When Should Your Startup Hire a Marketing Agency?

Posted on July 3, 2014 by Erin Bury

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I’m passionate about startups, both because I worked at one for over five years, and because over those five years I worked with countless entrepreneurs and their passion was contagious. Now that I’m leading a small digital marketing agency, startup founders often ask me when they need to bring on an agency, and which services they should provide.

Agencies certainly aren’t right for every company, and especially for early-stage bootstrapped startups who don’t have a lot of budget and who need someone devoted to their brand 24/7. But agencies can be a great way to help build your company’s online profile, connect you with influencers and bloggers, and help you execute creative campaigns.

Here’s when to hire an agency:

1. When you need a really varied skill set

I spent almost five years at startup Sprouter as a Community Manager and then Director of Communications, doing everything from organizing and attending events, to managing the social media channels, to running the PR program, and of course everything else that comes with working at a small startup: customer service, admin work, and taking out the office garbage. But there were things I just couldn’t handle, specifically any design or development needs, and anything to do with financial modelling (there’s a reason I took journalism in university). If you need someone who can write well, do your PR, and handle your graphic design, you’re probably not going to find that skill set in one person. Agencies are great because they typically have a variety of skill sets – someone who’s great with analytics, someone who’s a fantastic writer, and someone who can create design assets like a pro.

2. When you don’t have the time to train and manage an internal team

Agencies act as an external marketing department, and don’t require much management on your part. Sure you bring us up to speed on your product, history, and product roadmap, but typically our team takes it from there, putting together content calendars, campaign ideas, and handling all the day-to-day work. We work with clients on an ongoing basis to stay informed about product releases, updates, events, and news, and meet with them to go over analytics reports and chat about goals, but that can be as frequent or as infrequent as they like. Hiring an agency makes sense if you’d like to know you’re growing your online presence and creating great content, but you don’t want to spend a lot of your day managing the process.

3. When you want to benefit from best practices

Every agency has a series of best practices gleaned from years of working with clients, and testing out different ideas and tactics. If you’re new to marketing and aren’t sure you’ll be able to figure out where to put your money, what type of content to post, or which networks to use, agencies can be a great place to start. We often suggest to startups that they hire us to put together a digital strategy – it’s our version of an online roadmap for the brand over the next several months. They don’t necessarily need us to execute it, since they either don’t have the budget or would rather handle it themselves in the early days. But having that initial strategy in place – campaign ideas, network recommendations, best practices for everything from social ad campaigns to blog content, competitive analyses – means they can benefit from the internal knowledge of an agency without having to devote a lot of budget to ongoing execution.

4. When you want access to an existing network

Typically the biggest benefit of working with a PR agency is they already have relationships with the key journalists you want to reach. While we don’t do PR at 88 Creative, I find that we often have relationships with journalists, social media influencers, industry associations, and other key people. If you want to get access to a network quickly, working with an agency can save you a lot of evenings shaking hands at networking events.

5. When you need help with a project, not a full-time hire

Often when startups launch they just need help with an initial push, or a few design assets, or a small outreach campaign, but they don’t need a full-time person handling marketing. With an agency you can hire them for a project or campaign, so it’s more flexible than bringing someone in full-time.

6. When you want to ramp up your marketing efforts quickly

Whether you just got funding, have finished a really profitable year, or just need more exposure, agencies are a great way to amp up your marketing efforts without having to find, hire, and train a marketing department.

So when should you hire internally vs. going to an agency? Trust me, we often tell startups that they should be hiring an intern or employee before ever going to an agency. You should be hiring an employee if:

  • You have a really limited budget – often you can pay an entry-level employee less than a full-service agency will cost on a monthly basis
  • You want someone devoted to your brand 24/7 – when I was at Sprouter I was 100% focused on growing that brand, whereas agencies are working on several clients at any given time

What do you think? When is the right time to hire a digital marketing agency?

Erin is the Managing Director at 88 Creative. Follow her on Twitter @erinbury.

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