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When to use an agency and when to keep work in-house

Last updated on 
January 3, 2020

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If you’re trying to scale your business with a limited budget, you’ll likely want to do what makes the most sense economically. But you also need to make sure your decisions fit in with your strategy. While hiring agencies or freelancers might save you money, they can have other, more long-term implications for the growth and success of your business. Here’s everything you need to know about when to use an agency and when to keep work in-house.

Agency vs in-house?

People are your biggest asset, and you’ll need more of them to grow. But sometimes every organization needs outside support. There are multiple reasons for this: maybe you simply don’t have the capacity to deliver on an outstanding request, or maybe no-one in your team has the right skill set for a particular job. Often, for small or seasonal tasks, it just seems to make more sense to use an external contractor or agency than to create a permanent in-house role.

But hiring decisions are as much about your company culture as they are about your bottom line – and what you bring in-house and what you outsource has strong implications for the future of your growth and identity. So how do you decide?

What to consider before hiring externally

1. The effect on collaboration.

If you hire an external contractor, how will in-house roles be affected? Is this a core competence that requires daily collaboration with your teams? If it is, realize that not all agencies communicate the way you do and there may be misunderstandings. Remember, agencies don’t work on your timeframe; they work on their own. You are one of many different clients, and they are not constantly contactable like your own employees are.

2. Will it actually help your workload?

Agency communication can create a whole new load of work in and of itself. If you need in-house approval before making decisions, there will inevitably be delays and setbacks (and often, crossed wires…) while the agency is waiting for confirmation. Will you need to have at least one in-house employee working to communicate your company voice, key messages, content, demographics etc to the agency, and to help them understand their objectives? If so, would their time be better spent elsewhere?

3. Creative direction.

Are you going to be comfortable outsourcing this work, or do you anticipate being heavily involved in its direction? If something isn’t done right, will you rely on someone from your in-house team to sort it – or will you be able to trust external employees to make the right decisions for your organization? If you use an agency that then uses a freelancer, you have no immediate command over the quality of their work. If that’s something you think you’ll feel apprehensive about, is it worth it?

4. Do you want to nurture this skill set in future?

If you’re relying on agencies for certain jobs, your own organization will never get the opportunity to obtain or develop these skills in-house. If it’s a skill you want to nurture in future, is it worth putting in the effort and training up your own employees? If you’re considering hiring a marketing agency, for example, do you think you’d be better placed in the future to have your own in-house team – who’ll likely be more invested in the company, more loyal, and more familiar with your company voice and goals?

5. Do you have enough work to justify an in-house role?

Often the decision of when to use an agency and when to stay in-house comes down to resources. If you only need help with a one-off project or only have a few hours or work per week, you probably don’t have enough work to justify an in-house role. Conversely, someone from an agency can work as and when needed, even if the account doesn’t warrant their full-time efforts.

6. Is this work important for your wider company culture?

We’ve written before about how important company culture is, so factor that in when you’re making your decision. Company culture requires ongoing investment from a set of motivated, united employees. It requires strong bonds and long-term processional relationships, and while you may enjoy that with your freelancers and agencies, they are still your client; the cultural investment isn’t the same. Remember that employees want to be given room to grow and develop, so bringing a particular skill in-house could be a great way of providing more meaningful employee rewards.

Work suited to agencies and freelancers

No two businesses are the same, and whether you should hire an agency or stay in-house will come down to your own individual demands. Generally, though, the types of work that are often suited for agencies are marketing, content creation and web development – and this is mainly due to the specialist skill sets required. Hiring an agency means you get to utilize the skills of high-level experts in a multitude of specialties without ever having to hire them full-time, for example:

  • SEO specialists
  • Social media marketers
  • Lead generation specialists
  • Web developers
  • Software engineers
  • Product managers
  • Blog and article writers
  • Technical writers
  • Copywriters

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list – freelancing and remote work services are becoming more available to a whole host of different industries. But while it’s easy to access external help, that doesn’t make it the right choice. Always do what makes sense for your people, as much as your company account; without following your strategy, you’re unlikely to scale for very long.

Trying to scale on a budget? Start by reducing your overheads with these 5 actions.

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