Should Marketers Hire Freelance or Full-time?

Freelance or Full-time?

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:

Skill/Experience

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. 

Cost

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.

Availability

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. 

Training

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. 

Growth

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. 

Reliability

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). 

Accountability

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. 

Loyalty

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. 

So basically…

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. 

Next Post: 12 Ways to Give Feedback to Your Creatives (Without Making Enemies)

Help! My Boss is a Marketing Skeptic!

Feel under-appreciated by the powers that be? 

Join the club!

According to a Fournaise group survey, 80% of CEOs don’t trust marketing at all. They say things like “marketers lack business credibility” and doubt our ability to create sufficient growth. 

You can see this reflected in the relative size of a company’s marketing team. Marketing is often the smallest team in a company (usually 1-5 team members), and we have to fight for every scrap of the annual budget.

But hope is not lost. You can still convince your boss that marketing is the bee’s knees, but you have to use the right approach.    

Know your boss

If you want to get your boss on your side, you have to know which buttons to push (if that sounds manipulative, it’s because it is).

Think about their goals for the company and what they prioritize.

A manager who plays favorites with the sales team will pay attention if you highlight marketing’s impact on sales revenue or pitch sales enablement projects

Product-oriented CEOs will want to know how marketing can help gather important customer data and user feedback that will drive product improvements. 

You might also want to tailor your approach to their personality. If your boss is objective and analytical, compare the risks and benefits of your current marketing approach versus the new strategy you’re proposing. 

Bosses who are insecure about their competitors can be swayed if you point out what marketing strategies his rivals are (or aren’t) using, and how your approach will leave them in the dust. 

If your boss is sensitive and prickly (let’s not pretend bosses like that don’t exist), then include him in the execution–even in an advisory or oversight capacity. This participation will help him see the work you and your team are putting into your project and make the results that much more impactful. 

The challenge comes if your boss is a “derailer” that keeps introducing new ideas mid-stream. In this case, bring them in early enough that they can be part of ideation. If it’s too far down the road to change direction, it’s just going to be more challenging if you have to reject their suggested changes.

And if your boss likes candy? Bind your monthly report in licorice and pack it with Cadbury eggs. 

Hey! All’s fair in love and annual budgets.

Hard numbers are hard to dispute

Have you ever done a “brand building exercise?” 

Yeah, your boss hates those. 

It’s a cheap way out of showing results, and your boss knows it. Finance spends valuable cash on glitzy events, print/digital ads, and lengthy social media campaigns. And when challenged, Marketing will respond with “yeah, but now we’re top of mind.”

And you wonder why your boss has doubts?

You’re going to be on a short leash until you can reliably prove marketing’s ROI. The return doesn’t have to be in cash (although that would be fantastic), but there have to be hard numbers involved to convincingly measure success.

Stay away from vanity metrics such as likes and shares and follows, because it’s impossible to correlate those with actual business income. 

Instead, focus on relevant marketing KPIs like:

  • Attributable sales revenue
  • Cost per lead
  • Traffic-to-lead ratio
  • Lead-to-customer ratio
  • Landing page conversion rates

Show enough good numbers, and your boss will absolutely start paying better attention to marketing’s side of the business. Even bad numbers will work if they get your boss to devote more money to your department.

Beware of information overload

Did you just give an hour-long discourse to the exec team on why you should switch your PPC strategy from Target CPA to Target ROAS? 

Congrats!

You bored them to tears and now they’ll never pay attention to you again. 

Ever.

That information might be valuable for you and your team, but it’s gobbledygook to everyone else. It’s the equivalent of a programmer explaining Node JS vs Ruby on Rails and expecting you to be super enthusiastic about it. 

It also doesn’t help that marketing loves coming up with new bullshit terms for everything. Terms that have to be explained to non-marketers.

You don’t solve a person’s ignorance by drowning them in information. They’ll choke on it and reject any further attempts. 

Translate jargon into layman’s terms for the sake of your meeting. If they ask additional questions, then they’re interested and you are free to go as jargon-y as you like. If they don’t ask questions, then a discourse on marketing jargon will just antagonize them. 

So basically…

It’s not the end of the world if your boss is a marketing skeptic. You can still bring him around if you have a firm grasp of marketing strategies, performance metrics, and human nature. Relate how marketing impacts other areas of the company and how it helps your organization stay competitive. 

And if, after all this, your boss still doesn’t get it?

Time to polish up your resume (just sayin’). 

Up Next: Freelancers vs Salaried Employees

How to Wow With a Short-handed Marketing Team

How to Wow with a Short-handed Marketing Team

Ever feel like there’s too much work to do and not enough hands to do them?

Join the club!

Over 80% of marketing teams number five or less, with a whopping 42% being solo operators. 

That’s five people (or less) to cover SEM, SEO, content marketing, website updates, product marketing, public relations, social media, and event marketing–just to name a few. 

Is it any wonder that marketers are stressed?

It may feel like you’re constantly losing ground, but there are ways to improve your work process and organization so that your team can still meet deadlines, achieve goals, and bring in leads–without doing any overtime. 

Here are a few secrets to making that happen:

1. Set priorities properly 

Task priorities are simple on the surface. Just do the most important things first, right?

Nope! Reality is a lot messier. 

In real-life, task priorities are a dizzying combination of factors that constantly change in weight and scale. You could, in fact, say that prioritization is an art form

When you prioritize, it helps to remember that your marketing team is part of a larger organization. If there is a task that multiple people are waiting for, have your team get that out the door first so that the ball is kept moving. Don’t be the bottleneck! 

Also try to prioritize tasks for projects that drive the business goals forward. Remember, marketing’s ultimate goal is to make the business money, not cross items off a to-do list. Understand where your projects fit into the grand scheme and triage accordingly.

2. Get your team uber-organized

Organization is the best tool you have for successfully wrangling all those marketing tasks. Even the simple act of writing down what you and your team plan to do for the day sharpens your focus and helps eliminate distractions.  

Of course, you’re going to have to do a lot more than just daily to-dos if you want your marketing department to make an impact. 

For this you’ll need to double-down on project management strategies like having a Kanban board, using Gantt charts to display dependencies, and forecasting the use of resources. You don’t need to have a PMP to do any of this; you just need to know what you want to do, when you want it done, and who’s available to do it.

All of this information can be codified and visually represented in a project management tool. There are many, many, many project management tools available to choose from, each with its individual strengths and weaknesses. 

I suggest trying out several before making your decision. You may also want to check with the rest of the organization to see if they’re already using a project management tool, and if you can take it for a test drive. 

3. Work in blocks

Many people I know jump from one task to another over the course of a day hoping that, if they do a little bit of every task at a time, they’ll be able to keep everything afloat. 

They can’t though. Because multitasking doesn’t work.

It really doesn’t.

Seriously.

Your brain needs time to build up momentum (YSWIDT?), and it can only do that by running on a single track. 

Time blocks are a perfect way to organize yourself. Not only can you use time blocks for individual activities, like writing or editing or research, but you can also group blocks by theme, like brands or campaigns, to ensure your day remains cohesive. 

So your calendar will end up looking something like this:

Use the same technique for your team, as well. Encourage them to create their own blocks of time and share them on a public calendar so others on their team can either coordinate efforts or properly manage resources. 

I’m a fan of the Pomodoro method, which encourages you to break your work day down into 25-minute blocks. There are plenty of Pomodoro web timers and apps to choose from, each with their own collection of extra features and cutesy quirks

My current favorite is Pomodone, which links your pomodoro timer with your tasks in other apps like Trello.

4. Automation is amazing

Many people watch in fear as robots take on more of our jobs. But for marketers? It’s the best thing ever!

Marketing automation allows a one-person marketing team to do the work of ten. Think of any frequent, time-consuming task that wastes your entire day, and there’s probably a dozen (more) marketing automation tools that can take over.

Just look at these examples:

And those tools are just basic solutions. There are online services like Zapier and IFTTT that let you connect different apps together to create complex, time-saving workflows. For example, you can set up a rule that lets you automatically add people who DM you on Twitter to Salesforce as opportunities. 

This leaves you with more time and energy to deal with tasks where you’re providing real value, like setting marketing strategies or analyzing campaign performance. 

But I’m not gonna lie to you and say all this will be easy. An automation tool is only as good as the person setting it up. You have to learn how to set up the rules and conditions that the tool will follow to run a campaign, and you still have to write the content that the tool will eventually use. 

So no, automation isn’t an easy-breezy answer to your problems, but it’s still way better than sending 3000 emails across six campaigns all by yourself.

5. Outsource

If you need help and the company isn’t willing or can’t afford to hire someone on staff, you could always hire outside help. 

The beauty of today’s gig economy is that you can outsource damn near anything.

Need someone to do admin work? Hire a VA. 

Need a new logo? Hire a graphic designer. 

Need someone to keep followers engaged? Hire a community manager. 

Need a freelance writer? Ahem.

The main consideration here is whether you need to hire a freelancer, a consultant, or a full-service agency. Each option has its pros and cons. 

Freelancers are great for when you have a specific tactical need already in mind. A blog, a video, or a pitch deck to glam up. 

Consultants are best suited for situations where you need some additional brain power, like coming up with a digital marketing strategy or streamlining your internal workflows. If you need help executing, they’ll probably hire their own freelancers or source some for you.

Agencies are self-contained teams that have large goals. Major campaigns for instance, or long-term management of your marketing operations. They answer to you, but they drive most of the ideation and execution. 

Who you eventually hire depends on your available budget and the required need. Prices for each can scale depending on the outsourced resource’s experience, expertise, and specialization.

So basically…

Don’t drown in your task list!

Take stock, get organized, and get some help! You may need to spend some of your hard-earned marketing budget on tools and external manpower, but they’re still way cheaper (and, in their way, more effective) than hiring a new employee–which your Finance department will appreciate. 

It’ll take some effort to find and set yourself up with these solutions, but the payoff is a much more manageable workload. 

So get cracking!

Up Next: How to Ride the Post-conference Reality Check

The Art of Setting Marketing Team Priorities

Marketers need to set team priorities intelligently

“What should the team tackle first?”

It’s a loaded question with a supposedly obvious answer.

“Prioritize what’s important.”

But “important” is such a catch-all term that it’s useless in actual practice. Everything is important to someone in an organization. And when everything is important, nothing is.

When you’re setting team priorities, you have to take multiple factors into account. Does it impact other people? What is it for? Who is it for? When it is due?

All of these considerations are balanced against each other to determine the final ranking of team priorities. Some managers have an innate sense of this and can easily pick out the critical items. The rest of us, however, need a bit of help.

Below I’ve listed the different factors involved in prioritizing a team’s task list and how much weight it should add to your scale.

Strategic Goal

It’s easy to get caught in the minutiae of a task and in the urgency of a deadline, but as managers you’re supposed to remember the larger view.

Ask the big questions. Is this task part of a project that will drive the business forward? Or is it a project with little actual impact? Does this project’s goals align with the overall business strategy? Or is it an outlier?

Generally, you will want to prioritize tasks that fulfill corporate objectives. Also, projects that have a tangible and measurable goal will demonstrate marketing’s value to the rest of the company, and are worth pursuing ahead of loosey-goosey, flavor-of-the-month projects.

Of course, a lot also depends on your team’s actual purpose within the organization. If you’re the equivalent of a marketing service desk, fulfilling requests for business cards and ecommerce site changes, then the meaty strategic stuff is probably going to be handled by a different group. Don’t stray from your team’s actual function until you get permission from upper management.

Weight: 4/5

Urgency

I hate setting priorities based on urgency. If I do, then it either means that a) something in my plan went awry, or b) someone dumped a task onto my pile.

The worst thing about it is that urgency is often manufactured or arbitrary. How many times have we moved heaven and earth to meet a deadline, only for the other person to take their sweet time responding?

The bitter truth is that urgency can be gamed.

Everyone knows this, deep down. That’s how a co-worker can convince you to pause your work on tomorrow’s pitch deck and email them the latest brochure just so you can get rid of them. It’s false pressure to get you to comply.

A skilled manager will know the difference between true urgency and manufactured urgency. True urgency is when there are tangible and real consequences to missing a deadline (e.g. missing a product launch date). In these cases, even a day’s delay can affect the project’s critical path and make life more horrible for other people down the line.

Weight: 2/5 (manufactured urgency), 4/5 (true urgency)

Which brings us to the next factor: dependencies.

Dependencies

Are people waiting on you to finish a particular task before they can do their jobs? That’s called a dependency.

Dependencies also have deadlines, but they are different from manufactured urgency in that any delay on your part will have a domino effect that impacts the entire plan.

Let’s say you have a simple task–order a demo unit from the warehouse. Your photographer is going to shoot photos, which the graphic designer will put on the packaging, which will have to ship in time for Black Friday.

Instead of ordering the demo unit, however, you decide to spend the morning researching keywords. Keywords are important and valuable, but not the most urgent thing right now. The warehouse misses the courier and the photographer doesn’t get the demo unit for another week. The graphic designer is forced to use older photos and the product ships with the wrong item on the box.

There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. And probably a reprimand mixed in somewhere.

Dependencies should absolutely be one of your top considerations when setting priorities. Use a Gantt chart to visualize your project plan and see how your team’s individual responsibilities affect other parts of the project.

Weight rating: 5/5

Personal Enthusiasm

If you read the section title and said to yourself, “I’m totally professional. I don’t prioritize based on personal preference,” then you are a liar.

A person will always set loathsome tasks at a lower priority, even if they know they’re important. Granted, you may still do that hated task first, but only if you can’t justify doing something else.

Keep this in mind any time you assign unpopular tasks to your team. There’s a chance that person will either wait until the very last moment to do it (forcing you to follow up several times) or speed through the task in an effort to “get it over with quickly” (forcing you to check their work).

Being aware of the problem will help you plan around their expected behavior. It will also help you course-correct when you fall into this tendency yourself (and you will, because we’re all human).

Weight: 1/5 (but plan around it anyway)

The Final Formula

I don’t expect you to actually produce an actual formula out of what I mentioned above (although the Excel geeks among you are welcome to try).

Each business will value things differently based on their corporate culture and current situation.

But be aware of the different elements and considerations when you set team priorities, so that you can both increase your team’s productivity and provide maximum value to your organization.

Up next: How to Wow with a Short-handed Marketing Team