I recently worked with a startup that was in the process of bringing on a content marketing agency.
We had the discovery calls. We laid out our objectives. They went through our CRM and came up with campaign ideas.
But then they hit us with the price tag. And it was definitely outside our budget. Not only that, but the plan they put together required months of strategic planning and our board and CEO–who had already engaged in those exercises–were looking for immediate, tactical results. Their process wasn’t going to work for us.
I tell you this story not because I want to paint all agencies in a bad light, and certainly not this one. In fact, they’re one of my favorite resources. But in that moment, they just weren’t the right fit.
The point of this story is: not every startup is ready to bring on an agency. Yet when we start talking about content marketing outsourcing, it’s one of the first and only options companies consider.
Good news for you: hiring an agency isn’t the only option if you want to outsource:
- Hire a full-time, in-house employee
- Hire an independent contractor who, while part-time, will leverage their specific skill set for you
- Hire a vendor who specializes in content execution to avoid the all-in-one offerings that typically come with an agency
When considering your outsourcing options, you should always ask:
- Do they provide tangible value to us?
- Are we in a position to take advantage of that value?
The first question is almost always obvious. When you start engaging in discovery calls with a particular agency, you’ll know whether they have the requisite skill sets and experiences to help you out.
But the second question is where most small companies get tripped up. The agency may be able to offer you all the value in the world, but if you aren’t in a position to take advantage of that value and use it to drive revenue, then it won’t be a good investment.
Here are a few specific questions to ask that will help to answer the big one: should you hire an agency?
1. Do you need to hire one skill set or multiple ones?
There are multiple skill sets involved in content marketing. If you only need to hire one of them–say, a designer–then it’s probably a good idea to seek out an independent contractor or other vendor rather than a full agency.
When you bring someone one board who focuses on executing against a single skill set, here are some of the benefits you get:
- Time to execution. An individual can be more agile because, even though they’re managing multiple clients, they aren’t going through all the processes and procedures that a traditional agency would have.
- Integration. When you’re working with an agency, you’ll have two distinct teams: the agency’s and yours. But an independent contractor likely to function as an extension of your core marketing team.
However, if you need more than one type of creative skill set and you don’t have the resources to bring on multiple people in-house, then you’ll benefit from having an agency on your side:
- Scale. Because of their experience and size of team, an agency will be able to help you create more content, thus growing your overall online impact.
- Quality. Not only will an agency be able to create more content, but also they’ll be able to increase your production quality, whether that’s through better writing, design, audio, video, or just understanding the metrics behind what you do.
- Consistency. As tricky as agency processes can be for agile startups, there’s a major benefit they provide: consistency. You know you’ll get the same thing every time.
If these are the major priorities for your business, then an agency might be the right call for you.
2. Can you invest the time in an agency relationship?
It goes without saying that any relationship takes work on both sides. If any one party stops investing in the relationship, then it’s doomed to fail.
Your agency relationship is no different. The relationship isn’t going to just happen. You have to put work into it:
- Provide them with the information and assets they need
- Communicate your expectations and hold them accountable
- Listen to their feedback and incorporate it into your process
As a startup, there’s a litany of activities that you could be investing in that are going to be beneficial at some point. But, as you know, you can’t do everything.
It’s not a question of whether something is a good idea, but whether it’s the best idea for right now.
Working with an agency is going to require some important commitments on your part. There’s the initial planning stage. There’s the onboarding stage where you educate the agency on your business. Then there are the administrative items: creative briefs, status meetings, and the like.
Your startup may not be ready for all this.
One major challenge that I’ve seen smaller companies face when working with agencies is that agencies have a set way of doing things. They have set processes that are practically set in stone.
This isn’t to say that agencies are unnecessarily sticks in the mud. Processes exist for a reason, and they’re usually to protect both the agency and the client. But for agile startups, this can be annoying and even detract from the positives of a relationship.
On the other hand, a contractor or even full-time hire has the opportunity to adapt and adjust and be a more connected part of your business. If, for right now, you need to avoid the drama and hassle of an agency relationship, then it’s probably best to go that route.
3. Can you afford to bring on an agency?
Of course, the biggest obstacle to bringing on an agency is the price. No matter the value you think they’ll provide, if you can’t afford it or aren’t sure you’ll be able to make a return on investment, it’s just not going to help you.
That’s not to say that you don’t get what you pay for. Agencies come with all the value of having a full-service team of marketers and creatives ready to generate high-quality content and send it out into the world for you. That doesn’t come cheap.
And that isn’t to say that alternative outsourcing methods aren’t expensive. Bottom line is that you’re going to have to spend money. It’s just that agencies are always on the higher end of the pricing spectrum.
If you aren’t confident you’ll make a return on investment, then it’s probably not a good idea to spend the money. If you are, then go for it!
Agencies aren’t right for every business. They may not be right for you. They may not be right for you right now, but will be at a later time once your business has matured.
Do some serious work to see what your best outsourcing option is going to be. And then go all in, confident that you’ve chosen the right option for your startup.
If you’re interested in another content outsourcing option that’s not an agency, take a look at FEARLESS’s Content Creation or Promotion plans. We deliver valuable content, but in a way that’s adaptable for the individual startup.