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How do you decide when to hire an agency vs. freelancers?

How do you decide when to hire an agency vs. freelancers? A listener asked us about this topic on the In-Ear Insights Podcast, and we wanted to share our thoughts because it’s an interesting topic with many different answers.

Is it a time gap or a skills gap?

The reason you bring in any external party is because of a lack of resources—some deficiency in your organization that you can’t otherwise address. And therefore, you can’t get business done without filling that gap somehow. Fundamentally, there are two different needs that we might be looking to fill: a time gap or a skills gap.

Sometimes we have the capability to do something, but we don’t have the time or the staff needed to get it done. That’s a time gap. Conversely, we might have those things in spades but not have the skills necessary to actually do them. Specific skills like exploratory data analysis, machine learning, or modeling are incredibly specialized and not necessarily something every business will have in-house. That’s a skills gap.

Once we’ve identified that we need help and which kind of gap we’re dealing with, we’re in a place to decide whether to work with an agency or freelance talent.

Hiring an agency vs. freelancers

Generally speaking, when you hire a freelancer, you hire them to help you with a time gap. If you can write six pieces of content a week but need more than ten pieces a week, you can add freelancers to make up the difference. You already have a process for publishing content and managing writers, but writing is time-consuming! Adding freelancer writers that can simply plug into your process helps you get more done with your time.

Agencies, on the other hand, can help you with a skills gap. It’s more like hiring a whole new department that specializes in a skill you lack. For example, maybe you don’t know how much content you need and want to find out. A larger organization might have an entire department dedicated to analytics, but you don’t know where to start. Here, you could bring on a marketing analytics agency with the expertise to support what you’re already doing and help you develop new processes to do it better.

Why scale matters

Another aspect of when to use an agency vs. freelancers is scale. When you hire a freelancer, you’re hiring a person, and they, effectively have a scale. They, as an individual, have a skill limit and a time limit. They can do what they can and only have so many hours to work for you in the week.

With an agency, you buy a certain output level, and it is incumbent upon the agency to figure out its own staffing internally to meet that output. That can get really expensive quickly, however, because agencies often bill by the hour and their labor costs. If you’re willing to pay more, you can theoretically get as much work from an agency as you want.

Edge cases and making a decision

There’s a lot of wiggle room here. Maybe you need someone to build some statistical models or a dashboard to track key metrics. Hiring a freelancer to shore up this limited skill gap would certainly make sense—you need their skills, but only for this one project.

By the same token, you might look to hire an agency if the time gap you’re facing is very large. Agencies will usually be more expensive than bringing in X freelancers at market rate, but if X is a large number, then you need to factor in the time you’d spend managing those relationships. You’re spending more money but saving more time.

At the end of the day, deciding on hiring an agency vs. freelancers will depend on the particulars of what you’re trying to do, what resources you have, and, ultimately, what makes sense, given the situation.

If you’re looking for an agency to help with data governance and measurement, consider hire Trust Insights. We’ll help you make better decisions with your data with more automation, fewer errors, and deeper insights.


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