Agency Versus Freelancers: What Do I Really Need?

Selling on Amazon means different things for different people. To some, it means personally investing a good deal of time and energy into the arduous task of navigating Amazon. For others, it’s more about handing off tasks and spending money rather than time. It really comes down to whether someone wants to become an Amazon professional or employ one. While the right option really depends on the specifics of a seller’s circumstances, the Bobsled team has some general tips that may help you make the best choice.

The hands-on and hands-off approaches are equally valid options for Amazon merchants, and it’s not difficult to imagine circumstances where one approach would make a lot more sense than the other. But no matter which strategy a brand chooses, the decision about how best to manage its Amazon channel is tremendously important. Good management will determine whether the brand succeeds or struggles on Amazon. In this blog post, we’ll look at the opportunities you’ll enjoy and the constraints you’ll have to work around in a variety of management scenarios, so you can choose the approach most appropriate for your brand.

 

Doing it yourself

Managing your own Amazon account is no small task. It means absorbing a new body of knowledge, plus getting into the habit of monitoring the details and making tweaks on a weekly or even daily basis. This is very hands-on work, not a turnkey operation to set up and check on every month. Yet achieving success handling your own Amazon needs is entirely possible.

For consumer brands new to Amazon with a comparatively small volume of sales, this may be the best (or, given budget constraints, the only) option. It will certainly take work, commitment, and patience to endure the time it takes for your efforts to start bearing fruit. But you will be in control of your own results and aware of everything being done, which may provide you with peace of mind.

The DIY approach makes particularly good sense if your brand has an Amazon-first strategy, meaning that you’re already treating Amazon as your primary sales channel or will be in the future. If selling on Amazon is going to be one of your core competencies, then developing in-house or personal platform expertise matters a great deal more for you than for sellers with other business goals. (However, it’s worth noting an agency can still be a great asset for Amazon-first companies. Bobsled works with various clients doing tens of millions of dollars in sales annually, and these brands still have not felt the need to hire internally for any Amazon account management roles.)

Hiring freelance help

This is the middle way. Working with freelancers is cheaper than hiring an agency and allows you to retain a bit of knowledge of Amazon as a sales channel. If you can afford to spend some money and would like to save some time, then hiring freelancers or consultants could be the right move.

Still, this won’t be entirely hands-off work. Rather than doing the work yourself, you’ll now be overseeing the work done by others. Given that this is all happening in a sales channel you’re not familiar with, you may find it hard to judge high-quality work. Also, you’ll be inventing new routines and troubleshooting new problems every time you add another freelancer to the team.

The energy required to manage freelancing assistance obviously grows as the number of people you hire and the complexity of the tasks increases; you should not assume operating this way will greatly reduce your workload. However, compared to hiring an agency, working with a team of freelancers or consultants will make you feel more involved with the whole process, which is important to many business owners and channel managers. You also only pay for exactly what you need at any given time, mixing and matching various consultants’ services to suit your needs.

Taking this route means working to create a channel management process for your brand that you can tell is actually working—or managing the frustrations of lacking such a process. Since it’s difficult to put this together before you’ve learned the ins and outs of the platform and gotten acquainted with the freelancers on your team, you’ll probably start with a fairly improvised process and not be very efficient with it to boot. However, if your brand is selling only a few SKUs on Amazon and not expecting huge sales volume—or if you only need a limited amount of help for one reason or another—then hiring freelancers or consultants might be just right for you.

 

Hiring an agency

This third and final route is the premium option, available to brands able and willing to spend the money for a team of experts to do the work and report the results. If you’d rather invest money on Amazon account management so you can spend your energy and attention elsewhere, this is the path for you.

A marketing agency’s team of specialists will handle all the monitoring tasks, paid traffic strategy, keyword research, and other channel needs that arise. Results aren’t guaranteed, but you’ll almost certainly rest easier knowing that your account is in the hands of experts. This is the closest you can get to a hands-off approach, but as the team supplies you with frequent reports of your brand’s sales and its general progress on Amazon, there will still be some details to manage and some decisions to be made.

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There are a lot of positives to using a marketing agency: It will save you the labor of having to manage a team of freelancers, plus the team of specialists at the agency will have the cross-pollinated experience of having worked with clients of varying sizes in different product categories. They’ll also have done this as Amazon has made changes to its platform, meaning that the team will know how to adapt quickly. They’ll have a proven process, tweaked and improved upon over time, for reaching clients’ goals.

You can gauge an agency’s ability to serve your needs by its responsiveness. A good team will reply quickly and demonstrate its proficiency immediately. You can also reach out to current or former clients (some of whom the agency will put you in touch with during the sales process) to get firsthand accounts of the agency’s performance. More than likely, if the team has done well by past clients, it can do the same for you.

Many clients find it comforting to know that an agency has almost always solved their kind of problem before; it’s rare for an agency team to encounter an issue they’ve never seen. And if something new or unexpected does pop up, an agency like Bobsled will have the industry contacts, best-in-class tools, and tested resources to take care of it. This is an advantage that those managing their own Amazon channel or overseeing a team of freelancers won’t ever enjoy.

Yet there are negatives to working with an agency as well. Your organization will retain virtually none of the institutional knowledge or lessons learned along the way, since your account will be in the hands of others. If you’re going to be an Amazon-first company now or later, this could hurt you. You also lose the sense of direct involvement that comes with doing it yourself or managing freelancers.

Some business owners and managers are also leery of long-term contracts with agencies; many express frustration with being locked into contracts despite seeing little to no return on their investment. And, as with the freelancer option, there’s still the issue of not knowing how to measure the quality of the work being done to see if the investment was a good one.

To address these hurdles, Bobsled Marketing offers short-term contracts to new clients in addition to having more flexible long-term contracts available. We also allow clients to create custom packages so they don’t feel obligated to pay for unnecessary services. We believe agencies that do their jobs well provide specific, measurable value. That added value is what ensures long and healthy client-agency relationships.

Whatever contract option or package you choose, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of establishing realistic expectations and a healthy working relationship with anyone you hire. There’s no secret to success when working with an agency; it all comes down to communicating your needs clearly, discussing any concerns immediately and honestly, and remembering that success can only be achieved by working together.

The best choice for you

Each of the three approaches outlined above makes sense for brands at different times or with different requirements. Amazon will probably be a major part of your sales, so you need to give careful consideration to who will manage your channel. The key point to remember is that your Amazon channel needs to be in trustworthy and capable hands. Regardless of the path you choose, what matters is the relationship you build with whomever is responsible for your organization’s Amazon strategy. If the agency option is what you're looking for, you can request a consultation here.