In the age of the web, we all know that it’s essential to have online marketing as part of your business plan. Social Media, Web Development, SEO, Paid Advertising, and tons of other options are available. Most likely, you need someone to help – and there are a lot of options out there. Whether you’re part of a corporation or a two person startup, you’re going to need help at some point. So, when can you get away with a freelancer and when do you need someone bigger? Here are some guidelines to help you get started:
Size of Your Budget
Obviously a big factor, and usually the biggest one in deciding who you go with. If you have a big budget, an agency should be no problem. If not, you may need to go to a freelancer.
How Much Should I Think About Paying?
First, remember that you get what you pay for – especially when comparing agency to agency or freelancer to freelancer. Though you may get lucky and find a startup that’s charging less to build up name recognition and a portfolio, there’s often a reason why some services are cheaper than others. Costs depend on what specific services you’re looking for. If you’re going with an agency, figure on spending $100-$200 an hour for most services (consulting almost always costs more). If you’re looking at a freelancer, I would never go with someone charging less than $25/hour. $40-$80 an hour is a pretty typical cost that you can budget around, with the higher end of that being some high quality work.
Bottom Line: If money is a major concern, go freelancer. If not, agency is an option.
Size of Your Needs
If you don’t need a lot, you can get away with a freelancer. If you have significant needs, a freelancer simply may not have the time to do it all – they also (usually) have a full time job and a life. An agency will do whatever it takes to get the job done – they may even put two people on a 40 hour task to get it done in about half the time where possible. Do you see yourself:
- Needing things urgently?
- Needing large amounts of work?
- Requiring a high degree of availability during normal business hours?
If you answer “yes” to these questions, a freelancer probably isn’t for you. If you can work around those things though, a freelancer may give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Bottom Line: The higher your needs, the more likely you are to benefit from an agency.
Skill Level Needed
If you need a high level of skill, an agency is typically a better bet. The beauty of an agency is that they have multiple people who work together, each with expertise in a specific area. So, you’re getting a much more holistic approach which typically results in very high quality. For example, the web designer will work with the SEO department to make sure that you have a high functioning website that also shows up in other places around the web (nothing worse than spending money for a great party and having nobody come!)
Remember, freelancers are often the same people who are working at agencies, just in the off hours. This may mean that you can get a high degree of skill in a specific area for a lot less cost – if you find the right person. this can be beneficial if you only need help in one very specific area.
Bottom Line: If you are going across disciplines, an agency will be most helpful. If you are looking for the basics, or can find a skilled freelancer in the single discipline you need, go for it.
So, Which Should You Choose?
Obviously, it all depends on your individual situation. For any kind of larger project or engagement, an agency is typically better. They have normal business hour availability, departments working together, and are likely to have better stability. They can also handle just about anything you can bring at them, and the good agencies are terrific at developing a strategic plan for your marketing which is highly worth the cost.
However, you can save some significant money if you find the right freelancer for the right type of project. What types of things should you be looking for in a freelancer? Here are some questions that you may be able to see from their website, or can ask them about.
- Do they work in an agency? Though a freelancer that works in an agency may have less day to day availability, you know that they are solid enough in their field to have people committing to pay them every day for their work. They know what they’re doing and are dependable (otherwise, they’d likely be unemployed). They’re also working in the field every day and are forced to keep up on the latest trends and techniques.
- What kind of network do they have? Some freelancers have very strong networks that make up for the connections of agencies. If a freelance SEO has a strong network of other SEOs that they work with and connections with some strong web developers, it can greatly offset any weakness they have in that area.
- What kinds of clients do they work with? Believe it or not, this is pretty important. Knowing your industry can help a lot in managing realistic expectations, and creating something effective in your space. Even if industries are relatively close, you should be fine. If all the freelancer has worked with is very small businesses and you’re a fairly large business (or the other way around), they may not be the best for you.
- What is their experience level? Do they have a portfolio? Can you see sites they have worked on? Most freelancers will be happy to give you examples of work they have done in the past or websites to look at. Generally, if they don’t it means that they either a) Have almost no experience or b) Do not have any work that they feel someone would look at and think “this is worth paying for.” You can usually see a portfolio on their site or on the site for the company they work with. If not, just ask.
In the end, there are going to be a lot of factors that go into your decision. The best advice is to do you homework and don’t cheap out, whether you choose an agency or a freelancer. This applies to almost every service area. And, if you need advice, feel free to contact me. Even if you’d rather use someone else than me, I’m happy to help give some advice for finding the right person. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to see someone else get screwed.