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Is it better to outsource your marketing or keep it in-house?

Marketing is a core area for small businesses and many are doing it on their own.

Has anyone ever opted for an outsourced CMO or outsourced customer acquisition or other specific services?

Overall, would you say that outsourcing most of your marketing a good option or is it better to have a full team in-house? What's the pro and cons for each option?

Top voted answer
Jill Brennan

Jill Brennan, Founder at Harbren Marketing

Given the complexity and range of skills required for marketing the ideal setup is a mixture of both inhouse and outsourcing.

Having your own inhouse expertise, even if its only one person, gives you better understanding of how marketing works for your business.  You can be more responsive, get feedback directly on what works and what doesn't and its more sustainable over the longer term.  Even if the marketing person you have leaves then you will still retain whatever structures and resources they've put in place.   

A better setup is to have your own inhouse marketing person in conjunction with a marketing coach or consultant so that person is supported and you can have consistency if personnel changes.

The alternative is soley using an agency or outsourced talent.  Often this happens because a business owner feels overwhelmed by marketing and just wants it "handled", preferably other there, out of sight.  And of course, that can work well.  But if it doesn't or the agency wants to focus on different clients or any other changes happen and you stop working with them, then what have you got?  Often, not a lot.  All the ideas and knowhow is usually gone too and you're back to the beginning.

I have a guide to seeking marketing help that I'll be releasing in the next few weeks.  If you want a copy let me know and I can forward a copy to you.  It lays out the pros and cons of each approach and what sort of businesses suit each option.
 

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Raz Chorev

Raz Chorev, Chief Marketing Officer at Orange sky

Let's look at your question from a more strategic, and high level perspective

Over the past 2-3 decades, businesses have brought in external experts to drive certain functions of the business. Those service providers (Lawyers, Accountants, HR / Recruitment executives, amongst others) have shown tremendous value to smaller businesses on a part-time basis.

Generally speaking, Small & Medium Enterprises (SME’s) can’t afford to employ Chief [anything] Officer. Typically, the Managing Director / Owner, who sometimes title himself/herself as CEO, is very lonely in the C Suite. Such businesses employ the services of an accounting firm to manage finances, a legal firm for legal work, etc.

However, In the marketing space, businesses typically use various agencies to perform various tactical duties, and use an internal resource (young and inexpensive) to manage those relationships and tactical work.

Sometimes there will be a marketing agency who oversees all that tactical work, handling bits and pieces of promotional work, branding, social media, websites and optimisation etc.  

What’s missing? An experienced, strategic marketer (such as the qualified Lawyer or Accountant), acting as an outsourced CMO, drive strategy and manage the tactical execution, and be responsible and accountable for the work of the marketing function within the business.
If you’re unsure, here’s what a senior, part-time CMO can bring to a Small / Medium size business:

  • Corporate level overall marketing expertise – Client acquisition, retention and expansion strategies and tactics, Pricing, Promotions, targeting, product / services mix, etc.
  • Strategic experience – help define / refine the business marketing strategy
  • Free up MD/CEO time to manage the business.
  • Tell the forest from the trees – as a strategic advisor to the business, the CMO can bring the most appropriate service providers, and orchestrate activities.
  • Responsible executive to handle budgets and P/L.
  • Contacts – both high-level and suppliers. This is often an overlooked benefit, but most marketers will have a sizeable network.
  • Fresh eyes – an outsourced CMO would typically work with a variety of businesses and can outsmart the competition by using tactics used by other industries.

Hope this helps your thinking in a broader sense. 

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Beau Ushay

Beau Ushay, Owned Media & Marketing Specialist at

Top 10% Sales Strategy

This is an important question and one which is asked by businesses of all sizes, with pros and cons for both sides of the argument.

When bringing on an agency, it is usually to plug a skills gap within a business. Outside expertise used to solve a problem identified as a hurdle to the next stage of growth. Agencies exist to provide this expertise, we spend our time honing our craft and learning the advantages, efficiencies and how to navigate different problems within any particular discipline. Working with a variety of company sizes and industries, we get to experience a wide breadth of knowledge and bring that into your business.

However, like any business, agencies are still there to make money for their owners and staff, so it's important that they're incentivised correctly, in a way which is aligned to your business goals.

With internal marketing functions, you can have far more confidence that their goals and your business' are aligned, all pulling in the same direction. However, by focusing on a more narrow grouping of problems, in-house teams aren't exposed to the broad array of problems across all the disciplines in your marketing mix. They simply can't be. It's also much easier to fire an underperforming agency than it is an employee.

At the end of the day, agencies are great solutions to plug gaps in your business and bring expertise which is lacking. Ideas which will help boost you to the next stage of growth. As long as the roles and responsibilities are clear and everyone is working towards a clear strategic vision, each business will find the mix which is right for them.

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Paige Arnof-Fenn

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO at Mavens & Moguls

Top 10% Marketing

You have one chance to make a great first impression so if you are launching a busioess, website, new product or service and you do not have the right expertise in house then it is time to bring in professionals who can help.  Don't risk diluting your brand or putting your business in a position where it will cost more money and time to get the right words and pictures out there to tell your story.  If you need help ask for it, it is rarely too early and often too late in my experience.  Good luck!

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Tim Stokes

Tim Stokes, Managing Director at Profit Transformations

From 27 years of marketing experience and testing 1,000+ different peices I recommend a split of both.

I've taught 1,000+ business owners how to measure their marketing and less than 2% of all businesses really do so comprehensively. As a result very little marketing is actually proven to work so there's theory and opinions everywhere.

8 out of 10 businesses have not received top quality marketing and aren't aware of it. All they know is they spent a lot of money but don't see an increase or much increase in their sales. 

I highly recommend every business track their leads, to sales, conversion rates and Acquisition Cost of buying customers from advertising. Without measuring its a bit like winning the lottery in terms of choosing an effective marketing service company. 

I recommend business owners pay money to learn marketing. Not necessarily to do it all themselves, but to understand the basics so they aren't completely ignorant when they go to pay a marketing company.

This includes understanding ingredients of the most common, but most poorly executed marketing strategy there is, a website. 

Nearly every website has significant marketing 'flaws' that prevent it generating the leads that it could. 

An education on marketing isn't expensive, but ignorance sure is. Learn what the basics of marketing are and you only need to do so once, to benefit for how many years you are intend to own a business.

I've invested over $120,000 in learning about business growth and marketing. It has been the best investment of my life. 

If you pay for a website invest some money in education on effective website design. Pay for copywriting too because these days its very poor on the majority of websites. People don't buy or are influenced to buy from a business based on its facts or features. They buy benefits.

These days nearly every website is "we" focused, describing what they do. That's a feature, not a business. 

Understanding this and applying the principles can increase traffic to a website by 30% in a month, just by rewriting it. Facts from measuring prove it. 

If you tried to hire a cabinet maker for your business, but knew nothing about cabinet making, what success do you think you'd have with finding a good cabinet marker to hire?

That's exactly the same with paying for a marketing company. Pay once and benefit for a decade or two, or pay and "hope" - that's the choice in business. 

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Theodora Nikolaou

Theodora Nikolaou at Dora Nikolaou

There are so many things to consider when looking at both options, for example:
- your budget and ongoing commitment
- what you need them to do, the complexity and how long you need assistance with it
- recruiting a company, or staff member to do this, and your experience in both
- you need to have some knowledge and understanding to manage both the outsourced provider or the staff member you wish to employ.

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Tom Valcanis

Tom Valcanis, Copywriter at

Imagine framing the question like this:

"Is it better to outsource your plumbing or keep it in-house?"

Most, if not all of us, would say "Of course I'd outsource it! I don't know anything about plumbing, I'd want a professional to take care of it."

Even if you have a marketing manager on board, they will need help. Just like your building manager needs help. He or she doesn't do the plumbing - they outsource it.

A marketing manager with skills in video production, social media, copywriting, data analytics, PPC, etc. just doesn't exist. Marketing managers can coordinate and strategise; sometimes the execution is best left to dedicated teams. Just like your plumbing. :)
 

Hatty Bell

Hatty Bell, Community Manager at

Great point @Tom Valcanis . Often feels like marketing managers are expected to be a 'jack of all trades'! What about building a marketing team in-house though?

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Tom Valcanis

Tom Valcanis, Copywriter at

I was a Marketing and Communications Manager at a not-for-profit once and I did a lot of thumb-twiddling and call-answering. But when it got busy around event time, I was working 12 hour days. So it all depends on what your strategy is and whether you need a dedicated team or not.

You can build a good marketing team without having the team be on site all the time. I don't think a business will need video production five days a week. Having them come in for strategy and tactical sessions every so often makes sense. Marketing professionals are used to collaborating with many different companies at once - it might seem counter-intuitive to non-marketing people, but it's common for me to work with a certain video production company and their competitor all in the same day on different projects. It's the nature of the industry.

Hatty Bell

Hatty Bell, Community Manager at

Good points @Tom Valcanis . Outsourcing makes it easier to hire experts suitable for a particular project or suited to a certain style.

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