Make marketing economical by scaling partnerships as you grow

Whether you’re a new startup or an established company that’s been in business for years, there will probably come a time when you want some outside help telling your story. One of the most cost-effective ways to get the job done is to find a virtual team member with the flexibility to adapt to your needs as your organization grows and changes.

Your virtual partner could be a talented freelancer or a small agency, bringing valuable expertise to the table at a more economical cost than big agency rates.

Say for example that you don’t have a dedicated marketing person when you first launch your business. Your partner can act as a virtual marketing department, performing any of the functions you need until you get to the point that you’re ready to have a full-time person internally. Not only will you add a talented professional on your team, you’ll only have to pay for their services when you need them.

Later, as your company grows, you may find it’s worth your while to have a full-time marketing person in house. If that time comes, don’t burn your bridges with your virtual partner. Even if your in-house person can handle your day-to-day needs, you may want to bring your virtual partner back in when you have overflow work or special projects. Having someone familiar who already understands your business can be a big asset if you need extra help in a hurry. You’ll be glad you stayed in touch.

If your business really starts to take off, a third way your virtual partner can help you is by serving as a conduit to a larger firm. They can help you to understand the more complex aspects of working with a large agency, providing guidance about what questions to ask and how to most effectively allocate your budget.

These three stages don’t necessarily have to happen in order. Over time your relationship with your virtual partner may ebb and flow. For example, you might use your partner less after hiring a full-time person, but call them back in when your in-house person takes maternity leave or finds a different job. Even if you start working with a larger agency, you may find that it’s most cost-effective to have the agency do big tasks, while your virtual partner and in-house department team up to handle other tasks.

follow the path of maximum value

While a few mega-companies have the resources to do all their creative work in-house, most are facing tighter resources of time, money, and personnel. If you’re like many of the people I work with, you’re increasingly looking for the right balance between what you do in house and what you call on outside partners like me to provide.

Economical marketing is about applying everyone in your mix to their greatest strength. For example, you don’t want to use your top sales people to design brochures—even if they have some skill with writing or design—because their time is more valuable in front of a customer making a sale.

For the same reasons, you probably don’t need a huge creative firm to develop a content marketing and social media strategy, write blog posts, create print materials, or send monthly e-mail blasts that a small creative agency can manage for you. So what’s the best way to slice up the pie?

when to do it yourself

Many companies are asking their people to double up on tasks, or take on projects where they have some skill, but not true expertise. This approach offers a false sense of economy because it takes people away from what they do best and often results in less effective work that actually takes more time and resources to complete.

Internal team members who have basic layout or writing skills are great for projects like internal newsletters, distributing in-house information, and creating employee materials. When it’s time to interface with the public, however, you need a specialist on staff—or one on the outside.

when to call in the big guns

A big, outside firm is valuable when you are doing exceptionally high-stakes work. This might include taking your company or product in a vastly different direction, or creating new brands from scratch. If you’re making a major shift in how you’re presenting yourself, it’s worth your while to go to the experts, especially if you’re a large organization that has lots of public exposure.

This isn’t the sort of thing you do every day. It may happen only once or twice during your tenure with any particular organization. You won’t need this level of expertise and expense all the time.

what about the rest of the time?

Big agencies are often great for initiating high-level components of your branding. Once those standards are in place, however, a small agency or even an independent creative professional can often handle the execution for you. There’s no need to hire a big agency to do a series of 20 brochures or even an entire website. Once they’ve established branding guidelines, voice and a sharp look and feel, a smaller shop can often translate it to all the various vehicles you need.

Another tip—look for partners who offer flexibility. You want someone who’s able to do a high volume of work when you need it, then scale back when you don’t. Also, if a prospective partner expects to be your exclusive resource, make sure you’re ready for that kind of commitment, whether you’re talking with a small firm, an independent, or a large agency. With a solid set of identity standards, multiple partners–each used to their greatest strength–can be involved without sacrificing consistency in your brand image.

are your internal resources overbooked? call me.

Whole Brain Creative can help you bridge the gap between in-house resources and big agencies. We’ll help you manage the marketing tasks that need to get done while you focus on what you do best—like creating and selling the product or service you’re passionate about. Call or email us for a no-obligation consultation: 503.325.4485 or [email protected].

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