You’ve probably seen headlines about it.

You may have even experienced it first-hand.

We hear it all the time from prospective partners.

Employers all across the U.S. are having trouble filling open positions.

In the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions lost their jobs. But while many people were eager to get back to work, others decided not to come back at all.

And even if they did return, they might not have stayed for long. We were told months ago to brace ourselves for the Great Resignation, signaling a turning tide in the workforce.

It used to be that employers held all the power. Now, candidates may have the upper hand.

The reasons for this shift are complex – and it’s not just because “no one wants to work anymore.”

But whatever the root cause, it’s the reality for many business owners. And if you want to survive, you have to adapt.

Let’s take a closer look at why you might be having trouble filling vacancies within your agency (and, more importantly, what you can do about it).

The Big Picture: Nationwide Labor Shortages

If you’re finding it difficult to hire, you’re certainly not alone.

It seems like nearly every business is looking for workers – and it's as if they're nowhere to be found.

Although it was once easy to blame the lack of laborers on increased unemployment benefits, those ended a long time ago. In fact, our nation’s unemployment rate has actually recovered since the onset of the pandemic and the labor market added more than 900,000 jobs in March 2021 – the seventh highest job increase nationwide during the last 50 years.

So what’s going on?

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, health-related risks are still major obstacles for both employers and employees. Some workers have shifted gears to avoid potential exposure, but millions of others have been rendered unable to work due to what’s known as long COVID.

According to a recent analysis, roughly 1.6 million Americans are currently absent from the full-time workforce due to long-term symptoms associated with COVID-19. These symptoms often include brain fog, fatigue, headaches, memory loss, respiratory issues, and even heart palpitations. For many, the condition is completely debilitating.

CBS News reports that the nation’s labor force is short by at least 2.2 million people, compared to pre-pandemic levels. Long COVID sufferers make up more than half of that shortage. Business Insider cites the shortage as closer to 5 million, which means there are other factors contributing to job vacancies.

The remainder of those missing from the workforce can be categorized in a number of ways.

For one thing, the senior population is bigger than it’s ever been. Many workers decided to retire during the pandemic, seeing the ongoing health crisis as a good enough reason to exit the workforce entirely. Many did so earlier than they anticipated.

Figures from Goldman Sachs suggest that 2.5 million people now missing from the labor force are retirees, with 1.5 million being designated as early retirees. And while some of those individuals could decide to return to the workforce, there may not be enough incentive for them to do so.

Other factors like sluggish immigration approvals may also be exacerbating the issue, particularly in filling construction jobs and other positions that require manual labor.

On the flip side, creative and media agencies are now in dire need of help, particularly in digital advertising areas like programmatic, analytics, and social media. In that sense, there is a shortage of qualified candidates who possess the necessary skills and experience these agencies need, given how quickly these technologies evolve.

Additionally, ongoing childcare needs, struggles with burnout, and the desire to embrace entrepreneurship are all prohibiting companies from finding the right people.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported a record number of applicants for business applications during 2021, suggesting that many people would rather go into business for themselves than work for someone else.

Ultimately, this indicates a larger shift in how Americans feel about work. The anti-work movement is gaining momentum and awakenings surrounding the pitfalls of capitalism are making employees question what they really want. A recent Indeed survey involving those who “voluntarily resigned from at least two jobs since March 2020” found that 92% said that “the pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren’t passionate about.”

But even if they like their jobs, that may not be enough of a reason to return (or to stay). Many employees feel unappreciated and overworked – which leads us to some other uncomfortable truths behind the labor shortage.

…But Some Say Employers Are To Blame

As the New York Times explains, labor shortages aren’t a permanent problem in a capitalist economy. The obvious answer is to increase wages, which will entice laborers back into the workforce. It’s seemingly a fairly simple solution – but job-seekers report that they’re seeing a lot of businesses that aren’t willing to compromise.

If employees were demanding wages so high that businesses could not bear the burden, that could certainly extend the labor shortage. But evidence suggests that isn’t the case; in fact, today’s wages are at historic lows, particularly compared to the rising costs of living in the United States.

Many business owners may feel caught between a rock and a hard place, however. Persistent supply chain issues lead to shortages and, subsequently, higher costs for essential products and services. Small business owners, in particular, may be worried about survival – and, as such, they don’t feel like they’re in a position to offer more competitive compensation.

But the reality is that workers might not be inclined to accept that excuse. Minimum wage doesn’t equal a living wage, and many workers feel they’re being taken advantage of. The Economic Policy Institute reports that CEO compensation in the U.S. has grown by 1,322% since 1978, but that compensation for the typical worker during that period has increased by only 18%. Pay disparities are even more pronounced among women and people of color. And while this is nothing new, the pandemic really brought these issues to light.

Not only is this contributing to a lack of qualified applicants, but it’s also what’s enticing current employees to quit their jobs. As the Center for American Progress explains:

“Contrary to what headlines may suggest, workers are not simply quitting their jobs to sit on the sidelines. Rather, they are switching jobs—perhaps even industries—for better pay, benefits, and working conditions and leaving low-quality jobs that impair their physical and mental health and do not pay enough to meet basic needs, build financial security, or save for the future.”

Generally speaking, there’s ample evidence to suggest that employers who are experiencing problems related to labor shortages may be requiring too much for too little compensation.

Heidi Shierholz, President of the Economic Policy Institute, adds:

“...In a system as large and complex as the U.S. labor market, there will always be pockets of bona fide labor shortages at any given time. But a more common reason is employers simply don’t want to raise wages high enough to attract workers. Employers post their too-low wages, can’t find workers to fill jobs at that pay level, and claim they’re facing a labor shortage. Given the ubiquity of this dynamic, I often suggest that whenever anyone says, ‘I can’t find the workers I need,’ she should really add, ‘at the wages I want to pay.’”

According to economic experts, our country isn’t currently experiencing rapid growth in job compensation. Although there are some notable companies that have raised their wages in order to attract candidates, that’s far from the norm. And while business owners may be rightfully concerned about what they can afford to pay, that’s simply not good enough for today’s workforce – which is largely burdened with student loan debt and a lack of affordable housing.

On top of all that, anecdotal evidence suggests that employers are taking far longer to hire, compared to pre-pandemic processes. And while workers are applying to open positions, they’re reporting that would-be employers are unresponsive.

Here’s the thing: we know that you’re not directly responsible for the housing shortage or the rising costs of health insurance, higher education, or general living expenses. But we also know that employers that fail to value their employees will have a tougher time attracting and retaining them. Workers can’t continue to justify jobs that aren’t actually supporting them – whether that support is financial, emotional, or physical.

How Do Hiring Woes Impact Agency Owners?

We’ve talked about how labor shortages are impacting employers and employees in a general sense. But what impact could your inability to hire or retain workers have on your agency?

One of the biggest challenges for digital marketing agencies is keeping up with increased demand. At the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses reacted by making big cuts to their marketing and advertising to save money. But two years later, the businesses that survived are spending again.

That means agencies are now drowning in work. If you had to deal with layoffs or you’re facing unexpected growth, you may not have the staff to keep up. This can result in an inability to meet client expectations – which can ultimately translate into customer churn.

We know that acquiring new customers costs substantially more than retaining old ones. So if you’re losing existing customers due to preventable failures, your business will spend a lot more time and money trying to make up that lost ground. You may even have to turn away business simply because you don’t have the support you need.

Increased rates of customer churn can also impact your brand’s reputation, especially online. It will almost certainly impede your ability to grow in terms of both profits and perception. And if the word gets out that you’re drowning, you’ll have trouble attracting new customers, too.

Suffice it to say that staffing issues can have huge ripple effects for your agency. And if you can’t seem to attract the right talent, what are your options?

Outsourcing Is the Obvious Solution… But Not in the Way You’d Think

The hiring in-house vs outsourcing debate used to be one motivated by cost and convenience. But in 2022, this decision may be even easier to make out of pure necessity.

When you’ve exhausted your options for internal hiring, outsourcing can provide you with access to professionals who can get the job done. For many agency owners who are weighing the hiring in-house vs outsourcing argument, outsourcing will win out even after the pandemic has become a distant memory (or so we hope).

In fact, roughly 300,000 positions are outsourced every year and 59% of businesses were outsourcing in 2020 to reduce expenses. Two years later, others are finding that this could be a viable option.

Outsourcing, of course, can cover a number of different tactics. Hiring a freelancer you find on Fiverr can technically be categorized as outsourcing certain tasks. So can bringing in a consultant to take on tasks as an independent contractor.

Working with a white label SEO team like Semify is considered by many to be the gold standard for outsourcing, as it’s an option that highlights numerous benefits while minimizing the drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look at outsourcing as an alternative to hiring.

Why Consider Outsourcing When You Can’t Hire

  • No Training Required: One of the big pros of outsourcing vs hiring in-house is that you don’t have to waste time and money on employee onboarding and training. These steps can result in major delays and monetary costs for your business. Getting a new employee up to speed can take weeks or even months. In the meantime, a senior member of your staff will be responsible for these tasks, which means you’ll have fewer operational resources to work with. Keep in mind that new hires may not even make it out of training, which means you’ll have to start the entire process over again if the job isn’t a good fit for your original candidate.
  • Lowered Costs: The costs of hiring can be astronomical. Job postings, recruitment services, wages, benefits, and lowered productivity are all par for the course. You’ll spend thousands of dollars in the hopes of finding the right employee – and that’s before they ever start working for you! If you can’t fill open positions, your profit margins and potential to grow will likely suffer. Outsourcing is typically a much more affordable and scalable option; you’ll pay a base price for the services provided that you can then mark up to your clients while still staying within their budget.
  • On-Time Delivery: When weighing the pros and cons of hiring in-house vs outsourcing, you might overlook the deadline factor. Internally, you may be subject to delivery dates… but missing the deadline can be easier to justify (especially when you’re short on help). Working with a freelancer doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the completed work when you need it, either. When you outsource to a white label SEO company, you’ll usually have a contract that ensures services will be delivered on time. That helps with client retention and overall performance, which means much better things for your business.
  • Resource Distribution: Many agency owners are inclined to take on too much. When you’re short-staffed, chances are that you’ll personally attempt to make up for the shortfall. That can keep you from focusing on other crucial areas of your business, like customer service and sales. When you’re unable to hire for whatever reason, outsourcing can take fulfillment responsibilities off your plate and help you redistribute your resources in a healthier way.

Addressing Common Outsourcing Concerns

  • Less Control: One thing that agency owners tend to worry about is giving up control when they outsource. But unless you’re doing everything yourself already, your sense of control is an illusion. Sure, you could micromanage your staff to make sure things are done the way you want them. But that’s one of the quickest ways to convince employees to leave. Additionally, you could be hurting your clients if your need for control is accompanied by a lack of knowledge. Giving up control is hard. But when you’re working with experts, that’ll give your clients a much better experience.
  • Quality and Consistency: Not all outsourcing options are created equal. We know some of our partners have been burned in the past, which makes them understandably hesitant to work with another white label fulfillment provider. We pride ourselves on having a 100% U.S.-based team and being 100% accountable to our results. When you decide to outsource, you’ll want to work with a partner that will provide sample content to exceed your expectations.
  • Extra Communication: The last thing you need is to add yet another task to your to-do list. We understand that some agency owners want to take a hands-off approach. There are definitely outsourcing options out there for those who don’t want to take an active role in client fulfillment. We’ll do the work behind the scenes, but we also want to partner with agency owners who share our values and are eager to grow. That may mean scheduling a call every so often to discuss campaign progress and recommendations. SEO isn’t a “set it and forget it” situation. That said, we’ll never bug you without a good reason – and we’re always easy to get a hold of.

Tips to Help You Fill In-House Positions

With all that being said, many business owners are still intent on hiring. Monster reports that a staggering 93% of businesses plan to hire this year. Outsourcing can feel like a big shift; sometimes it’s easier to deal with the devil you know rather than the one you don’t.

If you want to keep trying to hire internally, we’re still here to help in any way we can. Keep these tips in mind next time you post a job opening.

  1. Offer remote work. Flexibility is huge for today’s job seekers. FlexJobs surveys have revealed that over half of employees surveyed said they’d start looking for a new job if remote work options were discontinued. By that logic, most applicants will be looking for remote work, as well. Since remote work can help employers cut costs while improving productivity, carefully consider whether it’s worth it to require applicants to commute to the office.
  2. Increase compensation. It may not be what you want to hear, but your compensation plan may be what’s keeping you from filling open positions. Workers want to know that they’ll be paid a fair wage upfront, which means you should consider at least listing a salary range in your job postings. Be transparent about benefits (health insurance, PTO, and retirement planning are the big three!) and about career growth opportunities, as well. Most job seekers won’t want to waste their time if the company refuses to say what the job pays. Take the time to figure out fair market value and what will actually make your company competitive in the marketplace.
  3. Rethink responsibilities. Many times, employers want too much for too little. If there isn’t much wiggle room in terms of compensation, you may need to scale back with your list of requirements or responsibilities. Are you trying to get one person to do the job of three? Are you willing to switch prerequisites to “nice-to-haves?” Remember that you can always help an employee grow their skill set later (and keep them engaged as a result!).
  4. Try promoting internally. If you’re already short-staffed, you may feel like you can’t afford to lose anyone on your team. But remember that bringing on someone who’s totally new will take a lot longer to train. Promoting internally, on the other hand, can help you make up ground and provide an opportunity for career advancement. If you can develop the skills of your existing team, you’ll improve your retention rate and may find it easier to fill lower-level positions or restructure responsibilities moving forward.
  5. Highlight workplace diversity and inclusion. Are you doing the work to make your workplace as inclusive and equitable as possible? Show it off! Glassdoor notes that 76% of employees and job seekers say a diverse workforce is important to them when evaluating companies and job offers. Candidates want to see themselves represented when they look at your “About Us” page and they want to know that you’re committed to social causes they care about.
  6. Reconsider automation. Automation can be a great thing for businesses, but there are definitely drawbacks – especially during the hiring process. According to a Harvard Business School study, over 10 million workers are filtered out by automated hiring software. Although these technologies can save time, they may be presenting barriers to qualified candidates. Make sure you have some kind of system in place to keep applicants from falling through the cracks.
  7. Manage Glassdoor and Indeed reviews. We recently wrote about how to respond to Glassdoor reviews for your business. Glassdoor and Indeed both provide opportunities for current and former employees to leave honest feedback – and for business owners to respond. A little reputation management can go a long way, particularly if you’re also using these platforms to post available job openings.
  8. Don’t ghost. You wouldn’t want a potential candidate to disappear without a trace. So don’t do the same thing to your applicants. Be upfront about how long your hiring process will take and when they can expect to hear from you. If you’re going another way, take the time to send out a quick email to thank them for their time. You can create a template you can use for inspiration and it should take only a couple of minutes (you may even be able to automate it!). But that small change can make all the difference between the applicant recommending your job ad to a friend and warning them to steer clear.

Wrapping Up

We know the hiring in-house vs outsourcing debate is a personal one. The right answer is subject to a number of factors – and trying something different can be scary at first.

But we also know how frustrating it is to try to hire right now. As a growing business ourselves, we devote a lot of time to finding the right people for our culture. We also use outsourcing where appropriate. The bottom line is that we want to do what’s right for our company and our customers. We bet you feel the same way.

Today’s workers are looking for better opportunities. As a business owner, you can either rise to the challenge or explore alternatives that’ll still help you get the job done. The choice is yours – so choose wisely.