Survey: Cost of doing in-house marketing vs. agency for SMBs
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Survey: Cost of doing in-house marketing vs. agency for SMBs

In this Marketing Report:

Sortlist recently published a 2021 Marketing Survey on budgets, trends, and inspiration for SMBs.  We asked almost 500 owners and general managers of small and medium-sized businesses across five European countries for their marketing strategies in 2021. Our goal in this article is to evaluate these trends and whether the intended budgets would benefit from an in-housing strategy or to seek help from an outside marketing agency, like a digital marketing agency


The majority of SMBs surveyed are looking to decrease their budgets in 2021


of SMBS have an adequate amount of employees in their in-house marketing team


Hiring a marketing agency is almost 50% more cost-efficient than an in-house marketing team

Marketing services decrease in 2021

Pandemic Impact on Marketing Budgets

Every year, businesses analyse their marketing needs and allocate a budget in hopes that it will cover all costs.  In 2021, many businesses have had to plan their budgets differently to deal with potential financial burdens caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pandemic impacts on marketing

A year into the epidemic, only 23.7% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in Sortlist’s core market – Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, France, and Spain – stated that the budgets for marketing services would increase in 2021. With 19.7% stating that no final budget had yet been decided, and 7.4% their budgets would remain unchanged, this revealed that 47% of SMBs surveyed were forced to decrease their spending.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped marketing investments relatively differently in each country (read more about it here), the mode answer of each country was a decrease in budget.

How much does a marketing firm cost? It can vary based on many factors

How much are you going to spend on marketing in 2021?

Across each of these countries, at least 60% of SMBs are looking to spend between 1001 – 100,000 euros in 2021 with the exception of Belgium (55%) and France (58%).

Budget marketing 2021 International

Between only 4 and 14% of the surveyed SMBs are willing or able to invest over 100,000 euros.

With an average of only 7.75% of businesses sticking to the same ad spend and same marketing budget as the previous year, the majority of SMBs surveyed will have to restructure their marketing tactics to optimise their revenue.

Businesses will have to make decisions on whether certain projects will be in-housed or, better yet, taken care of by a digital marketing agency as part of their financial restructuring.


In France, results of their marketing investments for 2021 are directly correlated with the results of the Covid-19 impact. With 60% of French SMBs revealing they were going to decrease their marketing budget, only 4% have a budget higher than 100,000 euros.  Additionally, they are the market with the most amount of SMBs looking to spend below 1000 euros with 31% on a digital marketing agency.

Budget marketing 2021 France

The Netherlands

The Netherlands observed the same statistics but in the opposite direction.  As the country with the highest percentage of SMBs increasing their digital marketing budget in 2021 (30%), they are the country with the most amount of businesses budgeting over 100,000 euros (14%) this year.  They are also the country with a fewer amount of SMBs looking to spend less than 1000 euros (12%).

Budget marketing 2021 The Netherlands

Average cost of marketing agency vs. in-house

In today’s market, when a business develops a marketing project based on an idea, they have to consider the members of the in-house team that will undertake it. They may already have the necessary human and technological resources at hand within their company, but that is not always the case. If they don’t, they can either build/expand their department or look into outsourcing the project to an outside agency with all the necessary marketing tools. Nevertheless, having adequate human and technological resources does not guarantee a successful marketing in-house team.

Let’s look at the relative costs of having an in-house marketing team vs. hiring a marketing agency.

In-House Marketing Team

*estimation of benefits and taxes come from REQ

On top of their base salaries, the internal team of a marketing agency requires resources such as office space, stationery, adapted technology, and software.

In-house marketing team

Marketing Agency team structure 

Within a marketing agency, a team is usually comprised of the following members, many related to digital marketing services:

  • Marketing Analytics Specialist
  • Public Relation Manager 
  • Graphic Designer 
  • Web Designer 
  • Front-End Web Developer 
  • Content Manager 
  • Social Media Management
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Copywriter 
  • SEO/SEM Specialist
marketing agency

Advantages of working with a Marketing Agency: Rates

With a marketing agency, businesses can develop singular projects, or have a working annual contract to work together on a regular basis. They can also pick and choose the various services they wish to hire help for e.g. paid advertising and content creation but not brand awareness.

Marketing agency pricing

According to the Business website Sisu, these are the average costs for agency services within a marketing agency in most markets. Rather than hourly rates, they’re calculated per month:

  • Social Media cost: 3500$/month 
  • Paid Social: 4500$/month 
  • Content: 5200$/month
  • Strategy: 3400$/month 
  • Website: 4500$/month 
  • PPC: 6000$/month 
  • SEO: 2000$/month 

Hiring a marketing agency or an in-house team?

The total average cost in a year, if a company were to require each of these services (one-time marketing strategy, graphic design, and website build): $258,700.

Total average cost marketing agency

The pricing in some marketing companies depends also on add additional costs such as a monthly retainer contract, company size, and additional tools required for research, however, these prices are usually included in the overall service package and marketing agency costs.

SMBs in context

How many people at your company work full-time in marketing?

The average number of surveyed SMBs with more than 5 full-time marketers within their in-house marketing department was at 14.85% with as low as 11% in Belgium. 

FTE marketing team

The most common number of employees working in marketing was three, with yet again the exception of Belgium with 26% of surveyed SMBs responding with only one full-time marketer.

Where do the human resources for your marketing come from?

Additionally, to the number of full-time marketers working in-house, we asked our SMBs where the human resources for their marketing come from.

Human resources marketing team

Less than 50% of all countries responded that their marketing projects come from in-house employees, with the lowest being the Netherlands with 36.5%.

An average of 30% of SMBs use the help of marketing agencies.

With only 14.85% on average of SMBs having the ideal number of employees (5+) working in their marketing department, and only 30% of them requesting help from an outside agency, this means that at least 50% of SMBs are losing some potential on their marketing strategy.

Pros & Cons: In-House Marketing vs Marketing Agency

In-House Marketing: Average price per year 414 585$

Pros of in-house marketing

  • Thorough understanding of team and projects
  • No other companies competing for time or attention
  • Available during all working hours
  • Marketing team has access to all other departments for help
  • Control

Cons of in-house marketing

  • Lack of consistency in quality and deliverance of work
  • Training time is limited or non-existent 
  • Innovation of ideas is limited
  • Salaries
  • Extra expenses (office space, software…)
  • Capabilities are limited
  • Employee turnover

Digital marketing agency pricing: Average price per year 258 700$

Pros of working with marketing agencies

  • Specialised set of skills
  • Innovative
  • Quickness of work
  • Consistency
  • Capabilities
  • Up to date software and required tools
  • Cost

Cons of working with marketing agencies

  • Higher short-term costs
  • Meetings
  • Limited communication
  • Location
  • One of many clients
  • Little control
Pro and cons in-house marketing

What Money Can or Can’t Buy You

If we take a look at the pros and cons of both these marketing strategies, we can say that money can buy you exclusivity and control.

If a business has the necessary funds to afford in-housing a team of marketers, they may feel more in control of their projects and finish them faster. However, the end result is at risk of not reaching its full potential due to a lack of experience, tools, and innovation.

Hiring a marketing agency may seem like throwing a project to strangers and praying for a safe return, but it’s almost guaranteed to be in good (and even better) hands.

Final Thoughts

The Covid-19 pandemic has left a huge mark in the business world. A portion of SMBs have been able to make it through this difficult time, but almost all of them are facing financial hardships. Businesses are having to restructure their marketing budgets and look to different options to ensure results. A digital marketing agency could be the solution to their problems, with lower cost, and higher work efficiency.

If you are looking for a marketing agency, take a look at the variety of Sortlist partners who are ready to help. We are located in over 80 countries around the world including the USA, and the United Kingdom

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About the Sortlist Data Hub

The Sortlist Data Hub is the place to be for journalists and industry leaders who seek data-driven reports from the marketing world, gathered from our surveys, partner collaborations, and internal data of more than 50,000 industries.

It is designed to be a space where the numbers on marketing are turned into easy-to-read reports and studies.


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