10 min read

Email Marketing Employee vs Freelancer vs Agency

Written by Andriy Boychuk
10 min read

If you own an eCommerce brand (online store), it’s only a matter of time until you need help with your email marketing.

And the first question that pops up is, How much does it cost to hire an eCommerce email marketing specialist?

There are a few great articles written on the topic of hiring marketing help or email marketing help (see below). However, those blog posts are generic.

In this article, I’d like to cover the hire option you should consider when you hire somebody for email marketing for your online store.

First of all, there are 4 categories of specialists you can hire.

    1. Freelancer
    2. Consultant
    3. Employee
    4. Agency

 

Each of these options have their pros and cons.

In this article, I’ll review and provide feedback for each of those categories based on the following criteria:

  • Cost
  • Difficulty to find/hire
  • Dedication/interest
  • Turnaround
  • Risk
  • Good for:
  • Other information to consider

 

Before we dive into the pros and cons of each of those categories, it’s important to mention the scope of work when it comes to eCommerce email marketing.

eCommerce email marketing involves:

  • Strategy
  • Content creation (copy and design)
  • Implementation (technical part)
  • Analysis (review and optimization)
  • Project Management  

 

Strategy is the stage when you create a content plan. You decide on which flows (aka automated emails) to build, how many emails to include in each flow, in what order. In this stage, you also decide if you’re going to send any campaigns (aka one-off emails you send manually) and what those campaigns are going to include.

Content creation stage begins once you’ve done your planning. This is when copywriters and designers start working on the actual emails – their look and feel. To do this right, you need the right information about your customer, you need to understand your customer, know how they talk, know the kind of language and visuals they expect from your brand. If you’re not clear on that, your customer won’t connect with your emails and it’ll all be in vain.

Implementation (technical part) begins when you’re done with your copy and design for your emails and ready to set them up in the email marketing platform you’re using.

Analysis (review and optimization) is an ongoing process that you do once you have your flows and campaigns set up. You need to be able to measure your results. You measure your open, click-through rates.

Alright, so now that you understand the scope of work, let’s dive in and see who might be a better fit for your email marketing needs. 

Freelancer

In the past few years and especially in 2020 many people who used to work in the office became freelancers. So hiring freelancers naturally became a more popular option.

  • Cost

Of all the options I’m going to talk about, hiring a freelancer might seem like the most inexpensive one. On Upwork, you can find and hire an email marketing professional at a rate as low as $20 per hour. 

But when you look at the scope of work, you’ll see that one freelancer is not going to be enough for your email marketing needs. You’ll either need to find a freelancer with different often conflicting skills (like technical and creative) or hire more than one.

I worked as a freelancer between early 2017 and late 2019. I was able to do strategy, analyze, take care of the technical part of email marketing – and I managed everything myself. 

The thing I couldn’t do was write copy or create email design. So when someone hired me, they also needed to look for other freelancers to take care of their copy and design. 

Here are the people you’re likely to hire if you’re serious about your email marketing:

  • Email marketing technician. The cost is between $6-20 for freelancers outside the US. I recommend looking for a technician outside the US because the quality of work is the same but the US rates might run around $40 per hour
  • Strategist/Marketer/Project manager. you can and should find one person who has all those skills. The market rate for a decent freelancer starts at $30 (very low end) but realistically it will range from $50 to $90 per hour
  • A native speaker copywriter’s rates range from $25 to $50 per hour
  • Designer. Around the same price range as a copywriter

 

  • Difficulty to find/hire

You can easily find a copywriter, a designer, and a technician. But they’ll most likely be generalists, meaning not specialized in eCommerce email marketing. There are only a few dozen people who have that kind of niche specialization, and those specialists are expensive. 

For the strategist and marketer, you need someone with prior experience in email marketing. There aren’t many people on the market with such narrow focus so the cost of hiring one is high. Besides, you don’t want to be their first eCommerce client, so there are even fewer specialists with that kind of experience.  

  • Turnaround:

Freelancers can start working on your project right away as soon as you pay them. This is a great benefit for those who need their project done yesterday. 

Also, among freelancers, there are usually no set processes that may have a longer turnaround, so they do things on the fly and you can request things as they come up. 

  • Dedication/interest

Although freelancers are in it for flexibility, they’re most likely also looking for financial stability. Since you’ll probably give them only around 5 to 20 hours worth of work per week, they’ll need to find other clients. 

  • Good for: 

Freelancers are good for those companies who are just starting out or have a very tight budget. Another important prerequisite is knowing exactly what you need done. If you only have a general understanding of the scope of work, a freelancer’s services might not be the right fit for you. 

  • Risk

The risk is limited since you can end the relationship with a freelancer anytime you want. But on the flip side, if the freelancer is good and you like their services, they may raise the price at any point or leave without notice. 

Besides, that’s just one person. remember this is one person. If you count with all of your email marketing on that person and there’s no guarantee they will stay with you, that puts you in a position when you’re constantly worried if they leave. 

IN-HOUSE EMAIL MARKETING SPECIALIST

 

  • Cost

Project manager/strategist/account manager – $65k ($32 per hour)
Copywriter – $65
Designer – $65
Tech pro – $30k

  • Difficulty to find/hire

Hiring someone in-house is a much more difficult endeavor than hiring a freelancer. It takes much longer since the stakes are much higher. You’re committing to work with them long-term, so it makes sense that you would want to ensure a good screening process. 

It takes an average of 42 days to make a full-time hire, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. For early stage startups, hiring an email marketer can take even longer, specifically, think three to six months.

As with freelancers, if you hire someone in-house, it’s still one person. In our agency, for example, we assign a team of 6 people to work with each client – a Senior account manager who oversees the project, an account manager who leads the project and communicates with the client, a copywriter, a designer, a tech pro, and an assistant. Distributing our workload this way allows us to achieve good results without compromising the timeline. 

When you look for employees, I recommend you look for specialists in each field who can work together to produce the results that you hope to get with your email marketing. 

  • Dedication/interest

When someone works for you in-house, their dedication and interest in the company is naturally higher than if they were freelancers. 

  • Turnaround

The good thing about having an email marketing employee is that you can set their deadlines and decide when the work needs to be done. You’ll always know that they will deliver on time and won’t leave you hanging. 

  • Good for:

Hiring in-house email marketing employees is great for established companies with secure budgets. If you can afford a team of experts working solely on your email marketing, I’d say go for it and why not. 

  • Risk

If you find the right people, the risk is minimal.

Agency

There are two types of service agencies offer – project-based and retainer service. In project-based service, agencies come in, do a project with a clearly defined scope of work and leave. In the case with retainers, agencies like ourselves work on a monthly basis when the team does whatever is needed to increase engagement and drive revenue for your business. 

The difference between the two is, project-based work is like building a bicycle and not teaching a person to ride it, while with the retainer service, it’s building the bicycle, teaching the person how to ride it, and supporting them as they learn.

In our industry, there’s a lot of stigma. We have to deal with a lot of skepticism as many new clients directly tell us they hate working with agencies because they’d been disappointed by many. To this, I always say that there are bad companies in all types of businesses – no matter if you hire someone to do email marketing or a plumber to fix your kitchen sink. The only thing I can do is do my best to destroy that stigma. But how to hire the right email marketing agency for your eCommerce store? In one of our podcast episodes, Tim Kilroy shares some tips on how eCommerce owners can find and hire the right email marketing agency for them. 

  • Price/expense

Initial investment (setup) vs ongoing

Most agencies work on a retainer basis. A monthly budget for email marketing services ranges anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000+. So if your business makes less than $500,000 or even $1M a year, hiring an agency is not the right fit for you simply because the return on investment won’t be positive. In which case it’s best to find a freelancer on Upwork or Indeed. 

One important thing worth mentioning is, most agencies work with quotes and custom pricing. That means it’s very possible that depending on your monthly revenue, you’ll get one quote or another.

As an agency, we strive to be as transparent as we can about our pricing. You can find all of our prices on our website, and we don’t do custom pricing. So regardless of whether you make $1M or $5M a year, you’ll pay the same price for our services, which means your ROI can grow exponentially. Check the detailed blog post about the cost of hiring a full-service email marketing agency here. 

Talking specifically about email marketing, the decisive factor should be how many campaigns, in addition to email automations, you’re planning to send per month. If you send 20 campaigns, which is more or less three campaigns per week, it’s one price. If you want to send daily campaigns or, say, four emails per day (which amounts for 120 emails per month), it’s a totally different story.  All that is to say, the cost of your email marketing will depend on the scope of work you want the agency to execute for you.

  • Difficulty to find/hire

The problem with agencies in the email marketing space is that the industry is relatively new, so there aren’t many that specialize in email marketing. 

If you can find someone who focuses on email marketing, they’ll charge a lot more than general agencies that help with digital marketing. The reason is simple – the demand is high, and the supply is low. 

If you want real results, you need to hire someone who knows the industry well because generalists won’t bring you the results you may be looking for. 

  • Dedication/interest

With new clients, we often hear that they’d been disappointed by agencies before. Notably – and those are our clients’ words – the bigger the agency, the more careless treatment their clients receive. 

We invited an expert and recorded an entire podcast episode on how to find the right agency for your eCommerce business. You can listen to it here

In any case, with a reliable agency, you’re set for success. They have their team management keeping tabs on deadlines and the quality of outcomes. 

  • Turnaround

3 weeks minimum

  • Good for:

If you’re an early-stage company strapped for cash, hiring an agency is not for you. 

However, when you reach a point when you need help to keep your company growing yet not enough hours in the day to complete certain tasks, hiring an agency may be a great choice. Agencies are one-stop shops for your marketing needs and more importantly they don’t need your checking up on them as much as you would with individual marketing specialists.

Hiring agency might not be for you if you

  • want to do it in house
  • micromanage
  • change plans on the fly
  • don’t have a steady or have low revenue
  • buy or rent lists

 

  • Risk

When you hire a freelancer or an employee, the person you discuss the details of your project with and the one who executes the plan is the same. With an agency, especially if it’s large, there can be siloes and gaps in communication between different departments and team members. In other words, what the sales person tells you on the first call, might not be what the team can actually deliver. 

Bottom line

In the past, when I worked as a freelancer, I liked project work because that way,  there would always be a defined scope and a defined timeline, so I could come in, fix whatever needed to be fixed and be gone. 

Now I understand that that wasn’t the best way to do it. It’s a much better approach both for whoever you hire and for you as a client if you can have them do email marketing for you long-term. 

The more an agency, a freelancer or someone on your team are involved in email marketing, the better they understand your product and customers, the better results they can produce.

With email marketing in particular, I know the idea of “setting and forgetting” your email automations may sound appealing, but unfortunately it’s not true – you have to optimize them. 

You’ll see your revenue rise and decline periodically because maybe some automation isn’t as effective as it used to be or maybe because your business is seasonal. That’s why you’ll have to come up with a different strategy every quarter or even every month.

All that is to say, whoever you hire depending on your budget and marketing needs, try to stick with the same person long-term – that is, so long as they bring the results you hope for. 

If you’re looking for an agency to take email marketing off your plate so you can focus on other important parts of your business, schedule a call with our team here

Talk email strategy with an expert