What Kind of Marketing Hire Is Best to Help You Reach Your Company Goals?
By Kevin Krusiewicz, Founder & Virtual Chief Marketing Officer of Marketing Trail Guide
When it comes to growing a small-to-medium-size business, most everyone agrees that marketing is crucial. Yet with all the options, it can be difficult for business owners to put together the right marketing mix to get the best results. Many wonder, “Should I hire fractional or full-time workers, consultants, or agencies? And once I’ve chosen a category, how do I pick the right person or people?”
This article weighs the pros and cons of six different marketing engagement models, including full-time senior employee, full-time junior employee, Fractional CMO, agency, freelancer, and consultant. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; company goals, maturity, gaps, and budget all must be considered when choosing the best engagement model for your business.
To start, it’s important to define your needs based on your unique situation. Think about your criteria for hiring a marketing person and answer the following questions:
- What is the company vision for the next year, 3 years, and 10 years?
- What are our goals for the next quarter and year?
- What number and type of personnel will be necessary to support the attainment of these goals?
- How will this cascade to all parts of the organization?
- What is our maturity and commitment to growth?
- How established in the market are we?>
- How important is growth?
- What kind of work needs to be done and what are your gaps?
- Strategic work/gaps: “We don’t know what to do or how to do it.”
- Execution work/gaps: “Work is not getting done or it’s not up to standard”
- Management work/gaps: “People are not held accountable and we don’t know what is working or not or how we’re performing against our goals.”
When trying to fill execution gaps through improved management, consider using the Task Level Maturity framework to help you hone in on how to manage dynamically based on the skill and will of the doer. The GWC model (Get it, Want it, Capacity to do it) from Traction/EOS is also very useful in putting the right person in the right seat.
- What is our budget?
- Based on available resources and finances, what percentage of revenue can we set aside for all of marketing spend, including personnel?
- Can you get to 20%?
- How will accountability work?
- Is the organization flat or multi-tiered?
- How will marketing as a department be accountable to the organization?
- How will the marketing employees be accountable to marketing leadership?
- How will success be measured? What scorecards will be utilized?
The best model I have used for answering and operating out of the above questions comes from the book Traction by Gino Wickman. Wickman lays out an Entrepreneurs Operating System (EOS) whereby business owners and leadership teams can get a grip on the six key components of their business: Vision, People, Issues, Data, Process, Traction.
After you have a good idea of your vision and goals, maturity and commitment to growth, work that needs to be done/gaps that need filling, and budget established, consider which of the following engagement models, alone or in conjunction, will help you reach your goals. If you need help getting to this point, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Full-Time Junior Employee
Properly led, junior marketing employees can really help an organization get traction. As with any role, it's important to have proper expectations about what their capabilities are. To start, a full-time junior employee is just that – full time, which means they are fully dedicated to your company alone. They are also relatively inexpensive when compared to alternatives.
That being the case, junior employees generally have limited skill sets, experience, and strategic ability and thus, don’t have the level of sophistication to sit on the leadership team. They generally need lots of direction and extra accountability. They may have the potential to become leaders but need a lot of coaching and developing. Set your expectations accordingly.
Full-Time Senior Employee
Like their junior counterparts, senior employees are fully dedicated to your company alone, but they also have much more extensive experience and a broader skill set. Well-seasoned, they should have the ability to be strategic and may be qualified to embed into a leadership team.
On the downside, you’re going to pay for all this wisdom and experience. Fully burdened, this employee may cost your organization $300,000 or more per year. Because of the hefty expense and the strategic value of people in this echelon, it’s particularly painful to get these hires wrong. Consider working with a recruiter and make sure you do appropriate due diligence, so you get the best fit.
Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (FCMO)
Not everyone is familiar with fractional roles so let me break it down. Because of their extensive experience, expect a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer to have a broad and honed skill set. However, as a member of the leadership team, their focus is narrowly on designing the marketing strategy based on the vision and goals of the company, and then managing others to execute that strategy.
These “others” may include any of the other categories discussed in this article: full-time employees, agencies, freelancers, and consultants. Achieving the company's goals may require a broad variety of specialties not present in any single category. Having a central leader who can quarterback various external or internal resources can be very flexible and effective.
A Fractional CMO is not an employee of your company, but works with one or more companies on a “fractional” basis. This model is unique in that it allows companies to benefit from the experience, wisdom and best practices of a high-level executive at a lower cost (often two-thirds less) than a full-time employee.
A possible challenge with the fractional model is that it can be hard for these workers to truly operate as part of the team because they are not full-time employees. I have found that the best way to close this gap is to ensure that the fractional executive has a Leadership, Management, and Accountability (LMA) role on the Accountability Chart (see diagram).
Doing so makes the lines of reporting and accountability very clear, and includes this very critical role in the regular meeting pulse of the organization.
Another potential challenge for fractional workers is related to a controversial new law that went into effect in January 2020 in California. Designed squarely at Uber and Lyft but having sweeping effects across multiple industries, AB 5 changes the status of many independent contractors into employees and threatens to penalize companies that don’t comply with the new definitions.
Check with your state and local laws, and takes steps to make this a non-issue. To be classified as an independent worker in California, a FCMO would need to work independently on agreed-upon goals, provide work that is not core to the company’s primary function, and operate as a separate entity (by having their own LLC, for example).
Working with agencies has their advantages. They generally have a broad skill set and extensive experience managing marketing campaigns. In small firms, the principals are often relied upon for strategy; larger agencies may have dedicated account managers that help to drive this important function.
Nobody does it all, and while many agencies promote themselves as “one-stop-shop,” it’s very important to dig beneath the surface to understand an agency’s sweet spot and focus. Some will be focused on PR and traditional media, others on content marketing and social, still others on ad-driven campaigns and direct response.
Unfortunately, the agency world has developed the reputation of high employee turnover through “turn-and-burn” culture. This can affect the quality of creatives and campaigns, the timeliness of work completed, and the continuity of account management. Not all agencies are like this. Marketers hire the best marketers because we speak the language and know the right questions to ask, so empower your senior marketing employee, consultant, or Fractional CMO to drive when hiring an agency.
Freelancers can be a great way to get a website or landing page built, video produced, or logo designed and marketplaces like Fivver and Upwork have made it easy to hire freelancers to get specific jobs done. You can usually find what you need quickly and inexpensively.
When hiring a freelancer, check their portfolio, rating, rates and be sure to properly define the deliverables, timelines, and number of rounds of revisions included at the outset of the engagement.
Generally speaking, freelancers are “creatives” who are narrowly focused on producing the asset or piece of collateral within an agreed upon scope of work. They usually make no claim for any higher level, strategic contribution. Indeed, they are likely relying on you for that. For instance, if you ask an animator to make you a video, they’ll deliver a video, but they likely won’t show you how to get the business outcome you’re hoping for using the video.
In my freelance days, I had many business owners come to me and ask for X (X= website, video, email sequence, funnel, etc.). Some book or guru or friend told them they needed it, and I made it for them. It was as if having that video (or whatever) would fix their marketing problems and the leads would start pouring in. But I noticed that in many cases, there was no larger strategy or plan behind the project that I delivered and time after time, the results never came.
All that to say, in hiring a freelancer, make sure you understand the purpose of X, how to maximize its effectiveness, and the part it plays in your overall strategy. Again, rely on a Fractional CMO, consultant, or senior marketing employee to help you here. And beware of how state or local employment law may impact your ability to utilize non-employees, as referenced above with California’s AB 5 law.
Because of their vast experience and thorough research, consultants are the strategic sages we rely on to help us answer the questions “What should we do to reach our goals?” and “How should we go about doing it?” at the highest levels. They set the direction and the plan that is so critical to the success of any venture and can command prices accordingly.
In the strictest sense of the word, consultants stop there. They do not do the things they recommend or execute the plan they designed. As such, many have viewed consultants as sitting atop an ivory tower of theory and best practices with no connection to the real world.
There may be some merit to this criticism because of the “scientific” nature of modern marketing which requires a hypothesis: doing X will produce Y, testing and measuring the hypothesis in the real world, and evolving it to produce better and better results over time. Thus, many “consultants,” with their feet held to the fire by their customers, find themselves doing some form of implementation, or gravitating toward fractional, agency, or senior employee models already discussed.
When engaging a consultant, it’s important to align on expectations given the nuances described. What will the consultant be responsible for exactly? What is their scope of work and set of deliverables? Given the answer, what is the best accountability structure? Can a consultant be truly effective without being privy and accountable to leadership-level conversations?
And again, beware of how state or local employment law may impact your ability to utilize non-employees.
Summary and Decision Chart
As discussed, there are a great number of options available when it comes to engaging marketing help, each with their own pros and cons. Make sure you understand your criteria for a good fit before you choose to engage a full-time senior or junior employee, Fractional CMO, agency, freelancer, consultant or some combination. Use the chart below to help you decide.
About the Author
Kevin Krusiewicz is a virtual, Fractional Chief Marketing Officer who works with US companies that run on the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) taught in the book Traction. He has been helping for-profits and nonprofits build their brand, spread their message, and generate leads since 1999. For a Free Marketing Assessment, visit https://marketingtrailguide.com.
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