- Marketing companies not only take over a labor-intensive process, but they bring a consultative approach to devising your marketing strategies.
- Understand the services you require and which services a marketing company offers fist before determining whether they are a good fit for your small business.
- Identify your goals, secure references, and request a detailed written proposal before moving forward with a marketing company to ensure they will meet your needs.
- This article is for small business owners considering outsourcing their marketing efforts to a marketing agency.
Many small business owners struggle to manage their marketing and advertising while also running the day-to-day operations of their business. Additionally, digital marketing takes a nuanced understanding of a wide variety of channels, which many small business owners simply don't have the time or experience necessary to manage optimally. In these cases, a marketing company could be beneficial in improving a company's marketing performance and freeing up internal resources, but how can you be sure you are hiring the right one?
Types of marketing companies
There are many types of marketing companies. While some perform in multiple disciplines, others will remain hyperspecialized. These are some of the most common specializations within the marketing industry.
A marketing consultancy, as the name suggests, focuses on consulting more than outsourcing. They coach you on marketing strategies and various means to succeed.
Many consultancies focus specifically on an aspect, such as brand. They will rarely carry out marketing programs on your behalf.
Direct marketing is mail marketing. Not to be confused with email marketing, direct mail is advertising through USPS-delivered mail. A direct marketing agency can help you strategize your mailing campaign, and in most cases, they will carry it out for you.
Telemarketing is marketing over the phone. Telemarketing has evolved in the last decade – it is less about cold calls and more about chat interactions.
These agencies focus on helping you increase traffic to your website and improving the value of that traffic. They use various strategies such as search engine optimization (SEO) and online advertising to drive your traffic. They can also redesign your online branding and website to improve conversion rates and the size of sales so your website and online advertising efforts generate more revenue and profit.
A print marketing agency can help you perform market research and collaborate with you to produce printed advertising and marketing materials. These materials can include newspaper or magazine advertisements, brochures, posters and product displays. They can also strategize with you on how to distribute printed resources to get the most value from them. There is often crossover between direct marketing and print marketing firms, but a print marketing group emphasizes their design skills over their marketing distribution.
Market research firms, like consultancies, don't carry out marketing on your behalf. Instead, these agencies focus on collecting and analyzing data specific to your brand. They can help you measure the efforts you have deployed and reasonably predict the impact specific campaigns have on their intended audiences. Market research becomes invaluable as your brand grows, but until you are generating data, it can produce diminishing returns on your investments.
How to choose a marketing company
Choosing a marketing company should come down to more than dollars and cents. Handing your marketing efforts off to a third party requires trust; they will be managing your brand and how you communicate with your audience. As such, a marketing company could make or break your brand strategy. Do your due diligence to ensure you are selecting a marketing company that will provide high-quality services and reliable communication and reporting.
Identify your goals.
The first step in hiring a marketing company is to sit down and identify your goals. Be specific. Rather than saying "I want to increase sales," identify actionable items like "I want to increase visits to my e-commerce store," or "I want to reduce cart abandonment rates." Understanding your goals, called key performance indicators (KPIs), will not only help you choose a marketing company that's right for you, it will also help you to measure their success throughout the life of your relationship.
"It really depends on what a business owner's end goals are," said Travis McKnight, senior content strategist at Portent. "If they're just trying to get a website that is functional … they don't need the fanciest team. If they're trying to get more conversions or adapt to COVID-19, they need a team with more expertise and agility."
If your marketing goals are relatively basic, you could save costs by hiring a team to carry out relatively simple tasks. However, if you want something more in depth or dynamic, consider allocating more resources to your marketing budget.
Seek references and consider industry expertise.
When hiring any service, seek references from colleagues who have used those services. Hiring a marketing company is no different. Seek out references from similar businesses, and make a list of the ones that seem relevant to your needs.
David Wyatt, senior vice president of Elizabeth Christian Public Relations, said you should always talk to recent references.
"Marketing can be a very volatile industry, and clients need to know how agency teams are [performing] in recent months," Wyatt said.
Additionally, if a marketing company is available that caters specifically to your industry (or, better yet, small businesses in your industry) they might be worth a closer look.
"Industry-specific marketing is best for small businesses," said Kathryn Carter, digital marketing specialist for Coalmarch. "For example, Coalmarch is a marketing company specific to the pest control industry. Because we serve a specific client, we provide an incomparable understanding of seasonality and how people shop for what our clients sell."
Make a shortlist of candidates.
Once you've identified several marketing companies that seem to fit your goals and have experience serving similar businesses in your industry, make a shortlist of several candidates to review. From here, establish direct contact with the agencies, and tell them you're considering hiring them for their services. Before you sign a contract, though, there are a few more steps you should take.
Ask for samples of work.
Ask each of the candidates on your shortlist for some samples of work relevant to your needs. For example, if you need web development, ask to see their previous clients' websites. If you want them to manage your social media, ask for the handles of accounts they have managed in the past.
"Not all marketing companies are created equally. If you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, so clients should know what sort of capabilities and capacity they need before they begin their search," Wyatt said.
Samples of previous campaigns or work that the marketing company has done help demonstrate the range of skills a marketing company brings to the table.
Review their own marketing.
Another great way to glean how well a marketing company could work for your small business is to look at their marketing efforts.
Review their website and social media channels to get a sense of the content they produce, as well as their graphics and general branding. If their digital properties look professional and effective, chances are, they can do the same for your business. If not, you should question whether they really have the expertise or skills you need.
"Generally, you should avoid hiring a marketing company that doesn't have strong marketing for their own agency," Carter said. "If they don't put time into their own marketing, how can you expect them to grow your company through their marketing efforts?"
Consider online customer reviews.
If you are considering a marketing company, check whether they have any customer reviews online or testimonials that back up their expertise. A reputable marketing company has many reviews and won't try to obscure them. If you are unable to find any reviews at all, it could be risky to move forward with that marketing agency.
"One major red flag to avoid when it comes to hiring a marketing company or agency is no reviews or portfolio available," McHugh said. "You should stay away from agencies that have no testimonials or reviews from former clients. This is either a sign that the marketing agency is brand new or their former clients have had bad experiences, both of which are signs that the agency won't be right for you."
Request a detailed service agreement.
Marketing can be a sprawling part of running a business; make sure you understand everything you are paying for. You can do this by requesting a detailed service agreement or proposal from the marketing company. Ask them to break down all the services they will provide with line-item costs. Most marketing companies worth hiring will do this for you. If they are not, ask for a clear explanation as to why they can't.
Sign a short-term contract and reassess regularly.
Some marketing drives a return on investment quickly, while other tactics take longer to become effective. However, one way you can manage these variables is to sign a short contract of about 90 days and reassessing your progress toward your identified goals quarterly. If you believe the marketing company you've hired is making reasonable progress, consider renewing the contract. If not, you can move on.
Many marketing agencies are willing to work with small businesses in a way that meets their need. If a marketing company is aggressive in trying to get you to sign a long-term contract (a year or longer), ask about their rationale. There may well be a strategic reason for a lengthy contract term depending on your requested services. However, if a company is unable or unwilling to explain a practical need behind a long-term contract, it could be a red flag that they are trying to lock you into a service agreement for their own benefit.
Key takeaway: A marketing company should align with your goals and back up their promises with written agreements and past client references. If possible, sign a short-term contract and regularly reassess the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.
Why hire a marketing company for your business?
A small business might hire a marketing company to manage a wide range of marketing channels and help craft strategies, thereby improving the effectiveness of the business's marketing while removing the burden of daily management from the company and freeing up internal resources.
"When you hire a marketing agency, you are effectively hiring a team of marketing experts, as well as all of their resources, to assist you in implementing your marketing strategy," said David McHugh, CEO of Crediful. "In a way, you are handing over the marketing responsibilities for your company to the agency."
While outsourcing to a marketing company helps free up internal resources, the real benefit comes from having experts carry out what is a nuanced and wide-ranging part of business. Marketing, especially in the digital space, spans many different channels, each of which requires their own strategies and tactics. An experienced marketing company can provide a consultative approach to your business's marketing efforts.
"A marketing agency not only gives you the marketing expertise and the capabilities to successfully carry out your marketing campaign, it also gives you access to all sorts of marketing services and strategies, such as SEO, email marketing, content marketing, web design, pay-per-click advertising, and much more," McHugh said. "You can use these resources allotted to you by an agency to create a very effective marketing strategy that gets your business real results."
Key takeaway: A good marketing company not only reduces your workload but improves the performance of your marketing campaigns.
Types of services a marketing company provides
Every marketing agency is different, so it's important to understand what services each company you're considering offers. However, you could expect a marketing company to provide a number of the following services:
- SEO: Marketers use SEO to ensure your online content is more likely to be seen by your audience. This generally means employing keyword research to identify what your audience is already searching for on search engines like Google, as well as accounting for technical site considerations (such as speed and mobile device optimization). Many marketing agencies conduct a full website audit to determine where your web pages are lacking and will immediately act to correct these issues. Additionally, SEO strategies are used to inform the development of any new content that will be added to your website or social media channels.
- Web development: Every business needs a website, and many marketing companies offer web development as a service. This could be used to build your brand a new website from scratch or optimize your existing website. Web development also typically includes site maintenance and hosting management, taking another administrative burden off your company.
- Branding and design: Branding and design are integral parts of how your business is presented to your audience. Branding refers to everything from the tone of your marketing materials to the core values of your organization. Design supports branding by providing visual consistency that reinforces your brand message. Whether you need a logo redesign or support in developing your brand message across the board, marketing companies often provide these services.
- Content marketing: Every word on your website, social media accounts, email campaigns and external publications is considered content. Content marketing and SEO are closely related, ensuring you are developing content in a way that is most likely to be served to your target audience. Content marketing includes all your web content and blogging at its core. A good marketing agency leverages this content for use across all of your marketing channels to develop a consistent brand message that resonates with your audience.
- Email marketing: The email channel remains one of the most effective for driving conversions. Email marketing covers everything from audience segmentation to subject linewriting and the actual content of an email. It also includes the frequency with which email content is delivered to users and what actions trigger certain emails. For example, if a user abandons their cart in your e-commerce store, an email marketing plan could be set up to automatically trigger a message with the subject line "Complete your purchase," with a clickable link back to the user's cart in the body of the email.
- Social media marketing: Your social channels, like Facebook and Instagram, can go a long way to building a wider audience and, over time, generating leads. Social media marketing strategies vary depending on the nature of your business and the platforms most suitable for reaching your audience. However, these marketing efforts should tie back into your wider brand message and content marketing plan. An experienced marketing company will not only manage your social media channels but also optimize their intersection with the rest of your marketing.
- Paid advertising: There is a wide range of paid advertising approaches to marketing, including pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and sponsored content online. It also includes conventional marketing efforts, such as print, radio, television ads and public relations. A good marketing company identifies where your business could realize the greatest return on investment for paid advertising opportunities and develop a strategy accordingly.
Some marketing companies offer all of these services and then some, while others might specialize in a particular area or two. Understanding which services you need most will help you prioritize your budget and select the right marketing agency for your small business.
Key takeaway: Marketing companies offer a range of services. Some offer virtually everything, while others specialize in a few areas. Be sure any marketing company you hire offers the services you need most.
How does pricing for a marketing company work?
Like services, the pricing for marketing companies is highly individualized. Pricing typically depends on the size of your business, the scope of your marketing needs and the marketing company's own fees. For example, a boutique marketing agency that is only managing your social media is likely going to charge less than a corporate marketing firm that takes over management of your brand on multiple channels.
"Affordability is important right now especially, but value is even more important," Wyatt said. "If you’re spending $1,000 a month doing Facebook ads yourself or $2,500 a month on a solo contractor or $7,500 a month on an agency, your returns will likely be vastly different."
While pricing varies, it is helpful to establish a baseline understanding of what you might encounter while performing market research. Marketing agency WebFX estimates the average cost of marketing services to be as follows:
- SEO: As an ongoing service, SEO is generally priced on a monthly basis. It could range from $500 to more than $20,000 monthly depending on the scope of your needs.
- PPC: If you plan to employ PPC marketing, expect it to cost between 5% and 20% of your monthly advertising budget.
- Email marketing: Depending on the breadth and sophistication of your email marketing efforts, expect to pay between $300 and $5,000 per month. A simple campaign is less expensive than one that includes dynamic triggers to engage users that have initiated certain activities.
- Social media marketing: Depending on the scope of your social marketing needs, it could cost between $250 and $10,000 per month.
- Website design: Depending on your needs, a website development project could cost anywhere between $2,500 and $100,000. For most small businesses, a project should cost no more than $10,000, though be sure to request specific details along with an estimate.
Key takeaway: Pricing for a marketing agency varies by company and the scope of services your business requires. Ask for a detailed, itemized breakdown of costs so you know exactly what you're paying for beforehand.
Marketing services and tools for small businesses
If you're looking for marketing services and tools to improve your small business's marketing efforts, consider our best picks and the reviews listed below.