The best time to hire a content marketing agency is when your business is facing challenges or scaling opportunities your current team can’t handle.
And even then, the decision is never that simple. You may be stuck between hiring an external agency or building an in-house team.
In this discussion, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of bringing on an external partner, and I’ll share some questions to consider before making your choice.
The pros of hiring a content marketing agency
We’re biased, so let’s start off with the benefits of hiring a content marketing agency before discussing the other side of the equation.
Focus on core strengths
You started your business because you’re good at something specific, not because you wanted to spend your days managing a content marketing team.
If you’re a world-class chef, partnering with an external content marketing agency is akin to hiring a top-notch restaurant manager.
They handle the details of content creation, content strategy, and analytics, freeing you up to focus on your core capabilities — your “signature dish,” so to speak.
By offloading content marketing to experts, you’re not just delegating tasks; you’re reclaiming your time and attention.
This allows you to pour your energy into what you do best, whether that’s product development, customer relations, or strategic planning.
When you opt for an in-house team, you’re not just paying salaries. You’re also covering benefits, training, office space, and equipment.
Partnering with an external agency is more like renting a fully furnished, serviced apartment.
You pay one price, and everything is taken care of — no hidden costs or unexpected expenses.
The agency comes with its own set of tools, specialists, and experience, all bundled into a single package.
This allows you to allocate your budget more efficiently, directing funds to other crucial aspects of your business that may need attention.
Access to diverse skills
Content marketing isn’t a one-tool job. It involves a range of skills from SEO and graphic design to social media management and analytics.
If you opt for an in-house team, you’ll likely end up with generalists who can do a bit of everything but may not excel in any particular area.
On the other hand, an external agency is like a fully-stocked toolbox. They have specialists for every aspect of content marketing.
Need an SEO expert? They’ve got one.
Need a videographer for a product demo? They’ve got one, too.
By tapping into this diverse skill set, you’re not just filling gaps; you’re elevating your entire content marketing game to a professional level.
Your business needs can change rapidly, and your marketing efforts need to adapt just as quickly.
If you have an in-house team, scaling up or down can be a cumbersome process.
With an external agency, scalability becomes a breeze. They can adjust their efforts to match your current needs without a hitch.
Launching a new product and need all hands on deck? They can ramp up their services.
Going through a slow period? They can scale back without affecting the quality of work.
Like driving a car with variable speed, you can go as fast or as slow as you need.
You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a map, and you shouldn’t navigate the complex world of content marketing without some guidance.
An external agency brings a wealth of experience to the table. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and they can steer you clear of common pitfalls.
Their expertise is practical and battle-tested.
They’ve worked with other businesses, possibly even your competitors, and know the lay of the land.
This means they can hit the ground running, saving you the time and effort it would take to train an in-house team.
Latest technology and trends
Content marketing is constantly evolving, and keeping up can be a full-time job.
If you have an in-house team, you’ll need to invest in training and tools regularly to ensure immersion.
An external agency, however, comes pre-equipped with the latest tools and know-how.
They’re always up-to-date with industry trends and tech advancements.
This means you get the benefit of cutting-edge strategies and tools without having to invest time and money in training or acquisitions.
Efficiency and productivity
In a business, each department or team member should focus on their specific role for the whole operation to succeed.
Your sales team should be closing deals, not writing blog posts. Your developers should be coding, not managing social media accounts.
When you bring in an external content marketing agency, you’re essentially adding a star runner to your relay team.
They take the baton for the content marketing leg of the race, allowing everyone else to focus on their own segments.
This leads to a more efficient use of time and resources.
Your in-house teams can focus on their primary roles, which they are trained and skilled to perform.
The result is a more streamlined operation where everyone is doing what they do best, leading to increased productivity across the board.
The cons of hiring a content marketing agency
Without the right measures in place, hiring a content marketing agency can present challenges.
Here are a few challenges we’ve seen and how both parties can mitigate them.
Loss of control
The issue: Outsourcing your content marketing means giving up a degree of control. You’re not the one calling the shots on a day-to-day basis, and for some business owners, that can be a hard pill to swallow.
Mitigation: Establish clear guidelines and performance metrics from the get-go. Regular check-ins and updates can also help you maintain a sense of control.
The issue: Geographical and time differences can make communication with an external agency challenging.
Mitigation: Use project management software and schedule regular meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Potential for misalignment
The issue: An external agency juggles multiple clients, and their priorities might not always align with yours.
Mitigation: A detailed contract outlining expectations, responsibilities, and timelines can help keep the agency focused on your goals.
Costs can add up
The issue: While hiring an agency can be cost-effective, the expenses can accumulate, especially if you’re using a range of their services.
Mitigation: Be clear about your budget constraints and monitor ROI closely. Keep an eye on key performance indicators to ensure you’re getting value for your money.
Risk of inconsistency
The issue: Different teams or individuals within the agency may handle various aspects of your marketing, leading to potential inconsistencies. Like a choir, if everyone isn’t in tune, the performance suffers.
Mitigation: Request a dedicated account manager who ensures consistency across all deliverables. It’s like having a choir director who ensures everyone is in harmony.
The issue: Every agency will need time to understand your specific business needs, and there may be some initial trial and error. Like a new employee, they’re not going to be fully productive on day one.
Mitigation: Provide comprehensive onboarding materials and be open to a collaborative process, especially in the early stages. Here’s how we do client onboarding at Column.
When to hire a content marketing agency
The decision to hire an external content marketing agency isn’t just about the pros and cons; it’s also about timing.
Knowing when to make this move can be just as crucial as knowing why you should make it.
Here are some indicators that it’s time to reach out to an agency:
You’re scaling rapidly
If your business is experiencing rapid growth, you’ll need to scale your marketing efforts to match.
An agency can quickly provide the manpower and expertise to handle this increased demand.
In-house teams are overwhelmed
If your in-house team is swamped and can’t keep up with the content demands, it’s a clear sign you need external help.
It’s like hiring a babysitter when both parents are swamped with work; sometimes you just need an extra pair of hands.
You lack specialized skills
Content marketing isn’t just about writing blog posts.
If you need specialized content like videos, infographics, or search-optimized articles and don’t have the in-house skills, an agency can fill that gap.
You’re entering a new market
Breaking into a new market requires a deep understanding of the audience, culture, and buying behaviors.
Like having a local guide, an agency with experience in that market can give you a significant advantage.
ROI isn’t meeting expectations
If your current marketing efforts aren’t delivering the ROI you expect, it might be time to bring in the experts.
An agency can provide fresh insights and strategies to turn things around.
It’s like consulting a personal trainer when your DIY fitness routine isn’t yielding results.
Whether it’s rapid scaling, a lack of specialized skills, or a need to improve ROI, an agency can provide the expertise and resources to help you navigate these pivotal moments.
7 questions to ask before choosing an agency
As you choose between different content marketing agencies, consider the following questions:
What niche or industry do they specialize in?
You need an agency that specializes in your industry or niche.
They should understand the nuances of your market, the language your audience speaks, and the challenges you face.
How much ramp time will they need?
An agency needs time to understand the ins and outs of your specific operation.
How long will it take for them to get up to speed with your business, your products, and most importantly, your brand voice?
What’s their track record?
Before you hire an agency, look into their past performance. Have they successfully executed campaigns for businesses similar to yours?
How transparent are they?
Transparency is crucial in any partnership. Will the agency provide regular updates and reports? Can they clearly explain their strategies and the reasoning behind them?
What’s their cost structure?
Understanding the agency’s pricing model is essential. Are there hidden fees? Is it a flat rate or performance-based pricing?
Who will be your point of contact?
Knowing who you’ll be directly working with can make a big difference. Is it an account manager, or will you have direct access to the creative team?
How flexible are they?
Business needs can change rapidly. How adaptable is the agency to changes in strategy or focus?
In-house vs. agency: 3 things to consider
As you analyze the decision to hire a content marketing agency or bring the function in-house, consider your business size, financial considerations, and whether or not a hybrid model might work best.
The size of your business plays a significant role in this decision.
If you’re a small startup or a medium-sized enterprise, the overhead costs of an in-house team might be too steep.
On the flip side, if you’re a large corporation with very specific needs, an in-house team could offer the level of customization and control you need.
An in-house team isn’t just about the upfront costs. It’s also about long-term financial commitments like salaries, benefits, and training programs.
An agency is more like a subscription service; you pay for what you need when you need it, and can adjust your level of investment based on your current needs and financial situation.
Sometimes the best solution is a blend of both worlds.
A hybrid approach involves having a small in-house team for day-to-day tasks and an agency for special projects or peak periods.
This approach offers the best of both worlds: the control and customization of an in-house team with the flexibility and expertise of an external agency.
Make the right choice
Choosing between an in-house team and an external content marketing agency depends on various factors like your business size, financial capacity, and specific needs.
The best choice depends on your current situation, business goals, and budget.