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Web Marketing Agency vs In-House: Weighing the True Value of Time

In-house marketing vs agency -Weighing time

They say that time is money. As cliché as it is, it really is true, especially when it comes to digital marketing. To get anywhere in digital marketing, your company has to invest a good chunk of time. And, yes, that time costs money. If you hire someone in-house, you have that person’s salary, benefits, paid time off, etc. And if you hire an agency, you are almost always paying based on the amount of time that agency is putting in, whether it is calculated in hours or x amount for a certain number of months.

In either case, the time invested in your web marketing is limited by your marketing budget. So conventional wisdom would say to choose the option that gives you the most amount of time for your budget. In that case, it’s better to hire in-house because, generally speaking, the agency “team” only give you about 1/3 of the hours of a single full-time employee for the same cost you can generally hire a full-time person for.

Unfortunately, though, deciding whether to go with an in-house marketer or an agency isn’t as simple as figuring out how many hours you will get for that budget. There are many other variables at play.

Time

value of time
Time in and of itself is a big variable, and a big pro to having an in-house marketer is having them completely dedicated and accessible all day, every (work) day. If you need something, like, yesterday, you have the option to pull the in-house person off their current project to work on that critical task. If you want a real-time update on the status of a project, it’s as simple as tapping your in-house person on the shoulder. When you are working with an agency, though, you are competing with other clients for time and attention.

And we already established that you generally get more hours for the same amount of money, so this should be a no brainer, right? Hire an in-house marketer. After all, if the job of the digital marketer is to do 1,000 tasks, and every week they are able to knock out one task, couldn’t you just continue at your current pace for 1,000 weeks? That sounds good in theory, but this assumes two things:

  1. That you are willing to wait 1,000 weeks to see great results.
  2. That web marketing is as simple as checking 1,000 tasks off a to-do list.

While 500 of those tasks can be knocked out and never revisited (assuming no changes are made to the website), the other 500 tasks are repeated daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.

So what we have is a digital marketing campaign that needs constant attention. If you put one person in charge of those 1,000 tasks, 500 of which are regularly repeated, what you’re going to find is that a significant portion of those tasks just are not able to get done.

A team of web marketers is able to divide and conquer, using their specific skill set to complete tasks in a more timely manner. They generally know what works, what doesn’t and how to do it in the most efficient manner. This is why many businesses hire agencies to do their web marketing. For the cost of one or two full-time employees per year, you can get not just one or two people working on your web marketing campaign, but an entire team that can get the job done–QUICK.

Expertise

When I say “team,” I don’t just mean a project manager, a secretary and a web marketer or two. I mean a team of web marketing experts. Scratch that. A team comprised of experts in social media, content, SEO, analytics, PPC, usability, web development and so on. When you hire internal staff to handle web marketing, it’s usually one person trying to master every facet, from SEO to PPC. That’s tough to do. (Actually, it’s damn near impossible!)

On the flip side, an agency is often comprised of a group of professionals, each with expertise in one specific area in which your campaign needs to show results. Having the agency’s SEO optimize your web pages means they’ll be found easier on search. A PPC professional makes sure your advertising dollars are well spent. A content marketer understands that different kinds of content appeals to different kinds of customers. And without social promotion, you might as well write content in vacuum.

Meanwhile, an in-house team has a different type of expertise that is also important: in-depth knowledge of your business and industry. While a marketing agency can pick up this type of expertise as they work on your campaign, they are also working on campaigns for a number of other companies, likely in several different industries. They will likely never be able to reach the deep level of understanding your in-house staff has. This generally is not a huge obstacle, assuming you are working closely with and communicating effectively with the agency, but it could be a more significant obstacle if you work in a highly specialized or complicated industry.

So when budgeting for web marketing and deciding if you should hire an agency, it’s important to weigh the expertise you are getting in the hours you are buying and what type of expertise your company needs to be successful.

Education

web marketing education
Going hand-in-hand with expertise is ongoing education. Each of our strategists at Pole Position Marketing is required to spend five hours per week on education. Multiply that by eight strategists, and you’re looking at 40 hours each week spent on continuing education alone. If you provided that kind of time to a full-time person in-house, they wouldn’t have any time left to actually implement the web marketing strategy.

Even if you hired two in-house employees, they are now spending 20 hours per week on education each, leaving the other 20 hours for implementation of your web marketing strategy. Realistically, that’s even less once you account for the number of actual productive hours there are in a work day. In reality, you’re probably down to about 10-15 hours per week that each employee could actually spend on your web marketing campaign (probably even less during March Madness or after a good episode of The Walking Dead).

That still may be more hours than you would get from an agency for the same cost of an employee or two, but don’t forget that you’re paying for their education. You don’t get to keep that when the employee moves on.

Be sure that when you are weighing the cost of an in-house marketer vs an agency, you are factoring in compensation for education time. Clearly, you are not going to be able to pay an in-house employee for 40 hours a week of education, but you are going to have to pay for some ongoing education to be successful. And the more education time your web marketing team has, the more successful your campaign will be.

Decision Time

I’m not trying to talk you out of hiring an internal employee, but I want to provide a clearer picture of what that really costs. You may get more hours out of an in-house team, but you’ll likely never get the same skill level. At least not until you’re hiring in at the six-figure salary range and building a multiple-member team on top of that. Plus, don’t forget the costs and headaches involved with hiring, not to mention the additional costs associated with benefits and paid time off.

Certainly, there are a number of other variables to consider here beyond hours and budget, such as level of control, your existing in-house level of skill and of course, the actual goals of your web marketing campaign. But the point of this article is to get you to look beyond comparing just the number of hours. Not every hour is equal. Five hours with a dedicated expert in a specific area is probably worth 40 for someone who knows enough to do some things somewhat well.

So when considering how much to spend on web marketing, think of it in terms of hiring an employee. If you would consider hiring someone in-house, consider what you would get for the same budget with an agency. But don’t look at the raw number of hours; look at how much can be accomplished with those hours as well as the level of expertise and the amount of education packed into those hours.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

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