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How SaaS founders should choose a creative agency

Get Founder’s Framework from Lakshmanan Raman. From choosing an agency to how to internalize SaaS marketing agencies with your in-house team

Lakshmanan Raman
Senior Growth Marketer, Animaker Inc. & Founding director, Dino Marketers
In-House vs Agency Marketing| Saastitute

Stuck in a dilemma of whether to hire an agency or do marketing in-house?
Do not worry, all of us have been in that position, some time or the other before. I have personally listened to a ton of advice (mostly unsolicited) from random marketers - and trust me it is difficult to declutter and understand what attributes of marketing could best work for your product. This of course once you have found a product-market fit.
My name is Lakshmanan - founding director at Dino Marketers, a digital agency focused on SaaS and E-Commerce businesses. I also take care of marketing at Animaker - a simple DIY video-making application. Previously I had worked at Ampliz where I joined their marketing team at a nascent stage, and by the end of my tenure managed to establish a solid inbound and content strategy. 

Yes, I have a product-market fit - what next?

Congrats founders. A pat on your back - you have done a fabulous job! 

The majority of the early-stage SaaS businesses fizzle away without satisfying strong market demand, so kudos to you :)

When you start thinking about marketing - there are tons of ideas. Also, certain ideas are guaranteed to give you some sort of leverage at the initial stage. For example, if I am launching a SaaS product, product hunt is a platform that gives you leverage by giving you the first 100 users at least. And if you manage to crack it right you can leverage more than that as well. So there are these guaranteed things that we need to be trying and testing. But for testing these out you still need a website, you still need a proper email loop everything set up - which the founders themselves can do. If you are a technical guy you can still go ahead- watch some videos and go ahead and implement. 
Read: A Founder's Guide to Product Marketing
Then comes a second step where I’ve got my first 100 users now how do I scale this to the next 1000 users and from then on for my first 10 paying customers? This is where you have to start thinking about getting more people into the team and if you ask what are the things that I should choose and what are things that I should avoid at the initial stages - you should probably experiment - You can go ahead and do content marketing and SEO but they tend to take a long time to show up. You can also go through paid advertising if you have the budget or do affiliate and partnership deals that are of course working well at this point.

“These are always these first-level things that every founder can experiment with and when done right could give you hints around what you should be doing next”

Should I try and test it out with an in-house team?

Now that you have scratched the surface and realized how deep this is, you are in a better position to decide - whether should I keep doing this for some more time and then outsource or straight up outsource it to an agency. 
At this point, I would also like to point out a subtle mistake that founders often tend to make that is you try and do everything on your own. Because at the initial stages you are concerned about the margins. You tend to give out a lot of offers, you probably are running a lifetime deal at this point which means whatever revenue you are getting is still okay for your operating expenses but you probably know that you are not going to break even.

But at some point when you scale from 100 to 1000 after finding that one particular channel is working - that is when you hire somebody inside out or you probably outsource that particular function to an agency or a freelancer so that you can double down your efforts on that specific thing and start scaling up with that particular channel.

Founder’s Framework to choosing an agency

Picking a creative agency for your SaaS business might not seem straightforward most of the time. Founders might have to do their homework well in-prior before partnering with any digital marketing agency.  How could you do that? 

Here is a framework that I always follow when outsourcing my marketing to a third-party vendor

  • Understand their area of expertise - be it an industry or a marketing function.
  • Talk to their team and figure out if they are the right fit for what you are trying to achieve ask yourself are they in-line with your short term and long term goals
  • Have a look at their previous work - case studies and success stories might help.

It could take me some amount of time and energy to do this - but after this exercise, I’d be in the right place to choose whether to go ahead and work with this agency or not. 

Another thing that I would want to highlight here is while outsourcing - it is always necessary to listen to them instead of telling them what to do. You might have ideas and strategies that could already be working for your competitors and would want them to be implemented right away.  Though that seems to be the right thing to do, your agency guys might have something better in store to tell you. So always be ready to hear out ideas.

Once you have started your engagement with your agency guys, it is always necessary to always keep a couple of things in mind.

  • Maintain only one dedicated point of contact on both sides.
  • Find out how frequently you want to check in and talk to them - ideally, I would suggest having a conversation once in two weeks and reviewing the progress

Internalizing your agency with an in house team in the long run

I would recommend maintaining a healthy relationship with your agency partner throughout your engagement. I say this because at some point in time you’d want to move your marketing in-house and compound on what your agency has already done for you. You would also want your agency guys to be there when you hire your initial set of marketers and sort of try to internalize the process. So being on good terms with your agency can help when you set out to build a team. 
Though you build a team and start scaling the process there might be some subtle functions for which having experts can make more sense - areas like SEO and PPC. Outsourcing it or hiring a dedicated freelancer could work.

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