Hiring An Agency: When It's a Good (Or Bad) Idea

Agencies were born out of need. Looking back, Volney B. Palmer opened the first advertising agency in Philadelphia, Penn. in 1850—the first of its kind in the United States. Palmer’s agency placed ads produced by its clients in various newspapers—basically a modern-day paid advertiser. And since the 1700s, agencies across the world have been helping business owners make their business more profitable, helping said business’ customers experience a better service, or merely let the world know they exist. It’s a need that’s been a need since the dawn of commerce.

But two questions linger across the centuries: When do I know I need help? And when is it time to hire an agency?

Let us drill into all the positives of an agency and weigh the options. Sometimes you may need to hire in-house, sometimes just an agency—and sometimes both! We’ll unravel the options and share what we’ve learned over the years helping businesses like yours grow.

Weighing the Options: Hiring an Agency

Typically, we hear four common themes emerge from all the brands and businesses we’ve helped over the years that drive them into the arms of an agency.Here’s a quick rundown of why they do it. Do any of these sound familiar?

1. You Need More Hours in the Day:

You are swamped. You have to-do lists for your to-do lists. You have 20 tabs open on your browser. You feel like everything on your to-do list is a priority and you don’t know where to start. This is a good indication that you need an agency partner. Instead of struggling to find in-house help (fast) and train them (even faster), you’ll be able to have a whole team of experts by your side (quickly!). This will help you tackle numerous business objectives one-at-a-time or concurrently with far less struggle and frustration than you’re currently experiencing. You won’t need more hours in a day because you’ll be entrusting your marketing and lead generation to your agency partner. Just hand over those to-do lists and focus on the tasks that really need you. <Insert sigh of relief here>

2. Two (or 10) Heads Are Better Than One:

Like the old adage decrees, two heads are indeed better than one. It takes a village to make a business grow, to make customers happy and to dial-in a strategy to keep you and your business propelling forward. With an agency, you’re in luck: check out their About Us page, or whatever they have that’s similar, and view their staff. Check out their expertise—do they have talents and skills you and your team are missing? Check out their work or portfolio—do they have clients like you or clients with objectives like you? Then by all means, this might be a match made in heaven. When you hire an agency, you’re not just hiring one brain, you’re hiring an entire organization of minds and experience to work for your company.

3. Scaling is Made Easier:

Speed and efficiency are super important to business owners, obviously. As businesses move from small- to medium-sized, or medium- to large-sized, they struggle to remain agile and nimble. Scaling isn’t easy. In fact, Forbes writes, “Please do not attempt to scale your business unless you’re truly sitting on a thriving second-stage business.” If second-stage business is not making sense… well, you know what we’re going to tell you… Agencies can help you grow more efficiently because you’ll have an entire team of experts helping to guide you. This is hugely important to have as you move into the next stage.

4. You Need a King’s Ransom for an Employee:

Hiring internally is costly. In fact, ZenPayroll created this nifty infographic that outlines the cost of hiring in California, one of the most expensive states in the union for hiring. For instance, a basic $50k full-time employee costs an additional $4k in taxes. Some of the basics that don’t change and also add to the cost of in-house, regardless of what state you’re in, are the following:

  • Social Security: Social Security is a federal insurance program that provides benefits to retired employees and the disabled. Employers must pay 6.2 percent of taxable wages on the first $113,700.
  • Medicare: Medicare is a federal system of health insurance for people over 65 and certain younger people with disabilities. Employers must pay 1.45 percent of taxable wages on the first $200,000, then 2.35 percent of taxable wages beyond that.
  • Federal Unemployment: The Department of Labor oversees state unemployment programs that provide benefits to workers who become unemployed due to no fault of their own, and meet certain other eligibility requirements. The employer rate of 1.2 percent of taxable wages on the first $7,000 per employee is dependent on your timely filing of all state unemployment taxes.

 

If all that feels too costly, especially if your needs are not feeling permanent, an agency is a better fit since you’ll have greater control over the budget and costs of the projects you tackle together, and once a project is complete, you can go idle until you have time to create more projects. You can’t really do this with an employee. Work smarter not harder just makes sense here.

When An Employee is Best

Now, let’s say you’ve been cruising this post and you’re shaking your head—nope, this isn’t me. Then that’s OK! You don’t need an agency and here’s some reasons why you may not need one, and you’re on the fence...

  • Your company or industry likes to decorate with red tape (you get what I’m saying) and has an established brand and messaging which requires a savvy in-house marketing team to nurture and protect its value.
  • Your business goals are clear and actionable, all you really need is that perfect someone at your side to help you lead, implement and accomplish your plans -- and you already have a plan for how to onboard and train them quickly.
  • You have done the necessary competitive analysis of your market and you have surveyed your customers enough that you understand their needs and have personas to work off of.

Do you check-off all these boxes? If not, that’s typical. You’re probably in an early stage of growth—meaning, you’re almost there, but not quite. You just need that extra nudge to push you across the finish line. And an agency may be the key.

There’s some nuance to knowing whether you’re in that middle gray zone. In fact, the gray zone isn’t too shabby because it means your business is doing well. You might have some more branding or audience analysis to do, or just need some temporary expertise to get you up on your feet. Whatever the hitch is, your agency partner will provide that third party, objective opinion you may require at this point to make your business self-sufficient for the future.

You may also already have a staff member who is superb at handling your day-to-day marketing operations, but they’re stretched too thin to really hone in a strategic vision—and execute and iterate on it. That’s a problem. And that’s when you should turn to an agency that can help turn those ideas into a reality by scaling your marketing execution. In this sense, you get the best of both worlds. And save money. And build value for your customers.

When Both an Agency & Employee Make Sense

However, most mid-size businesses do not already have that kind of staff member in-house. If you do have the capital, consider hiring a marketing expert in-house. Most likely they will still need a team to get things done, though. That’s where your agency comes in. In this case, the in-house expert can manage your agency partner, and work together with them to successfully market your company. The last thing you want as a business owner is more tasks and to-do lists. Hiring someone to manage the agency and be a liaison for your brand is important to the success of the partnership—and your goals! Without a key contact that has access to all the necessary stakeholders, your agency partner is in the dark and won’t be able to properly meet all your business needs.

Remember, as a business owner, your greatest role is creating more business. Don’t get stuck in the mire and bogged down by the small stuff. That’s one of the biggest mistakes business owners can make. Your job is to keep your business growing and if you can’t do that, then, well… it’s time to hire an agency.

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About the Author: Lauren Ventura

Lauren Ventura

Lauren is a Boston, Mass. transplant, loving the California sunshine since she headed out here to attend UC-San Diego. After sticking’ around to head to San Diego State for graduate school, she was hooked on that sunshine. Now Lauren helps build brands with her writing chops for everything from magical yoga pants, running shoes, marathons, pet food and pet furniture and hundreds of other brands that are too far-out to remember. Hundreds. She has a beautiful daughter that inspires her to work hard to live the Cali dream. Catch her on Twitter @DoItWriteNow!

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