It’s the dream hire of many new startups: That one “full stack marketer” who can magically sweep in, ‘do some marketing’, and make your company grow.
We did this and saw some solid success with an initial marketing hire.
But in retrospect, we just got lucky.
Our first marketing hire was a young, hungry, curious, and very smart person. They came in with one set of knowledge and skills, and it quickly became apparent that our opportunity lay in a different aspect of marketing.
So they learned that new channel and quickly became a master of it.
Had they not been so curious and eager to learn, I would’ve been left with an issue where I had a Right Person, Wrong Seat kind of moment.
The challenge with hiring a unicorn marketer isn’t that they’re so hard to find, are really expensive, or might outgrow your company. The problem is that they’re almost always a fallacy.
Instead of relying on a single person to solve all of your problems, I would propose a fractional approach to building a marketing team.
No one is perfect, but it’s possible that a group of specialists who excel in their craft, focused on a single problem, could outperform a single individual.
Let’s explore the setup of a fractional marketing group for your SaaS business.
“It depends” is the beginning of how a fractional marketing team is comprised. What does your company need?
For Castos today, here’s what our setup looks like:
This one is really important as they are the glue that holds everything together. Today this is me, and likely will be for a while. I lead strategy and still do some high level execution, especially around writing landing page copy, conversion-focused emails, and generally coordinate with the team.
If you have a big focus on content marketing and SEO, this one is huge. And it very likely could be multiple people in this role as your efforts around content and SEO expand. This person writes all blog and email newsletter copy for us, and is key in keeping that train of SEO and content marketing running on schedule.
Even within this role you could sub-fractionalize (yep, made that word up): ask writers to specialize just in one sub-topic of your space or just one format of content.
I’ve found this one a bit tough to hire over the years. Maybe because I’m particular in what I want, and maybe because there are a lot of people who tout themselves as SEO experts when they’re just regurgitating stuff they’ve read on the Ahrefs blog but don’t deeply grok.
This person evaluates existing search rankings, does all of the on-page improvements across the site, and plans new initiatives. So this is both a maintenance and strategy role.
Disclosure: I’ve not made this hire yet, but it’s evident that it is a big gap in our team at this point. This person ensures that your website converts well and serves your business goals. For me, this would take an enormous load off my mental space, and (as is the beauty of this strategy) they’re likely orders of magnitude better at it than I could ever be.
Other Potential Functions
If you’re running a bunch of PPC or need to have a kickass YouTube channel for your business, for instance, then the specific structure of your marketing team may vary. The above is just one potential scenario of what a fractal marketing team could look like.
I’ll also admit that this is with me as the Marketing Manager, and I have a sales and marketing background; I’m a non-technical founder. So I can fill that role pretty well, and it is a very high-leverage use of my time.
If you’re a technical founder or just don’t want to fill the role of Marketing Manager, that’s fine, hire it out, but on a part-time basis. At $1-3M, this does not need to be a full-time role.
The key with this setup is that even though several individuals contribute to marketing, they each operate solely in their Zone Of Genius.
You’re not asking someone to stretch out of their comfort zone.
But Craig, this sounds expensive. How can you hire 4 people to fill the role of just 1 full-time person?
The answer here is twofold: geoarbitrage and need-based capacity.
Geoarbitrage is easy. Don’t hire full time W-2 employees in the US and you save a boatload of money. Go overseas, and it’s exponential. The talent pool is incredible in Europe, and usually about 1/2 the price of US-based counterparts.
Need-based capacity refers to just hiring someone for as much work as you need. For a content writer you might say that you need a blog post and an email every week. There you go. SEO, you might want a monthly review of rankings and a quarterly plan of keyword research.
No more, no less.
For us, and YMMV, I’d expect to pay about half for our team of marketing pros as I would for a full stack, kick-ass, make you nervous you hired this person they’re so good, do-it-all marketer. And largely getting the same results.
If you’re early stage, it’s likely that you need to try a bunch of different marketing strategies and tactics. Just like how a single person cannot master all of those on an ongoing basis, they likely can’t build, execute, and evaluate the performance of a marketing experiment.
Want to start running Instagram ads? Hire a specialist.
Want to try out a new webinar strategy? Hire a specialist.
Want to dominate in-person events? Hire a specialist.
These specialists are so good at what they do the results are often outsized compared to the downside of them not being a full time member of your team.
Where This Model Doesn’t Work
Ooh, this sounds great. Maybe I can just apply this fractional model to all parts of the business.
Not so fast, my friend.
I strongly believe that this model does not work in most aspects of your business, and overall I am a huge fan of full time, 40-hour a week employees. Especially for vital business functions.
For me the list of areas of the business where fractional teams will NOT work include (but are not limited to):
- Development – a SaaS business needs several people full time thinking about the product and its performance, all the time.
- Product – I’ve learned this one recently….having someone thinking about the customer experience and how all the pieces of your product fit together is huge
- Support – Even if they’re not spending all their time in the support queue answering tickets there’s a ton to do: help docs, internal knowledgebase docs, coordinating on product releases, etc.
- Sales – if you have a sales-driven revenue function this person needs to be in-house and full time. There’s too much at stake.
I do think it could work in places like:
- Design – if you’re not building a ton of new product you don’t need a full-time person. Note that Design != Product.
- QA – same, not releasing a lot of stuff, only hire for what you need.
- Social media – all of us need a presence there, but how (and on what channels) varies immensely.
- Various admin functions: think about things like bookkeeping, accounting, or HR.
I’m also a big believer that you should not hire a full time person for any role until the need, process, and value of that role has been established. This is why early on we as founders wear every hat.
Like many of us, I’m learning as I go, and it’s very likely this won’t be the last incarnation of our marketing team structure. But today, I’m really pleased with the marketing results that we’re getting with the team structure.
If nothing else, maybe it’s worth considering how you could use this model in your business.