Marketing costs money. The question is always whether it is providing a return in qualified leads (keeping in mind that closed business is a sales issue, not marketing) that pays for the investment. The variations on how that return is generated through internal resources, entire departments, the use of agencies, or just a host of outside resources under internal direction, are endless.

So, the question about when to outsource vs. when to rely on your internal resources really comes down to three things:

1. What do you need to accomplish to grow your sales?
2. Do you have the expertise and time to accomplish your objectives internally?
3. Is it more cost-effective to put someone on staff, 40 hours a week, with taxes and benefits that that entails, or pay higher hourly fees by the project/retainer?

It is always possible for a slightly overworked internal marketing team to build the necessary marketing plans and get the deliverable out the door just in the nick of time. Likewise, it is not uncommon to find a department or small company that has come to rely thoroughly on that freelance web designer or graphic artist who seems to always get things done on a dime. The question isn’t really whether these approaches are right or wrong.

The question is: Are your marketing initiatives just getting by, or are they really working for you?

Here are the signs you need to look for that tell you it’s time to get outside help, at least temporarily:
1. SIGN ONE: READY, FIRE, AIM! If all your time is spent reacting to urgent, pop-up media and support needs, and very little time is spent planning and integrating, then it might be time to get some outside assistance. Marketing as an endless string of deliverables, without a clearly developed strategy is never going to provide optimum return for the investment.

2. SIGN TWO: BOLDLY GOING… If the best way to reach your target audience is through a media or channel your team is not familiar with, then at least for the short term, seek expert, outside guidance. If you are doing something as a one-time effort, such as testing out whether trade shows are a good channel, then engage a trade show expert to ensure the most effective execution.

3. SIGN THREE: EVERYBODY’S AN ART DIRECTOR. When marketing efforts are scattered among many departments or individuals, and do not present a coherent brand image, an outside consultant or agency can help bring order to the chaos with relative speed. Additionally, when the CEO (VP, or other high-level, non-marketing executive) is engaged in marketing in a hands-on capacity, it is time to get some outside assistance, so the CEO can focus on his/her overall business.

4. SIGN FOUR: SOMETHING’S NOT WORKING HERE! When sales have stalled, markets have shifted, or you are just struggling under that gnawing doubt that you should be getting more sales leads, but your tactics don’t seem to be working, then it is time to get some outside perspective, and support.