We’ve already established that marketers need help.
But what form should this help take? Are marketers better off hiring freelancers? After all, over 59% of businesses are already hiring freelancers to support their operations.
Or should marketers look for full-time employees instead? People who can grow within a team over a long period of time?
Before we can answer this, let’s take a closer look at the key differences between full-timers and freelancers, as well as their benefits and risks. We’ll use a handy acronym I call S.C.A.T.G.R.A.L.
… Okay, maybe that needs more work.
Anyway! Off to the differences:
Who is more likely to be able to do the job, especially if it requires specialized skills like SEO or graphic design.
Full-timer: Depends on a career employee’s job history, but employees are more likely to have had on-the-job training or may have been sent to paid courses by their employer. Risk is that maybe they learned all the wrong things at the job, or are lying/mistaken about the experience they gained in previous roles. I’ve known people who had jobs with fancy titles that essentially did nothing.
Freelancer: The best ones have specialized in a single service type or market for years, and have built up a long history of clients. Their portfolios and client list are usually sufficient to gauge skill. Watch out for freelancers who talk a big game but are actually just new and inexperienced. Stay skeptical until they’ve proven themselves with actual work.
What will hiring this person do to your budget?
Full-timer: Oy. Hiring a full-timer is expensive. A full-time employee is going to take a huge chunk out of your marketing budget, and that doesn’t even take into account benefits and equipment. Try to cheap out on them and pay lower than the going rate, and your new hire won’t last very long. They’re also expensive to fire due to severance pay. Consider this an investment rather than an expense.
Freelancer: Hiring a freelancer is normally cheaper than a full-time employee, but there are also larger projects that cost more. Generally, you have to pay for the level of service you expect (e.g. more money = better service), but price doesn’t automatically equal quality. Screen your freelancers carefully. Low-balling your freelancers at ridiculous prices ($5 per blog post anyone?) is a no-no, though.
Note: headcount is sometimes dictated by management, and might have nothing to do with your own marketing budget.
Are these people going to be around when you need them?
Full-timer: That’s a no-brainer. You’re paying them to be in your office (or online remotely) 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. They are completely devoted to your business during those hours. They will also be able to help out with a bunch of tasks that might not be directly related to their job description (within reason).
Freelancer: Freelancers value you and will want to make you happy, but they also have other clients that they need to keep happy. Any work you do will have to be scheduled according to their workload. If you have an urgent need, you’ll have to pay a rush fee or have a retainer arrangement or something similar.
How fast does it take to get them productive?
Full-timer: A new hire with the same level of skill as a freelancer will still need to be trained on the company product/service, internal procedures, brand guidelines, and other supplementary functions of their role (e.g. reporting to management, working with internal teams). They will also need to be trained on whatever systems and apps you’re using. According to Training Industry Quarterly, it takes 1 to 2 years for a new hire to be fully-productive. But then again, they will learn fast if they have access to the right internal resources and industry specialists.
Freelancer: Freelancers turn productive much sooner. You just need to brief them on the essentials of the job (brand guidelines, personas, target keywords, etc) and let them loose. Much of this is because their role in your team is very limited and they don’t have to worry about most of the stuff full-timers do. They also have experience bouncing between brands and can pick things up quickly. Freelancers that specialize in your particular industry might be more difficult to find and more expensive, however.
What will an extended working relationship do for this person (and you)?
Full-timer: If you pick the right hire, the full-timer could easily grow into the role and beyond, developing into much more than their original function. Full-timers that show potential can be given increased responsibility and may even be promoted into more senior roles in the company.
Freelancer: Over time, your freelancer will know your brand like the back of your hand, and will be able to predict what you need and when. Working with them will be a breeze, but they’ll only ever be a freelancer.
Can you rely on this person to get the job done? And get it done right?
Full-timer: Hard to ghost someone when you work in the same office. Marketing managers have the advantage here, because they are around the full-timer all the time and can ensure they are at their desks performing the job you’re paying them to do.
Freelancer: They are most likely off-site and have other priorities. The freelancer is working with the best of intentions, but there are many circumstances you will not be able to control as a manager. I myself have occasionally been ghosted and ignored by freelancers I hire (come on people, don’t pretend it doesn’t happen).
What can you do when the shit hits the fan?
Full-timer: It’s easier for marketing managers to hold employees accountable for their work due to the close proximity and the nature of the relationiship. Monthly reviews, corrective action and performance metrics help keep your employee effective at their job.
Freelancer: Freelancers sometimes oversell their services and skills, and you have little recourse if they underperform. You can try to manage them and provide feedback, but the problem persists you don’t really have any other option except to fire them and find another freelancer.
How likely are they to stick around?
Full-timer: Full-timers are more likely to stick around long-term for a stable job. Provided, of course, that you have a good working environment, you’re a decent manager and you use their skills effectively. Easy, right?
Freelancer: Freelancers aren’t total mercenaries. Yes, they have no ties to you and could conceivably quit whenever they feel like it. But if a freelancer finds a good client, they will try to keep that client around for as long as humanly possible.
Ultimately, the decision on hiring a freelancer or a full-timer depends on three things: budget, timeline and goals.
Budget is the biggest factor by far, and I’ve met many marketing managers who resort to hiring freelancers only as a stop gap until they can afford someone full-time. On the other hand, marketing managers who need to hire a large number of creatives can only do so at scale if they hire freelancers, as a team of in-house creatives would be hideously expensive.
It takes a long time to find and hire a full-timer, and in that time deadlines still have to be met. Freelancers are pretty much grab-and-go, and you can easily fold them into the timelines of whatever projects you have going on.
Companies who need immediate help, like startups, might be able to make the most out of freelancers in this manner. Agencies who don’t have a consistent amount of work to keep a full-timer busy could also leverage freelancers this way.
Lastly, you have your own goals for the projects and the team. Do you want to grow your fledgling marketing empire? Or are you intending to build an internal agency composed of rotating freelancers? Sometimes they do both (one primary employee supported by a team of freelancers).
I can’t dictate the right answer to you. It all depends on your own situation. But if you want to talk through the problem with someone who won’t insert a sales pitch every second paragraph, send me an email or a DM and I’d be happy to talk through the problem.
Seriously, no sales pitch.
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