Digital agency vs. Freelancer... how do I choose?!
Ever felt like, as a business owner or manager, you’re juggling 10 things at once while spinning a few plates on your head? There are so many things to take care of, that sometimes it seems as if there are not enough hours in the day.
One of the most important pieces to building a successful business is making sure that you have an incredibly strong marketing approach. Who you choose to build your marketing strategy will make all the difference. You can choose to go with a digital agency. Or, you can decide to work with a freelance marketer.
In this article, we look at the differences between working with an agency and a freelancer and break down the best ways to make that choice.
Let’s dive in.
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The right time to decide on agency vs freelancer
Early on in the startup phase, it might have made sense for you to take care of digital marketing. After all—you know your own brand voice and tone. But now, business is booming and you’ve got 101 other things to do. Isn’t it time you branched out and hired some complimentary marketing services?
This was the exact same situation I found myself in during my own business evolution. I knew some marketing basics and with a limited budget, it made no sense to ask for help. But as my business grew, my daily tasks piled up and it became almost impossible to manage everything all on my own. A friend suggested I look for a freelancer or a digital agency.
But I wondered whether I should be looking for a freelancer or a digital agency. As a small or medium-sized business, this is a common dilemma that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.
Why is the choice between a freelancer vs. digital agency so difficult?
Your options are endless (literally never-ending). Just type freelance digital marketing or digital marketing agency into Google and the search phrase comes back with 39,100,000 results (as of today). That’s just a few too many to start filtering through.
And there’s your business niche—a marketing professional isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some marketing freelancers will have all the know-how in the world when it comes to fashion but have no idea about the healthcare industry or the tech world.
Freelancer vs. digital agency - start with the basics
Let’s backtrack for a minute — for those of you who have just started to think about this, let's get some basics out the way.
What is a freelancer?
A freelancer is an independent marketing consultant who will most likely have some experience working for a big company in the past but will provide their services on their own. They are solely responsible for getting clients, delivering client projects, and getting repeat freelance business. The role of a freelancer could include a virtual assistant, writer, marketing consultant, strategist, or email marketer.
Freelancing is on the rise. A recent study shows that 53 million Americans – an incredible 34 percent of the workforce – are now working as freelancers, and it is their main or supplemental source of income. By 2027, over 50% of the U.S. workforce is expected to be independent freelancers, fully part of the gig economy.
What is a digital agency?
A digital agency is a group of marketers usually composed of either full-time employees or independent contractors that carry out marketing activities for clients. Projects could include social media marketing, email marketing, content writing, graphic design, marketing and business consulting, and much more.
What is the agency model?
The agency model consists of an agency owner that manages a larger team of marketing professionals through a classic hierarchical system where the marketers usually won’t be able to pick their project and will have a set of expected targets placed on them. It’s really hard to build an agency so the owner will often have to schedule zoom meetings or meet in person with candidates in hopes of finding someone that could execute their numerous projects.
What is a freelance agency?
A freelance agency is an agency that consists of a remote team of freelancers working together to serve customers. Many leading advertising agencies use the freelance agency model to cut costs and recruit top talent.
There’s no doubt that not all businesses will have the exact same needs, and that’s why this decision isn’t a clear-cut one. In my case, my small but growing business needed a dedicated individual who had the know-how, time, and most importantly, the belief in my business.
It needed someone to create a business plan from scratch and the patience to explain all of that to me, in a language I could understand. This could only come from a freelancer, and not a digital agency, who could manage my marketing efforts from start to finish. What I really loved about using a freelancer was that he was a potential customer, so it was a great test case when it came to trying out different marketing efforts.
Pros & cons of freelancer vs. digital agency
There are many costs and benefits to both but a decision needs to be made. After making endless mistakes in my effort to bring on some extra marketing help, here are some pros and cons for freelancers versus a digital agency.
Pro: Freelancers are usually well-rounded professionals. Most freelancers don’t start out their career on their own and have usually worked in a few companies before deciding to become a freelancer. This gives them a broader perspective when it comes to marketing and the way they look at the business world. When picking your freelancer, you can find someone who excels in providing you with your exact needs, whether it be website building, SEO, or social media. You can also pick someone with the right experience level in your specific niche.
Con: It will be hard to find a freelancer with a broad range of focused skills, which means you might have to go looking for more than one freelancer. Explaining your vision again and working with more than one freelancer can be time-consuming.
Pro: With a digital agency, you’ll get a group of experienced marketers that will likely have a huge range of skills. You won’t need to repeat your vision and they’ll all be on the same page when it comes to what works best for your business.
Con: You won’t get to pick who you work with. The digital agency allocates a marketer to your business and it will usually be picked randomly, based on the size of your business. If you are a larger business, you might get an experienced marketer. However, a smaller business will likely be paired with a marketing rookie.
Pro: Freelancers work on their own and their reputation is paramount to their business. They’ll likely provide excellent service and ensure your needs are met. It’s in the best interest of the freelancer to push for results. After all, they want you to recommend them to other business owners. They tend to also be good communicators since they are used to explaining marketing jargon to small businesses who often don't have the same background as larger businesses.
Con: Because freelancers sometimes work remotely, they sometimes disappear without a trace. They also won’t insist on contracts which can sometimes bring up legal issues if they don’t complete the work.
Pro: A digital agency will have some structure in place regarding adequate communication and service. They’ll also have routine meetings to check in on the business progress.
Con: A digital agency will naturally care about its reputation, but individual marketers within the digital agency won’t be held accountable in the same way, so it’s not their first priority to provide exceptional service.
Pro: Freelancers generally have fewer projects than a larger digital agency and can make your projects a priority. Sometimes, if the project is large enough, freelancers will work on one project at a time. This is almost like having an in-house marketing professional.
Con: A freelancer might take longer to finish a project due to a lack of resources.
Pro: A digital agency will have more resources in place to finish up your project quickly.
Con: A digital agency will be inundated with projects and they’ll be pressured to get the results from big clients with the big bucks. The smaller clients won’t be as valuable to the digital agency. A project managed by an agency may not get the attention it deserves.
Pro: the main benefit of hiring a freelancer is that they are flexible and don’t work the 9 to 5 slot. They also embrace an unstructured working day— which is why they became freelancers, to begin with! This will be useful when you’re met with a potential crisis in the wee hours or on the weekend. A social media pro, for example, can answer your customers immediately or whenever they need it.
Con: They might charge you extra for working evenings or weekends.
Pro: You know where you are time-wise with a digital agency, and you can base your business around it. They may have more flexible payment arrangements for a smaller project or a one-off task.
Con: When it comes to a digital agency, your marketer will only be available during traditional business hours, and even then, you might be competing with other projects. If you have a business that keeps nontraditional hours, a digital agency might not have the flexibility you need. Your marketer from the digital agency might also be stuck in team meetings, or out for lunch with potential clients, making themselves generally unavailable.
Pro: You have to set your expectations up front and talk about the time frame for the entire project as well as the individual goal posts along the way. Freelancers can be more flexible here and communicate with you in a more informal fashion through messaging or social media.
Con: It can be difficult to communicate with a freelancer especially because their timezone may often be different than yours.
Pro: Digital agencies usually have a set way to communicate with clients. They usually assign a project manager to each client that sets up weekly or monthly calls. They may even have additional people you communicate with for larger projects.
Con: Scheduling additional calls and reports may sometimes incur additional costs. Also, agencies may often have a hands-off approach where if you don’t request regular communication you may never get the information you need.
Pro: A freelancer won’t demand a full-time, in-house salary and might offer a per-project per hour price. Because freelancers are working on their own time, they tend to be far more productive than an office worker. They also don’t have the disruption of colleagues or pointless office politics.
Con: The payment schedule might be a little tighter than when working with an agency.
Pro: You’ll be getting high-quality work, and the digital agency is able to offer you a comfortable payment schedule.
Con: A digital agency has huge overhead costs. They generally work out of rented spaces and hire graphic designers, creatives, and other specialists, all of whom come with a huge price tag. For example, it will cost you more to hire a freelance writer through an agency than directly.
Some helpful things to think about before making your decision:
Experience in my niche
Make sure to check if the freelancer or digital agency has experience in your industry or niche. Check the brands they’ve worked with and their knowledge about the industry. If they’re clueless about the industry, chances are they’ll have difficulty working on a business plan.
Proven high performance
Can your freelancer or digital agency show you performance data? Not everyone can provide this, but some agencies can give specific scores to marketers that track their past campaign performance.
It’s important you read actual reviews from real customers, that can offer insight into working with the digital agency or individual freelance marketer. Were they always courteous? Were they always quick to respond to your email? Did they react well during a crisis?
In my experience, not all businesses even know how to manage a marketing expert, or know how to get the best out of their work.
Here’s when Mayple came into the picture. Mayple helped my businesses make the right decision for my unique industry needs and did all this while taking care of the management process and quality assurance. Mayple means you never again have to worry about how to pick the right freelancer.
Mayple has a unique algorithm to match your business needs and characteristics to a marketer, offering a data-proven experience. We’ll even offer your business a free audit to look over your accounts and customize a service that will meet your own marketing gaps.
We’re not your average run-of-the-mill freelance marketplace that displays a huge list of freelancers with varying levels of experience, and lets you do the choosing.
Think of us as a freelancing agency - we pair you with the perfect freelancer, with the flexibility and expertise you need to grow your business and the backing of a robust AI platform that monitors and manages the entire project. We have a community of 600+ of the world’s top marketing experts. So next time you’re thinking of hiring full-time marketers, check out what Mayple has to offer.