Hiring an agency vs recruiting in-house

Alex Minchin
Alex Minchin

When it comes to marketing, value is everything. Achieving your goals has a price attached to it, whether that’s measured in time or money. The extent of your success comes down to how you balance your budget with clear, SMART goals.

As an agency providing digital marketing services to ambitious businesses, we sometimes have to justify the factors that make us a better investment than an in-house option. Beyond the monetary comparison, there are a number of factors that should be considered, and this post is here to illuminate some of those to help you to make the right decision for your business.

The cost of employment

Whatever the gross salary offered, it’s common knowledge that the cost of employment goes beyond this figure. Add 10% for Employers’ NI, 1-3% pension contribution, and a further 10-20% (call it 15%) for general ‘costs’ in having an extra employee. They will need to take some holiday, and may come down with sickness occasionally. They’ll need a computer, will drink tea/coffee, need to sit on a comfy chair, and will probably want to attend your Christmas party (and other events) too.

There are user licenses and specialist software to consider, and the good ones aren’t cheap. Any employee that’s going to stick around will need training too, and in digital, that training moves fast. You need to be prepared to budget for this, since your team won’t be able to provide the natural day-to-day training that an agency environment fosters.

The skills you require should be a serious consideration. Given that almost each channel (SEO, PPC, development, etc) is a career path in it’s own right, it would be reasonable to assume that in 2017, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody who excels at execution in all of these areas. If you do find them, you can expect to pay a pretty penny more than the average for their services.

Those with the most knowledge acquired through years of practice typically move to a more strategic or managerial role in time. Because of their accumulated knowledge, their time is likely to be most valuable when used on strategy and not on the execution of that strategy. If they haven’t moved into this direction, the smart employee would have probably specialised in their chosen discipline, meaning they no longer have the breadth of knowledge you really believe you can get for your money.

We encourage a ‘T-Shape’ model here at Zest

This allows our team to build a broad knowledge base, or build deeper knowledge in a particular area.

Meet the team

T-shaped People Development

Realistically an employee ‘cost’ (read: gross salary) should be multiplied by 1.5-1.8x to give a true cost to your business. This doesn’t include familiarisation cost of allowing someone new to settle in.

The benefits of using an agency vs in-house

When I was first asked the question about the difference in value between my business and hiring someone in-house, I wasn’t prepared. Like my client at the time, I was looking at things from a purely monetary basis. The monthly figures were roughly the same and I struggled to extract the added value from what we do.

With the benefit of time and experience, I’ve built up my understanding of what makes up our value and how to articulate this when faced with the same question. This exercise formed part of our overall value proposition, and we communicate the benefits much better now than when we were new and wet behind the ears.

Here are a few things to consider when making your choice:


The obvious benefit is around skills. Once upon a time it was easier to learn everything. Social media didn’t have much of a place for brands, paid advertising was far less sophisticated, and SEO was about how many keywords you could stuff into your below-average content.

Fast-forward the clock and the digital space is an intensely competitive landscape that needs skill and finesse to navigate a plethora of channels and mediums. To truly understand everything and to have the ability to execute is a rare and, I believe, now impossible skill to ask of somebody.

We have the luxury of being a service provider, and so naturally our business is made up of people with complementary and specialist skills. We measure our capacity and track where our time is being spent so that we build up skills and knowledge in the right areas.

Benefit: Being able to apply a wide range of skills to any problem, and to come at it from different perspectives to solve them quicker.

Team Structure

Our team, like yours, is made up of multiple functions around sales and marketing, operations, and finance. Our team structure is built wholly around delivering value to our clients through the practices of SEO, PPC, Web Design, and Conversion Rate Optimisation.

We have a project manager ensuring all campaigns are on track, and that tasks are being completed in time and on budget. Our account managers liaise with clients to ensure we’re working together as a partnership to plan out the roadmap to a successful campaign.

Our specialists are on call to contribute their deep knowledge and skill set to the achievement of campaigns, and our senior team are here to ensure quality and to provide all the tools to help the rest of the team to succeed. Everybody has a role that is focused around delivering rock solid digital marketing results.

Benefit: Your campaign is delivered by the right people in the right roles, saving time and collaborating a very broad knowledge to solve your problem.


We plan strategies that break down into goals, and goals breakdown into tests and tasks with clear measures of success. We have controls for quality, processes for tasking out work, team meetings to discuss any issues or difficulties, and more. Our process has been sculpted over a number of years through constant improvements and feedback from our team and clients.

Digital process example

It takes sustained time and investment to develop robust systems and processes that deliver efficient and effective work, and that allow a team to function at their best. Continuous improvement is required to evolve these in line with shifts in digital practices. This is where the ‘should I hire an agency?’ question is weighted heavily towards favouring the agency side. If you want to learn more about how we optimise our systems and processes, I’ve written about it on my LinkedIn profile.

Benefit: We’re more efficient and less prone to errors, and we focus on delivering work towards a clear goal. There is a difference between being busy and being productive, and a clear process encourages the latter.

Quality Control

Our team has a lot of freedom to apply themselves to solving a problem. Sometimes it’s a technical issue, and other times it’s a creative challenge. It can take one person, or five people, to solve the issue. Theories needs testing, and testing needs process. Throughout this process, we have to maintain quality and that means regular check-ins and discussions to ensure we’re delivering to a high standard.

Benefit: Work that moves you closer towards your goals in a structured and measured way.


A combination of the previous three benefits gifts us the benefit of speed. We have the right tools, processes, and people to solve problems faster than you could realistically expect from a freelancer or in-house soloist.

Benefit: Problems are solved faster, meaning less budget is spent head-scratching and more budget is spent on scaling the solution.

Learning & Development

Perhaps one of the biggest problems I’ve seen with the “we’ll get a grad in” approach. Typically a business who doesn’t specialise in digital marketing, and short of being able to recruit a department, will struggle to provide the right level of training and development that this fast-paced industry requires. Those who do not continue to learn in our industry fail or fall behind – both are equally as dangerous.

Failing to meet these needs will see your investment leave sooner rather than later since the career go-getter today strives to be better. They might come knocking on our door to get that. Or worse, they might stay with you…

Benefit: Up-to-date knowledge and expertise that are constantly pushed. The benefits of which are fed directly into your campaign.


Now you’re clued up with some of the added benefits of using an agency, you’ll hopefully be able to make the choice that is best for your business. It’s important that I clarify that there is no right or wrong answer here. It’s a choice that you’ll have to make based on your circumstances.

If you want to speak to experts about our digital marketing services, please go ahead and start a conversation. If we’re the right fit for your project, then let’s change your world!

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