Monday, November 8, 2021

Advertising: Who Should You Hire? Freelancer vs. In-House vs. Agency

Written by
Lisa
Travis

If you’re looking to grow your business, 100% of the time ads are a part of that equation. Whether you continue advertising long term will depend on your unique situation, but any good growth plan will include the testing of ads.

As a business owner or member of a startup team, navigating advertising is just one more thing that might fall on your plate. It’s a huge undertaking for someone who is already wearing multiple hats, from CEO, CFO, CMO, to Chief of 16-Hour Workdays.

Some will attempt a DIY approach while others will consider outsourcing advertising from the start. No matter which course you traipse down, at some point the big question will arise… do you hire a freelance advertiser, in-house ads manager, or an advertising agency to handle your ad strategy and implementation?

As you consider the best way to scale your company with ads, you have a few options:

  • Learn each platform yourself, and how to interpret the data correctly.
  • Hire a freelancer (or several) who can ‘wear many hats’ but does not specialize.
  • Hire an agency that manages a team of specialists for you.
  • Hire an in-house team.

There are pros and cons with each option, keep reading to find out what’s right for your business.

Who Do I Need on My Team?

As you build your team, these are the different skillsets to cover:

  • A marketing strategist to make a plan that matches your goals, your budget, and the most efficient marketing tools.
  • A creative strategist or director: This person will be versed in the psychology of design and video to catch people’s attention.
  • A video editor: Look for editors that specialize in conversions and ads.
  • A graphic designer: Similar to the video editor, not all graphic designers are versed in designing for conversions. But they’re out there!
  • A copywriter: Copywriting for ads and websites vs. copy for long-form content is very different. Choose a writer based on the plan that your strategist makes.
  • A media buyer: This person will be able to look at the data to spend your ad dollars effectively. They should be able to continually optimize your ads with data.

When companies are making this decision, the biggest caveat one has to understand is that strong, effective advertising is the function of multiple people; you need someone who knows growth marketing and marketing strategy in relation to advertising. For successful advertising, you need all these roles and for everyone to excel in their designated zone of genius. Trying to cram all these disciplines into a single person is unrealistic — you’ll end up with mediocre results, no matter who you decide to hire, because one person simply can’t do everything well simultaneously.
Now that you’ve got your hiring list, let’s look at your options.

The Freelancer

When comparing the price point of one or more freelancers, an agency, or in-house team, a freelancer is hands down the most cost-effective option, but a low financial barrier to entry may not mean it’s the right option for your company.

The alluring price point of a freelance hire means it’s often one of the first (if not the first) advertising options considered. As the owner of the company or head of the marketing department, you may have dabbled in ads, but you also know your time is best used on higher-level projects. At this point, it makes sense to hire help and, with 59 million Americans freelancing in 2020, the odds seem pretty good that you can find a freelance advertiser quickly.

Questions to Consider Before Hiring a Freelancer

To explore the fetching freelancer opportunity, ask yourself the following questions.

  • If you’ve ran ads in the past, how have they performed? What did you learn?
  • Who ran your Facebook ads in the past? Maybe it was you personally, the marketing intern, or another freelancer. Consider if a freelancer is a step up or a lateral move from your past situation.
  • Are you looking for long-term support?
  • How will you handle the creation of ad assets (copy, images, videos, etc.) and your ad strategy?
  • What is your initial goal? Are you testing one individual campaign to determine viability or planning to spend designated amount of money each month?
  • How do you see your ad strategy changing in the next 3-6 months?
  • Do you know your average order value?
  • Do you know your customer acquisition cost?
  • Do you know the lifetime value of your customer?

How you answer these questions can help you get a clear picture of how to proceed next.

When a Freelancer is the Right Solution

A freelancer may be the right solution for you if:

  • You’ve never run ads in the past, but would like to validate your product.
  • You (or maybe someone on your team) has run your Facebook ads in the past, but with limited knowledge of how the work, how to optimize, or what results you’re looking for.
  • You’ve validated your product and are ready to experiment further, but are not ready to invest substantially in ads.
  • You’d like to run ads for a short-term campaign, but you are not yet ready to commit to a long-term strategy.

If this sounds like your current situation, a freelancer is the route to go to begin battle testing your ads. At this stage, a freelancer will help you set up your ad account properly, provide a basic ad strategy, and test different audiences and creatives.

How to Ensure a Successful Working Relationship

Once you’ve decided on a freelancer, the next step is to find the right fit. With no shortage of candidates out there, the hiring process involves sifting through a lot of applications.

Keep the following in mind to help you find the right freelancer.

  • Hire someone who specializes in advertising. Although a well-rounded marketing background can be beneficial if you’re looking to fill multiple marketing needs in your business, this same background does not make a freelancer adept at handling your paid media strategy.
  • A higher rate does not necessarily mean better quality. There are many posts out there like this one.
  • If there are certain hours, time commitments, or communication preferences, go over those with the freelancer in advance so you both have the same expectations for your working relationship. Freelancers are not employees, so they often make their own schedules and have their own communication preferences.
  • Freelancers work on their own. They are typically a combination of “the strategist” and “the media buyer” from our bulleted list of roles and are solely responsible for strategy, campaign set up, and optimization. If you’ve ever created and launched an ads campaign yourself, you know this can result in setup mistakes. One mistake could end up costing a hefty amount, so talk with your freelancer candidates about a process for quality assurance and reviewing ads before they go live in the wild.

When a Freelancer isn’t the Right Solution

On the flipside, a freelancer may not be the right solution for you if:

  • You’ve already validated your product.
  • Your ad account is set up properly and you’ve spent at least $5,000 on ads already.
  • You’ve worked with a freelancer in the past, but would more support on your strategy and ad creative.
  • You have a clear idea of your KPIs and the quarterly goals for your company.

If this feels in line with where you’re currently at, then you may be ready for an advertising agency or to build your in-house team.

The Agency


When you think agency, do your suddenly envision money gushing down an open drain? If so, you’re not alone. One of the hesitations we hear most often is that advertising agencies are too expensive. However, when you look at the costs of freelance hires (along with the cost of mistakes) and building an internal team, agencies are a fairly priced option.

It’s not just the finances that make agencies a reliable option. The right, supercharged agency team includes all the key players you need to execute your campaigns. At Ascenial, our client teams are structured with a growth strategist, creative director, multiple media buyers, graphic designer, video editor, copywriter, and data analyst. An expertly stacked, specialized team ensures high-quality ads every time.

Questions to Consider Before Hiring an Agency

If you’re trying to decide if you’re ready to partner with an agency, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Have you advertised in the past and what were the results?
  • Do you feel like you need more advertising support than you are currently receiving?
  • Are you ready to increase your advertising spend?
  • Are you willing to spend money to test audiences and creatives?
  • Who will be the point of contact for your agency partnership?

These questions are critical to your agency partner relationship. Not only will they help you get a clear picture of your current business, but these three metrics will also help guide your growth strategy.

When is Hiring an Agency the Right Solution

You’ll know you’re ready to hire an agency when:

  • You’ve advertised in the past, but are now ready for a long-term strategy.
  • You’ve built a customer base and are ready to scale.
  • You’ve hit a wall with your current advertising strategy and are ready for professional advice.
  • Your CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) allows room for advertising and testing.

How to Ensure a Successful Working Relationship

Although we might be biased to the agency option, we are also aware of the countless agency horror stories out there. The fact exists that there are agencies that take on too many clients or offer too many services which results in subpar work. These agencies have a hard time getting results and providing good customer service when they’re stretched too thin.

How do you know if an agency will give you the attention you deserve?

To ensure you’re working with the right partner, look at the following at least on a quarterly basis.

  • Has performance started to decline?
  • Do you confidently know how to measure success in your ad account?
  • Have you gotten a clear sense of which audiences work best for your product or service?
  • Does creative reporting show an indication of which ad creatives are working best?

Other red flags to look out for:

  • Agencies who are unable to provide a clear number for the average spend they’ve managed in the past.
  • Agencies who are unable to offer specifics about each advertising platform they have worked on.
  • Overall, keep an eye out for general lack of accountability for account performance.

Don’t be scared to change direction!

One of the biggest benefits between an agency and an in-house team is the ability to pivot. If you start to notice issues with your current agency, signing a shorter contract term allows you to change the relationship without taking the hit on hiring costs. Start with a three-month contract before committing to a long-term agency contract.

When Hiring an Agency isn’t the Right Solution

Still unsure if an agency is right for you? It might not be. You may be better suited for a freelancer if:

  • You’ve yet to run ads.
  • Your ad account is not set up yet.
  • You haven’t installed tracking pixels on your website.
  • You’re not using Google Analytics or another attribution solution.
  • You’re unsure if ads are right for your business.

The In-House Team

If you’re considering architecting an in-house team, you’ve likely already worked with a freelancer and an agency, but may feel like you nee more support. An in-house team comes with some serious perks, but is it the right solution for your business?

Questions to Consider Before Hiring an In-House Team

Before you start prepping for the interview process, here are few considerations.

  • How many people will you be hiring?
  • What are the position titles and salary ranges?
  • How will this team be structured?
  • In what order will you be hiring your in-house team?
  • How will you fill unfulfilled roles until your team is fully staffed.

When is Hiring an In-House Team the Right Solution

Hiring an in-house team might be the right solution for you if:

  • You’re currently working with an agency and spending upwards of $25,000 in agency fees.
  • You already have a creative support team (copywriter, graphic designer, and video editor) who can handle the additional workload of creating your ads.
  • Your product is well tested and you’ve been able to scale consistently month over month for the past 6 months.
  • You’d like to test riskier campaigns without an agency being too conservative when it comes to your advertising KPIs.

If this rings true for you, an in-house team is the way to go. The right in-house team can seamlessly integrate your advertising efforts with your broader marketing efforts and help you dial in a strategy that allows for more diverse and aggressive testing. With more involvement with your marketing department and insight into your business operations, an in-house team is better suited  to push the limits with your advertising testing — an agency is often restricted by KPI limitations and performance benchmarks.

How to Ensure a Successful Working Relationship

To rally together an unparalleled in-house advertising team, one that will give you the quality of an agency, you’ll need to hire more than just the director of paid strategy. In addition to your in-house paid media director, reference the list above and also staff your team with a graphic designer, video editor, copywriter, and a media buyer for each platform you plan to advertise on.

These hires quickly bring your in-house paid media team monthly totals, in salary alone, closer to $20,000, but it’s not an area where you want to cut costs. Each of these roles are essential to the health of your paid media strategy. Your director level hire is able to focus on strategy and management, where they should be the strongest and most experienced. Each other hire will subsequently be able to focus on their zone of genius.

When Hiring an In-House Team isn’t the Right Solution

If you’re still on the fence bout whether an in-house team is right for you, you may be better suited for an agency if:

  • The most recent ads manager you worked with was a freelancer.
  • Your ad account is not consistently scaling month over month.
  • You do not have anyone hired at the director level or higher on your internal marketing team.
  • Your business is not in the position to spend an additional $20,000 or more each month on salaries for your creative team.

Does the above sound like you? We can help. Scaling can be easy when you have a competent, focused team behind you. With Ascenial, you can watch your growing sales while we perfect your high-performing ads.

Moving Forward

You Can Scale with Advertising

Whatever direction you decide for your marketing team, know that you can significantly grow your business with advertising. We’ve seen incredible results with our clients, some of whom had almost given up on marketing.

With all three options, there are risks and rewards; whichever avenue is right for you and your business depends on the unique set of circumstances. I hope this post provided a framework for thinking through which option is best dependent on the stage of your business and growth targets.


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