In 21 seconds: Options are good. And some are riskier than others, especially when moving forward on blind faith and optimism. This is where many business owners find themselves when they need to make a decision on how to handle their marketing. There is no wrong answer, as long as marketing is getting done, but by whom? A marketing agency? Freelancers? An internal team? Or, maybe even a fractional CMO? Oftentimes, it’s a combination. In this article, I will provide an overview of each so that you can make the best decision for your company. Enjoy.

There’s no way around it.

Your company must have a well-oiled marketing machine to attract and win new business, grow your market share, and retain your existing customers.

To build your marketing machine, you can either:

  • Work with a marketing agency
  • Hire freelancers
  • Build out an internal marketing department
  • Retain a fractional CMO

Or, find a willing employee who agrees to do some marketing when they can. (This never works. Ever. Plus, it will distract too much from the employee’s primary job responsibilities, setting them up for failure.)

Which option will be best for you? Let’s explore each.

Option #1: The Marketing Agency

Marketing agencies (also known as advertising agencies) are companies that serve clients in one or several areas of marketing. When working with a marketing agency, you’ll typically be assigned a team to manage your account, including a designer, writer, content creator, perhaps a public relations (PR) specialist, and an account manager who will be your main point of contact.

Marketing agencies typically require a monthly retainer for a fixed number of hours each month, which is good for both parties in terms of establishing a monthly budget. When interviewing agencies, make sure to choose one where you’ll be one of their larger accounts. If you’re not, there’s a good chance the “A” team that pitched you for your business will introduce you to their “B” team to manage your account once you sign a contract. (It’s never good to be the proverbial small fish in a big pond.)

When working with a marketing or advertising agency, you’ll need to appoint a person within your organization to manage the relationship. Ideally, it will be someone with a marketing degree or marketing background, or the relationship with your agency will fail.

A little explanation — Working with a marketing agency requires a substantial investment of time and money, and you’ll need to be confident that the person interacting with your agency understands marketing strategies, tactics, and how to manage marketing budgets to produce desired results and a healthy marketing ROI.

Option #2: Hiring freelancers

There are an infinite number of designers, writers, content specialists, web developers, etc. to choose from. Fortunately, with LinkedIn and sites like, it’s easier to find a quality freelancer to help you with your marketing, thanks to client ratings, testimonials, and recommendations. Alternatively, it wouldn’t take too much time or effort to reach out to your network to ask your peers who they would recommend.

Freelancers are ideal for a specific need but are not capable of building and implementing a well-rounded marketing strategy. It simply isn’t their role or area of expertise. A designer is not a writer, a writer is not a developer, a developer is not a PR professional, etc. You get the idea. And, if your thought is to hire three or four freelancers to take care of your marketing, you’ll be spending an exorbitant amount of time as a project coordinator, managing the relationships, keeping everyone on track, and constantly following up to ensure deadlines are being met. I’m guessing you don’t have time for that, and it’s not something you’ll want to do every day.

Option #3: Building an internal marketing department

This is the most common alternative to working with a marketing agency.

The main benefit of having your own internal marketing team is that they are one hundred percent dedicated and devoted to your company. The drawback is that it may take several hires to get to the point where you’ll have a well-functioning, highly competent, aligned group that works well with one another. Also, when a person leaves your marketing department, it may take weeks or even months to find a suitable replacement, during which time either part of your marketing isn’t getting done, or you’ll need to find a freelancer to cover the vacancy until a replacement is hired, onboarded, and properly trained.

Option #4: A fractional CMO

You’re likely familiar with the fractional concept – bringing an experienced industry specialist with unique expertise into an organization at a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee. Fractional hires are an attractive option to companies because they are typically paid on an hourly or project basis rather than a full-time salary. This means companies only pay for the work they need without incurring the overhead costs of a full-time employee, such as benefits, vacation time, and sick leave.

A fractional CMO may be right for you and your company if you find yourself in any of the following situations:

  1. You do not have the need or the budget to support a full-time, six-figure CMO.
  2. You need an experienced marketing professional to manage and negotiate relationships with and between your marketing agency, freelancers, vendor partners, and internal marketing staff.
  3. You’re looking for an experienced marketing professional to create and implement an effective marketing strategy.
  4. You need a strong leadership component for your marketing team as well as a visionary for achieving objectives.
  5. Unlike a marketing agency, you’d prefer to have someone on-site several times each week or month to become integrated into your company’s culture, providing a deeper level of engagement with employees and management.
  6. You need someone with a C-level mindset and background to become an integral part of your executive team.
  7. You’re looking for someone with a solid and diverse network of professionals they trust and respect to lean on for expertise and support in a variety of areas.
  8. You need someone with an entrepreneurial mindset (as they are entrepreneurs themselves). This means that they understand business happens outside of normal business hours, and most will be responsive to emails and phone calls during evenings and on weekends.

So, back to the original question: Which is best for you?