Contentions: Services companies vs. full-time employees

Rand Fishkin wrote a really great piece on why companies should hire more services companies (e.g., agencies, studios, consultants, etc.). I’ve worked full-time at a Fortune 500 company and at a series B funded startup, as a fractional marketing leader, and as an outside independent expert or the project owner for my own services company, so I’ve seen things from almost every single side with a firsthand perspective. Some things I’d like to add:

  • Services companies deliver a specialized expertise that just can’t be matched even if it’s an organization’s core competency. Even companies like Facebook—who have hired the best programmers in the world—outsource their programming
  • It can also be challenging recruiting full-time employees for less internally developed competencies (e.g., engineering hiring for marketers, etc.). Companies like this are better off working with services companies and learning from that experience—and, if they’re happy with the work, considering using their services or network—to help develop their team. I knew this service’s name as staff augmentation, 
  • New bets or experiments are best off with services companies as collaborators; laying off a full-time employee or even an entire team can be pricy, with severance alone being even more than the entire project was worth. It can also hurt the full-time team’s morale. Content marketing is actually specifically applicable here; because content marketing is such a wide ranging exercise, and success can look so different to each organization and leader, it makes sense to start off with a services company, an outside expert, or a part-time hire.

That’s not to say services companies are a sure thing. It comes with its own headaches. For example, you still need to make time to manage the relationship and the project. Another challenge is making sure you’re a priority for the services company, that the project doesn’t slip, and that you’re not footing the bill if it does? (See Michael Lynch’s regrettable $46,000 web design, and ensuing thread.)

Services companies are also approached very differently when it comes to corporations; they’re almost an essential part of the team. For example, in some companies with meeting-heavy cultures, usually most full-time employees have days with back-to-back (and conflicting) meetings. 

In those situations, it can feel like services companies are the only people actually doing work. That’s certainly not true, because a lot of understanding and information gathering goes into preparing briefs and proposals, though it certainly seems like a lot of work delivery happens only with the help of a services company.

See also What a Multi-Hyphenate Career Actually Looks Like.

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