When searching for a marketing agency, it can be helpful to start by evaluating if an agency is truly what you need.

Marketing agencies aren't always the best choice for every project. Depending on your budget and internal resources, there may be a better option. To ensure you are making the best decision for your company, there are a few questions you should ask.

Should you hire freelancers/contractors instead of an agency? 

Using freelancers might make sense in two very different cases:

  1. Your company and/or budget is just too small to afford working with a good agency.
  2. Your company is large, and your marketing team is experienced, with the ability to set expectations and manage contractors to meet specific needs. 

In the second case, you might also look at establishing a team augmentation relationship with an agency, which has the benefit of giving you access to quality talent and reliability. However, it comes at an increased cost.

At S4, we get a lot of inquiries from new and small businesses that aren’t a great fit for the agency. I hate turning away people with a genuine need to market their business. A decade ago, I’d suggest maybe checking out an outfit like web.com. However their service offering was so bad I began to feel no business benefited from that direction at any price. I then started suggesting working with a freelancer, but the nature of the freelancer talent pool is that it’s constantly shifting. Maintaining a list of reliable, high-quality freelancers was impossible.

I’ve certainly seen working with a freelancer be successful, but it carries some significant risks. Many freelancers have limited professional experience, which impacts their ability to maintain professional relationships. Delays, not delivering what was expected, and inconsistent communication are common complaints from our clients who have worked with freelancers. However, if that’s what’s in your budget, then do your best to vet the freelancer and talk with their current and past clients.

Should you build internal capacity or use an agency...or some combination of the two?

This is a complex question that is heavily dependent upon the organization’s size, structure, needs, and priorities. The general wisdom typically falls along the following lines:

Insourcing Advantages

  • COST - In an efficient world, a full-time internal resource is going to cost less than if that same work was outsourced to an agency. However, if you factor in downtime, administration, benefits, management, taxes, and training it’s clear that it’s not a simple matter of comparing an agency’s hourly rate to the calculated hourly rate of an in-house resource. That being said, it’s likely, even with all these factors taken into account, that there is a real cost argument for insourcing.
  • CONTROL - Insourced assets are your employees and, depending on your management style, you may find the ability to change their priorities and apply pressure to hit deadlines in a way that is difficult to do in an agency relationship. Additionally, you can build a team to your specifications in a way that isn’t always possible when working with an agency.
  • BRAND/INDUSTRY FAMILIARITY - By living within the organization, your insourced employees are living within your brand all day, every day and are invested in the company in a way that is difficult to get from your agency teams.

Insourcing Disadvantages

  • TALENT - Typically, in-house positions are not the most attractive to top talent. This tends to be particularly true on the creative side as in-house teams are usually expected to produce everything for an organization, including a lot of relatively boring production assignments.
  • DIVERSE CAPABILITIES ARE EXPENSIVE - With an agency, you get access to a team with a variety of skill sets from marketing strategy, creative, copywriters, front-end coders, software architects, and so on. Replicating this by creating an in-house position for each role is often cost prohibitive in many organizations. In many cases, it requires companies to outsource at least some portion of their marketing.
  • DEVALUED WITHIN ORGANIZATION - In-house teams often lack authority within organizations, with their work often expected to be less impressive and effective than work produced by an agency. This can lead to in-house teams mailing it in and producing work that is just ‘good enough.’
  • WASTED/UNUSED CAPACITY - If there isn’t enough valuable work to fill 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, the cost efficiency of an in-house resource begins to plummet.
  • FRAGILITY - Small in-house teams are often single threaded by role - eg. one designer, one web developer. This leaves the business susceptible to significant disruption should an in-house resource leave.
  • BURDEN OF MANAGEMENT - In-house resources need active management of their workload, professional progress, and training. This requires a good manager to ensure employees are productive, happy, and growing. 


Choosing the right person or organization can mean the difference between a project that is completed on time and on budget, and one that...isn't. Taking the time to evaluate what you need is well worth the effort. 

In a future post, we'll discuss the pros and cons of working with a local marketing agency. 

Excerpted from Pitching a Fit: A Guide for Choosing the Right Marketing Agency by Chris Olberding.

Interested in reading more? Download the full ebook here.

Chris Olberding Chris Olberding

Chris Olberding is a mediocre ukulele player who owns more Funko Pop figures than any grown man should. In spite of this, he has run a successful agency for the past 10 years by providing creative vision and strategic guidance to the S4 team. Chris has been recognized as one of Jacksonville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, and S4 has been named to the Gator 100, a list of the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or run by a UF alumni, for the last two years.