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So, you’ve been thinking about hiring a marketing firm, publicist or social-media manager for your business, but you don’t know where to start or how to compare options. This article is just for you.

Selecting the right partner is an important decision. You’ll want to make the best choice possible, so it’s worth investing a bit of time upfront to understand the options, identify your needs and consider your budget.

Here are five tips to review before you pick up the phone:

1. Know the scope of work you need help with

Write down a list of any marketing-related projects or tasks your business needs help with. The list may include things like developing a marketing strategy, creating new brochures and business cards, updating marketing content or editing your website, writing press releases, managing social media accounts, working on corporate branding, or even brainstorming business-development ideas.

If you find you need help in only one area (like a press release or new business cards), then consider hiring a press-release writer or a print company for graphic design work. If it looks like you need help in a variety of areas (website, publicity, graphics and social media), then it may be best to partner with a business that can handle all of those tasks in-house, so your marketing messages are consistent.

2. Be prepared to share a “ballpark” budget

How much do businesses spend on marketing each year? Depending on the size of your company, the market you are trying to reach and how aggressively you want to grow, your annual marketing budget may be anywhere between 2 percent to 20 percent of revenue (The U.S. Small Business Administration suggests roughly 7-8 percent for businesses with less than $5 million per year in revenue, with smaller growth goals.).

The professional you choose to work with will need to know how much you would like to invest in marketing so they can make suggestions based on growth goals and budget. The tools available for use will vary depending on your budget—radio, video or TV ads might not be within budget, while social media, copywriting and personal networking may be a better fit.

3. Understand the firm’s size and who will be your point of contact

With smaller firms, the person you initially meet with may also be your point of contact in the future and the one completing most of the tasks. There are pluses and minuses to both, so make sure to ask how many people work for the firm, who will be working on your projects, what their experience is and even how you will be communicating with them (in person, via phone or email; what are their business hours?).Depending on the size of the business, the person you initially meet with may or may not be your point of contact in the future. In larger companies, your projects may be assigned to an account specialist or you may work with a team of people who will complete tasks.

4. Check out their circle of influence and experience with social networking

There is no denying that the marketing world has changed. It’s far more interactive. So the firm or person you choose should have an understanding of social networking.

If social-media management is going to be part of your plan, make sure the firm and their representatives are actively using the platforms you are considering. Ask to see samples of pages they manage.

Remember that a solid network cannot be built overnight. It’s developed over time. Already having access to a large audience, and an understanding of how to use the tools, can make it easier for marketing professionals to help your business grow.

5. Know the right questions to ask references 

When it comes time to check references, ask to speak to two to three existing customers (similar in size and scope to your business, if possible).

5 tips for hiring the right marketing partner

Talk with those clients about how long they have worked with the firm, whether communication is timely, how accessible employees are and how they feel they have benefited from the services provided.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that, in many cases, marketing success does not happen overnight. But if you choose the right marketing partner, this could be a long-term relationship that builds over time.

Allow six months to get the ball rolling, build trust with consumers and test new strategies. Monitor results along the way. After that time, review your marketing plan, goals and budget, and make necessary adjustments.

This article was originally published in the Bellingham Business Journal.

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