In this session, marketing expert Stephanie Ristow joined Ashley MacQuarrie and Michael Barber for a discussion about hiring contractors and marketing freelancers. Watch the video or read the transcript below to hear about payment models, how pay-for-performance models work, and what to look for in contracts.
We’ve got to start that introduction again everyone was on mute, and I just turned everyone off mute, so that’s great. We’re getting this rolling again. I’m going to welcome everybody to our weekly Thursday lives on all things enrollment marketers, on enrollment marketing. My name is Michael Barber, and I’m joined by fearless co-host, Ashley McCrory, our director of enrollment marketing from Charter School Capital. We also have a guest with us today, our dear friend, Stephanie Ristow from Ristow Marketing. Stephanie, will you take a moment just to introduce yourself?
Stephanie R. (00:55):
Yeah. Hi, I’m Stephanie. I am a freelance consultant in marketing strategy and demand generation. I’ve worked at big brands like Nike, Microsoft, and WebMD, but have been in house and on the agency side, so happy to be here.
Michael B (01:11):
Glad you would join us. We thought we would invite you in for a conversation that I know you are uniquely talented to provide some insights to us. So Ashley and I want to talk all things essentially. How do you go about hiring either a freelance contractor, a freelance marketer, graphic designer, or agencies? What are the pricing models that school leaders should be interested or hearing from these sorts of resources? I’ve got some opinions. I know Ashley’s got some opinions. I know you will have a ton of opinions here, so that’s what we’re talking today, all things, hey, if you’re going to go out and get a contractor, or an agency, or resource to help you. What are the pricing models that you should expect to hear from these individuals or organizations, the pros, the cons? How should school leaders think about them?
So we’ll start with this. We’re going to tee up this question to Stephanie first, and would love just an answer to, hey, you’re looking to hire a contractor or hire an agency. What are the different investment models that those resources will propose for you? What’s out there?
Stephanie R. (02:15):
Yeah. Absolutely. I think the first decision is deciding if you want the backbone of a big agency behind you, which you’re going to pay more for, versus that scrappier, what I’ve always referred to as my duct tape network of freelancers, where there’s a little bit more nimble movements on changes in strategy and the work that’s happening. Things are a little bit cheaper. But you don’t have six brains behind the work necessarily. So the first step is making that decision. I would say for some of those bigger strategic projects where you just want to pass something over and know that it’s being done, that’s where the agency is often the right pick, unless you’ve found a really incredible freelance partner.
The scenarios that are easily suited to a freelancer or contractor are those specific tasks that you need to get done, that are really easy to scope, so design, copy, development, where you know exactly what you need and you’re willing to play a bigger role in managing that vendor. And to answer your question about the different pricing models, there’s retainers, and that’s really where you’re paying for the time that somebody’s putting in. But the real value you’re getting is that off hour thinking time that they’re giving you as your retainer vendor. Right?
I have a couple of retainer vendors or retainer clients, and if I’m in the shower washing my hair, you better believe that I’m thinking about those clients. And I’m not billing for my time in the shower, so that’s the added benefit. The other option is hourly, so that’s really well suited for you’ve got a specific design project or specific development project that needs to get done. And then the third is project based, and this is the safest realm for somebody that’s using a freelancer because you’ve put out exactly what you need. It’s a really defined scope. They’ve come back to you with a really specific price. You know what you’re going to spend and you know that you’re going to have the output at the end.
That’s a little harder to get to because a lot of times when you have a project you need done, you don’t know all of the components that you need done. And part of what you want to pay for is somebody to figure that out for you. But if you are in that sweet spot where it’s a really specific project or set of assets that you need, those project based contracts are a really safe bet.
Michael B (04:44):
Yeah. Really good overview of the three different pricing and investment options there, models. Another one to add to that mix that I know school leaders have been aware of because they’re seeing this in enrollment opportunities is performance based. Ashley, can you tell us about performance based and what that means from an enrollment perspective?
Ashley M. (05:03):
Yeah, absolutely. So performance based is what it sounds like. If your vendor doesn’t perform, you don’t pay for their services, or you only pay a small portion. So that’s one of the models that we have here at Charter School Capital for enrollment marketing clients. We have kind of a blended model where the client has maybe puts in a little bit of a base fee, a little skin in the game, and then also pays a smaller performance fee. And then we have completely pay for performance, and so we would take … When our goal is to drive enrollments, we take a baseline count. And at the beginning, we take an ending count at the end. And we figure out what the net gain or loss might’ve been. And we always hope that it’s gain, and it usually is. And then the client pays an amount for that net gain of students. And if we don’t go students, if enrollment stays flat, or if it declines due to retention issues or something like that, then sometimes the client doesn’t owe a fee at the end.
Michael B (06:15):
Yeah. So a couple good models there, investment opportunities there for charter school leaders to think about. I want to talk about [inaudible 00:06:22] just a little bit, just to break it down for somebody that maybe has not experienced any of these pricing models. Let’s go to retainers first and just what that means. Would love a breakdown from Ashley on the definition of retainers from your head.
Ashley M. (06:41):
I think Stephanie did a really good job of defining it. But yeah, it’s just usually you would agree to a flat amount. And Stephanie, typically when we have used retainers for vendors that we might work with at Charter School Capital, we do put some thought into kind of how much time we would expect that vendor to be spending, and so we try to estimate those hours. But we know that some months, maybe they don’t work that many hours. And then other months are a lot higher. And it all kind of averages out. And then like Stephanie said, you do get that offline time. Or they might be more likely to be responding to emails after hours than somebody who is working maybe hourly.
And when we work with hourly employee, with hourly contractors, a lot of times they are billing for every percentage of an hour. So 15 minutes writing an email or responding to Slacks, you’re going to get billed for that. And so then sometimes maybe your retainer would be a better option.
Michael B (07:41):
Yeah. It’s good insights there to think about that compare and contrast between hourly and a retainer model, and how either an agency, a group of individuals, whether it’s a small agency or a large agency, and contractors might bill you just to understand the difference there. Stephanie, anything to add around retainers that you’d love to add to the conversation?
Stephanie R. (08:05):
Yeah. That retainer person that you’re bringing on, so say it’s 10 hours a week, or 20 hours a week, they’re really an extension of your team. So it’s kind of like you’re hiring a person on your team, but only for a portion of that time. A couple of things to think about as you look at retainer contracts with potential freelancers is: Is it a use it or lose it model or do hours roll over? Are you buying specific days on their schedule? So is it that Tuesday and Wednesday, they’re always available for your school? Or is it before noon every day, they have earmarked for you?
And then just what that availability looks like and how they’re going to report out on their time. So there are some instances with a retainer where you’re just getting billed 15 or 20 hours a week. You’re getting reports on what is getting done, but the two things aren’t connecting. And then you’ll see other retainer agreements where in that monthly bill, there’s very specific hour by hour. So it depends on the retainer, it depends on the nature of the project that you’re doing, but it’s important to get really clear on expectations for that as you enter that engagement.
Michael B (09:18):
Yeah, such good thoughts there. Ashley, one of the things that we touched base on before we had this chat was just how to think about investment levels if you are going to go on some sort of performance based [inaudible 00:09:30], how much investment a school leader’s going to need to make on enrolling a potential student, and would love some just thoughts there of ranges you’ve seen in the marketplace of what it costs to help put a kid in your school.
Ashley M. (09:43):
Yeah. Well, for our product, enrollment marketing, it’s a small percentage of the amount that a school gets for each student from the state, and so that can vary depending on the state. In terms, if you’re doing it on your own and you’re kind of thinking about a performance model with another vendor or just kind of thinking through how much you want to spend, I mean, the cost to enroll a new student can vary really, really wildly, depending on the size of the school and kind of how many students you’re enrolling, the costs in your area, the effectiveness of your campaign. So we’ve seen everything, we’ve spent as an organization anywhere from 100-ish dollars for each new enrollment, to up to almost $1000 for a new enrollment. And so it just really depends. And so it’s a good idea to try to keep track of what you’re spending from retainer vendors, from your search campaigns, and all of the different marketing campaigns that you’re doing, and try to add that up and try to figure out what you’re spending.
And the other piece of it is: If you’re looking just at net enrollments, what about your retention? I feel like we always talk about retention every week, but it costs a lot more to enroll a new student than it does to keep an existing student. And the last thing to kind of look at is, you look at that cost per new enrollment, but if you look at how long that student stays with you, and how much you get from the state over five years, eight years, 12 years, that really adds up. And so you’re only spending that new enrollment cost once.
Michael B (11:26):
Yeah. It’s such a good point to think about the long-term value that filling your school with kids has for your school, predictable revenue. And as you think about how much it costs, hard costs, whether you’re managing this by yourself or whether you’re working with an agency or a contractor, would encourage school leaders to think about. What is that long-term value that comes out of spending those dollars to help fill your school? Because it’s going to look increasingly like a better return on investment when you look at it at the grade level that they’re entering into your program. So if you are a K through five, and they’re coming in at third grade, what is the value to your school for third, fourth, and fifth grade? If you’re all the way through K through eight, and they’re a kindergartner or a first grader, the eight years of revenue that’s going to drive for your school, so just a really important point there from Ashley.
So we’re hitting up on time. I want to ask just one additional question around all of these different models as it relates to retainers, hourly, fixed fee, and whatnot is cancellation clauses, which can be interesting for as you’re working through with different partners because there’s going to be a variety of them out there. It always becomes a conversation I think when you’re a consultant, or whether you’re working at an agency, clients ask these questions. School leaders ask these questions. What should school leaders be looking for when it comes to cancellation clauses? And I’m going to turn it over to Stephanie first.
Stephanie R. (13:00):
That’s a great question. So the important piece to make sure you have in your master services agreement, or MSA, with a new contractor is that there is a cancellation clause in there that is very clear what should happen if for whatever reason, the partnership isn’t working. And I say that because it’s a partnership. Right? There’s benefits and challenges on both sides in any relationship like that, and so making sure that if your funding doesn’t come through and you can no longer afford that person, or the vendor’s no longer delivering, in any of these scenarios, you have a ripcord, and making sure that it’s really clear on both sides.
I’ve seen a lot of … So a retainer agreement, it’s pretty typical to have a 30-day cancellation, so either party can say, “It’s not working.” Or for whatever reason, I can’t continue doing this retainer. And within 30 days, it closes down. But in project agreements or hourly, you still have to have it figured out. What happens if you’re midway through this project and they are not delivering on your expectations? What is the pull out there? And so there’s the clause in the contract to make sure that you’re not paying for things that you’re not using. But then there’s also what happens to all of the assets and deliverables and the individual components that they’ve been building or using?
So how are they getting all of that over to you? What are the requirements there? And then also, if there’s any sensitive information, personal identification information, how are they destroying that on their end so that you don’t have student information living on some random person’s computer for eternity? So making sure that you’re covering the assets, the data security, and your own financials.
Michael B (14:48):
Yeah. Such good points there. Ashley, anything to add on cancellation clauses?
Ashley M. (14:53):
Yeah. I mean, we’ve seen schools sometimes where they’ve got all these different vendors doing little pieces of all of their different services, all their different marketing campaigns. This person’s over here doing video. This person’s running social media. And this person’s doing paid. And sometimes we’ve seen clients find that it actually makes sense even if there’s a breakage fee, where they have an annual contract and they have to pay some fee if they exit that contract early. We’ve seen clients kind of do the math and say, “It actually makes sense for me, for example, to take all these different vendors and work with somebody who does all of that,” and actually exit those contracts.
But I think Stephanie makes a great point, and that’s something to always look for. We have seen, unfortunately, times where clients, the vendor wasn’t super helpful in giving them access to their assets or their social accounts and things like that. And so you definitely want to, if you are ending a contract, make sure you kind of know what’s going to happen so they don’t just shut it off. It can be a headache.
Michael B (15:56):
Yeah. We should do a whole session, maybe that’s in a couple of weeks, around how to work with external partners, make sure that your Google Workspace is set up correctly to work with them. Make sure Google Analytics is set up correctly. How do you share things out of Canva? How do you share things from different resources that you may be doing with an external partner? So maybe we’ll make that about the conversation in a couple of weeks because we’ve got some great shows coming up.
Next week, we’re going to talk all things SEO. And then I think the following week, correct me if I’m wrong, Ashley, we’re going to talk all things … Oh, my gosh. I’m blanking on the calendar, but I think it’s all things mission and vision. Where are we going the week after next?
Ashley M. (16:36):
I think we’re doing something, I’ll double-check. I think it might’ve been around video, but yeah, we’ll check.
Michael B (16:40):
All things video. We’ll assume that it’s video. In the meantime, I just want to give a quick shout out for this beauty that is in my hands. Sorry, I’ve got to make sure I’m moving in the right way. This is our Digital Marketing For Charter Schools guide. We just republished this brand new edition of this meaty beauty right here. I’m going to drop in the link in our live chat, so you can go grab that if you feel like grabbing this lovely guide that our team has put together on all things digital marketing. It even has some work pages in the back for you to leverage all the good lessons learned. You can go grab that from the URL that I just dropped into our chat. And I just want to thank our guest today. Stephanie, thanks for joining us. Appreciate you being here.
Stephanie R. (17:26):
Thanks for having me.
Michael B (17:28):
Of course. And my fearless co-host, Ashley, thanks again for making this happen this Thursday. And we will see you all next week on All Things SEO. Take care, everyone.
Ashley M. (17:39):
Want to share?
Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!