Agency, freelancer or fractional marketing team

When you’re looking to outsource your marketing efforts, deciding on the best way to approach this can be challenging. Here, we breakdown the main options available so you can choose the best growth partner for your business. 

 

It’s no secret that marketing is one of the most frequently outsourced business operations, with 34% of small businesses outsourcing their marketing efforts to some extent. 

For many businesses, in particular Series A and B SaaS businesses, building a fully operational marketing function internally is expensive, difficult and risky, so it makes sense to consider your options. 

But as with most things in the marketing space, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The main options available to founders and marketing leaders up until now have been hiring an agency or using a freelancer. However, there is a new option emerging, for businesses to enlist the support of an entire fractional marketing team to manage their marketing strategy and execution. 

In this article, we unpack these options and give you a breakdown of the pros and cons of each, so you can make an informed decision on how best to drive your marketing efforts forward. 

Marketing Agencies

Marketing agencies are the OG when it comes to outsourced marketing support. You select an agency with a specific specialism, run through a proposal process, sign a contract and kick off your engagement with them. 

Often agencies get a bad name for not really delivering on their promises, but one or two horror stories shouldn’t put you off the option altogether. Make sure to do your research, read reviews and check out this guide to choosing a B2B marketing agency. You’re sure to uncover some gems. 

Pros

  • Choice of specialisms – you get to handpick the areas of marketing you need support in and gain access to experts, without needing to hire multiple full-time marketers. 
  • Tailored support – your contract is usually customised to your needs.
  • Able to take on high volumes of work – whether you have no internal support or a small marketing team, agencies provide additional capacity, so you can move towards your goals more easily. 

Cons

  • Can be expensive – agencies can be an expensive outsourced marketing option. Typically they quote by project, so if you’re looking for support with your marketing strategy and end-to-end execution support, the costs are going to start adding up quickly. 
  • There can be integration challenges – if the expectation is that an agency works alongside you with the same level of commitment as an internal team, you’re likely going to be disappointed. 
  • Lack of flexibility – once you have signed a statement of work (SoW) with an agency, you’ll likely struggle to deviate from this without incurring additional costs. For businesses just getting started with marketing and needing to pivot frequently, this may be a turn-off. 

Freelancers and Fractional Marketers

The past few years have seen a marked rise in the number of B2B SaaS marketing experts going freelance. Seeking freelance support is an ever-popular choice with founders, with almost half of all businesses using freelancers to some extent. 

On the surface, freelance support can seem like the obvious choice for outsourcing your B2B marketing efforts – it’s cost-effective, flexible and readily available – and in some instances it is. If you’ve got the backbone of a marketing team in place and working towards a watertight marketing strategy, some occasional freelance support can provide that extra execution power you need to get over the line. 

However, if you’re looking for more than this, for example, you require strategy and execution services across a range of channels – hiring and managing different freelancers can become expensive and time-consuming. 

Pros

  • Can be more cost-effective if you are looking for an individual freelancer to support you in a specific area.
  • No contracts – most freelancers operate on a project or PAYG basis, meaning you have the flexibility to dial up or down their efforts at any time. 
  • Niche expertise – generally freelancers know everything about a specific niche. If you’re looking for absolute expertise in a specific channel, they usually provide this. 

Cons

  • Managing multiple freelancers can take a lot of time and money – if you have high support needs, or multiple channels to execute against, the time and monetary cost of freelancers becomes very high, very quickly. 
  • Lots of direction is needed – generally speaking, freelancers will require the most hands-on support, no account manager is sitting between their expertise and you, so you will need to provide the right level of input and be available to review, amend and provide feedback on their work. 
  • Inconsistent capacity – freelancers typically work on a project basis. This means there are no guarantees they’ll always be available to take on work for your business. You’ll need to have a few options available to ensure help is always on hand. Acquiring and briefing different freelancers can be time-consuming and lead to inconsistencies in output. 

Introducing Fractional Marketing Teams 

Fractional marketing is a relatively new term in the outsourcing space, and an entire fractional marketing team is an even newer concept. With fractional marketing teams, instead of hiring individual marketers, you’re outsourcing your marketing to a pre-assembled group of experts. This gives you access to a range of different specialisms, without needing to hire multiple marketers or manage numerous individuals. 

Depending on the size of your business, your fractional marketing team may take responsibility for developing your full marketing strategy and all of the execution channels you need, or they may slot in alongside your existing marketers to offer fresh perspectives, input and experience across a broader range of marketing tactics. 

For Series A and B SaaS businesses, a fractional marketing team is often the best option – you’ll get the most comprehensive level of support and the ability to tap into different specialisms at different stages to support your growth, without having to shell out for multiple freelancers or project-based agency costs. 

Pros

  • Wide range of expertise, including CMO level experience this option is the closest to a fully-fledged marketing function. You’ll gain access to individual specialists, as well as senior marketers with the vision and strategic insight to guide your marketing efforts. 
  • Full integration with existing teams – Unlike agencies or freelancers, fractional teams slot in alongside your existing marketing, product and sales teams as an extension of your business. They have greater insights and a more collaborative approach. 
  • Flexible, reliable support – With agencies you’re tied into a specific SoW and with freelancers you can’t rely on consistent support. With a fractional marketing team, like Codi, you receive the input and services you need to grow at every stage of your journey. 

Cons

  • Unlikely to work for specific channel support – if there is one particular area you need support in, for example, you just need someone to come in and manage your paid media, a full fractional marketing team may be a bit overkill as it were. 
  • They work best with long reins  – a key part of the value a fractional marketing team brings is the end-to-end management of everything from strategy to execution. This means that you need to be prepared to give them the reins to some extent. Generally, the best approach is to treat them as you would an internal marketing leader – trust their skills and experience, give them the freedom to make an impact, collaborate with them as much as you can and hold them accountable for delivering results. 
  • Niche specialisms – fractional marketing teams cover a broad range of services for you without you having to compromise on cost or experience. However, what this usually means is they specialise in other areas. For example, they may only work with eCommerce businesses or FinTechs. This means finding a fractional team within your niche may take some time. For Series A and B SaaS businesses, Codi is a great example of a fractional marketing team with niche expertise. 

What’s the best-outsourced marketing option for your business? 

There is certainly a use case where each of these options shines and one option is not inherently better than the other. From our experience, the best-fit use cases are: 

Marketing Agency – you need support with a specific project or have a particular channel you’re looking to improve on and have a set budget to allocate to it. 

Freelancer – you have a short-term execution capacity challenge and need to bridge the gap. You have the time to brief and manage the individual properly and a clear idea of what the output should be. 

Fractional Marketing Team – You need both strategic direction and marketing execution across a broader range of marketing channels. This is the gold standard when it comes to leveraging a full marketing team, without needing to absorb the risk and costs associated with hiring one internally. 

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