Who to Hire for Your Marketing: Agency, Freelancer, or Growth Team?

“Marketing experts” experts are a dime a dozen these days. If you need a marketing job done, there are traditional agencies, Facebook ad gurus, growth marketers, CRO experts, funnel hackers, freelancers, and more. Some are the best in the field, while others, you’ll find out, have no clue what they are doing. At first look it’s hard to know which you’re dealing with.

Experience in Skills vs Experience in Business

So what’s the differentiator? How can you sift the best to the top? No matter who you hire, what you need to look for is experience. Experience is the shortcut to getting you where you need to go faster (and more cost-efficiently). In essence, hiring a team with experience means you will learn quickly from what others have done.

When it comes to experience, not all experience is the same. Someone who has experience running ads is great if that’s what you’re looking for. What’s better is someone who not only has the experience with the actual skill you need but who also has experience in your situation. That is the missing piece.

Someone who has the experience with the skill, in your context (owning, leading, and managing a business, and achieving goals) will put every activity they do through that lens. This means you don’t have to micromanage them, and they will add value by leading you more effectively. This may cost more than other options upfront (although it’s surprisingly more affordable than most). But in the long run, you’ll spend much less time and money because it’ll keep you from marching down a path that will not work. Measure twice, cut once.

The Magic Piece: Holistic Experience

We call this experience in both skills and the business context holistic experience. Holistic experience (and the leadership that grows from it) is the primary difference between a professional growth team and an agency or freelancer. Holistic experience changes everything.

In this post, we’re going to explain why you should stop thinking about hiring the fastest, cheapest tacticians, and why you should hire an experienced team to grow your marketing and ecommerce strategy. This discussion is relevant for ecommerce brands of all sizes, from large global companies to young, fast-growing brands.

When Should You Hire a Marketing Team (Of Any Kind)?

At what stage of business is the right time to hire an agency, a pack of freelancers, or a growth team? It can be difficult to know which type of team is best for your stage of growth, and truthfully you could make a case that a growth team is better in every situation because of the holistic experience. We’ll explain the difference between the three options in-depth further down in this post. But let’s start with a few scenarios and some words of advice as you consider each option.

You want to cut costs.

In this case, it might seem that freelancers are the way to go. With freelancers, you will typically find a range of levels from beginners to expert tacticians, but rarely will you find holistic experience. Keep in mind that it will only be cheaper if the freelancers you hire are experienced at the skillset. Hiring the cheapest person out there will end up costing more money if they can’t get the job done well and you spend more of your time managing them.

You want a faster, more agile marketing process.

You might think that a fully in-house team or a mixture of freelancers will get things done faster than an agency. But the truth is “faster” usually means disorganized. And that will inevitably slow things down. You may have the perception of speed. But unless you think things through and have great systems and processes to organize the production as well as master leadership, you will find yourself in a mess of chaos.

You want more control over the marketing strategy.

In this case, take a moment to ask yourself, “Should I truly be the marketing expert? Is that my job?”

A well-known concept of any successful business person is this: you should only be doing things that only you can do (and delegate the rest). Even in early stages this is true. It’s not just about efficiency, it’s also about quality. Do what you do best and hire experienced experts to help you in the other areas. There are certainly other areas that you really excel in (like knowing your customer and your product). It would be more efficient to entrust the marketing side to someone with more experience and focus.

It’s normal to struggle with the idea of handing this work to someone else for fear of not being kept up-to-speed about what’s going on. If that’s you, it might be helpful to note that a true growth team is transparent and has a teaching spirit. This means that they aren’t looking to entrench themselves by keeping you in the dark, but rather are helping you know what you need to know to be empowered everyday. Some large agencies will create a veil so you don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes. A growth team like Metacake will help you understand what’s going on and even teach you how to operate within your area of comfort.

You feel your brand is so large and worldwide that you need a giant agency to handle your needs.

The truth is, you probably don’t need a giant agency to execute your marketing strategy well. That doesn’t mean there is not a place for a large agency, but don’t make that decision based solely on this misconception. An experienced growth team will likely have a lot of big, high-growth business experience and within the specialty of DTC growth. You may even find that large agencies might lack cutting edge skills because it’s harder to keep up with moving trends. This doesn’t mean that agencies are not a good choice. But the point here is this: do not succumb to the lie that your project can only be handled by a global agency with 15 worldwide offices.

You’re looking for marketers who are hungry for work.

Word to the wise here: Hungry usually means desperate. And lacking essential skills. If you are going to hire someone to run your marketing, you need someone with experience and who is at the top of their game.

You want low-commitment, external help so you can bring marketing in-house down the road.

If you have plans to bring marketing in-house, make sure you understand what it will take to do that well. Right now you’re a product team. But if you bring marketing in-house, that will require a full marketing team, strategy team, IT team, and more. Finding experienced individuals to fill and lead all of these roles can be a challenge and is very expensive. This doesn’t mean this is a bad strategy, just one that needs to be assessed appropriately. The truth is that in-house is many times more expensive and time-consuming than outside help.

Side note: A true growth team can augment your internal team seamlessly.

Your entire marketing team is currently in-house. Is that a good thing?

It can be great! In this scenario, just remember that when marketers only look at one brand all day, every day, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision. It’s hard to see the forest from the trees. An external, experienced consultant who provides regular coaching and keeps your team aware of what’s going on outside of your walls could be very valuable.

What is the difference between a traditional agency, a freelancer, and an ecommerce growth team?

There is a lot of overlap, stereotypes, and confusion that comes with different types of marketing teams. We’re here to pull back the curtain and help you determine which is right for your organization.

Traditional Agency

If we’re talking strictly stereotypes (because we know many great agencies), traditional agencies are known for being masters of everything, and therefore what the largest brands always need. The ones that fit this description are ones to stay away from. This is not to say that all agencies fit this description – in fact we work with many amazing agencies— but many do.

Why be so cautious of the masters of everything? Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to be masters at everything. If you claim this title, you’re probably not a master at anything. Regardless of how many tasks an agency can master, they aren’t always the best solution for large brands.

When should you hire a traditional agency?

  • A traditional ad or marketing agency might be a good fit for your business if you:
  • Are looking for “yes men”— people who will do whatever you say.
  • Don’t want people to challenge what you say.
  • Want a jack of all trades (and likely master of none).
  • Would like to be someone’s biggest client (believe it or not, this is not healthy for you or for the agency in the long term)

The bottom line: Agencies do not want to do a bad job. But their primary motivation is to create billable hours and make you happy. As hard as it might be to hear, you don’t want someone whose goal is to “make you happy”. This may feel good, but it’s not a realistic expectation and it won’t get you to your goals. Their process is not typically centered on helping you reach your goals, challenging you along the way, or teaching you.


A freelance marketer is generally thought to be inexpensive, fast, agile, and (unfortunately for them) disposable. Unfortunately these are mainly perceptions, and not always the case; we know some great freelancers out there. But it’s important to really know who you’re hiring. They’re freelancers for a reason – they don’t want a traditional office job, and therefore are unlikely to want to be tied to your schedule. Freelancers typically have individual expertise and rarely bring more than one primary skill to the table.

When should you hire individual freelancers?

  • A freelancer (or a whole crew of freelancers) might be right for your business if:
  • Your business is a startup and have more time than money.
  • You don’t mind acting as a project manager daily, being the glue between literally every person.
  • You have a large company and handle strategy internally, but you need unique specialties fulfilled by an external source.

The bottom line: While they’re often hired to be cost-effective and quick, hiring a freelancer can often become costly if you don’t find someone with the right experience for the job and time-consuming because you will have to have dedicated management.

Ecommerce Growth Team

A truly mature ecommerce growth team should be trustworthy, experienced, comprehensive (within their specialty), cohesive, have a purpose that is greater than what they do for you, and most importantly, able to lead you.

You wouldn’t go to the doctor with an illness and tell the doctor what prescription you need. That’s ineffective, and dangerous! Similarly, why would you hire a marketing team expecting to call all the shots yourself?

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re working with an agency or freelancer, that is what you will have to do. An agency and a freelancer’s job is to do what you say. In contrast, a growth team’s job is to lead you, educate you, and help achieve your goals.

In the health world, an agency might be like a hospital, a freelancer might be like a solo-practitioner, and a growth team might be like a specialty office – the A-team you call when you need great care.

In the financial world, an agency might be like a big brokerage company, a freelancer might be like a solo financial advisor, and a growth team might be like a family office where a group of experienced specialists work together to bring you success.

When should you hire a growth team?

  • A growth team is probably right for you if:
  • Your business is growing fast and needs experienced experts to make sure that growth continues at a healthy rate.
  • You’re a global brand looking to innovate or transition (for example, a wholesale brand that is migrating to a DTC channel, or a large company looking to break through a revenue ceiling).
  • You have a situation that needs a holistic specialist, because a problem in one place is often just a symptom of something deeper. For example, your site is not converting well or your Facebook ads are extremely expensive.
  • Your internal execution team needs experienced direction and coaching. Yes, we can coach you and then have you implement yourself.
  • You want to be challenged by new ideas.
  • Your team wants the highest impact value for every dollar spent. Every activity is put through the lens of healthy business growth.
  • You value experienced specialists with the ability to lead (as opposed to tacticians who take orders and do whatever you want, even if it’s dumb).
  • You’d like a healthy partner. The healthier the business of your partner, the better results and more consistent the service that you’ll get. You may think you want desperate, but that’s a shortsighted view.

The bottom line: A growth team gets you to where you want to be faster and more efficiently by leveraging holistic experience and empowering you in your role with knowledge as best as they can.

5 Reasons to Hire an Ecommerce Growth Team

Interested in learning more about the benefits of hiring a growth team over an agency or freelancer? Let’s look at five practical reasons a growth team may be the best option for you.

1. Experienced Leadership

A growth team is not a group of tacticians implementing whatever strategy you want. It’s an experienced team with the expertise to help you make the right decisions and set you up for success. This includes leading, guiding, and even challenging you if that’s what is necessary to achieve your goals.

2. Organization

Growth teams utilize proven systems and processes that get results. It’s not a free-for-all to get everything done as quickly as possible. They don’t start from scratch every project. Their experience has not only informed their skills, but also developed important qualities like professionalism, timeliness, and consistency as well.

3. On-Time and Within Budget for Agreed Scope

You would think this is a given for whoever you hire, but unfortunately, it’s not. The service world (from digital services to remodeling houses) is notorious for delays and additional costs. This isn’t because service businesses are bad. It’s because they aren’t great at looking ahead and helping you see the future. In contrast, growth teams have the ability and foresight to plan ahead, avoid roadblocks, and help you think about your goal within the scope. Does this mean growth teams are flat-rate? No. No one can see every obstacle. And no one can control YOU, and yes you are a big factor in this equation. However, what it does mean is that they help you see what you need. Once what is needed is decided, they work hard to influence everything in their control to help you achieve that goal within the agreed scope.

4. Cost

You might assume that a group of freelance designers, developers, and marketers will be less expensive than a growth team. In reality, it typically costs more when all is said and done, especially if you factor your time into the equation. Not only that, but you also run the risk of having lower quality work in the end, because none of those people are working together and collaborating. In contrast, by paying a bit more upfront for an experienced growth team, you can rest knowing that the work is being done correctly the first time by a cohesive team with a unified vision.

Quick illustration: Imagine hiring all sub-contractors to build your house. Unless you’re a construction expert, something would probably be done wrong. Instead of having a clearcut strategy in place, you would be delegating tasks all day, every day. That takes a lot of your time, and you would end up with a subpar product. Save yourself time and money by hiring a full-service team to manage the project unless that is your specialty.

5. Stretch Your Dollar (Value)

Lastly, growth teams can actually help your money go farther. How? If they know how much you are wanting to invest upfront, they can help you make decisions and find solutions that are the most efficient use of those dollars. Oftentimes, a growth team will SAVE you money simply by bringing alternate options to the surface that would be a more efficient use of spend for your situation. They will help you understand the options you have and give you input on their opinion of what you should do. They act on your behalf as if they were you.

If you would like to learn more about what an ecommerce growth team could do for your business, or how they differ from traditional agencies, we’re here to help!

Metacake is an ecommerce growth team that has been helping brands of all sizes reach their goals for over 10 years. Whether you’re looking for an expert to set and implement strategies, or your team is in need of external coaching, we’d love to hear from you. Just click below to schedule a free 15-minute consultation call.


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