Navigating the marketing landscape can be a real hassle. Do you focus on digital ads or print? Radio or TV? Would a social media campaign be worth your time? Which keywords should you target on Google? Is your website up to snuff? Is your social media presence reaching the right audience? Do you know all the latest tools of the trade?

It’s enough to make your head spin.

As a small business owner, there’s just so much on your plate. Dreaming up how to get the word out about your company can be fun at first. Eventually though, the day-to-day maintenance and management of your marketing campaigns will fall to the wayside. Not only that, but your expertise isn’t necessarily in marketing—are you sure you’re doing everything to get the most out of your ad budget?

Enter the agency—or, maybe a freelancer?

Both options have the potential to bring more leads and keen brand awareness to your business, but how do you know which one is right for you?

Well, first, let’s define them:

Marketing Agency—A full-service company that combines the talents of many different creative workers under one roof.

Freelancer—A single person, customarily hired for one type of task and paid as a contracted worker.

So, which one should you choose? Well, it depends on your needs. Let’s break it down a bit more.

Working with Marketing Agencies

Marketing agencies go under a lot of different names these days: digital marketing agency, lead generation agency, branding agency, or inbound marketing agency. Regardless of which name they’re under, you can expect a similar experience.

Marketing agencies have the benefit of combining the power of many different business-minded and creative types. After your first consultation, the sales staff can lay out a plan for your website, digital marketing, print advertising, and content strategies. People with proven track-records will creatively and technically manage each of these different aspects of your business. They’re experts, and they’re here to guide you.

While you may give some input on the creative process and approve the final work, in the end, the marketing agency will determine your creative strategy and ad buys. 

The amount that the agency is involved in your business depends on the agreement you come to with them, but many companies use them as their entire marketing department. However, it is possible to only contract their services for smaller tasks like content management, digital ad management, or website creation.

Marketing agencies, provided you have ensured they are reputable, allow you the power of an expert marketing staff without having to hire a team. 

On the downside, marketing agencies tend to be costly. The cost varies wildly from agency-to-agency and project-to-project. Just be sure that you set solid expectations on key performance indicators to be sure that you’re getting the proper return on your investment.

Working with a Freelancer

Freelancers often have fled the confines of an office or agency and instead offer their expert services through self-employment. A freelancer is likely an expert in one or two related aspects of marketing. For example, you’ll often find freelancers that know content writing and are also trained in Google AdWords.

A freelancer is best if you have a specific project in mind, you want to retain creative control, or you’re on a tight budget and want to keep the scope small.

Freelancers can almost be like having a member of the staff to manage different aspects of your marketing without having to pay for a full-time employee. While their rate is often higher than what you’d pay a salary staff member, you’re only paying for the specific work you’ve requested. 

On the downside, some freelancers can be unreliable or not provide high quality work as promised. Also, depending on the freelancer’s expertise level, you may have to be far more involved in the trajectory and creative ideation of your campaigns. It all depends on the freelancer.

It pays off to use a freelancer platform like Upwork or hire freelancers that have a strong presence online with multiple positive reviews. Even better, try to ask your business owner friends who they use. Referrals are one of the best ways to hire someone who will deliver quality work and is reliable.

Which should you choose?

Choosing between an agency and a freelancer can sometimes be a difficult task. You have all these ideas for your business rattling around in your noggin, of course, you want to see them implemented. So, take a step back and think about your goals for this year.

If you’d like to start a robust marketing campaign that spans both print and digital, but you don’t have dedicated staff to handle it, a marketing agency would be best.

If you have ideas for a few specific projects, like starting a blog or redesigning your business’ logo, a freelancer will serve you well.

Just remember, whether you go with an agency or freelancer, be sure to do your research about their quality of work first — since that’s what ultimately matters most.