Marketing is hard. Knowing which tools to use is hard. Finding the right staff with the right skill set is hard. Heck, sometimes all the things feel hard, right?
You are probably reading this article because you’ve found it hard to manage marketing tasks in-house. Now may be the right time to explore new systems and resources.
If you’re on the verge of hiring a marketing partner and outsourcing tasks like social media management, blogging, graphic design, website copywriting and more, you’ll want to make the best choice possible. It’s totally worth investing time upfront to understand the options, identify your needs and consider a realistic budget.
Here are six things to do before you reach out to a marketing service provider:
1. Identify skills gaps and areas where you’re wearing too many hats
Write down a list of all marketing-related projects or tasks that you feel your business has fallen behind on. This may be due to skills your current team doesn’t have. This may be due to you wearing so many other hats that you no longer have time to tackle marketing projects.
The list may include things like developing a marketing strategy, managing social media accounts and consumer reviews, refreshing your brand with new visuals, taking new product photos, creating tutorial videos, updating marketing content or editing your website, writing informational articles for your company’s website, working on corporate branding, or even brainstorming business development ideas.
If you find you need help in only one area (like photography or video work), then hire a local photographer or a video production team for that work.
If it looks like you need help in a variety of areas (website, public relations, graphics and social media), then it will be more efficient for you to hire a service provider who can handle all those tasks for you – a one-stop marketing shop.
In that situation, building a business relationship with a full-service marketing agency will help ensure that your brand and messaging remains consistent across many tools and platforms. That’s important! Plus, you won’t need to keep explaining your business and your clients to a variety of service providers, because your agency will already be dialed into those things.
2. Ask yourself: Can you afford beer or champagne?
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. Some experts say that the number is roughly 7 to 8 percent for businesses with less than $5 million per year in revenue (which includes most of us!).
Whether your marketing budget is $500 per month, $1500 per month or $5000 per month, disclose that budget to the service provider you are interviewing. They need to know how much you can spend on marketing so that they can tailor a marketing plan based on your growth goals and your budget.
The marketing tools available for use will vary greatly depending on your budget. Radio, video and roadside billboards might not be within your budget, while social media, copywriting and email marketing may be a better fit. Make sense?
They’ll need to know if you have a budget for champagne or beer!
3. Decide who is your person
Depending on the size of the business, the person you initially meet may or may not be your point of contact in the future. In larger marketing companies, your projects may be assigned to an account specialist, or you may work with a team of people who will complete tasks. You may not know the person or people who are working on your account.
With smaller agencies, the person you initially meet may also be your point of contact in the future and the one completing most of the tasks. If they go on vacation or get sick, the ability to get projects done may be impacted.
There are pluses and minuses to both, so make sure to ask how many people work for the agency, who will be working on your projects, how you will be communicating with them (in person, via phone or email, etc.), and what are their business hours.
4. Realize that you are paying for experience
If social media management is going to be part of your outsourced marketing plan, make sure the digital media agency and their representatives are experienced and actively using the platforms you are considering.
This may seem like a no-brainer; however, we’ve seen time and time again where people managing platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter or Instagram do not actually have working knowledge of those platforms. Ugh!
Ask to see samples of social media accounts they currently work on, and ask what exactly their role was in managing those social media sites. Do they develop all the content or does someone else? Does someone review their work before it goes live? Do they independently respond to comments on the platform? Ask how they keep up with continuing education and current best practices, which are changing all the time.
You are buying access to a level of expertise. The person or people managing your accounts and speaking as the voice of your brand online should have experience, and they should be developing their skills independently from the work they do for you.
5. Make the awkward call…
OK, so it’s time to check references. Some people won’t do this because they feel awkward or because they don’t want to bother the other businessperson. Do it!
Ask the marketing service provider to share contact info for two of their current clients. Ask those clients how long they have worked with the marketing firm, whether communication is timely, how accessible employees are, and how they feel they have benefited from the services provided. Ask them if there is one thing they love about working with the service provider, then ask them if there is one thing they wish was different? This time will be well-spent.
6. Build trust, delegate and marinate
Know that hiring a marketing agency or solo service provider can be a long-term relationship that builds and grows over time. By investing time up front, and through clear and transparent communication throughout all of your work together, you can have an outsourced service provider you know, like and trust. Hooray!
If you can learn to delegate (a hard task for some!), your new marketing partner can become a huge value to you and/or your team. You will come to appreciate having a resource you can count on and one you can quickly tap into when new needs arise.
Give it time; marinate. Make sure to allow three to six months for onboarding and to get the ball rolling, building trust with consumers and testing new strategies. After that period, schedule some time with your service provider to review the marketing plan, goals and budget, and pivot as needed.
Put a reminder on your calendar for three to six months after you start outsourcing marketing tasks. Take a moment to notice whether all the things still feel hard, or whether you feel better about marketing your business and whether you feel like you have the right people and resources to market your business. We hope you do!