In defence of online freelancers
Whether you're starting to market your first venture or are helping someone else promote theirs, you're probably already making use of online talent platforms to help you get things done by freelancers at a cheaper price point.
If you've been doing this for a while, then you may also have already found out that remote freelancers are often great for solving short term needs 'in the moment', but their work isn't always that useful for the longer term. You may even write-off disappointing projects as learning experiments or fast fails that help you set direction. Although, the honest truth is that the resources used have probably have not had enough direction to begin with and more time invested at the outset would have helped you achieve a better result.
Process, process, process
When you engage a marketing or communications agency to develop creative work, advertising or PR campaigns, they're likely to spend quite a lot of time focusing on your brief. This involves asking all the right questions about your goals, expectations and current situation, but it also involves challenging your assumptions and those of your competitors, plus considering all the available options to ensure that creative efforts pay off and campaigns perform. It can be time intensive process and is one of the things that tends to make using traditional agencies more expensive than independent consultants, since agencies leverage an expensive multidisciplinary team to achieve this.
When you contract freelancers, the traditional briefing and planning process can get completely thrown out of the window!
A carefully researched and planned brand identity process that takes weeks, becomes a logo delivered at a fraction of the cost in a day or two.
A new website can be set up in a matter of days, or even hours, because the design, layout and structure will likely be based on the developer's past work or available templates first: and your brand's needs second.
Freelancer writers can develop marketing copy fast, but, again, often based on the freelancer's past work, not your brand's story, tone of voice or with your other content plans in mind.
Clarity and context is all up to you
However, in defence of remote freelancers around the world, they are simply serving client needs. If you want something fast and cheap, without giving your venture's needs much thought, someone will sell you a fast and cheap service. If you ask for an image to be edited for your marketing and don't brief the designer on the creative direction that you want or how this image should be consistent with all your other work, then that's your own fault. If you ask for a logo for your new business cards, without mentioning that you'd like to use this logo 100 times bigger for your front of house signage next month, don't blame the designer when the design doesn't scale and looks completely awful.
As part of a startup team, the likelihood is that you're focused on outcomes, not on individual tasks. The most important thing is whether your efforts help your startup make progress. Consultants and freelancers, on the other hand, are focused on the task at hand and it is up to you to provide all the context and direction.
In fact, the value of all outsourced marketing and communications work is dependent on the clarity of the brief, answering the right questions and intelligent planning. If you're trying to get things done by using freelancers and remote workers to reduce expenses, then that puts you in charge of developing your own brief, research and planning to see how each piece of work best supports your goals and where it fits into the bigger picture. This takes time, quality of thought and some effort on your part to articulate company needs clearly in written form.
Skill-up and improve results
Ultimately - if you're not from a marketing background or not intimately familiar with the type of project - you'll need to develop a deeper understanding of advertising and communications in order to get the best out of an outsourced service. So, you'll find that it's well worth the effort to set aside a few hours a week for online learning, reading marketing books and, perhaps, 'going back to school' by taking relevant short courses.
If you don't already have the experience or skills, then it may save you wasted time, effort and budget to work with a communications and marketing expert that can help you map out current and future needs, define clear marketing projects and focus those freelance resources more effectively.
Some projects are always going to work better than others, just as some freelancers are going to be a better fit than others. However, if you can improve your process, more of those marketing projects will prove to be worthwhile investments that help your venture grow, rather than simply expenses to be minimised.
If you're a member of a startup team, the likelihood is that you're focused on outcomes, not on individual tasks. Freelancers, on the other hand, are focused on the task at hand and it is up to you to provide them with context and direction so that they can do a good job.