Welcome to the age of the Collective. What’s the difference between hiring an agency, a freelancer, or building an in-house marketing team versus engaging with a Collective? Let’s start with what a collective is. It embraces the gig economy and looks towards the future of possibilities by creating efficiencies and focusing high-end specialists on solving problems at price points unheard of in the past.  A collective is a fractional CMO that acts as a legitimate partner in your organization who is, in turn, leading a vetted team of contractor specialists. 

Marketing and Web Support Freelancers

Freelancers can be a very attractive option because of price and the perceived notion of personalized attention. But there are numerous risks involved in hiring solopreneurs. If they get sick in the middle of a project or in an accident, they sometimes just give up freelancing and get a full-time job. Or maybe they just get burned out, and you suddenly lose all of your momentum, and your project stops dead, and you have to start over from scratch. Frequently, it’s quite dangerous working with some freelancers out there, so you have to make sure that you find the right one. Another common problem is that a single person just can’t be great at all the things that you may need. So oftentimes, you end up with this patchwork quilt of different freelancers that don’t all communicate together, and that causes all kinds of problems.  Additionally, if a freelancer fails at delivering, you typically have little or no recourse in the matter.

Pros:

  1. Typically cheaper
  2. Less red tape
  3. Personal attention

Cons:

  1. Single point of failure, may not deliver
  2. Too generalized, knowledge is broad but not deep
  3. If they fail to deliver, you’re out of luck
  4. If they are good, they are often overworked (or get that way fast)

Traditional Marketing and Web Support Agencies

One other option is hiring an agency, which is probably the most common scenario. Agencies can be expensive but certainly cheaper than in-house. We used to be a traditional agency so we know the strengths and weaknesses better than most.  In this model, you’re typically getting sold by a high-level partner or owner who deeply understands your needs, but the people who are actually doing the work are interns or junior-level developers and marketers following scripts or trying to figure out things as they go. 

Pros:

  1. Good leadership
  2. Always delivers
  3. Has insurance
  4. Sometimes teams work in the same office which can create efficiencies

Cons:

  1. The team is often overworked
  2. Small agencies are mostly generalists
  3. Large agencies are extremely expensive
  4. Over time they get complacent (loudest clients get the most attention)
  5. Can be very expensive if they have a good reputation
  6. Results can vary wildly

In-House 

Another avenue is hiring an entire team in-house. As businesses grow, that’s often something that they think about because they want to retain control and want to have a lot of influence on the outcome of day-to-day marketing. But the reality is that hiring a marketing team is shockingly more expensive than outsourcing in many scenarios, and it’s just not an option for a lot of businesses. For the businesses that do bring their team in-house, they may be awesome for a couple of years, but the industry and the technology change so rapidly. Oftentimes by the end of the third year, that in-house team has completely stagnated, and they’re still doing the same things that they were doing when you hired them, but it’s no longer working because the marketing and web world change so quickly. We often see a cycle of businesses getting to this point and having to dismantle their entire team and outsourcing all over again which is disruptive, stressful, and resource-intensive.

Pros:

  1. Massive buy-in from the team at the outset
  2. 100% dedicated resources with no distractions
  3. Complete control of skillsets acquired

Cons:

  1. Massive amount of obvious and hidden costs (like maintaining culture)
  2. Hiring can be exceptionally difficult and filled with guesswork
  3. Team skills stagnate over time
  4. Tech worker burnout is very common
  5. Building processes and training systems is resource intense

The New Collective Agency Model

We knew the system was broken and in 2016 we embarked on a journey to solve a number of problems, both internal to agencies and external to client needs and outcomes. More importantly, technology and cultural norms had changed enough to adjust our culture and business model with great potential for success.

Here’s a list of a few problems we wanted to solve:

  1. Clients getting mixed results
  2. Junior team members failing to perform
  3. Senior team members getting recruited by larger national companies (in some cases paying $50k to $100k over our local market averages)
  4. Having to charge a lot of money and close bad deals because of the pressure of a massive salary cap overhead
  5. Constantly babysitting human capital issues and team culture issues that would slow or stop client projects
  6. Significant costs in maintaining corporate offices, HR systems, and team-wide commuting
  7. Push from the team to adopt silicon valley type benefits and perks (such as unlimited vacation, free meals, etc)
  8. Limited talent pool

Initially, we looked to another long-established and very successful business model – the property development company.  Website design and digital marketing are essentially virtual models of building construction and property marketing.  A trusted general contractor (GC) is hired by the client to deliver assets based on a budget or retainer.  The GC then onboards all the various companies and consultants needed to solve the problem at hand.

Also, the age of the gig economy has arrived.  Physical borders are fading away.  And instead of being limited to a tiny amount of generalized talent in a 15-mile radius of our office we now adopted a policy of working with highly specialized professionals and teams all over the world.

With this in mind, over the next few years, we sold our main office and stopped hiring employees, and started building and testing a comprehensive network of specialists that we work with as closely as employees and extended team members.

We implemented strong protocols and communication tools and project management systems to allow talent all over the world to work with us as if we were in the same office. 

Also, our overhead is very small now which allows us to pay more to the team we use, because we’re only paying for the work they’re producing.  The net result is better prices for better service with higher-paid specialists.

These days we essentially act as this colony of jellyfish, where we’re each our own separate entity, we’re all owners, we’re all deeply vetted, and we all work well together as if we are one team all moving the same direction in the ocean.

Come to us with a problem (or many problems) and we’ll assemble the best team for the job.

Each of our Collective members is deeply invested in the outcome of your project. We’re all senior-level people, and we work for you at the same rate, or often even much cheaper than what an agency would charge.  This grand experiment has worked out much better than we anticipated.

Our most popular service lately is a flat rate retainer model where we do everything for our clients.  A fractional Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Technology Officer is acting as a partner in your business and managing the rest of the collective to handle everything that’s been giving you headaches such as:

  • Search Ad Campaigns
  • Ad Campaign Tracking/Data Analytics
  • SEO (Local and National)
  • WordPress and WooCommerce Tech Support
  • Website Design and Building
  • Social Media Production
  • Social Media Ad Campaigns
  • Content and Lead Magnet Creation
  • Branding and Messaging
  • Print Design
  • Photo and Video Production

Here at Highforge, it’s been a game-changing journey going from a traditional agency to a collective model, and our clients have loved the results they’re getting. More importantly, everybody on this team loves what they do and is absolutely an invested owner in your outcomes. We invite you to experience the Highforge Collective and discover the difference we can make as your valued partner.

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