bt blog headers hire an employee fte or bring in an agency comparing the costs

Whatever the cause, they need to scale their operations. They need more hands on deck, and they need them fast.

Where do they need to add capacity most of all? Product and engineering have been there from the jump. The sales function is in place. But until now, marketing has played a back seat to other functions.

When it comes to marketing, companies think they have only two options: Hires, or contractors.

At least once a week, a CEO will ask me: “Hey, David. Question: Why would I pay for a marketing agency when I could put that money toward hiring my own team?”

First thing to say: It’s never an either/or; it’s always both.

FTEs have their advantages, no doubt. With an FTE, you will have a greater sense of control. There’s a greater chance they will develop a deep connection to your org. Marketing decisions directly impact your brand, and it can make people apprehensive, bringing in an outsider.

But here’s the thing: Often, the experience needed and expenses just don’t add up.

When I led global growth at the Online Division of Citrix, our marketing team contained 70 people. We were operating with an annual revenue of over $400 million. But guess what? There wasn’t a day I was there we didn’t need outside help.


Usually, founders or early stage companies are tempted by a FTE because the monthly retainer for an agency looks steep. But often, they don’t spin the numbers out.

Take the typical monthly retainer charged by a marketing agency; let’s say a ballpark figure $10,000 to $14,000. Feels like a lot of cabbage, doesn’t it?

But spin that out over the next twelve months. With that same budget, what can you afford? The salaries of two junior marketers with a few years of experience each?

When you’re young and growing, your marketing arm needs a lot of different skills. Design. Development. Copywriting. Messaging. SEO. CRM. Campaigns. Analytics. Social. Strategy. Execution. An effective marketing team needs expertise in all these areas if you want to succeed.

It’s possible that a couple of jack-of-all-trades will cover all of these key capabilities. Possible, but highly unlikely. Proficiency and broad versatility rarely go hand in hand.

This is why even giant companies (yes, even Apple) are always working with agencies and contractors.

It is pretty much impossible to cover all the marketing expertise you need via FTEs. The stacked salaries just aren’t viable. In fact, they can blow budgets out of the water.

What’s the takeaway?

Having a full-service team of designers, developers, illustrators, copywriters, CRM experts, and so on would be the dream. But in reality, for most companies, the budget isn’t there. Bringing in a team of this calibre isn’t an option.

With that in mind, here’s what I tell CEOs and CMOs who are wondering how to fill their skills gap: be honest with yourself, and figure out what the strengths and weaknesses are of the people on your team. Where are the real skills, and where are the generalists stretching themselves thin?

Once you have this sussed, consider how an agency could plug the gaps, at a fraction of what it would cost to fill those gaps with FTEs.

I’ll say it again: This is not a sales pitch. This is just what I’ve learned from 30+ years of seeing CEOs and CMOs ruminate on how to find the skills they need.

Look: Every company on earth needs a backbone of skilled FTEs; without this, they will fail. But unless you have the budget to hire a world-class FTE for every single business operation, you will have to go external for help.

The smart thing is to figure out the help you need, and run the numbers to establish where an agency is the leanest way to get things done.

Remember: As you succeed and grow, eventually, you might be able to bring your agency’s responsibilities in-house and find a FTE when the time is right. We’ve seen this many times over the years at BT, and it makes for a happy parting of ways. It means we’ve done our job, and the company is on the up.

But: Until you can hire all the FTEs you need, an agency can help you scale in a very cost-effective way.

And a bonus? While agencies are scaling your business, they pass on critical knowledge to your teams. Consider it a sustainable package deal of talent for your growth journey.

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