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Smudge Ink’s Hiring Dilemma: Agency Or In House?

by Arianne Foulks

October 4, 2022
Smudge Ink products
Smudge Ink map products

Are you trying to decide if you want to hire a website or marketing agency or in house employees to take care of everything? If you’re wearing too many hats, read on. I met up with April May of Smudge Ink at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit this summer, and had a fascinating talk with her about how she shifted her thinking when it comes to employees. She used to run her marketing in house, and two years ago switched to hiring agencies.

She and I caught up recently so we could share her strategy with you! I wanted to ask her a few questions so you could think about your employees and your business structure and how you hire help: agency or in house? You can watch our video below, or read on for a summary of what we discussed:

April May of Smudge Ink discusses hiring expert teams to take care of her website and marketing. Watch above, or on Vimeo.

About Smudge Ink & The Pandemic Lockdown

April is one of our ongoing clients, and her business is doing really well this year. Smudge Ink is located just outside of Boston in Acton Massachusetts. They are primarily a letterpress company, selling greeting cards, and the bulk of their business is wholesale. They work with retailers around the country, in Canada, and a little bit in the UK.

April and her team print all their letterpress work in their own studio, and have other products flat printed locally in Massachusetts. They package everything and ship it all from their studio, with a seven person team working five days a week.

When the pandemic lockdown hit in 2020, things changed quite a bit for April’s business and she had to rethink her team, restructure it, and reconsider how she worked on big projects like her website and marketing. April told me that when the pandemic hit, she was pretty nervous. She thought that the smartest thing to do for her company and for her employees was to lay people off. So she did that right away.

I told my team, “You’re all laid off. Please apply for unemployment. Hopefully we’ll see you eight weeks or so.” We all know how that turned out.

April May

During the lockdown, Smudge Ink still had some wholesale orders coming in. And retail was really taking off! April told me they were getting more traffic for their website than we ever had before. That’s when she got in touch with us at Aeolidia. She needed help to improve her website as she progressed through 2020.

April Used to Manage Her Website & Marketing In House

Having to lay off her whole team, then slowly add people back as needed caused April to re-think how she hired help. She told me that before the pandemic, she had her team of seven, and when a task came up that was outside of everyone’s job description, such as working on the website, creating social media posts, and other marketing tasks, she would get help internally. The person she asked wasn’t necessarily an expert in these jobs, and it pulled them away from the work they were hired to do.

Yes, I used to go up to employees, asking, “You seem like you could help me write a newsletter. How about you do that? Can you take a photo for social media? Can you help me with this caption? We haven’t had a post in a week.”

April May

For the most part, April would be writing newsletters or updating the website herself, which she found pretty stressful, and not the kind of work she wanted to be doing as the owner and CEO of her company. It wasn’t sustainable or enjoyable.

Making the Switch to Hiring Agencies

The big change that April made to how she got the marketing help that she used to do in-house was hire teams of experts as specialized agencies. She decided to hire us at Aeolidia to help out with her website, and she called in Verb House Creative to work on newsletter and email outreach. Ecommerce and marketing agencies can help with website updates, SEO, email marketing, copywriting, and photography, all things which the business owner can take off their plate.

It felt scary to transition from doing this work in-house to outsourcing it:

I was pretty worried about how it would go not having the team be in-house. I was wondering how would I communicate, and how would this work? How would I make sure that everyone’s staying on task? Well, it turns out it’s awesome because [the agencies] do that for me!

April May

This has been a game changer for Smudge Ink. April told me that it’s been really helpful to not have a giant list of things that she’s responsible for scraping together a team on her end to accomplish. She’s seen first-hand that hiring people who are skilled at the work means that the results are better. The work also takes less time, because the two agencies she brought on are staffed with experts that focus on their areas of expertise.

Some Smudge Ink products
Some Smudge Ink products.

The Big Benefits to Hiring An Agency Over In House Work

As a business owner who has staff on salary, it can be tempting to ask yourself, “Why should I spend outside money? I’ve got all these people here I’m already paying, I should get them to help me with all this!” Unfortunately, then you’re pulling them away from the work they actually need to be doing and that they’re good at – what you hired them for.

I asked April what felt like a big win to her, as a direct result of hiring agencies for specialized help rather than trying to do it all herself, and she told me that keeping her employees focused on what she hired them for is a huge win itself. She’s seen that they’re getting more done, and it’s allowed her to do the tasks that she enjoys doing, rather than the marketing tasks that she hates.

I just don’t enjoy those things and so my day is like a lot less stressful to me now that I get to do the tasks I want to do.

April May

Smudge Ink has a slightly smaller team now than they did pre-pandemic. Due to April’s smart decision to outsource the work that was stressing them out and only getting done haphazardly, her team is now able to handle a lot more orders. They’re much busier now and are able to handle that because her employees are focusing on their priorities instead of being pulled in a lot of different directions.

I find it much less stressful when I’m not trying to think about, “I haven’t updated like the homepage and I wanted to change this thing — and I don’t even know how to update the homepage. How would I make this thing better?” Those are all big wins for me that I don’t have to think about that stuff.

April May

With a small business, the owner (or her key employee) is often wearing way too many hats. A good goal is to get to the point where each person is mostly filling one role or responsibility that they’re very good at. Smudge Ink has hit an aspirational point where they are productive and efficient, and much of it has to do with these hiring decisions.

Getting Help For Your Business

If this resonated with you, and you feel that it’s time to call in some help, we can meet you wherever you’re at and prioritize the things that are going to make a big difference for you. Hire Aeolidia on retainer, like April did, and let’s see about making similar improvements for you:

You’ll instantly get our rate sheet and a link to schedule your call

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