Guide to Outsourcing Digital Marketing


City landscape at night with colourful lights.

A strategic approach to outsourcing digital can help marketing teams do more for less but getting it wrong can be costly.

Over the past decade, I’ve worked with teams ranging in size from S to XXL in agency and client-side environments. I’ve seen effective outsourcing having a significant impact on how a business performs.

As businesses around Australia reassess how best to set themselves up for success, I thought it timely to share some observations about choosing the right outsourcing approach for your business.

The Business Case for Outsourcing Digital

Good leaders ask themselves what they can do to make the business better, not bigger. Better business means doing more things and improving on those things. Where there’s capability and capacity within the business then cool, there’s no reason to outsource.

Trouble is, it’s rare for staff to not be working at capacity. Even if they have the capability to take on more, doing so requires them to not do something else or risk doing everything quicker.

Whether there is capability in the business is the other big question. There’s a lot to know in digital with a number of distinct disciples. Big businesses can afford to hire multiple specialists in teams and have them focus all of their time on growing the brand. But real specialists don’t come cheap. On the flipside, generalists can be cheaper to hire but lack the same level of expertise as their specialist counterparts.

Unless your business has the resources to support a full stack digital team it needs to make some trade-offs. This is where a good business case can be made for outsourcing.

For the cost of one quality digital specialist you can get access to a full team. The benefit being a greater bang for buck, plus you don’t carry the risk of added headcount. You have access to not just a team of experienced professionals but the specialist software that can cost businesses thousands of dollars a year. The trade-off is that they won’t be dedicating 100% of their time to your business.

Getting Outsourcing Right

Once you’ve made the decision to outsource some or all of your digital marketing, the next step is to speak to some agencies. The best way to find a shortlist of agencies to speak to is via referral. It’s also worth searching online and on social media. Have a look at a few websites, check out their work, and get a sense for what they’re good at.

Make a shortlist and give them a call or drop them an email. A lot of agencies will want to get a sense of the problem(s) you’re looking to solve, your budget and timeline. The more information you can share, the easier it is for an agency to make a call on whether they can help you.

Make Sure The Fit Is Right

Whether it’s a pair of jeans, a personal trainer or a digital agency – it’s all about fit. It’s hard to quantify or describe this but I can’t think of anything more important. The best advice I can give is to meet with prospective agencies in person. Find out what they’re about as individuals and as a company. Try to get a sense of whether the people you’re speaking with get you and your business. Does their way of working match your operating rhythm?

The biggest mistakes I’ve made hiring agencies all lead back to making a decision via a formal procurement process, judging a deck and website rather than spending time with people. The best agency-client relationships have been where we felt like part of the same team.

Know What You Want

This might feel like general life-advice but know what you want before you go looking for it. I’m not just talking about business goals (even though that’s incredibly important), but the softer things. I’ve had clients who want me to tell them what they need to be successful, others have needed me to play a small role in a big plan, and some need a coach who will help them build internal capability. Knowing what you want will help you find the right fit. Conversely, being unclear about what you want can lead to you being dissatisfied, even if you can’t put your finger on why that is.

How Are You Measuring Success?

Knowing what you want is important. As too is how you assess progress towards those goals. Talk with your agency about the best ways to track performance. You should expect any agency to have a clear perspective on how to accurately measure success, as well as what their efforts will contribute. Listen carefully for what measures their work will impact and what it will not. Being clear about which team is responsible for what before you start work will ensure everyone is clear about what success looks like and how it’s measured.

How Much Does Digital Marketing Cost?

Asking how much digital marketing costs is about the same as asking how much a car costs. It depends.

The best place to start is deciding what success looks like and how much you can afford to invest in digital marketing. As a starting point, think about what it would cost to hire someone internally and then think about the budget they would need to show results.

Having said that, many agencies can provide advice based on what your budget is. I encourage you to be honest about this. Some clients are reticent to talk budgets but doing so saves everyone time (and money). If I tell a car dealer that I want to buy a car, but prefer not to specify a budget, they’ll assess my needs and make a recommendation. That’s great, but we’re all wasting our time if I only have $10k to spend and they’re recommending cars for $30k.

The truth is, agencies pride themselves on doing good work and want to provide good value for clients – this is how we develop positive long term relationships.

Establish A Good Operating Rhythm

Once you’ve found a good fit, work with them to establish a good operating rhythm. The best relationships are when the agency feels like an extension of your team. That means quality and regular communication. What this looks like differs for each business but aiming to create a true sense that you’re one team will pay dividends for all involved.

Final Words

The most effective digital marketing is usually the result of a quality partnership between clients and agencies. While many might flinch at the thought of outsourcing digital marketing, there’s a strong business case for hiring a team of experts for the same price as a more junior internal role. Like any relationship, the most rewarding are those where there’s mutual trust, respect and good communication. You should expect nothing less from your digital agency.  

Category: Strategy, Marketing