How do you choose a marketing agency? This specific question has probably kept many business owners up late at night. As a business owner, usually a time comes when you realize you need help marketing in order to grow your business. Unless you have a background in marketing, your expertise probably lies elsewhere. This a where a marketing agency comes in. Finding the right marketing agency will allow you to focus on what you do best. Unfortunately, finding the right marketing agency can seem downright impossible at times.
At Outspoke, we have spoken to dozens of business owners that have struck out when trying to find the right agency. It’s unfortunate and there really isn’t a manual on how to find, vet, and hire the right marketing agency. Until now. Armed with years of experience, we put together a guide to help you find and hire the right marketing agency.
12 Things To Consider When Hiring A Marketing Agency
1. Industry Experience Matters
Arguably the hardest part about finding the right marketing agency is the number of agencies to choose from. Did you know there are currently 100,000+ marketing agencies in the United States alone? That is a tough place to start.
So, what do we recommend? Start by looking for agencies with experience in your industry. To achieve real results, your marketing plan will have to be tailored to your specific industry and buyer personas. Each industry is unique and learning the nuances can take quite a while. While marketing agencies may serve clients in many different industries, industry experience matters. So does experience working with companies of a similar size as yours. Marketing multi-billion dollar companies are much different than marketing businesses with a smaller budget. Even if both of those companies operate within the same industry. Starting here will help to quickly narrow down your list of potential agencies.
2. Understand Your Needs
Clearly defining your needs is a key component when choosing a marketing agency. It is all too common however for businesses to schedule meetings with prospective agencies before clearly documenting their needs. Consider the following:
- What goals do you hope to achieve in the next six months?
- What is your budget?
- How will you measure success?
Reputable agencies will ask you all of these questions in your initial discovery call, but it is important to keep these in mind when selecting potential agencies in the first place.
P.S. If an agency doesn’t ask about your specific goals and needs, that is a major red flag.
3. Set Expectations
Once you have defined and documented your needs, you need to set expectations with potential agencies. Make it very clear what results you expect, how communication will be handled, who will manage projects, deadlines, etc.
In our experience, most failed agency relationships are a result of skipping this step. When both sides don’t have clearly defined expectations and processes in place, it is nearly impossible to succeed. Be clear about what you expect.
4. Look for Partners
At Outspoke we have a partnership mindset, meaning we operate as if we are part of the businesses we work with. This means we are focused on real results, not vanity metrics or non-sustainable strategies. As a HubSpot Agency Partner, we have many clients that work with us for years at a time. These relationships are only able to last the test of time because of this partnership mindset
Pay close attention to the way agencies sell themselves and the relationships that come with it. If an agency seems too focused on closing the deal as quickly as possible, this is usually a bad sign. If an agency is willing to take time to get to really know you, your business and your goals, both short-term and long-term, they probably have a partnership mindset. The chances of someone caring about your business as much as you do are low. However, the right marketing agency will feel like this is exactly the case. Partners don’t sacrifice long-term success for short-term results. The wrong agency will.
5. The Beer Test
I once had a boss tell me, “I look for people with the technical capabilities and that pass the beer test.” Put simply, the beer test requires you to answer a simple question: would you want to grab a beer with the person after a long day work?
While we aren’t saying drinking beer with the agency you hire is required (it doesn’t hurt from time to time though!), this simple test generally helps weed out people that aren’t a good personality fit. The human element matters. We have several clients committed to 80+ hour per month retainers. This results in a lot of back and forth and time together. You don’t have to be best friends with the people at the agency you decide to work with, but a good personality match can make the relationship much more enjoyable.
6. Ask for References
Reputable agencies will have plenty of past clients and should be happy to share their contact information so you can ask about their experience. Imagine being able to talk to a person that is in the same industry as you and had an amazing experience with an agency you are considering. This would give you a lot more confidence than any flashy website or sales presentation.
If an agency refuses to let you talk to past clients, run. At Outspoke we enjoy having our happy clients help us close the deal. Often times their confidence in us is all it takes!
7. Bigger Isn’t Always Better
Marketing agencies come in all sizes. Some “agencies” are actually just a one-person show. Other agencies have hundreds of employees and locations all over the country or world. Size alone shouldn’t be a determining factor, but you should consider it when hiring a marketing agency. Generally, smaller agencies are more efficient. It is much easier to manage a team of 5 as opposed to a team of 500. However, larger agencies often have more diverse skillsets in-house.
By now you have clearly defined and documented your needs and expectations. Does size matter? We can’t answer this question for you, but keep in mind the pros and cons of larger and smaller agencies. It's not uncommon that we are contacted by larger agencies that need help with their workload. Struggling with efficiency, they often have more luck allowing smaller, more efficient agencies handle part of their workload. Speaking of outsourcing work, don't forget to ask potential agencies what work they handle in-house vs outsourcing.
8. Outsourcing vs In-House
This may come as a surprise to you. A lot of marketing agencies sell work that they don’t actually complete. In fact, there are very few agencies that exist that complete 100% of work in-house. Make sure you discuss this with potential agencies. However, it's important to remember that outsourcing work isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hiring a marketing agency is outsourcing. Understanding what is being outsourced and why is critical.
At Outspoke we have several partners that we outsource work to and vice-versa. We have vetted these partners and trust their expertise. They fill in the gaps in our technical skillsets and allow us to offer additional services that our clients need. An important distinction to note - we have established partners that have been vetted and we are fully transparent up-front with potential clients about these partners.
9. Transparency Matters
Speaking of transparency, it really matters. One of the hardest aspects of outsourcing work is a lack of visibility into what is done on a daily basis. When you have a team in-house, checking on progress is as simple as walking down the hall. When you hire a marketing agency, you will have to let go of some control.
At Outspoke we try to reduce this feeling as much as possible. Our project management tool, Monday.com, allows us to invite a guest to their project board(s). This allows them to track in real-time exactly what we are working on, how many hours we estimate it will take, how many hours it actually takes and any roadblocks we may experience. It is important to discuss transparency with prospective agencies to ensure you will be provided enough visibility into the process to feel comfortable. What is required to feel comfortable will vary for every business owner, so be honest with both yourself and the prospective agency about your needs in regards to transparency. Feeling like you're in the dark isn’t fun for anybody.
10. Balance Quality with Quantity
Depending on your budget, you probably can’t afford the most expensive agency. You may even be actively looking for inexpensive options. Finding a balance between quality and quantity is imperative. You are often better off spending a little bit more for a higher quality service. Many times the cheaper option ends up becoming more expensive. This happens for several reasons such as:
- You have to hire another agency to fix bad work
- The lower quality work reduces your growth rate
- The turn around time is so long you miss an important deadline
It is a balancing act and one that is hard to master. More expensive isn’t always better, but neither is the lowest bidder.
11. Location, Location, Location
In the modern world, location is becoming less important with each passing year. Companies are now hiring globally as much as locally. As you begin your search for potential agencies, consider location. There are some services that require on-site work, such as a video shoot. Hiring a local agency for services like these is often much more affordable. You will not have to cover traveling expenses, hotels, or any other associated costs.
The majority of digital marketing services offered, however, can be completed from anywhere in the world. This provides a huge opportunity for businesses like yours. Imagine living in New York City where the cost of living is very high. Marketing agencies regularly charge $300/hour in these markets. If you only focus your search within New York City you will probably have a hard time finding affordable prices. By opening your search to emerging markets, like Denver for example, you can get the best of both worlds. A location with plenty of local talent and hourly rates that are much more affordable. Take advantage of the global economy that we all currently work in. There are so many opportunities if you open your search up geographically.
12. No Agency Can Do Everything
We saved the best for last. The number one red flag that we look for when considering partners is a company that says they can do everything. Look for agencies that have focus. Consequently, don't be discouraged if you hear "no" from time to time. When agencies turn down particular work due to lack of expertise this can be a great sign. It means they aren’t focused solely on revenue. No agency has expertise in everything. What you need to do is find an agency whose expertise aligns with your needs. That is the holy grail and we hope this guide helps you find just that.
Feel like Outspoke would be a good fit as your next marketing agency? Let’s talk.