Learn How SMB’s Can Find and Hire The Perfect Digital Marketing Agency
I love supporting small businesses. However, if you’re a small business (SMB) owner and want to hire the perfect digital marketing agency to increase your gross monthly / annual revenue, there are some significant hurdles your business must overcome before even talking to an agency.
This article covers the philosophy and the mindset behind determining what type of digital marketing agency a small business should hire, not examples of “good marketing agencies.” There’s a big difference. As a business owner, you need to know the nuts and bolts of media agencies rather than just reading a list of credible agencies. Make sense?
If you want to skip the lead-up and get straight to the nuts and bolts, go to the next section. But I encourage you to read the intro first.
But before discussing the exact science of finding the perfect digital marketing agency, I’m going to break down the barriers-to-entry. Some of this news might come as a surprise. It might even sound harsh. But you need to hear it.
1) Figure out who you are.
The reality is that no digital marketing agency is going be able to do this for you. Sure, some digital media agencies can help you uncover some of your brand’s voice, but the core of your business is you. It’s your baby. Let it shine!
Branding creatives take a core concept and expand it. They bring it to fruition like a fine wine. An excellent example of branding artisans is Beard Design. So I’m not talking about these guys. I’m referring to the quintessential digital marketing agencies that dominate the internet today.
But at some point, you’ve got to decide if your small business is going to sink or swim. Do you take it out back and shoot it? Or give it some more dog food? (Kevin O’Leary)
2) Have a Business Plan.
Are you a small business or entrepreneur that has bootstrapped damned-near everything? Your website is built on Wix, your company logo was designed on Fiverr, and your social media marketing consists of boring Facebook posts. Sound familiar? If this is where you are, and you’re thinking about working with a digital marketing agency, don’t. You’re not ready. You need to figure out your business model first.
Don’t get discouraged yet. Keep reading, and I’ll give you some useful resources.
Business Plans can cost a ton of money. I’m not saying hire a large firm to write your Business Plan. Hell, you can write it yourself; nevertheless, you NEED to write one. I highly recommend finding a local non-profit organization that assists business owners and start-ups in formulating Business Plans. I’m a graduate from the Foundational Business Course from Mountain BizWorks in Asheville, NC. They helped me understand the basics of running a business. Contact them, and they’ll probably be able to help you find a local organization in your city that can help you.
The discipline of physically writing a Business Plan will help you quantify and outline many things…
..but two critical things that a Business Plan will help you crystalize are:
A) Your offer.
Do you sell a product or do you offer a service? More importantly, does your product or service solve a problem? The tertiary sector (services) is on the rise, and has been for decades. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the CIA World Factbook, in 2016, the United States had an output of 14.76 billion dollars in the tertiary financial sector. (Source: http://bit.ly/2NjYLO9) That means that services still dominate the economic landscape.
One of the most significant breakthroughs in my own business was when I learned how to sell a service as a product. Positioning your service as a product will help you understand cost-of-goods (i.e., overhead).
Pro Tip: Products take more capital to launch but generally offer higher long-term gains. Services don’t require a lot of liquidity to start but are very labor-intensive.
B) Your marketing budget.
So you want to hire a digital marketing agency, but you don’t even know how much you can spend monthly or annually? Don’t embarrass yourself. Seriously. That’s like going to buy a new car without knowing what your budget is and you walk away with a piece of crap because it’s “all you can afford.” Any professional digital marketing agency will ask that you disclose an approximate marketing budget, most likely in the very first conversation you have with them.
To get a grasp of your budget, you need a Marketing Plan. A Business Plan is top-level, and nestled under that is a Traditional Marketing Plan. The Digital Marketing Plan rests beneath the Marketing Plan. Learn this concept. (More on this later.)
C) Your growth objectives.
Growth objectives should be outlined in your top-level Marketing Plan. Do you want to sell more products, generate more leads, or just get the word out that you’re around? (i.e., brand awareness)
You absolutely must know this objective.
Once you understand your growth objective(s), you’ll have more knowledge to leverage when making decisions about where a digital marketing agency proposes to spend your hard-earned cash.
Most people think that they must use digital marketing because “everyone’s doing it.” That’s simply not true.
Example: Trade shows are great ways to market products and services, but it’s not digital. In many cases, traditional networking still works. Why would you hire a digital marketing agency to take all your money, not to leave you with enough to put gas in the tank to get to your next trade show? Give me a break.
Full disclosure: I adhere to the philosophy that digital marketing is dead, in the sense that traditional marketing and digital marketing are merging (or at least SHOULD be merged) into one cohesive vision.
Take a look at this interview in which Bethany Poole (Editor-in-Chief at Think with Google) discusses this very concept with Marie Gulin-Merle (Chief Marketing Officer at Calvin Klein and Chief Digital Officer at PVH). During the interview, Marie said something that all digital marketing professionals should take note of. She said,
“… I think it’s misleading, or very duplicative, to talk about traditional marketing and digital marketing. If you think about it, consumers really don’t act that way. So you research online. You buy offline (she means online here). You have your mobile with you throughout the journey. So the consumption of videos, the search behavior, all of this is present throughout the journey.”
Let me translate this for you…
Digital marketing has overtaken traditional marketing. Period.
That’s not to say, however, that SMBs should not incorporate a Traditional Marketing Plan into their Business Plan which I discussed above. It should still be done.
Congratulations! You’ve reached the guts of the post.
With a Marketing Plan outline in hand, you can now move forward with the fun part of your journey:
How SMB’s can find and hire the perfect digital marketing agency to help you achieve your goals.
Your first order of business should be:
1) Determine if you need full-scale marketing or specific marketing channels.
Remember when we talked about Traditional Marketing vs. Digital Marketing? Good, I’m glad you’re paying attention. Since you’ve already done the research and you have a good understanding of your marketing budget and scope, you can then use this information to decide what digital marketing companies to contact first.
Let me explain.
Most SMB’s need a variety of marketing services. This is called a marketing mix. Try not to get hung up in all the technical lingo. The majority of enterprise-level companies have large, internal marketing departments that can implement and scale massive marketing campaigns. That’s not you, so you’re probably not going to need this type of full-scale marketing.
There’s only a handful of digital marketing agencies that can legitimately be considered a “full-suite digital marketing agency.” Companies like Single Grain and Hubspot are a couple that I recommend. But they’re expensive.
Most of the mainstream digital marketing agencies that dominate the interwebs and claim they’re “full-suite” or “full-service”…
…are full of you-know-what.
In our case, my reference to “full-scale marketing” is anything over five marketing channels, running concurrently. Most small businesses only need about 3 to 4 marketing channels to achieve their immediate, short-term goals.
It might look something like this:
Or it might look something like this:
Another option might be:
The ideal situation is for you to have a general understanding of what digital marketing channels best suit your needs. It’s OK to not know everything. A well-seasoned digital company will help you identify the best channels, but just remember that you’re not going to have even the slightest idea about which marketing channel(s) to utilize unless you do the research.
That’s why you already fleshed-out a Business and Marketing Plan, right? (See above.) Your newly-acquired knowledge will prevent you from getting hoodwinked.
2) Can the digital marketing agency in question integrate into an overarching marketing goal?
Some digital agencies grasp the importance of integration with a traditional pre-determined Marketing Plan, but not all of them. In fact, not even a third of the digital marketing agencies I’ve worked for, or with, know anything about a cohesive digital and traditional marketing plan. A lot of them get their feelings hurt and would instead try to pigeonhole you by “encouraging” you to dump your entire budget into their “strategy.”
They’re siloed in a digital worldview. (i.e., organic growth, inbound marketing, programmatic display, and so on.) It’s hard for them to see the other side of the coin. Don’t, and I mean DO NOT, waste your time with these types of companies.
Ultimately, one could argue that this comes down to soft-skills rather than hard-skills. In other words, is the agency in question easy to work with? If they are, then they’ll be respectful of your Marketing Plan and will merge seamlessly with your objectives.
Pro Tip: My only advice here would be, just because you put a Marketing Plan together doesn’t mean you know better than the agency. Think of it like those long nights you spent on WebMD. Before you knew it, you’re a doctor and diagnosed yourself with cancer after reading a few articles online.
3) Is the digital marketing agency being reviewed, masters of their domain?
This is the most important point of all.
A truly exceptional digital marketing agency will be confident and clear about their wheelhouse. Alternatively, they’ll also be up-front about their weaknesses. Competent agencies are in a vertical, and they’ve mastered it.
Example: A digital marketing agency that builds beautiful, lead-generation websites which consistently get high conversion rates for independent real estate agents.
In your search to hire the best digital marketing agency, look for firms that cater to your specific business niche. Don’t just Google “the best digital marketing companies in Austin,” for example. That’s way too broad. Narrow your search to be more industry specific. Who knows, maybe you’ll find that digital agency that only works with structural engineers or construction companies?
To wet your pallet, here are a few examples of highly-refined digital marketing agencies that understand their core-competencies and are masters of their domain:
- AKQA: They’ve built some of the most-engaging applications and digital communities for Nike, Audi, and others. They have a knack for digital science and date as well as UX and UI.
- Simpleview: As a driving force in the digital space of travel and tourism, they’ve helped hundreds of companies increase SOV (Share of Voice) and generate massive growth.
- Donna Agnes: Donna’s brand “The Essence Muse” works with highly-energetic entrepreneurs to create stunning websites and empowers women (and men) to live their dream.
Each one of the companies listed above is highly-specific and proud of their market vertical. You should be too.
Now that you’re empowered with the knowledge it takes to hire the best digital marketing agency to help grow your business, go forth, and have some fun doing it! Your company will thank you later.