Picking the right marketing expert for your small business


Just because you are a small company, it doesn't mean that marketing consultants don't want your business – they very much do, especially if there's a chance of you growing into a big business one day.

Picking the right marketing expert for your small business

Google analytics, SEO, hashtags… the list of technical words goes on – digital marketing can be a mind field for most small businesses (social media start-ups aside, of course). But, in 2019, your social media presence and online advertising tactics can also be vital to your company’s success.

Luckily, there are lots of marketing agencies and social media managers around eager to take care of that side of things for you, leaving you free to concentrate your precious time on what you’re good at: growing that start-up of yours.

The digital marketing industry is a big one, which means you can afford to be picky about who you hire to help put your company on the map. Marketing is a massive part of future company growth, so do your research and ask the right questions when selecting an agency or individual to work for you.

Here’s a few key points to consider…

What’s your niche?

If you’re running an innovative engineering start-up specialising in some ground-breaking automotive technology, you probably don’t want to hire a marketing consultant with a portfolio of fashion campaigns – regardless of how successful they are. They’re unlikely to be able to represent you as well as a smaller, perhaps lesser known agency, which has a host of engineering-related campaigns already under their belt.

Similarly, if you’re a budding plant-based chef of some sort selling the “best” vegan cheese, it could be worth checking that none of the marketing agency’s previous or current campaigns clash with your company’s ethics.

For example, if they do the social media for a big name dairy ice cream brand or similar they should be avoided, as using them – no matter how good they are at marketing – would be counterintuitive, as knowledge of their other work would likely upset your customers and could therefore be damaging for your business.

If it’s not clear who the company’s previous or current clients are and this is something that interests you, then ask them.

And, while you’ve got them on the phone, ask them if they know many experts and influencers in your industry. If so, who? If they can’t name anyone on the spot, forget them.

Can they do it all?

Chances are you’re busy enough without having to run around chasing several different people to ensure your marketing is on track. So, keep things simple by hiring one person or an agency who can do it all – that’s the SEO for your website, your social media posts, your online adverts etc.

You’ll also want to ensure that they are proficient in all of the social media platforms that are important to your business.

Most digital marketing pros will be Instagram and Twitter whizzes, but if your company is interiors focused, you will need to check that they have Pinterest nailed, too. Likewise, if you’re an innovation-based start-up, ensure that they understand the ins and outs of LinkedIn, as well.

Do you like their campaigns?

It may sound silly and rather obvious, but if you don’t like the work they’ve done for other companies, chances are you won’t like what they would do for you either.

Poor design work or bad grammar? Look elsewhere. Have a browse of their work on their website and make this call before you bother approaching them for more information – it will save both yours and their time.

What do previous clients have to say about them?

Once you’ve found a marketing expert that you think could be right for you and your small business, get some references. Most companies will have a few carefully chosen testimonials displayed somewhere on their website, but they’re not what we’re after here.

Ask to speak to a couple of clients yourself, either on the phone or via email. Or, even better, be sneaky and approach previous clients yourself (rather than being put in touch through the marketing consultant) so you’re not palmed off with clients that they already know love their work and will only say great things about them. Ask them any of your niggling questions – not just if they are happy with the results of the campaign(s), but also how so-and-so is to work with, whether they consider it value for money, if they would use them again, if they delivered the required results, if delivery was punctual, and so on.

Also, ask the marketing agency to direct you to online examples and/or portfolios of their work to further your understanding of both how they work and the sort of campaigns they would potentially be able to create for you.

Define your budget

Work out what you can afford to spend on marketing from the get go. Don’t be deterred if your budget is pretty small right now, you can always find an agency that will tailor a package specifically to you, cutting out any of the bits that aren’t a priority to you right now, and you can then expand your package as your budget increases and your company advances over time.

For example, if your company is striving to sell a new air conditioning system but it’s not yet in production, don’t waste money paying for Instagram ads, instead put your cash into getting the SEO on your website as strong as it can be to drive potential investors and retailers to your site to discover your product. Similarly, if you do have air conditioners ready to sell but your market research shows that your target customers tend to use Facebook over Instagram, tell the agency that you wish to concentrate your advertising on the former platform for now, until you have more cash to spare, and then you will consider advertising on Instagram, too.

It’s also important to ask the marketing agency or consultant if they have a minimum contract period. This is great for any business to know, but it is especially significant for a young company who doesn’t yet have the security of knowing how successful their venture will be.

Finally, find out how they charge – is it by the hour, by the campaign etc – and how often they invoice (weekly, monthly, by project etc), so you can work all of the costs into your financial planning.

Get to the nitty-gritty: ask them to prove their success

It’s all very well a marketing expert qualifying their success by showing you that one of their clients who came to them with 1.4million Instagram followers now has 3.6million. Sure, that person’s account has grown, but how can you be sure that the marketing person had anything to do with that?

The account already had high traffic, it could have grown regardless of the marketing campaigns. This is where analytics come in.

The marketing agency will use some sort of analytical software to track their progress, so they will be able to tell you their lead conversion rates – that is, how many of those followers came as a result of their work. Don’t be afraid to ask them to share this information with you. If they’re good at their jobs, they will happily talk data and graphs with you. If they’re cagey about it, take it as a bad sign. You can similarly ask for evidence of how successful their advertising campaigns are. If people click through their ads to buy a product rather than stumble across it by any other means, they will know about it.

How good is their pitch?

Just because you are a small company, it doesn’t mean that marketing consultants don’t want your business – they very much do, especially if there’s a chance of you growing into a big business one day. So don’t feel like they’re doing you a favour, you’re hiring them – if anyone’s doing anyone a favour, it’s you doing them one. Be sure to ask them what initial ideas they have for marketing campaigns for you. In a similar way to how a newspaper would never hire a journalist without first checking that they can string a sentence together, you should never hire a marketing manager who can’t fire off a few digital marketing ideas on the spot.

However, an even better idea is to email ahead of your meeting with a new agency to let them know you would be interested in hearing their initial ideas for social media campaigns, for example, just to check whether you’re on the same wavelength. Don’t expect them to have drawn up a whole proposal ahead of your meeting (before they have been hired), but a good candidate will have dedicated a little time to drafting some ideas to show their abilities and interest in your business.

Still unsure whether a particular marketing expert is the right fit for your business? Then simply ask them: “Why should I choose you?” If this person is going to be successful at getting hundreds/thousands/millions of people to buy into your business across multiple digital platforms, then they shouldn’t have any problem in getting you to buy into them.