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When to hire a Freelancer, Agency or Employee for Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is essential for businesses in the modern world and with so many options at your disposal, it’s important to know when to hire a freelancer, agency or employee for digital marketing. In this article, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of each approach and help you decide which option is best for your business.

Please note that I am explicitly sharing my views on the subject at hand.

When should a business hire talent for digital marketing?

Contrary to popular belief, the answer is NOT DAY ONE and here is why? Digital Marketing is vast and there isn’t a single person dead or alive who is capable of doing everything by themselves. There is a lot that falls under the umbrella known as “Digital Marketing” and it’s important for the business to identify their current needs.

Let’s take a few minutes to understand what falls under digital marketing and the experts in that domain.

SEO or Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization is the process of gaining visibility and traffic on search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo! The role of the search engine optimizer is to work towards this goal and optimize the website (based on Google’s guidelines), to ensure the website reaches it’s ultimate goal and drive tons of traffic to the website.

On Page SEO

There are 3 primary types of SEO:

On Page SEO – An expert in this domain deals with all on page optimizations to improve visibility on SERP.

Off Page SEO – An expert in this domain deals with building a reputation (backlinks) to improve visibility on SERP.

Technical SEO – An expert in this domain deals with functionality and usability of your website to improve visibility on SERP.

It is important to know what type of SEO is the need of the hour.

SMO or Social Media Optimization

Social media optimization is the process of gaining visibility by attracting subscribers, followers or connections on social media. The role of a social media optimizer is to attract potential clients to your social media page to build a database.

social media

Here are 3 profiles that fall under SMO:

Short Copywriter – An expert in this domain helps create persuasive short copy (based on limitations of the social media platform) to convey the brand’s message, in a manner that appeals to an emotion and promotes a desired action.

Graphic Designer – An expert in this domain converts the text (shared by the copywriter) into beautiful and attractive illustrations to captivate the reader.

Social Media Manager – An expert in this domain deals with coordinating with the two experts mentioned above and present a copy and illustration which is as per business expectations. Once approved, they are also in charge of posting the content on social media platforms as well as interacting with followers, subscribers or connections on your behalf.

Google Adwords and Social Media Ads

An expert in this domain deals with running ads on either the search engine or social media platforms. They primarily deal with keyword research for ads (which is very different from SEO keyword research) or target your potential audience based on work profiles, demographics, behavior or interests.

They generally DO NOT create copy or illustrations as their primary goal is to optimize for ROI (Return on Investments). Often, they will request that the copy and the illustrations to be provided from the client themselves.

Data Science – Google Analytics

An expert in this domain deals with a lot of data. The goal is to present a clear and concise picture to the client of their website’s current strengths, weakness and opportunities. The information provided by these experts can aid in the decision making process of the business.

data science

Although the data for SEO, SMO or Adwords are provided by the respected experts, the expert dealing in data science goes one step further. They analyze data from all 3 channels and share in-depth reports which can give a business powerful insights to capitalize on untapped opportunities.

Email Marketing

The goal of email marketing is to create a database of individuals or business interested in your products or services. An expert in this domain would be responsible in creating persuasive emails and powerful automations. The workflow (automation) created are specifically designed to keep re-targeting the users to convert them into leads.

They design a process where once an email ID is captured, they are constantly (not spamming but) are reminded of your business (products or services) and are being persuaded to take a favorable action.

Before a business decides to hire talent for digital marketing, they need to understand what type of digital marketer is currently best suited for their business needs.

Hence, hiring someone from digital marketing industry from DAY ONE isn’t recommended!

A SEO expert will always say SEO is the way forward, so will the SMO say that social media is the way forward and so on. It is important for a business to read up a little on each SEO, SMO, Ads and Email Marketing as well as try it out themselves to the best of their knowledge and understand the way forward themselves.

Don’t be afraid and try these activities yourself with a limited budget to get an idea what works for your business.

A small business dealing with homemade products (cakes, chocolates, bakery etc) will find more success in Social Media Marketing as compared to the rest, whereas, a business dealing with specific services (HR, Consultation, Advisory etc) may find success with SEO or Email Marketing.

Always go with a freelancer first

A freelancer is an individual who is an expert in one of the domains stated above. Once you have identified how you are planning to move forward, you should always start with a freelancer first and here is why:

Cost-effective – A freelancer hired for a specific need is comparatively cheaper than an agency.

Contractual Relationship – They generally work on a 3,6 or 12 month contract depending on business needs and if they are unable to fulfil their obligations, you can easily end the relationship when the contract expires, whereas, hiring someone as an employee would turn into a difficult situation.

Learning – As a business, you get to learn a lot about the domain the freelancer expertise in. This knowledge would come handy when the time is right.

Pay as you go – As an when the need arises, you can hire more freelancers each specializing in their respective domains.

Dedicated and Focused – Unlike an employee or an agency who will have to deal with multiple digital marketing domains at the same time. Hiring an individual who is dedicated and focused on a certain digital marketing channel is beneficial in the early days of a business.

If your business is young (under one year), then you should always start with a freelancer first, unless you have deep pockets to afford a reputable digital marketing agency.

Then hire a talent as an employee

Once you have freelancers working towards achieving specific set of goals, you should search and hire a talent as an employee.

You could always check with one of the freelancers if they would be interested in working on fulltime basis with you. That is if they have truly been an asset to the organization and you have developed good relationships with each other.

If you are hiring someone new, then, you should hire them as a digital marketing manager. A digital marketing manager doesn’t need to be an expert in a domain but has clear understanding of each. This is important as this individual is going to be responsible in ensuring all digital marketing activities meet their SLA.

As well as, they should be actively involved with strategic planning of all digital marketing activities. In short, this person is here to replace your involvement in digital marketing so that you can focus more on building client-business relationships.

The hiring should take place when you have too much on your plate and there is a need to off-load.

I assume the two freelancers that were hired focused on two very important aspects of digital marketing. It is important that the newly hired digital marketing manager interacts with them and gets a clear understanding on the goals which are set up of the business.

After a few months, you should look for a digital marketing agency.

Finally choose a Digital Marketing Agency

A digital marketing agency is a collation of several experts specializing in various aspects (domains) of digital marketing activities in one place. An agency will always have an overall specialty similar to a freelancer. A freelancer is generally capable of executing all digital marketing activities however, is really good at one aspect.

Similarly, some agencies are really good at SEO, some with SMO or the other aspects, however, they have the capability to take over all of digital marketing activities. They are cost-effective when your business has grown to a large extent.

For example, a freelancer may charge you $1,000 per month where they focus on one aspect of digital marketing, whereas, an agency may charge you $3,000 per month and take care of SEO, SMO, Ads, Email Marketing, Content Marketing, Copywriting and even website maintenance for the sum assured.

It’s like a bulk purchase really. Rather than contracting one individual (freelancer) you are contracting several individuals (agency) to execute tasks that require a specialty. They will literally take care of almost all the digital marketing activities and communicate with the digital marketing manager on all aspects.

You as a entrepreneur are presented with powerful insights from the digital marketing manager which makes the decision making process a lot simpler.

Why should you abide by this process?

When you start your business, there are severe limitations in terms of capital and personnel. Most importantly, nobody knows about you or your business. Taking baby steps is difficult since you are extremely passionate about your business and quite frankly you aren’t even planning to run but to fly.

Simply hiring a digital marketing agency right off the back DOES NOT GURANTEE success! It is important to get feedback from your audience and make subtle improvements as you go. Besides, you need to hire personnel in Admin, Business Development, HR and several other areas as well.

Taking slow and steady steps helps in building your own knowledge towards digital marketing which, quite honestly, is an asset in the long run.

I have worked with several businesses as a freelancer (SEO) and have seen several adopting this methodology. On the other hand, I have also worked with businesses who started with an agency and ultimately came back to hiring freelancers.

It’s not that the agencies are bad (some are, but most aren’t), it’s because they (agencies) weren’t able to meet expectations.

Let you tell you how anything on the internet works – At first it’s slow, then it’s sudden and finally constant!

It takes time to build visibility or a reputation on the internet and is generally a slow process. Then there is a sudden change (positive) in visibility and reputation. There is no such thing as a fast growth online. It’s always slow then sudden and then constant.

Here are a few examples to help you understand what I am trying to convey:

Search Engine Optimization – You will see a lot of SEOs sharing screenshots which indicate a sudden growth of traffic, thanks to their SEO efforts. This phenomenon occurs just once when a website with maybe 100 clicks per day jumps to 1000 clicks per day. After that, the growth is constant, like moving from 1,000 clicks to 1,200 clicks and so on.

You will never come across a screenshot that constantly shows massive jumps like from 100 – 1000, then 1K to 10K and so on. I am yet to come across such a post.

Social Media – It’s really hard to get the first 1000 followers, subscribers or connections on social media. However, at some point, once the magic number has been achieved, there is a sudden spike in followers, subscribers or connections.

For SEO, they have managed to optimize your website well enough for Google to place your URLs in the Top 10, hence the sudden growth!

For Social Media, although the managers have relentlessly posted content to build a reputation, once they touch a certain magic number (depends on the platform), the number then suddenly grows.

It’s more to do with psychology here, we generally don’t mind following a business or a person with a substantial number of followers, whereas, when their follower count is low, we generally don’t bother following them.

Final thoughts

Unless you run an e-commerce website or sell digital products online, it is NOT advisable to start with an agency right from the start. You should invest your capital in acquiring talent that is able to convert the leads that are generated into sales. After all, most of digital marketing activities are targeted towards generating leads for a business.

You should view digital marketing activities as a process of generating valuable and relevant leads for your business and NOT as generating revenue. This is where most of the businesses fail, miserably!

What’s the point of hiring an agency that will deliver massive number of leads which you are not able to convert? Or have insufficient man-power to capitalize on the leads? Often businesses allocate massive marketing budgets and then struggle to make profits.

They don’t just fail to make sufficient profits but also end up tarnishing their own reputation. How do you think a potential lead feels when you call them 3-5 days after receiving their contact information? Let’s forget about this and focus on the concept of “striking when the iron is hot”

Wouldn’t you say you have a better chance of converting the lead into a sale if you are prompt in calling them up and discussing their requirements within 24 hours? They have shown interest in your brand and you should always assume that you aren’t the only ones they are interested in.

Your competitor may just steal a potential client if there is a delay in contacting them.

Hence, you DO NOT need digital marketing or specifically an agency from DAY ONE!

My strategy if I were an entrepreneur


This is my explicit take on how I would go about hiring personnel to ensure constant growth. Here is a step-by-step process:

  • Hire a core team of strategic thinkers who don’t mind wearing a few more hats and delegate tasks.
  • Read up on basic digital marketing and try to implement strategies myself to start generating a few leads.
  • Keep working on generating leads as well as take care of business development activities (convert leads into sales)
  • Develop a process of communication that converts leads into sales.
  • Then, hire a business development executive and a digital marketing freelancer (one to convert leads and the other to generate leads) at the same time.
  • Assist the BDE in conversions and also start looking out for another digital marketing channel to capitalize on.
  • Identify the channel and hire another freelancer who is an expert in that domain to generate more leads.
  • Keep working closely with the BDE and assist with converting leads into sales.

At this point it’s me and the BDE making all the calls and converting leads into sales. My core team can take up other tasks such as client-servicing, admin, HR etc. While I act as the fuel, they act as the machinery.

Once, there is a constant supply of leads and revenue generation, I will try to add one more personnel into BD to ensure we can keep achieving conversions. At this point, I will become a part of the machinery and also oversee digital marketing activities for a while.

When the processes are streamlined and there is a constant flow of leads and conversions, I will look out for a digital marketing manager to take over.

At this point, I can dedicate myself into building client-business relationships and look into expansion opportunities.

When you are trying to expand, you need to go all out! This is when I need more exposure for my business and I have worked towards building a portfolio and reputation which I can now leverage. The digital marketing manager has had sufficient time 3-6 months to understand and align with my vision.

My portfolio acts as a powerful tool which can help build trust and quick conversions. It’s human psychology at play once again. Businesses are more comfortable in working with me as I have proven myself (my business model in this case). It gets somewhat easier to crack deals now.

Think of it like purchasing a product on an ecommerce website. The more stars or positive ratings, the easier it is to sell your products as even first time customers have a sense of reliability and faith based on my rating/stars.

It’s finally time to take a risk and go big with a digital marketing agency!

As a business you should invest your time into understanding what exactly is digital marketing before you jump on the train because everyone does it. Rather than spending heavy on an agency right from the start, you should take a few steps back and decide for yourself if there is a requirement and more importantly if you have the required man-power.

In house digital marketing profiles

Let’s talk about what profiles are more beneficial to hire as an employee rather than outsourcing all your work. Here are some profiles that you should hire on a full time basis (permanent employee) and why:

in house digital marketing

1. Copywriter – A copywriter is a person who is responsible for creating the content that gets uploaded to your website. It is recommended that you hire an in-house copywriter to ensure you have complete control over the content that gets published as well as ensure that there is a constant flow of content to your website.

They are able to create long form content (articles/blogs), landing pages, short copy for ads and content for email marketing. They can also help speed up the backlink building process (guest posting) as they are readily available to create the desired content.

2. Press Release (PR) – The best and quickest way to build authority on the internet is to be featured on well known publications or podcasts. This individual is hyper-focused on identifying such opportunities and works towards building that reputation for your business.

3. Graphic Designer – As we know, a graphic designer is responsible for creating the illustrations and video content. I recommend hiring an in-house graphic designer to ensure that the creativity and messaging at it’s core remains constant for your organization.

4. Digital Marketing Manager – To oversee all digital marketing activities and ensure smooth communication between in-house teams and freelancers or agency. They are also responsible for creating strategies and communicating their vision with the others to ensure all are working towards the same set of goals.

Thanks for reading! I hope this article has provided a clear direction for your business regarding your digital marketing needs. Your capital is a finite resource and it’s important to invest at the right place and at the right time.

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