Agency, In-House, or Freelance – Which Type of Digital Marketing Job is For You?

Where would you thrive in marketing: An Agency, In-house Team or as a Freelancer? Find out what its like to work at each one, plus expected salary and benefits, and how to decide the best career path for you!
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Sometimes it can feel like the business world is shifting beneath your feet. The Digital Marketing field in particular provides job-seekers with a multitude of opportunities that range from complete solo entrepreneurship to working as a member of some of the world’s largest corporations. There is no one clear set career path to follow and there are advantages and disadvantages to taking on a position anywhere within this ecosystem

So how is one to decide? In this guide, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about digital marketing positions at agencies, in-house or as a freelancer. From benefits and drawbacks, to salaries, career and paths, discover which of these lucrative and fulfilling roles might be right for you! 

Working at a Digital Marketing Agency

Interested in scaling up across as many disciplines as possible? A digital marketing agency might be for you! Agencies take on a variety of clients and are contracted to meet their business needs that align with their commercial goals. Oftentimes, they take on a comprehensive role in creating a marketing strategy, that might include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay-Per-Click (PPC), social media marketing, content creation, multi-channel analytics and more. Other agencies might advertise a high level of competence in a specific domain and offer a more limited menu of services. Either way, businesses benefit from outside agency’s expertise and working with them removes the need to build those functions in-house. 

Agencies have a reputation for maintaining a “work hard, play hard” environment, but this will of course, vary depending on the company. Marketers have the option of pursuing roles at international conglomerates with thousands of employees, or any number of scrappy start-ups. Work remains varied, with agency members often granted the opportunity to build a large number of client relationships and gain experience across different industries and stakeholders. 

Advantages of Working at a Digital Marketing Agency 

  • Expand Your Skillset – Digital agency work offers you an easy opportunity to hone in on your existing skills and build new ones as you move from client to client. Keeping up with ever-evolving best practices is part of the job and coworkers who specialize in adjacent areas are only a desk (or Zoom call) away. Working across an eclectic range of clients is an excellent way to refresh and refine your practical knowledge and expand your abilities organically over time. 
  • Grow Your Network – The industry is always smaller than you think. Your coworkers could serve as an invaluable resource both at your job, and as you move on to additional roles. An agency serves as a natural place for your professional network to flourish, which can pay dividends down the road. 
  • Inherent Career Progression – At larger agencies especially, traditional corporate hierarchy provides a clear-cut path to leveling up your career. Even if you don’t end up at the same company for a long time, serving as a member of a larger marketing team is a great way to prepare for future leadership roles. As you gain new specialites, opportunities also exist to make lateral moves within an agency, and discover new areas of interest that best suit you. 
  • Work Across Multiple Accounts – Agency life almost never gets boring! Sinking your teeth into multiple clients and becoming an expert across different brands and industries is highly valuable experience to possess. Constant challenge and exposure to new team members keeps work interesting and allows for personal growth. Clients will think of you as a genius as you apply learnings from one account to the next across your career! 
  • Stay at the Forefront – Agencies are under pressure to constantly innovate and keep afloat of the latest marketing channels and trends. At an agency, you know your skills are never at risk of becoming obsolete. The best companies will invest in your development and create an environment of shared learning and successes. These skills are also transferable if you ever decide to take the freelance route and take on the industry solo. 

Digital Marketing Agency Salaries and Career Path

Marketing professionals are highly in-demand and that is reflected by the wide variety of open roles across agencies. According to Glassdoor, the average professional working at a Digital Marketing agency earns $66,029/year. This amount can significantly vary depending on company size, geographic location and an individual’s level of specialization. 

Many agency professionals get their foot in the door as an agency intern or junior copywriter. From there, they have the ability to dive into any number of specializations like SEO, email marketing, paid social or search or public relations. Firms often promote from within, moving team members into roles like Assistant Account Executive and Account Manager. Eventually, taking on a leadership role within an agency like Director or Senior Account Manager can command a salary upwards of $150,000/year.

Working on an In-House Marketing Team

Not all marketing work makes its way to agencies. In-House marketing refers to the practice of a company’s marketing activities being completed by their own employees. This team is solely dedicated to the promotion of their own company’s brands and products. Oftentimes, the structure of an in-house team mirrors that of an agency, but the lack of multiple accounts gives them more flexibility to tailor positions to their organization’s unique needs. With the growing adoption of technology and powerful analytics tools, it has become increasingly easier for companies to move operations in-house. However, this doesn’t guarantee a better return on investment (ROI). This option means finding tradeoffs between potentially higher costs with a greater degree of control over creativity and brand messaging. 

Members of an in-house digital marketing team become absolute experts in the products they work on day in and day out. Their organization will often lean on them to make decisions about which channels best connect with their ideal consumer and launch plans and strategies for introducing new products to the market. 

Advantages of Working on an In-House Marketing Team 

  • Master Your Market – Working in-house will allow you to learn all the ins and outs of your brand, consumer and industry. Exclusively focusing on a single product or product line can be beneficial to those looking to stay within the industry or consult in the future. 
  • Make Easier Lateral Moves – Not everyone stays within the same job function their whole career and that’s OK! Working alongside colleagues in diverse departments from graphic design to finance to operations provides a more natural route to exploring new types of positions available in the corporate world. If you’re interested in working more cross-functionally, an in-house team could be the right fit for you. 
  • Understand the Product Lifecycle – In this role, it’s likely you’ll maintain marketing efforts for products from initial launch to market maturity, as opposed to agencies who are often brought in for a specified and shorter timeframe. While this can be more challenging, it makes the in-house team’s work varied, as they need to get creative to keep long-time products fresh and desirable. 
  • Have a Stake in Success – In-house relationships are more than transactional. Becoming immersed in your business leads to a high level of engagement and a personal stake in and passion for producing wins; an excellent relationship for both employers and employees. 
  • Seamless Communication – A big drawback to working on the agency or freelance side is maintaining multiple lines of external communication. Expect faster and easier communication in-house, with a significantly lower chance of error or misunderstanding of goals. 

In-House Marketing Salaries and Career Path

According to Salary.com, the average In-House Marketing team member in the United States can expect to make anywhere from $44,456 to $57,415. Similar to an agency environment, employees of this type can expect to enter a company at an entry-level position and work their way up to becoming a manager or even a Chief Marketing Officer.Larger corporations might provide the ability to specialize or move laterally into adjacent departments and functionalities. 

Working as a Freelance Digital Marketer

Freelance digital marketing encompasses any professional who offers individualized services to a company, unaffiliated from any agency or outside group. As a member of the self-employed workforce, the freelancer takes on projects as their personal preference and bandwidth allows and often moves quickly from client to client as one project wraps and another campaign begins. This type of arrangement works well for those who want to concentrate their time on one specific specialty. The freelancer is able to spend all their time on that they do best, whether that be email marketing, SEO, web development or social media, and the company gets to fill holes in their expertise on a cost-effective, as-needed basis.

Freelance digital marketers might come into the role after years of working in-house or at an agency, or take on the responsibility at the beginning of their career. Some people might even go back and forth between full-time employment and freelance, as they transition through life stages that are better suited for full time or independent/remote work. Compared to traditional office jobs, freelancers have to spend additional time building their personal brand and online presence in order to get their name in front of the right people and build a client base. 

Advantages of Working as a Freelance Digital  Marketer 

  • Be Your Own Boss – One of the first perks that comes to mind with freelancing is the self-employment aspect. You are in charge of every aspect of how you run your own business and can set the hours, working style, clients and service offerings that make sense to you. Freedom is the name of the game, with no obligation to take on projects that don’t match what you’re looking for professionally. 
  • Concentrate Your Skills – Freelancers can solely focus on what they do best. Unlike an organization that will often pull you in different directions, you can tailor your service offerings to the kind of work you excel at and enjoy. The type of people that do best in this type of work often come from this pool and provide a service the average marketing specialist might not be able to, like advanced data analysis or graphic design. 
  • Gain Exposure Across Diverse Fields – Individuals in this field are called upon to work wherever they can find it. This might mean creating a campaign for a food product in the morning and developing a pitch for a direct-to-consumer mattress company in the afternoon. Becoming an in-demand freelancer is a great opportunity for one to gain experience across industries and work with cutting-edge products and organizations. 
  • Control Your Clients and Workload – The ability to set your own hours, workload and location is particularly notable in our increasingly digital world. If you have kids, prefer to work at night, or maybe want to cash in on some miles while you work, freelancing provides for the perfect solution. 
  • Improve Your Skill Set – Taking on various projects from multiple clients means something new is always coming to the table. While you might advertise your services in a specific specialization, freelancing is a great means to stay abreast of the latest trends and challenge yourself by taking on work that requires continual development and growth. 

Freelance Digital Marketing Salaries and Career Path

Overall, the amount of money you earn as a freelancer depends on not only how well you’re able to market yourself and attract clients, but also how much you choose to charge and how many jobs you choose to take on. This means your week-over-week earnings can vary immensely. The national average earnings for a Freelance Marketing Consultant is $57,221 according to Zip Recruiter. Reflecting the individual nature of the role, reported earnings range from $19,500 on the low end to $118,500 at the top. 

Which Digital Marketing Career is Right For You?

Each of these types of digital marketing jobs is going to be the perfect fit for a different type of person. Furthermore, that person might change their fit at different points in their career. Ultimately, it comes down to asking yourself a series of “this or that” questions:

  • Do I prefer working with one client or multiple?
  • Do I like a structured corporate environment or more autonomous work?
  • Do I want to dive deep into one speciality or gain competence across multiple subject areas?
  • Do I want to climb the ranks and lead or team or work for myself by the end of my career?
  • Do I find it enjoyable to communicate with clients or would I rather find myself in an internal-facing position? 

Answering these questions and imagining what a perfect day on the job would look like for you is an excellent place to start. Also consider reaching out to those you know in the field, or even fostering connections with digital marketing professionals online via LinkedIn. No one can give you better advice than those who have walked the path before you! 

Learn More About Digital Marketing Careers

We hope this article serves as a starting point towards your journey into the wide world of digital marketing! Check out additional resources on the subject at codingbootcamps.io:

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