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Should I Hire a Freelancer or an Employee?

The question of whether or not to hire a freelancer or a full-time employee comes down to this: what is the job?

In marketing, specifically lead generation and digital strategy, work can very much be project-based, meaning there is a scope of work and a deadline to that scope of work, in which case a freelancer might make a great option. But oftentimes, what starts out as a project becomes part of a bigger marketing plan with continuous support needs. In this case, a full-time employee would make the best option.

There are countless caveats to answer whether or not you should hire a freelancer or an employee, but here I’ve assembled some of the top reasons, in my experience, for hiring one over the other.

Hire a Freelancer When:

1. Work needs to get done quickly.

When work needs to get done quickly, there usually isn’t enough time to recruit for the skill set needed. On average, it takes 52 days to fill an open job requisition, that’s up from 48 days in 2011. In this situation, you need to determine whether your internal counterparts are willing to wait that long for a resource.

2. You don’t want to pay taxes.

All kidding aside, freelancers do not require the fringe benefits or employer paid taxes that traditional full-time employees do. And, depending on your business and how the freelancer’s business is set up, their services might even be tax deductible. This is very much determined on a state-by-state basis, but check out the Supplier Diversity Office website for Massachusetts. If you do work for the government, SDO-registered businesses are a tax write-off there. Not to mention, freelancers don’t require the office space, paid time off and other benefit costs or equipment.

3. Local talent is not available.

If your company isn't located in a large metro area – or even if it is, the unemployment rate for the country is at a 10-year low at 4.3 percent – it can take time and money to find top talent. But, if you're open to a virtual relationship, utilizing a freelancer, where you don’t have ties to continue an arrangement after services are complete, allows you access to contract top talent nationwide.

4. You can outsource different components of a project.

For example, with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, a bulk of the work is done upfront, and optimizations typically take less time than the initial strategy and setup. You can hire a senior level freelancer to assist with the strategy and setup, while your full-time analysts take the lead on optimizing your campaigns. Or, your full-time employees can manage the more complex task of setting up an omni-channel marketing campaign and you can outsource the routine task of ongoing maintenance.

5. Workloads demand more people power.

Freelancers and independent contractors allow you to flex-up your team, as needed. If a company or an agency wins a big contract or project but doesn’t know if they’ll need ongoing help beyond that contract or project, a freelancer is a great resource to turn to. No obligations post-engagement, just more people power when you need it.

6. You need to show off.

If bidding on a big contract or project, hiring top freelance talent for the initial project bid can also be a great way to put your best foot forward. This will also allow your full-time staff to continue focusing on day-to-day operations.

Hire a Full-Time Employee When:

1. You need help with a specific set of tasks, long-term. 

If you cannot see an end in sight of ongoing marketing needs and there is a skill set you know you have a place for year-round and for years to come, you should hire a full-time staffer. Keeping in mind, depending on the size of your organization, you might opt for a jack-of-all-trades type and still utilize freelance resources on a case-by-case basis. The worst thing would be to hire someone very specialized who you can’t use, or who isn’t interested in work outside of their scope and expertise.

2. Institutional knowledge is paramount.

Employees have the opportunity to develop institutional knowledge about where they work. Institutional knowledge includes translating historical information about an organization into actionable data. If consistency and building on internal information is important, a full-time employee is a great option. But, it’s important to also contingency plan in case the employee leaves your organization.

Did you know? Employee turnover costs companies 30 percent of their earnings per year.

Closing Thoughts

I should mention, the decision of whether or not to hire a freelancer or a full-time employee also applies to marketing agencies. All of the same reflective thoughts, as outlined above, apply. Plus, most marketing agencies are not full-service. So, sometimes search engine marketing (SEM) agencies need help with design. And sometimes design agencies have clients that also want to do media-buys. So, in the example of SEM and PPC, if these are services you offer as add-ons to your great design and development work, a highly-skilled freelancer might be a great option.

And, if you are still left wondering whether or not a freelancer or a full-time employee makes sense for you and your company, I also encourage you to consult with the IRS. After all, a lot of the discussion around whether or not to hire a freelancer or full-time employee comes down to the cost and tax implications of that decision. The IRS has a section of their website specifically dedicated to independent contractors, self-employed resources and freelancers, and how they differ from traditional full-time employment. Check it out, and be sure to factor in tax deductibles and other obligations as you determine whether or not you should hire a freelancer or an employee.

About Andrew Foster, Customer Acquisition & SEM Consultant at Foster Ideas

Andrew specializes in customer acquisition using search engine marketing (SEM). He spearheads customer acquisition campaigns from strategy to execution, from small businesses to startups. Specifically, Andrew specializes in Google AdWords and Bing Ads as well as paid social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Foster Ideas was founded nearly five years ago and has managed over $10 million in ad spend. Foster Ideas is a Google Partner and member of SEMPO.

To learn more about Andrew and Foster Ideas, go to fosterideas.com.