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Choosing Who Runs Marketing In An SME

Having run businesses of different sizes over the last 15 years, I’ve tried and seen marketing run in many different ways, to varying degrees of success. Personally, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and seen others do the same.

Part of why we created Thirty Thee Percent was to help others avoid making the same ones. That starts with how you structure your marketing team and who owns it. Many SMEs won’t have a marketing team in place, so they will be looking at options for how best to manage marketing and ensure it’s getting done.

Therefore, to help anyone in that situation, we thought we’d explain the options you have available, alongside some pros and cons, as well as suggestions for making the most of the circumstances.

What Are Your Options

Most of the options can be boiled down into one of four ways of working, the right answer will 100% depend on your business, the current stage in its lifecycle, the owner and the funding, plus another 200 factors I haven’t got the space to write about.

Do It Yourself

An option taken by many an owner, particularly as a start-up and then as they grow, is to retain control and pretty much run marketing, giving occasional jobs out to people.

Pros - No one can articulate the message better. Has the power to make quick decisions. Can put forward a budget. Knows how to create and manage a strategy.

Cons - Potentially doesn’t have formal marketing training. Is ridiculously busy running the business, so marketing will always be an afterthought. Won’t stay current on trends. Will need support on the ‘doing’.

Conclusion - Often the best option in the early days. If they have a passion for it then the owner can remain the chief owner of marketing for a long time, potentially leaving more operational tasks with others. They are often the best salesperson, so it’s a natural bedfellow but we would suggest once the business grows beyond 50 people you are starting to have too many distractions and marketing needs more dedicated resources.

Give To The Junior Member Of Staff

We have seen this so many times. The 20-year-old knows Tik Tok so the owner thinks they are the right people to run marketing, as it's just social media anyway. I might have said there is no wrong answer but this is pretty close to the wrong answer

Pros - Cheap. Potentially see’s this as an exciting job so will be enthusiastic.

Cons - Where do we start? They are not qualified in marketing. They don’t know the business as well as senior management. They won’t be able to articulate what makes the business special. They will struggle to get and manage a budget to deliver a consistent plan. They won’t have the experience or authority to build and put forward a strategy. The owner (or another member of management) will have to spend a lot of time supporting them. They are rarely dedicated to the job and their ‘core’ job will always be the priority.

Conclusion - This rarely works. Having a junior person involved isn’t a problem per se, but assuming they can run marketing without much support doesn’t work. If you want to bring someone through (we definitely believe in this approach) give them support and mentors. Ensure they have training. Ensure that marketing has a senior owner/sponsor in the business. Give them a strategy to execute.

Use A Freelancer

How this works will depend on the level of freelancer you choose. Finding a good, local freelancer will be very different from someone cheap on Fiverr or UpWork that you don’t build a relationship with.

If you went the cheap route then they effectively become a resource you give work to but you’ll still be managing marketing, so let’s just consider a good freelancer that you work closely with and can manage the full marketing.

Pros - Can be trusted to manage the work, run a strategy and come up with ideas. Will be aware of current trends and able to suggest changes. Will be experienced at tracking performance and reporting results.

Cons - Not exclusive, so could be side-tracked on other jobs. Won’t know the business as well as staff members. Cannot be an expert on all aspects of marketing that you will need. Single point of failure if they decide to move onto a new career or are sick for a while.

Conclusion - This is often an excellent choice for an organised business that can supply detailed briefs and monitor output. They will be able to get massive value from using a strong freelancer. If the business lacks direction with marketing and is still unsure of its uniqueness and messaging, then a freelancer might not be the best option as they will be continually pushing for information you don’t have.

An Agency

Clearly the expensive option but comes with peace of mind. How you source a good agency and how to brief and manage them will be key - see below.

Pros - A mixture of experience across the agency, meaning they will cover all your requirements. Experienced at creating and managing a strategy. Extra coverage, so not reliant on one person. Will manage expectations and results, so you can see what is happening. Will bring ideas and knowledge from across marketing and sectors outside yours.

Cons - Expensive, even if you find a cost-effective local agency or one via UpWork, they will still be the more expensive option. Unless you are one of their bigger clients, you might face the issue of being deprioritised at times. They are not incentivised to train and help your internal teams.

Conclusion - If you are considering an agency to run marketing, you are usually deciding between them and finally putting in place internal resource. Often a good choice if you are looking to keep salary costs down and have more flexibility in the budget. They are also a good idea if you want to have a strong marketing push but then gradually transition this work to an internal team once the basics are in place.

Avoid Being The Victim

Too often we hear about how a company has been let down by an agency or they have spent a lot of money with a freelancer and not got what they expected.

Now, I don’t doubt there are bad marketing agencies and freelancers. In fact, I know there are! But sometimes the fault lies with the company and in particular their lack of strategy and briefing.

If your external (or internal) resources are managed well and have a clear strategy to work from, then you’ll get much better results. No one knows your business like you, without putting your vision and strategy in front of the agency, they will have no hope of marketing you correctly.

Regardless of which option you choose from the list above, I recommend reading an excellent blog entitled ‘Stop Blaming Your Agency’ about the mistakes people make and how to avoid them.

If you are looking to put a marketing strategy in place or need help with how to structure marketing resources to grow your business, then get in touch for a free consultation. Our job is to give you the best options and ensure we build a strategy and recruit and train the best possible people for your business - whether that’s members of staff, a high-quality freelancer or a marketing agency.

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