- Marketing companies take over a labor-intensive process while bringing a consultative approach to devising your marketing strategies.
- Determine whether or not a marketing company can handle the services you need before deciding if they’re a good fit for your small business.
- Identify your goals, secure references, and request a detailed written proposal before moving forward with any marketing company.
- This article is for small business owners considering outsourcing their marketing efforts to a marketing agency.
Many entrepreneurs and small business owners struggle to manage marketing and advertising duties while running their business’s day-to-day operations, even if they have some knowledge of small business marketing. Additionally, digital marketing requires a nuanced understanding of various channels and platforms that many business owners don’t have the time or experience to manage optimally.
In these cases, a marketing company could help improve your company’s marketing return on investment (ROI) and free up internal resources. But how can you be sure you’re hiring the right firm?
How to choose a marketing company
Choosing a marketing company should come down to more than dollars and cents. Handing off your marketing efforts to a third party requires trust; after all, they’ll manage your brand and how you communicate with your audience. A marketing company could make or break your brand-building strategy.
Consider the following eight best practices when selecting a marketing company to provide high-quality services and reliable communication and reporting.
1. Identify your goals before hiring a marketing company.
Identifying your goals is the first step in hiring a marketing company. Be specific. Instead of 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 and setting key performance indicators (KPIs) will help you choose the right marketing company and measure its success throughout your relationship.
“It really depends on what a business owner’s end goals are,” said Travis McKnight, content strategy architect 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 … they need a team with more expertise and agility.”
Key takeaway: If your marketing goals are straightforward, save money by hiring a team to carry out basic tasks. But if you want a more in-depth or dynamic marketing strategy, consider allocating more resources to your small business marketing budget.
2. Seek references for marketing firms and consider industry expertise.
Check out any potential marketing partner’s references, and see what similar businesses say about them. Pay close attention to marketing companies whose services seem relevant to your needs.
David Wyatt, head of communications and business strategy at Mighty Coconut, 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 caters specifically to your industry (or, better yet, small businesses in your industry), it might be worth a closer look.
“Industry-specific marketing is best for small businesses,” said Kathryn Carter Heck, search engine marketing analyst 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.”
3. Make a shortlist of marketing company candidates.
Once you’ve identified several marketing companies that fit your goals and have experience serving similar businesses in your industry, make a shortlist of candidates to review. From here, establish direct contact with the agencies, and tell them you’re considering hiring them.
4. Ask for work samples from marketing companies on your shortlist.
Ask each candidate on your shortlist for samples of work relevant to your needs. For example, if you want to build an effective business website, ask to see previous clients’ websites. If you want them to manage social media for your business, ask to view other clients’ accounts.
“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 and other work help demonstrate the range of skills a marketing company brings to the table.
5. Review the marketing company’s marketing.
Another excellent way to glean how well a marketing company could work for your small business is to examine its marketing efforts.
Review their website and social media channels to get a sense of their content, graphics and branding. If their digital properties look professional and effective, chances are they can do the same for your business. If not, 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,” Heck said. “If they don’t put time into their own marketing, how can you expect them to grow your company through their marketing efforts?”
6. Consider online customer reviews about potential marketing companies.
If you’re considering a marketing company, check whether they have online customer reviews or testimonials that back up their expertise. A reputable marketing company has many reviews and won’t try to obscure them. Moving forward with that marketing agency may be risky if you can’t find any reviews.
“One major red flag to avoid when it comes to hiring a marketing company or agency is no reviews or portfolio available,” said David McHugh, former CMO of Crediful. “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.”
Tip: If your business gets a negative customer review, answer quickly with a personalized, thoughtful and empathetic response to demonstrate your genuine commitment to your customers.
7. Request a detailed service agreement before hiring a marketing company.
Marketing can be a sprawling aspect of running a business; ensure you understand everything you’re paying for. To avoid misunderstandings, request a detailed service agreement or business proposal from a prospective marketing company. Ask them to break down all the services they’ll provide with line-item costs. Most marketing companies worth hiring will do this for you. If they’re not, ask for a clear explanation about why they can’t.
8. Sign a short-term contract with a marketing company and reassess regularly.
Some marketing strategies result in a fast ROI, while other tactics take longer to be effective. To manage these variables, sign a short contract of about 90 days and reassess your progress toward your identified goals quarterly. If you believe the marketing company is making reasonable progress, consider renewing the contract. If not, you’re free to move on.
Many marketing agencies are willing to work with small businesses to meet their needs. If a marketing company is aggressive in trying to get you to sign a long-term contract (i.e., a year or longer), ask for their rationale. Depending on your requested services, there may be a strategic reason for a lengthy contract term.
However, if a company can’t or won’t explain the practical need behind a long-term contract, that could be a red flag that it’s trying to lock you into a service agreement for its own benefit.
Did you know?: Set achievable business goals for your marketing campaigns and assess your marketing firm’s success in reaching agreed-upon KPIs.
Types of marketing companies
Many types of marketing companies exist. While some perform in multiple disciplines, others are hyperspecialized. Here are six of the most common specializations within the marketing industry.
- Marketing consultancy. As the name suggests, a marketing consultancy focuses on consulting more than outsourcing. It will coach you on marketing strategies and various ways to succeed. Many consultancies have a specific focus, such as branding. They will rarely carry out marketing programs on your behalf.
- Direct marketing. Direct mail marketing means advertising through USPS-delivered mail. A direct marketing agency can help you strategize your direct mail campaign; in most cases, the agency will carry it out for you.
- Telemarketing. Telemarketing is marketing over the phone. Any reputable agency assisting you with telemarketing will abide by FTC telemarketing laws. Telemarketing has evolved in the last decade – it’s less about cold calls and more about live chat interactions. Telemarketing now also encompasses text message marketing, which helps you communicate with customers easily. If you’re interested in exploring text message marketing, read our reviews of the best text message marketing services. We recommend starting with our Textedly review; this company is our top pick for businesses looking for scalability.
- Digital marketing. Digital marketing agencies focus on helping you increase traffic to your website and improving the value of that traffic with website visitor tracking. Digital marketing agencies use various strategies, including search engine optimization (SEO) and online advertising, to drive traffic. They can also redesign your online branding and website to improve conversion rates and sales, helping you generate more revenue and profit.
- Print marketing. A print marketing agency can help you perform market research and collaborate to produce printed advertising and marketing materials, including newspaper or magazine advertisements, brochures, posters and product displays. Print marketing agencies can also strategize on distributing printed resources to get the most value. There is often some crossover between direct marketing and print marketing firms, but a print marketing group emphasizes design skills over marketing distribution.
- Market research. Like consultancies, market research firms don’t market on your behalf. Instead, these agencies focus on collecting and analyzing data specific to your brand, including demographics. They can help you measure your efforts and reasonably predict specific campaigns’ impact 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.
Why hire a marketing company for your business?
A small business might hire a marketing company to manage marketing channels and help craft strategies, improving marketing effectiveness while removing the burden of daily management and freeing 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 McHugh. “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 a crucial, nuanced and wide-ranging business aspect. Marketing, especially in the digital space, spans various channels requiring unique 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.”
Types of services a marketing company provides
Every marketing agency is different and may offer unique or niche services. However, most marketing companies will handle the following tasks:
- SEO. Marketers use SEO to ensure your audience will see your online content. They’ll employ keyword research to identify terms your audience searches for and handle technical website considerations, including speed and making your website Google mobile-friendly. Many marketing agencies conduct a full website audit to determine where your web pages are lacking and act immediately to correct these issues. They’ll also use SEO to create a content strategy for your website and social media channels.
- Web development. Every business needs a website, and many marketing companies offer web development services. They can build a brand-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 to how your audience perceives your business. Branding encompasses everything from the tone of your marketing materials to your organization’s core values. Design supports branding by providing visual consistency to reinforce your brand message. Whether you need a logo redesign or support in developing your brand message across the board, marketing companies can help.
- 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 develop the content most likely to reach your target customers. Content marketing includes your web content, including your business blog. A good marketing agency leverages this content for use across all marketing channels to develop a consistent brand message that resonates with your audience.
- Email marketing. Email is one of the most effective channels for driving conversions. Marketing emails cover aspects like customer segmentation, subject lines writing and the content of an email. It also includes the frequency with which you deliver email content to users and what actions trigger certain emails. For example, suppose a user abandons their cart in your e-commerce store. In that case, you can set up an email marketing plan to automatically trigger a message with the subject line “Complete your purchase,” with a clickable link to the user’s cart in the email body.
- Social media marketing. Social channels like Facebook and Instagram can help build your audience and generate leads. Social media marketing strategies depend on the nature of your business and the platforms most suitable for reaching your audience. However, these marketing efforts should reflect your broader brand message and content marketing plan. An experienced marketing company will manage your social media channels and optimize their intersection with the rest of your marketing.
- Paid advertising. Paid advertising includes pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and sponsored content online. It also includes conventional marketing efforts, such as public relations and print, radio and television ads. 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 these services and more, 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.
Did you know?: Marketing automation software can streamline your business’s most tedious marketing tasks. Check out our reviews of the best marketing automation software to find a platform to help you merge your marketing efforts into one powerful strategy.
How does pricing for a marketing company work?
Marketing company prices are highly individualized. Pricing typically depends on your business size, the scope of your marketing needs, and the marketing company’s fees. For example, a boutique marketing agency only managing your social media will likely charge less than a corporate marketing firm that takes over brand management 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’s helpful to establish a baseline understanding of what you might encounter while performing market research. The average cost of marketing services is as follows:
- SEO. As an ongoing service, SEO is generally priced monthly. Depending on your needs, it could range from $1,500 to $5,000 monthly.
- 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 monthly. A straightforward campaign is less expensive than one that includes dynamic triggers to engage users who have initiated certain activities.
- Social media marketing. Depending on your social marketing needs, costs can range anywhere from $900 to $20,000 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. Be sure to request specific details along with an estimate.
Tip: Visit our reviews of the best email marketing software to find the right solution for your business. Start with our full Constant Contact review if you’re looking for an affordable and easy-to-use service.
Finding the best marketing company for your business
Whether you need a boost to your social media marketing or your SEO best practices, marketing companies or services can help your business expand its marketing strategy. As you search for marketing partners to assist your company, prioritize your business’s marketing goals. This way, the marketing company you hire can meet your needs and take your business to the next level.
Shayna Waltower contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.