Who to Hire as Your First Growth Marketer: Agency, Consultant or a Full-Time Employee?
If you are a startup looking for growth marketing or growth hacking expertise to help you build on the initial traction, you have three options: hire an agency, a consultant, or a full-time growth marketer. How do you decide which option is the best in your situation? We often get asked this question by the clients and wanted to share our thinking around this topic.
The circumstances for each company and each founder are different, so there is no prescription when it comes to hiring a growth marketer. To make an informed hiring decision that will define the growth trajectory of your business, you need to understand considerations for each of the options and see how they apply to your situation.
Why you should (ultimately) hire a full-time growth marketer
Growth marketing is a core function of the business, and we have rarely seen the approach of outsourcing day-to-day growth efforts succeed other than in the early stages. Among the many advantages you get with a full-time hire are commitment, deep product understanding, and control over your growth process.
When it comes to growth, you want someone who lives and breathes your business. For a full-time growth marketer your company is his number one and only priority, whereas agencies and consultants work with several clients at any given time and have to juggle multiple priorities and goals. These might conflict with yours and lead to problems down the road.
A full-time growth marketer who feels your commitment to him, believes in what you are trying to accomplish, and sees a path to grow with you, will invest in the success of your company and help you fight your growth battle side by side.
Your success or failure impacts the life of a full-time growth marketer to a much greater extent than it would agency staff or a consultant, so you can expect greater level of accountability, effort, and dedication from an in-house resource than from someone on the outside.
Deep product understanding and full-funnel approach
To be successful at growth marketing, you need to deeply understand your users, your product, and your data.
While agencies and consultants bring a breadth of experience and perspective to your situation from previous projects, an in-house growth marketer will develop a much deeper understanding of your specific audience and how to communicate your value proposition by virtue of being immersed in your business day in and day out.
What’s more, agencies typically take responsibility for growing top of the funnel metrics, and while product issues make their job more difficult, it’s out of their hands.
On the contrary, an in-house growth marketer has the ability to work up and down the entire funnel and push changes to the product that affect user acquisition, activation, retention, monetization and virality. It will also be much easier to secure internal buy-in on product changes when working from within.
Control and agility
With a full-time hire, you are in control of your growth marketing efforts from start to finish. You don’t have to spend time chasing consultants or agency staff to get analysis and insights, you avoid miscommunication, and you can move much faster in terms of experimenting with new strategies and tactics for growth.
An in-house marketer is also in the best position to tell your story in a genuine way and ensure your brand is positioned consistently across different customer touchpoints.
Why should you outsource your growth marketing?
With all the advantages of hiring a full-time growth marketer, why do we then advise some of our clients to hire a consultant or an agency? Because many startups face the constraints of time, money, and experience at the beginning of their growth journey and an outsourced solution can be effective for them.
Some founders fall into the trap of hiring a full-time growth marketer too early. If you are not sure your startup will scale well, adding a large fixed cost to your budget can turn into a costly mistake.
Hiring a flexible outside resource can help you validate the need for a full-time position, build up a base of results and learnings from your experiments, and better define the skillset required from a growth marketer.
And if you don’t have extensive prior experience with growth, a flexible solution can help you understand the role better, making your full-time search much more effective.
In today’s supply-constrained market, it takes time to find a growth marketer who has the right expertise and potential and shares your values and your mission. For a full-time position, you want to hold out for an ideal candidate, and sometimes the search takes several months.
Since your business growth cannot wait, an agency or a growth marketing consultant can be used as a viable temporary solution to start you off on the right track. Time to hire is much faster with these options since you are able to choose from a larger pool and there is less risk in the hiring decision.
They can plug in immediately to serve as an interim Growth Marketer and help you figure out which channels work for you, while you look for someone to fill that role full time.
And you may end up hiring the growth marketing consultant or the agency growth marketer you are working with for the full-time position. In fact, many experts work on the agency side simply because they haven’t yet found the perfect client-side opportunity and yours may be the right one.
Take Gina Gotthilf, VP of Growth and Marketing at Duolingo, for example. Her agency was helping US tech companies grow in the Latin American market. Having gotten to know Duolingo as a client and established a great working relationship with the team over time, she was happy to make the transition when the company offered her a full-time role.
Yuriy Timen, Head of Growth at Grammarly, has a similar story:
The way I ended up at Grammarly, actually, is that they were one of my consulting clients. So I did not, think or plan to join the company or the team full-time. I spent about three to four months consulting for them and that really gave me an opportunity to understand the team, to understand how unique and powerful the product was, and that we have a product that meaningfully impacts people’s lives, which is non-trivial and important to me.
Benefits of hiring a growth marketing agency
An agency can be highly effective, but it is also typically the most expensive option. So, if you have the right budget and want to ramp up quickly, an agency can be a great place to start.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that with an agency you can put the growth process on autopilot. You still need to invest considerable time into working and communicating with the agency in order to achieve your growth goals.
Expertise and efficiency
A reputable growth marketing agency brings to the table expertise and best practices developed from years of working with clients and overseeing millions of dollars spent in different growth channels.
An agency that has helped scale companies in your space generally knows what works and what doesn’t and can help you get going quickly. It can also take the learnings from clients in other industries and use them as a basis to come up with creative solutions in your situation.
As a client, you also benefit from the agency having the necessary resources, processes, and tools in place to enable a highly efficient structure around testing, analysis, and reporting of growth experiments and campaigns.
Early on, a startup needs a growth marketing generalist who is versatile enough to shift in and out of different growth channels and deal with potential significant changes to your business.
Finding an expert full-stack marketer, either consultant or a full-time person, can be difficult, and hiring multiple experts for different marketing channels is costly and impractical at an early stage.
Think of an agency as a synthetic full-stack marketer. An agency offers you growth marketing expertise that runs wide and deep through a team that includes a strategist who manages your growth roadmap and experts who cover specific marketing areas. Such arrangement lets you avoid a situation where you have to re-hire an in-house marketer because her skill set no longer fits the new growth model.
Benefits of hiring a growth marketing consultant
A growth marketing consultant is the most flexible option for an early-stage startup. The challenges are finding the one with the right expertise, as well as managing them and keeping them committed.
Hiring a consultant provides you with maximum flexibility, which is especially valuable for a self-funded startup in the early days.
Depending on your situation, you can ramp your growth efforts up and down as needed. And whereas agencies often work on 6-12 month retainers, if you are not happy with your expert, you can part ways in a matter of days.
Once you have validated the role and growth potential of your business, you can recruit someone for a full-time position or ask your now-proven consultant to move into the role.
A growth marketing consultant is a budget-friendly option for a startup. For one, you may be able to find a less expensive expert outside core tech markets. We are privileged to have in our network some great growth marketing consultants from Canada, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America with experience of driving growth for US and European companies.
If you are looking for someone from the US or Europe, a high-quality consultant is not necessarily going to be cheaper than a full-time hire when you translate their hourly rate into a monthly equivalent.
In these situations, a consultant option allows you to work within your budget constraints. Instead of saying I can only afford to pay X per hour, you can find the right expert and adjust the scope of what you need to fit your budget.
So, rather than bring in a $30/hour level growth marketer, bring in a higher quality professional for more pay and less hours. You would be amazed what an experienced growth marketer can do in a short amount of time.
Additional hiring tips
Hire only proven expertise
Whether you are hiring an agency, a consultant or a full-time employee, make sure you work with someone who has proven experience of driving results for companies like yours.
LinkedIn is full of growth marketers and growth hackers, and a number of growth marketing agencies have sprung up in recent years, but few have had measurable and consistent success. You need to look closely at their track record that’s relevant to your business to separate wheat from chaff.
And with agencies, expertise typically resides with senior founders, so make sure you have the right expectation of how much involvement they will have on your account.
Be realistic about your budget
When comparing options, make sure you factor all relevant costs. For a full-time hire, you need to budget hardware and software costs. The cost of a growth marketing technology stack to manage SEO, CRO, analytics and other areas can run into hundreds of dollars per month. This expense is already covered when hiring an agency and partly covered with a consultant.
And if you are not budgeting several thousand dollars a month for additional marketing spend, you shouldn’t be hiring an agency or an experienced growth marketer because you’re not giving them enough firepower to make an impact.
With the option you choose, you want to make sure you can afford that level of spending for at least six months since this is how long it typically takes before you start seeing meaningful results.
Do a trial
One common mistake that startups make with hiring a growth marketer is not doing a test drive. Just because they look good on the surface and can talk a great game does not mean they can deliver for your business. Whichever option you go with, make sure you give your decision a fair trial, and if it’s not working, look for alternatives.
The level of competence and effort required from a growth marketer to scale your startup cannot be underestimated. When looking for the right resource to help you grow, it takes a full analysis of your business situation, budget, and growth goals to figure out which of the options is best for your current situation.
Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each option and let us know if you need help in finding the right growth marketer to lay the foundation for your future success.
Looking for a proven growth marketer today?
Find marketers with experience of driving growth for companies like yours on Growth Engineers.