I’ve watched SMEs and growth-stage startups face a tough choice in building their marketing support: invest in an internal creative team, partner with a fractional external team, or find some hybrid solution?

I know what’s best. Let’s look at each side.

Outsourcing: the case for flexibility

One of the most significant benefits of partnering with a fractional external creative team is its unparalleled flexibility. 

You get creative support that bends and sways with the ever-changing winds of market trends, consumer tastes, and competitive shenanigans. Even in a theoretical world where the marketing environment remains stable, marketing is subject to evolution and iteration as it matures. 

It’s all about laying down that marketing slab in the early days – building a solid foundation. But soon, you’re firing up those growth engines, experimenting, learning, and sometimes winging it – but in the most educated way possible. As you navigate through these phases, having an external team means you can scale your creative muscle up or down faster. Need a battalion for a product launch? Done. Time to dial it back after the fireworks? Done again.

With an external team, you can tap into a wide range of creative talents – from word wizards (I call them copywriters) and digital designers (UI and UX) to print pros and more. With this rotating cast, you can experiment with new marketing channels or creative gambits without the headache of long-term commitments or the heartache of fixed costs.

Especially for businesses in the thick of growth spurts or those still fine-tuning their marketing mojo, this flexibility isn’t just nice to have; it’s a true differentiator. When things are in flux, you want to be able to flex. 

Internal: unbeatable inside knowledge

Though the flexibility of fractional external teams is compelling, we have to recognize the value of having internal brand expertise and oversight.

When building trust and recognition with your audience, a strong brand identity, a cohesive visual language, and a consistent tone of voice across all touchpoints are critical. 

An internal creative director or CMO can be uniquely positioned to provide this brand leadership and consistency. They can develop a deep, nuanced understanding of the brand and its positioning, which informs all creative output. They can learn about internal personalities and politics and shepherd the brand and marketing through such a gauntlet. 

Not only this, but they can also provide creative direction and feedback to both internal and external teams. This internal expertise and oversight can be invaluable for businesses in industries where brand trust and credibility are paramount and a well-established brand identity is in place.

Hybrid: the best of both worlds?

Did you see this coming? For many SMEs and growth-stage startups, the ideal solution may lie in a hybrid approach that combines the flexibility of an external team with the brand expertise and oversight of an internal leader. Clever, eh?

In this model, an internal marketing leader (usually a CMO or marketing director – possibly supported by a small internal team, depending on the organization’s size) sets the overall brand and marketing strategy. They’re the guardians, ensuring consistency and alignment across all touchpoints. They have the kind of internal access that no external team can mimic. They stay ahead of the company’s evolution and usher work through those stakeholder gauntlets.

Meanwhile, a fractional external creative team provides the execution muscle. It can be scaled up or down as needed to support the marketing strategy’s evolving needs. The team brings diverse skills and fresh perspectives while developing a deep understanding of the brand over time.

Close collaboration and clear communication between the internal and external teams are essential to make this model work. The external team should be treated as a true extension of the internal team, with regular check-ins, shared goals, and a firm grasp of the brand guidelines.

When executed well, this hybrid approach can provide the best of both worlds: an external team’s agility and diverse skill sets combined with an internal leader’s brand knowledge and organizational influence. That can be a decisive competitive advantage in today’s fast-moving marketing landscape.

Finding your ideal balance

Ultimately, the right creative staffing model will depend on the context of your business’s needs and goals. A fast-growing startup with a lean internal team may prioritize the flexibility of an external partner, while an established enterprise may place more value on internal brand oversight. Fair play!

The key is to regularly reassess your needs and adjust your approach accordingly. As your business evolves, so too should your creative staffing strategy. By remaining adaptable and open to hybrid solutions, you can continually optimize your marketing capabilities to drive your business forward.

Dial the knobs until the needle points to win. 💪