelancer could be passing the same workaround and you’d have no idea. It’s a lot of trust to place on one person with no safety net. An agency’s contracts and legal responsibilities avoid this.
Future growth: are you thinking short or long term?
Will your brand grow as time goes by? Hopefully, the answer is yes. When it does, will you hire more freelancers? Piecing together a disjointed team may not be the way to go. Your time will be spent dealing with multiple schedules, communication styles, and struggling to get your freelancers aligned with your vision. Establishing the right marketing agency from the start to partner with your brand will yield better results over time. An agency is equipped with more services that brands can leverage as they grow into them. They have established partnerships with platforms to get better responses and insights. Some agencies, like Rareview, have even been around for decades, and have built relationships with companies and resources that are invaluable and will be available to you as a client.
When you’re ready to expand, the right agency will be familiar with your brand’s journey. The sad truth is many freelancers perform the work asked, but lack the forethought to pose the question, but is this what’s best for your brand? For the sake of time and a paycheck, they will not challenge or think critically. The right agency will discourage you from putting out work that is reactive and will encourage you to build a proactive approach that will pay off for your future.
The short-term vs. long-term effects of hiring the right person is a decision that can cost businesses real dollars. At Rareview we’ve taken on clients who were burned badly by freelancers. This is becoming more common in the social media and digital advertising space. One client we took on had been using a freelancer and we discovered the astronomical level of negligence and waste. We uncovered that the business was getting .60 cents for every dollar they spent on digital ads and they were now indebted to Facebook for $300k. The freelancer had been sharing results with the company’s CEO but had calculated the math wrong and misread the data. The freelancer bowed out, never to be heard from again. The company was left with nothing but friendly emails from Facebook asking them to set up a payment plan to repay the debt. Not to mention the freelancer was operating from coffee shops without two-factor authentication security, so that whole data risk thing comes into play again…
Not everyone knows what they’re doing, and there’s a real risk at stake. Hiring right at the onset avoids waste and headaches. It sets your brand up for a better future.
The bottom line
The reality for many fledging brands is they are restricted by budget. If you are a startup with limited marketing funds, your finances may narrow down your choice for you and you’ll be forced to start with a freelancer. And there’s nothing wrong with starting small and building a bigger marketing strategy over time. But once you have the capital and staff behind you, it will make sense to pursue an agency as a larger organization. Agencies can scale up and assist larger companies when freelancers can’t.
An agency operates as a business, just like yours. They have ethics and safeguards in place. A freelancer may be a rogue genius, but you never quite know the laws and processes that govern them. There’s a level of uncertainty that many businesses aren’t willing to take on.
At Rareview we see our relationships with our clients as a partnership. We make each decision with the goal of growing your brand for the long term. We hold a stake in your success. We see the potential for the future and work hard to get you there with diligence and transparency.