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We recently outsourced our marketing function to a virtual marketing agency.

So what? I hear you say.

Well, it was a little like an Accountant changing Law firms, or a Law firm selecting a new Accountant. Since we provide a virtual solution ourselves, we are used to wearing the seller hat, so it was very instructive to be on the other side of the table, seeking – rather than providing – a solution.

Below is what turned out to be the six stages of moving to an outsourced service – from the buyer’s perspective:

Problem – what problem?

Our internal marketing role was filled with a skilled and dedicated person. But that person was a generalist working in an environment that required specialists: copywriting, digital advertising, social media, strategic planning etc.

We had lived with that nagging feeling for around four years: a sense that we could perhaps be doing better. We kept thinking: Could we get more leads, could we improve our PR, could we create more hype around our solutions, could we understand our clients better?


We didn’t know enough about marketing to know whether there was even a third-party solution to our quandary, so, we asked around. The more we asked the more we learned. Some marketers were keen to sell us pure advisory services (strategic/tactical) but we also wanted the ongoing deliverables. Some offered to operate a concierge service of freelance experts, but we wanted direct accountability.


During the initial COVID lockdowns we found a couple of providers who seemed to fit the bill. We got some indicative proposals and started to get a feel that while our ideal solution was not commonplace there were a few marketing firms who had travelled this road before.

Hard decisions

An outsourced solution would of course impact the person already in the role. We started to consult with them about these changes when we felt we had some viable alternatives. It was testament to the character of our existing resource that they understood our financial and outcome trade-off’s. Our decision also removed a weight from their shoulders being a “jack-of-all-trades” when aiming at excellence means every day you feel you have fallen short.


It was instructive being on the other side of an on-boarding process. While we thought our niche was rare, nuanced and required years of background, we discovered that 90 percent of the improvements could be gained by working with specialists who had no prior knowledge of our market.


It is still early days. We have had some wins, some challenges and lots of insights. The main early benefit is we have more structure and visibility to our marketing.

These six stages are common to most businesses using a third party to supply an important (but not core) part of their business. A wise head on people and processes, Brien Keegan calls the virtual team a “hidden workforce” and challenges us to treat these key suppliers as team members, rather than suppliers.

What other processes or jobs in your business do you (or could you) entrust to the “hidden workforce”? Maybe your Accounts Receivable?