To help grow a small business and build awareness around it, marketing is essential. If customers and prospects do not know of your company’s existence, then revenue will not be generated. Such a dismal proposition could cripple an established business or render stillborn a startup before it has a chance to mature and prosper.
However, as a small business owner, with a limited budget, you also want your dollars to give you the most value. When it comes to your marketing needs, that means making a choice between hiring internal staff or outsourcing to a third party. Either alternative can reap considerable benefits; but they also offer drawbacks as well. Following are several pros and cons for each option that small business owners ought to consider when deciding how their marketing needs will be met.
Outsourcing can be more cost-effective
Hiring an in-house marketer or marketing staff can be far more cost prohibitive than farming out marketing solutions to an external firm. Although some marketing consultants might charge higher by the hour rates, in the long run a small business owner may find adding permanent staffers more expensive due to giving employees a variety of benefits, such as health care and sick pay.
Also, outsourcing can often provide a shorter turnaround for a marketing task. Couple that with overall expenses and a small business owner might find it a boon to hire an agency or consultant rather than using in-house personnel.
Rebecca Wood, a marketing consultant who works with a number of small business clients, including Ata Retail, a provider of impulse merchandising, offers this example: “Recently, a client needed an ad for a magazine,” she recounts. “I did the copywriting and initial layout, and outsourced the final design to a graphic artist. We completed a very professional ad from beginning to end in under three hours of time at a cost of $300.”
But as effective as outsourcing marketing can be, it also has some inherent disadvantages.
In-house marketers care more and know your business better, unlike outsiders
Because they’re not on staff, it stands to reason that a consultant or outside firm that you hire for a marketing project may not have as much of a vested interest in your company’s growth and branding unlike an insider. For outside marketers, the job you give them is just that—nothing more, nothing less—an assignment to be completed within a certain timeframe before going on to the next job for a different client. An in-house marketer will rarely feel as detached.
Ryan Connors, marketing manager for Apptegic, a startup based in Somerville, Massachusetts that collects and analyzes customer behavioral data, agrees. “While short-term decisions tend to encourage outsourcing, having a team in-house enables growth and consistency of the company,” he explains.
Connors, whose company currently has a team of 15 employees, describes how before he started there, Apptegic had contracted an outside marketing firm to execute and deliver a Facebook business page design. Although the job was performed in a week’s time, in the end it was “unusable” because of Facebook’s update to its timeline feature.
“The contractor likely knew what he or she was doing, yet getting the check was a higher priority,” says Connors who adds that Apptegic’s marketing department is comprised of a marketing director and himself. “The lesson learned here in marketing is that, like most businesses, some companies are there to help their customers whereas some are there to use them,” he says. “Maybe outsourcing didn't cause this problem, but I'm willing to bet that with more internal focus there would have been heightened awareness to [Facebook updating its] timeline, which was all over the news.”
Outsiders are more impartial than insiders
On the other hand, outsiders who have no personal or professional stake with your business do offer a strategic advantage when brought to the table.
“An outside consultant can be far more objective than in-house people who fear losing their jobs should they take an opposing position,” says Susan Tellem, a Los Angeles-based small business owner who has been running her own marketing firm Tellem Grody PR for 30 years. “We have thick skins.”
They also can bring a fresh perspective to a marketing solution for a project, jolting some permanent staffers out of their complacency. “[When you outsource your marketing], you’re seeking information outside the company culture, giving people enmeshed in that world an ‘a-ha’ moment,” explains Fern Dickey, owner of Backburner Projects, which provides administrative and marketing services to clients that include several small businesses. “You’re giving them things to think about.”
In-house marketers are more accessible
When a person is not working under your watch, he or she may not be as reachable as an employee. Consequently, consultants or outsiders working on a marketing project are more difficult to manage because they’re not part of the regular 9-to-5 corporate culture; they are not subject to a client’s whim any time of the day.
Modern technology can trump the obstacles in this equation. “That’s why God invented Skype, cell phones and e-mail,” jokes Tellem whose staff size is five.
External marketers might have a richer, more diversified skills set
An in-house marketing staff or team might be more accessible or manageable, but they may not have the skills set that an external marketing firm might possess. These skills can run the gamut from writing a carefully targeted, SEO-friendly press release to performing social media outreach.
Mohan Ramchandani, owner of the 40-year-old New York City-based Mohan’s Custom Tailors, a small business that specializes in creating custom clothing for men, feels that outsourcing his company’s marketing needs is an avenue that offers the best-of-all-worlds options.
“It is important to recognize your areas of experience and those areas in which you do not excel,” he says. “We use an outside advertising agency to place our ads in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal; an outside public relations firm to create news about our business and to keep Mohan’s Custom Tailors top of mind with potential clients; and an outside social media expert to handle social media outreach. By using outside firms, our team is able to focus on what we do best and the outside firms are able to bring us the recognition we need to secure new clients.”
Choosing whether your business will handle its marketing in-house or outsource may be more complex than simply calculating costs. Ultimately, whatever decision you make should hinge on what best fulfills your needs and goals as you grow your business.