Some questions are much easier to ask than to answer, and the one that shapes this post’s headline fits 100 per cent into that category. Giving an “it depends” answer is a cop-out, but in part is unavoidable — because this blog’s readers diverge in knowledge, business scale, market area and budget.
However, I’m generally a believer in doing things in-house if the project requires frequency, repeated effort, and represents a potentially significant budget commitment.
And since marketing as a rule is not a one-off deal, then the in-house model truly makes sense as the default answer.
But there is still the learning curve, and knowing when/how to push some components outside. If you don’t know what you are doing, heading into marketing waters could quickly drown you in bad decisions, wasted money and frustration.
Since my business is essentially marketing to marketers (we still earn most of our revenue from advertising), I’ve learned about the cost-savings of doing things in-house — and the pain in getting there.
Take, for example the website creation process. A common fee (and one I charge when I serve external clients) is in the range of $5,000. If you are paying this type of money you should expect your service provider to truly work with you to create an effective, responsive, and easy-to-maintain site. Assuming that it is designed properly, routine updates and maintenance and content addition can be done in-house. Allowing for a three-year lifespan, I doubt the amortized investment of less than $2,000 a year will be a big set-back.
Of course, since I’ve needed to create more than a dozen websites for my business, the do-it-yourself economies change. After working with some offshore contractors (with trial and error results) for an order-of-magnitude-less fee of about $500 each to build new websites, I’ve learned how to work with WordPress themes and templates, and can generally create the website structure myself within about two hours. How much my hourly pay should be can be argued, but from an external budget perspective, the cost has dropped to near zero.
But you aren’t going to go there, I realize, unless you have reason to make more than one or two websites, so outsourcing makes the most sense.
Next we get to content and messaging. This includes the updates and, if you are buying advertising, the actual advertising purchases.
Here, there is a need for time for research, planning, testing, evaluation and co-ordination, as well as content writing/generation. Various businesses and services will do this work for you for a fee, which, with consideration of your actual media budget, could reach the tens of thousands of dollars or more each month.
You’ll need competent specialized staff or dedicated contractors to do this work well — and of course if you are new to the process you may not easily know where and how to find these key people. You can also struggle to learn all the details and manage the creative, budget, and results measurement on your own. These are daunting tasks.
The issue of whether to outsource or do the work in-house largely relates to your budget’s scale — if you are spending major dollars, then the cost of a salaried staff employee with the right experience probably will be less painful than the continuous drip of agency fees — and you’ll have true dedication to your business. But where do you find these key employees?
As an example, I know someone who is really capable at keyword optimization and analytics for advertising campaigns. He doesn’t live in any public places and is not a strong personal marketer, but I’d use him to map out my own paid online advertising campaigns, if I paid for online advertising. (I don’t, relying on organic search results and the fact that we, again, are in the business of selling rather than purchasing advertising.) I’d still buy the ads myself; but would pay him a consulting fee for the optimization service.
For certain tasks, there are inexpensive outsourcing options if you are really experienced. After quite a bit of searching, and time building online relationships, for example, we work with a contractor in Pakistan who generates much of our news feed content for the fraction of what it would cost to pay local writers, either staff our outside. And offshore web administration support is even less expensive.
When everything goes well, I spend just a few minutes a day editing the offshore content generated in Pakistan and forward it to Romania to be uploaded. I also work with offshore IT specialists, who help me maintain the sites, servers, manage security, and fix problems — they aren’t super cheap in all instances, but are much less expensive than local IT consultants, and we certainly don’t have the resources to hire a full-time staff person.
However, I wouldn’t trust inexpensive offshore contractors with significant advertising purchase requirements, nor would I use them for anything involving actual client engagement.
So, to conclude, the decision to outsource or do things in-house could be tied to a matrix with these elements:
- How often do you need to do the work? (One off may best be outsourced, frequent or repetitive should be in-house.)
- How much does the work cost? If you can find offshore contractors to do certain repetitive tasks very inexpensively, you’ll cut big slices from your budget. But you still have to have solid supervisory or managerial capacities.
- How much time does the task take/require? As noted above, if you can find inexpensive labour in-house or outside, then you should certainly change the model if the costs are primarily billed on a time-for-service basis.
- How much specialized skill and knowledge is required, and do you have it? This is the easiest one to decide — if you need a lot of specialized knowledge for a brief time, outsourcing probably makes sense. If you are constantly doing the task, and outsourcing is expensive, then consider hiring an in-house expert.
If you’d like to outsource to me for a brief consultation, I probably can give you a recommendation on in-house or outsourcing requirements and the most efficient way to achieve your objectives. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the contact page here for a no-cost initial consultation.