August 3, 2022

A guide for startups: who should the first marketing hire be?

A guide for startups: who should the first marketing hire be?
Table of contents

You’ve come across different marketing roles ever since you realised there’s a clear skills gap in the workforce.  

It’s tricky because of the uncertainties surrounding your first marketing hire such as:

  • Knowing when it’s the right time 
  • Confirming if they’re a good fit 
  • What a good approach looks like
  • Solving the problem for the long-term 

Hiring the wrong marketer could lead to serious consequences, especially for an early-stage startup with limited resources. 

You need someone who can take the lead, bring tangible results, and propel your growth. 

With this in mind, what type of marketers do you hire first? Is it better to go in-house or freelance? How do you go about finding the top talent? 

At Passionfruit, we’ve worked with hundreds of marketing specialists and startup companies. We’ve found some common trends and asked our top specialists to share their input on the type of marketers startups should prioritise hiring for the most effective growth. 

In this guide, we'll go through everything you need to know. Let’s get right into it! 

3 Signs You’re Ready to Make Your First Marketing Hire

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, you might just be ready to make your first marketing hire. 

Even if you’re not going through anything that’s been listed, don’t let it stop you from building your talent pool early. As soon as the need arises, you’ll be ready to fill the job vacancy immediately.

1. You've Reached a Product-Market Fit

Good marketing starts with a good product. 

One of the qualities which make a product good is that it solves a real problem, making people’s lives easier. 

In other words, satisfying a demand in the market with a solution that consumers are willing to buy. This is also known as reaching a product-market fit. It’s an essential step to running a successful business and it’s something you need to prove to get investors on board. 

Your marketing efforts become null if there isn’t a clear need for your product or service offering.

2. Your Team's Workload Has Reached Its Peak

Are your current team members maxed out with their own chore of responsibilities? 

Do people take on work that’s outside of their expertise?

For example, you might be relying on an in-house member to conduct market research although marketing isn’t an area where they excel. 

Before considering outsourcing your marketing or making your first hire, think about how you could optimise the workflow by using AI to automate the time-consuming tasks, e.g. sending email newsletters or posting on social media. 

Or if there’s a noticeable gap in the workplace where people are:

  • Unable to add more tasks to their to-do list
  • Taking on more work outside of their knowledge

Then, these are good signs that you’re ready to bring on a specialist in the field.

3. You're Struggling to Keep Up With the Demand

Lastly, are you in the growth stage where it’s becoming difficult to keep up with the demand? 

If the demand is fluctuating due to reasons such as seasonal events, it’s worth hiring an external marketer or giving a fixed-term contract for a specific period. Alternatively, you could work with them until a certain project has been completed. No long-term commitments would be necessary. 

Bringing a marketing specialist onboard even for a limited amount of time offers flexibility without hindering your growth or ability to scale. Most importantly, you’re more likely to see results.

What Type of Marketing Should Startup Companies Invest In First?

You meet the conditions listed above.

Now you’re probably wondering, who exactly do you hire? 

To answer this question, we’ve asked a few of our marketing specialists to share their input on the type of marketer startups should hire first.

Duncan Coleman, Growth Marketing Specialist

“Initially it makes sense to hire a generalist marketer to test a variety of growth channels. Once one of these channels shows promise then you might want to hire a specialist to optimize that channel, freeing up the time of your generalist marketer to continue testing other channels.”

Henrietta Mackenzie, Content Specialist

“The most cost-effective strategy for early stage startups would be to hire senior freelancers. Experienced professionals can advise you on the right marketing strategy to influence your audiences, whether your priorities are to secure investment, build your reputation or support lead generation, or all of them.

For your first in-house marketing hire, you need a head of marketing or head of comms. Someone who is experienced enough to set up and run your marketing / comms function, and build a team.”

Will Bradley, SEO Specialist 

“Depends on the company. If you're operating in an established sector then SEO-led content marketing would be my go-to. If you're launching a completely original product or service then social ads.”

Pascale Hughes, Content Specialist

"Perhaps, as a content specialist, I’m biased, but I would say... content! Well-written, relevant writing is the backbone to all the other areas of marketing and dictates people’s first impressions of a startup. Whether that writing describes what a startup does, sets out its brand and values, or is an interesting and useful article about the world the startup operates in, there are few faster ways to tell potential customers who you are and why you can help them."

Jack Shottel, Paid Marketing Specialist

“As a paid marketer myself, I would have to say that it's essential to prioritise working out whether paid marketing on social can boost your growth. More often than not, it absolutely does.

I'm wary that not every startup has the immediate (financial) scope to invest in paid, targeted ads across social media. But, from my experience, investing time and effort into working out how and to who your product best connects with on paid can have an instantaneous and positive effect on website traffic - and teach you which content you should be looking at pushing organically/on feed, too. I do think it's important to hire a specialist in this area, as I so often see all-in-one marketers using embedded, quick-fix functions such as 'Instagram boost', which should be avoided at all costs! When done properly, a solid paid ad strategy can be the backbone of growth and engagement.”

So… Who Should the First Marketing Hire Be?

The TLDR is that it boils down to three areas:

  • Growth marketing
  • Paid marketing
  • Product marketing

Based on the input from our marketing specialists above, it’s safe to say that the best first marketing hires depends on your situation. It’s difficult to categorise the answer into a one-size-fits-all since everyone is at different stages with different needs.

However, what’s clear is that one of your first few marketing hires should be a seasoned professional who’s experienced enough to lead your marketing strategy.

Growth Marketing

These types of marketers have well-rounded marketing knowledge. 

As growth marketing specialist Duncan mentioned, it’s effective to try new channels to see what brings the most results. For example, content marketing channels such as websites or blogs. 

Unlike the traditional approach, growth marketing focuses on the long-term.

Paid Marketing

Paid ads are used for getting short-term results. 

Understanding how paid marketing boosts your growth plays a part in optimising your organic marketing strategy as it helps you identify things like the type of audiences you attract and the type of content to focus on. 

Plus, it's beneficial for a product launch campaign where you introduce a new product or service into the market.

But, an adequate marketing budget is required.

Product Marketing

This wasn't touched on as much but a product marketing lead knows how to shape the positioning of your product to get in front of the right audience and build demand. They’re capable of translating the values of a product into messaging that sells, which is beneficial for most early-stage startups.

Working with a product marketer can also give insight into reaching a product-market fit. Since they’re skilled in multiple areas of marketing, they’re another good option to consider.

Hiring In-House Marketers vs Hiring Freelance Marketers

There are certain roles better for hiring full-time employees, freelancers, and vice versa. But, it’s cost-effective for early-stage startups and small businesses to hire an experienced freelance marketer. 

Employing an in-house employee at an early stage is expensive in both time and money as you’ll need to take into account factors such as: 

  • Recruitment costs
  • Training costs
  • Software costs
  • Management costs

Aside from these expenses, you’ll be working in a fast-paced environment. So, closing the marketing skills gaps immediately and getting results to ensure the growth of your organisation is ideal.

Usually, full-time employees won't be necessary since the business hasn’t reached a certain level of growth just yet.

Why Freelancers Are the Solution You’ve Been Looking For

The 2 biggest advantages for startups in hiring freelancers over full-time employees are that:

  1. You avoid overhead costs, which saves a significant amount of money.
  2. You’re hiring skilled marketers, which gives you access to their knowledge and expertise.

They help you grow and scale your business effectively without having to make a long-term commitment as you’re hiring them on a per-project basis. It’s especially valuable when you’re operating with limited funding. 

On top of minimising your startup expenses, you’re also working with skilled professionals. 

Since they’re often qualified specialists in their line of work, you won’t need to hold their hand and supervise them each step of the way. This makes your life easier as you’re able to put your focus on the overall growth of your business.

The Main Challenges of Finding Skilled Marketers to Work With

Have you decided that hiring a marketer is the route you'll take? 

While it’s reassuring to have clarity on where to move forward, the bigger challenge is how to do what comes next…

And that’s the process of finding and hiring skilled marketers. 

There’s a reason why startups and even enterprise-sized companies are struggling with this. To be more specific, we’ve listed 4 reasons why it’s difficult to make your first marketing hire. If you’re having trouble with any of these, keep reading on to learn how to overcome each challenge with minimal effort! 

A Competitive Job Market

The demand for talented marketers and job seekers has reached new heights. It’s not just you who’s looking for the best professionals to work with. 

As the number of job opportunities rises, it makes hiring more competitive since candidates have options. Recruitment in general has changed significantly considering the great resignation phenomenon alongside the impact of COVID-19. Both events have shifted the work expectations and standards.

Marketers With a Proven Track Record

Anyone could sound like they know what they’re doing if they use enough jargon. 

The question is, who’s been capable of delivering business results in the past? Were they solely responsible for achieving that outcome?

Some professionals will have more experience or qualifications than others. But it’s more effective to find out what they’re familiar with to determine how skilled they are. For instance, understand their work process and how they contributed to the growth and success of the previous company that hired them. 

Knowing Your Ideal Marketer

Even after following this guide, you may still have doubts about who your first marketing hire should be. 

Some marketing job positions have duties and responsibilities listed that overlap with other marketing job positions. This could lead to uncertainties regarding the type of marketer you need the most. 

Or if you're connected with a marketing leader, they can help you by sharing their input on who they think is most valuable based on your current situation. 

Vetting the Right Skills

It’s not enough to rely on one’s CV or academic background. Just because they have a few key statements and a formal qualification, it doesn’t confirm they're an expert in the field.  

Another way to determine their expertise is not by assessing their theoretical knowledge. But by assessing their applied knowledge and what they’ve learned through experience to become a better marketer. 

For example:

  • What have they tried in the past?
  • What worked and what didn’t?
  • How did they use what they’ve learned to develop their framework to get results? 

It takes time to screen a candidate’s technical skills effectively and to ensure that they have what it takes to make a positive impact.

Here’s How to Hire a Vetted Marketing Specialist Within 72 Hours 

The standard hiring process looks something like this:

  • Finding the top talent to work with
  • Reviewing applications and online portfolios
  • Scheduling an interview
  • Performing background checks

It’s not just the fact it’s time-consuming which explains why it’s challenging. Another reason is knowing what the right marketer looks like. Without an in-depth understanding of this, it’s difficult to outline success criteria. 

Instead of having to go through that entire process, Passionfruit makes it easy by doing the heavy lifting for you. 

They’re a platform consisting of marketing specialists with proven expertise and results for growing a startup. Despite receiving thousands of applications, only the top 2% of marketers are accepted. 

Your time is valuable. 

A mis-hire is too expensive to deal with during a stage where growth is essential. 

With Passionfruit, it’s preventable because you’ll be matched with an expert who fits your specific needs for growing your business.

Get matched with the top startup marketers within 72 hours

Gone are the days of uncertainty when it comes to hiring a marketing expert.

Sign up for free

The Future of Your Company’s Success

Good marketing has a direct impact on the future of your company’s success. It’s vital to work with the right people who can fill both your current and long-term needs to ensure sustainable growth. 

At the start, understanding the first marketing hire is like a riddle. 

Either way, the first time for anything is usually the hardest. Even more so when you’re trying to figure things out with minimal guidance. 

Hopefully, this guide has answered your questions and made the next steps clear. 


Astley is a Passionfruit content marketer specialist. He works with HR Tech and B2B SaaS companies to scale user growth.

Written by
Professor Passionfruit Illustration
Table of Contents

You’ve come across different marketing roles ever since you realised there’s a clear skills gap in the workforce.  

It’s tricky because of the uncertainties surrounding your first marketing hire such as:

  • Knowing when it’s the right time 
  • Confirming if they’re a good fit 
  • What a good approach looks like
  • Solving the problem for the long-term 

Hiring the wrong marketer could lead to serious consequences, especially for an early-stage startup with limited resources. 

You need someone who can take the lead, bring tangible results, and propel your growth. 

With this in mind, what type of marketers do you hire first? Is it better to go in-house or freelance? How do you go about finding the top talent? 

At Passionfruit, we’ve worked with hundreds of marketing specialists and startup companies. We’ve found some common trends and asked our top specialists to share their input on the type of marketers startups should prioritise hiring for the most effective growth. 

In this guide, we'll go through everything you need to know. Let’s get right into it! 

3 Signs You’re Ready to Make Your First Marketing Hire

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, you might just be ready to make your first marketing hire. 

Even if you’re not going through anything that’s been listed, don’t let it stop you from building your talent pool early. As soon as the need arises, you’ll be ready to fill the job vacancy immediately.

1. You've Reached a Product-Market Fit

Good marketing starts with a good product. 

One of the qualities which make a product good is that it solves a real problem, making people’s lives easier. 

In other words, satisfying a demand in the market with a solution that consumers are willing to buy. This is also known as reaching a product-market fit. It’s an essential step to running a successful business and it’s something you need to prove to get investors on board. 

Your marketing efforts become null if there isn’t a clear need for your product or service offering.

2. Your Team's Workload Has Reached Its Peak

Are your current team members maxed out with their own chore of responsibilities? 

Do people take on work that’s outside of their expertise?

For example, you might be relying on an in-house member to conduct market research although marketing isn’t an area where they excel. 

Before considering outsourcing your marketing or making your first hire, think about how you could optimise the workflow by using AI to automate the time-consuming tasks, e.g. sending email newsletters or posting on social media. 

Or if there’s a noticeable gap in the workplace where people are:

  • Unable to add more tasks to their to-do list
  • Taking on more work outside of their knowledge

Then, these are good signs that you’re ready to bring on a specialist in the field.

3. You're Struggling to Keep Up With the Demand

Lastly, are you in the growth stage where it’s becoming difficult to keep up with the demand? 

If the demand is fluctuating due to reasons such as seasonal events, it’s worth hiring an external marketer or giving a fixed-term contract for a specific period. Alternatively, you could work with them until a certain project has been completed. No long-term commitments would be necessary. 

Bringing a marketing specialist onboard even for a limited amount of time offers flexibility without hindering your growth or ability to scale. Most importantly, you’re more likely to see results.

What Type of Marketing Should Startup Companies Invest In First?

You meet the conditions listed above.

Now you’re probably wondering, who exactly do you hire? 

To answer this question, we’ve asked a few of our marketing specialists to share their input on the type of marketer startups should hire first.

Duncan Coleman, Growth Marketing Specialist

“Initially it makes sense to hire a generalist marketer to test a variety of growth channels. Once one of these channels shows promise then you might want to hire a specialist to optimize that channel, freeing up the time of your generalist marketer to continue testing other channels.”

Henrietta Mackenzie, Content Specialist

“The most cost-effective strategy for early stage startups would be to hire senior freelancers. Experienced professionals can advise you on the right marketing strategy to influence your audiences, whether your priorities are to secure investment, build your reputation or support lead generation, or all of them.

For your first in-house marketing hire, you need a head of marketing or head of comms. Someone who is experienced enough to set up and run your marketing / comms function, and build a team.”

Will Bradley, SEO Specialist 

“Depends on the company. If you're operating in an established sector then SEO-led content marketing would be my go-to. If you're launching a completely original product or service then social ads.”

Pascale Hughes, Content Specialist

"Perhaps, as a content specialist, I’m biased, but I would say... content! Well-written, relevant writing is the backbone to all the other areas of marketing and dictates people’s first impressions of a startup. Whether that writing describes what a startup does, sets out its brand and values, or is an interesting and useful article about the world the startup operates in, there are few faster ways to tell potential customers who you are and why you can help them."

Jack Shottel, Paid Marketing Specialist

“As a paid marketer myself, I would have to say that it's essential to prioritise working out whether paid marketing on social can boost your growth. More often than not, it absolutely does.

I'm wary that not every startup has the immediate (financial) scope to invest in paid, targeted ads across social media. But, from my experience, investing time and effort into working out how and to who your product best connects with on paid can have an instantaneous and positive effect on website traffic - and teach you which content you should be looking at pushing organically/on feed, too. I do think it's important to hire a specialist in this area, as I so often see all-in-one marketers using embedded, quick-fix functions such as 'Instagram boost', which should be avoided at all costs! When done properly, a solid paid ad strategy can be the backbone of growth and engagement.”

So… Who Should the First Marketing Hire Be?

The TLDR is that it boils down to three areas:

  • Growth marketing
  • Paid marketing
  • Product marketing

Based on the input from our marketing specialists above, it’s safe to say that the best first marketing hires depends on your situation. It’s difficult to categorise the answer into a one-size-fits-all since everyone is at different stages with different needs.

However, what’s clear is that one of your first few marketing hires should be a seasoned professional who’s experienced enough to lead your marketing strategy.

Growth Marketing

These types of marketers have well-rounded marketing knowledge. 

As growth marketing specialist Duncan mentioned, it’s effective to try new channels to see what brings the most results. For example, content marketing channels such as websites or blogs. 

Unlike the traditional approach, growth marketing focuses on the long-term.

Paid Marketing

Paid ads are used for getting short-term results. 

Understanding how paid marketing boosts your growth plays a part in optimising your organic marketing strategy as it helps you identify things like the type of audiences you attract and the type of content to focus on. 

Plus, it's beneficial for a product launch campaign where you introduce a new product or service into the market.

But, an adequate marketing budget is required.

Product Marketing

This wasn't touched on as much but a product marketing lead knows how to shape the positioning of your product to get in front of the right audience and build demand. They’re capable of translating the values of a product into messaging that sells, which is beneficial for most early-stage startups.

Working with a product marketer can also give insight into reaching a product-market fit. Since they’re skilled in multiple areas of marketing, they’re another good option to consider.

Hiring In-House Marketers vs Hiring Freelance Marketers

There are certain roles better for hiring full-time employees, freelancers, and vice versa. But, it’s cost-effective for early-stage startups and small businesses to hire an experienced freelance marketer. 

Employing an in-house employee at an early stage is expensive in both time and money as you’ll need to take into account factors such as: 

  • Recruitment costs
  • Training costs
  • Software costs
  • Management costs

Aside from these expenses, you’ll be working in a fast-paced environment. So, closing the marketing skills gaps immediately and getting results to ensure the growth of your organisation is ideal.

Usually, full-time employees won't be necessary since the business hasn’t reached a certain level of growth just yet.

Why Freelancers Are the Solution You’ve Been Looking For

The 2 biggest advantages for startups in hiring freelancers over full-time employees are that:

  1. You avoid overhead costs, which saves a significant amount of money.
  2. You’re hiring skilled marketers, which gives you access to their knowledge and expertise.

They help you grow and scale your business effectively without having to make a long-term commitment as you’re hiring them on a per-project basis. It’s especially valuable when you’re operating with limited funding. 

On top of minimising your startup expenses, you’re also working with skilled professionals. 

Since they’re often qualified specialists in their line of work, you won’t need to hold their hand and supervise them each step of the way. This makes your life easier as you’re able to put your focus on the overall growth of your business.

The Main Challenges of Finding Skilled Marketers to Work With

Have you decided that hiring a marketer is the route you'll take? 

While it’s reassuring to have clarity on where to move forward, the bigger challenge is how to do what comes next…

And that’s the process of finding and hiring skilled marketers. 

There’s a reason why startups and even enterprise-sized companies are struggling with this. To be more specific, we’ve listed 4 reasons why it’s difficult to make your first marketing hire. If you’re having trouble with any of these, keep reading on to learn how to overcome each challenge with minimal effort! 

A Competitive Job Market

The demand for talented marketers and job seekers has reached new heights. It’s not just you who’s looking for the best professionals to work with. 

As the number of job opportunities rises, it makes hiring more competitive since candidates have options. Recruitment in general has changed significantly considering the great resignation phenomenon alongside the impact of COVID-19. Both events have shifted the work expectations and standards.

Marketers With a Proven Track Record

Anyone could sound like they know what they’re doing if they use enough jargon. 

The question is, who’s been capable of delivering business results in the past? Were they solely responsible for achieving that outcome?

Some professionals will have more experience or qualifications than others. But it’s more effective to find out what they’re familiar with to determine how skilled they are. For instance, understand their work process and how they contributed to the growth and success of the previous company that hired them. 

Knowing Your Ideal Marketer

Even after following this guide, you may still have doubts about who your first marketing hire should be. 

Some marketing job positions have duties and responsibilities listed that overlap with other marketing job positions. This could lead to uncertainties regarding the type of marketer you need the most. 

Or if you're connected with a marketing leader, they can help you by sharing their input on who they think is most valuable based on your current situation. 

Vetting the Right Skills

It’s not enough to rely on one’s CV or academic background. Just because they have a few key statements and a formal qualification, it doesn’t confirm they're an expert in the field.  

Another way to determine their expertise is not by assessing their theoretical knowledge. But by assessing their applied knowledge and what they’ve learned through experience to become a better marketer. 

For example:

  • What have they tried in the past?
  • What worked and what didn’t?
  • How did they use what they’ve learned to develop their framework to get results? 

It takes time to screen a candidate’s technical skills effectively and to ensure that they have what it takes to make a positive impact.

Here’s How to Hire a Vetted Marketing Specialist Within 72 Hours 

The standard hiring process looks something like this:

  • Finding the top talent to work with
  • Reviewing applications and online portfolios
  • Scheduling an interview
  • Performing background checks

It’s not just the fact it’s time-consuming which explains why it’s challenging. Another reason is knowing what the right marketer looks like. Without an in-depth understanding of this, it’s difficult to outline success criteria. 

Instead of having to go through that entire process, Passionfruit makes it easy by doing the heavy lifting for you. 

They’re a platform consisting of marketing specialists with proven expertise and results for growing a startup. Despite receiving thousands of applications, only the top 2% of marketers are accepted. 

Your time is valuable. 

A mis-hire is too expensive to deal with during a stage where growth is essential. 

With Passionfruit, it’s preventable because you’ll be matched with an expert who fits your specific needs for growing your business.

Get matched with the top startup marketers within 72 hours

Gone are the days of uncertainty when it comes to hiring a marketing expert.

Sign up for free

The Future of Your Company’s Success

Good marketing has a direct impact on the future of your company’s success. It’s vital to work with the right people who can fill both your current and long-term needs to ensure sustainable growth. 

At the start, understanding the first marketing hire is like a riddle. 

Either way, the first time for anything is usually the hardest. Even more so when you’re trying to figure things out with minimal guidance. 

Hopefully, this guide has answered your questions and made the next steps clear. 


Astley is a Passionfruit content marketer specialist. He works with HR Tech and B2B SaaS companies to scale user growth.

Written by
Professor Passionfruit Illustration

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