We know what you’re thinking...
‘this full service agency is about to tell us how awful it is to NOT hire a full service agency.’ Spoiler alert: agencies aren’t for everyone. Neither are freelancers. And neither are in-house teams. (but McDonald’s French Fries totally are)
Whether you have the most boring business (stamp licking) or the most interesting business (custom dog perfume creator), you’re going to need creative services at some point—a logo, a press release, packaging design, a new website, or even ongoing marketing campaigns. You have several options for getting any of those tasks done—again: hiring a freelancer, building a team in-house, or partnering with an agency—but how do you know which is the right choice for your business? Let us break it down for you so you can make an informed choice:
Pros and Cons of Hiring a Freelancer
- Pay on a per-project basis
Kind of like the convenience store of the creative world, a Freelancer let’s you get in, get what you need, and get out. Do you just need a cool new Facebook cover photo but you have the design skills of a newborn chihuahua? Do you need someone to cover a topic on your blog that you just don’t have the time to draft? Freelancers are great for completing these one off-projects and sending you on your way with no bells, no whistles, and no long term contracts. Pay for the work you need and nothing more.
- Get the attention you need
If you work with someone who freelances as a career (not just as a side hustle), they have a personal interest in staying invested in the project and providing excellent, attentive customer service in hopes of winning repeat business from you. Project work is their livelihood, so they’ll want to make a positive lasting impression.
- Niche can be nice
You can find someone who focuses solely on the service you need and feel comfortable that they’ll provide a good finished product. A jack of all trades is a master of none, so you don’t need to worry that the designer you’re hiring to craft a baller logo WrYtEs LiiiKe ThiZZZ, or that the photographer you need thinks HTML is an abbreviation for “Hot Tamale.”
- They’re far removed from the action.
Since they’re so far removed from your company (they may not work with you day-to-day in-house nor have the standing relationship an agency may have) they may require more hand-holding than your other options. Some level of direction is to be expected, but you may not have the time, knowledge, or resources certain freelancers may expect of you.
- It can be risky.
There’s a certain level of risk in trusting just one person who is not tied to your company in any formal way to handle large or multiple aspects of a project. What happens when they get sick? Decide to stop freelancing and raise goats in Oregon? Or—worst case scenario—just flake out? If you’re going to go the freelance route, you should have a thorough vetting process for finding the right freelancer.
- Can be cheaper (but you get what you pay for).
Price shouldn’t be your only deciding factor. Remember just a few points ago when we said, “Niche can be nice?” Well, niche can also be a b*tch. The freelancer you’re considering may be an excellent writer, but have no knowledge of SEO and all the elements that need to be present for a piece of written content to rank well. Even if they’re knowledgable and talented, they likely aren’t the expert, and cannot charge as such.
THE TAKEAWAY? Freelance creatives are best for smaller businesses who only need creative services here and there. Though freelancers can also easily be used to supplement in-house teams or agency partnerships if needed.
Pros and Cons of Building an In-House Creative Team
- They’re around to see it all.
When your creative team is in-house, they’re on site for everything. They’re present for meetings about new products, training sessions, customer appreciation days, they’re even right there beside you getting drunk and eating all the shrimp at the Christmas party. Because of their level of immersion, they’ll have a deep, thorough understanding of your company, it’s culture, and all of its customers which will lend an unmatched degree of authenticity to all the content they produce.
- The team can grow with your company.
Maybe at first you only need a designer who can create brochures, web graphics, and event flyers. Then, as your business grows, you want to add someone who can draft & manage day-to-day marketing communications like social media, email updates, and blogging. Then maybe a little later you need a project manager who can unite the two for creation of more advanced campaigns. If your growth is slow and controlled, then your team can be fully customized to match the direction you’re growing in.
- You’ll need to know how to run a creative department.
Be prepared to establish a creative process and internal workflow for content concepting, creation, review, distribution, and iteration, which can prove to be difficult if your company is nowhere near the creative space. Similarly, it can be difficult to draft meaningful job descriptions and set reasonable expectations as you expand your team and new create positions in a department you yourself have no experience in.
- Turnover can potentially bring things to a halt.
If you have a small in-house creative team, losing one person for whatever reason can have a pretty big impact on creative operations. For example, if you have a marketer, a designer, and an events coordinator—three equally valuable positions but with very little (if any) overlap in skills—then the designer decides to move to the Southwest and do something with turquoise, you could get stuck having to put projects on hold as you go through the hiring process to fill that position.
THE TAKEAWAY? In-house creative teams are most appropriate for larger businesses who can not only afford the additional staff, but who have frequent needs for creative services (especially multiple projects at a time).
Pros and Cons of Partnering with a Creative Agency
- More bang for your buck.
We’ll start with the big one—one huge benefit of partnering with a creative agency is that you gain access to a team of experts with multiple skill sets usually for the same price as hiring one or two employees on staff. So instead of getting just one person to, say, manage your social media profiles, you can get a full team of copywriters, designers, project managers, marketers, ad-experts, or even more depending on the agency. And this option is fully scalable, so as you grow and your needs change, so can the configuration of the services you’re receiving and the team behind the curtain. (And you don’t need to worry about them getting drunk and eating all the shrimp at the Christmas party).
- Dedicated and used to working on deadlines.
Agencies don’t need to put out the same kinds of fires an in-house team might. An agency won’t push a campaign back because all of a sudden they need to pull together data for a spec sheet a vendor requested, or because someone in sales needs an up-to-date version of a brochure to share with a prospect right now. These hiccups can bring in-house teams to a screeching halt as they scramble to get everyone everything they asked for, but a well equipped agency has the processes, resources, and talent to keep large, important projects on task and on time—even if other, smaller “fires” pop up.
- You get some outside perspective.
We mentioned earlier that having someone in-house is great for authenticity, but there’s also a lot of value in the objectivity of an “outsider’s” opinions and ideas. A creative agency will be far more in tune with trends, new technologies, industry-best practices, etc. that can take your authenticity and polish and optimize it for the appropriate audiences and channels.
- Network of professionals.
Not only does partnering with an agency give you access to all of the creative geniuses who work within the agency, but you also get access to all of their contacts, too. Need a photographer for company headshots? They can connect you with just the right one! Need a trade show booth? They know just who can make you stand out amongst all the competition. Need someone to look after your dog while you’re away on business? They’ll volunteer themselves for that one!
Because honest, sustainable results take a fair amount of time and resources to achieve, a creative agency might ask you to sign a longer term contract depending on your goals. That’s not to say there will always be long-term contracts—it’ll really depend on the type of project, your goals, and the agency’s preferred method. But typically, campaigns and long-term projects come bundled with a contract.
- It can be expensive.
It’s important to note here that we’re talking about DOLLARS (the actual number you’re writing on a check each month) not the VALUE (all the things you’re getting for that money). Partnering with a full-service creative agency can be expensive, especially if you’re dipping your toe into these services for the first time; going from spending $0/month to several thousand dollars a month on anything could be shocking for anyone.
THE TAKEAWAY? Partnering with a creative agency is best for Medium-sized businesses or larger for whom freelancers cannot handle the size and volume of projects, yet an in-house team is still too expensive. Alternatively, agencies are also a good choice in addition to small in-house teams for a more extensive depth and breadth of services without the expense of several new hires to fill out the team.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but…
we didn’t think you came to our blog to read a book. Plus if we didn’t tease you with just the right amount of information to get you thinking while still leaving a few things to the imagination, how could we ever convince you to reach out to us for a more in-depth chat? (A bribe, probably, but we ain’t about that life.)