At a time when roughly half of all digital marketing activities are outsourced, the question is less “Can I outsource?” than “When should I?”
Mike Bainbridge, our U.K. chief digital technologist, has documented results — and plenty of lessons — from partnering with agencies to fill gaps in his in-house team.
Bainbridge offers his top five signs to look for when considering outsourcing talent:
You’re a small and agile team
Startups and smaller mature companies rarely staff as many as 40 team members to do all their digital work.
Why? Bainbridge says the required expertise for tasks related to web design and monitoring doesn’t warrant a huge crew of 9-to-5ers.
Instead, those responsibilities can be bundled as part of a broader position or tasked to an agency. This might even include apportioning the workflow of your most effective channel. Studies show that only eight percent of companies have a dedicated team for email marketing, although it regularly delivers the highest ROI of any digital marketing tactic.
You need specialist knowledge
“Specialist knowledge is hard to train for internally, particularly around something like search optimization and pay-per-click,” Bainbridge says.
Experts in those fields, if they work for an agency with lots of customers, will likely have broader industry knowledge and be more up to date than in-house staff.
Search marketers, for example, need to keep up with hundreds of changes in the Google algorithm every year. A search marketing expert with wide exposure to those events will have a better appreciation of their effects than an employee without such direct experience.
You can’t afford to bring expertise in-house
According to Entrepreneur Magazine, companies that have been in business for less than five years should earmark 12 to 20 percent of gross or expected revenue for marketing.
The largest portion of that budget tends to be reserved for fixed costs in staff, systems and facilities. The trick is allocating that in-house budget for expertise without sacrificing strategic elasticity.
For this reason, Bainbridge warns about hiring a “specialist by association.” Employing a number of Oracle DBAs, for example, will take up a substantial chunk of your specialist budget. Make sure you can establish ROI accountability for an expert hire. If you can’t, consider outsourcing that role — it may improve your team’s ability to redirect marketing spend toward new products, distribution or strategy.
You really need a project team, not just one person to fill one task
For Bainbridge, a major advantage of outsourcing is that an agency does more than provide an extensive skill set — it can also replace or supplement its talent when necessary. “An agency can always send someone, but if you hire one person, that’s a single point of failure,” he says.
A dedicated staffer poses resource risks in the form of vacations, sick days and sudden departure. And that single creative input can keep projects from reaching their potential. Outsourcing collaborative roles can help projects, campaigns and repeatable processes evolve and stay on schedule.
It’s a short-term project
Many digital projects have a limited shelf life and require short-term specialized talent. “If you’re doing a pop-up or microsite that runs three months as part of a targeted campaign, you wouldn’t hire someone to do that,” says Bainbridge. “Instead, you may outsource an agency to come in with a proposal for immediate release.”
Bainbridge encourages leveraging new economies of expertise. As global specialization markets continue to expand, firms should take advantage of skill sets wherever they are. Says Bainbridge: “We want to partner with people who live and breathe what they do, not just follow a project plan.”