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How to choose a digital marketing agency or consultant for your small business

15 August 2019

Every small business owner knows they need a ‘presence’ online and any experienced digital marketing consultant knows that just having a website or Facebook page is not enough to deliver ambitious business goals. On the flip side, if your business goals are not ambitious you don’t need a digital marketing agency!

Effective digital marketing strategies take creativity and skill, they are not learnt in a morning training session and digital channels do not work in silos. Your customers are online 24/7 on multiple devices and want to discover brands whenever they find time and wherever they are. A winning digital presence is easily discoverable amongst target customers and showcases a brand’s proposition in a clear, consistent and compelling manner.

If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur behind a startup the chances are high that you are:

– extremely busy,
– wearing multiple ‘hats’ from HR to new business,
– very mindful of cashflow,
– not an experienced digital marketing manager.

Does this sound like you? Please read on for 6 tips to help you choose the right digital marketing agency or consultancy for your small business.

1. Make the decision to outsource your digital marketing needs
Today, many small businesses outsource key business areas (E.g. accountancy) and appointing a digital marketing agency is very common. Learning a complex new skillset is time consuming and whilst it’s admirable to wing it and learn as you go there will come a moment in your business when you need to outsource.

Ask yourself: Does your business need strategic digital marketing expertise? Can you really create and optimise your entire digital presence on your own or within your small team? Will an intern have the level of digital marketing experience you require? Answer for this moment and think ahead to six-months’ or twelve-months’ time. Whether you need expertise now or in the near future your goal is to find a talented and great value digital marketing consultant with all of the skills you need.

2. Define your digital marketing brief
Every business is unique and your digital marketing agency brief should reflect your business goals and your brand ethos. To start your brief, define your brand proposition in a few sentences and the, consider where you are now and where you’d like to be in 12 months’ time. Digital marketing is a great means to raise awareness, acquire new customers, increases sales and more! Describe 3 to 5 goals or reasons why you want to invest in digital marketing.

Write a list of the areas or channels where you believe you need help E.g. responsive website design, SEO, social media content creation etc. Your list may be long but your digital marketing consultant will manage expectations and help you prioritise everything when you meet for your initial consultation. Finally, decide an approximate digital marketing budget and if you require an adhoc project or a monthly retainer of on-going support.

3. Research online for digital marketing support
The best digital marketing agencies and consultants will be easy to find online and Google is a great place to start. Research is time consuming but it’s an essential step – please don’t just go for the first business you see in Google, instead create a shortlist of 3 to 5 companies you like the look of.

You can research suppliers local to your own business especially if you have a local business and you want to grow its presence in your local area. A local digital marketing consultant is most likely to know your local area well and be available for regular face-to-face meetings if that’s important to you.

However, most important is that they have the skills you need to grow your business online. Spend time going through their website to understand the services they offer. It’s easy, and common, to get bowled over by big brands in a digital marketing agency’s portfolio. However, the chances are as a small business you’ll be lower down their priority list of clients if there’s a household brand in the mix. Big brands have big budgets and are often very demanding of their suppliers’ time.

You should be able to decipher from their website if they work with small businesses like yours. Next consider, do they understand the challenges that small business owners face and how much your business means to you? At Hi Digital, we love to work with small businesses for five very good reasons !

Before you add an agency or consultant to your shortlist consider the following questions: Do you think they can meet your brief? Are you getting a fantastic first impression? And ultimately, would you like them to be responsible for promoting your brand online based on what you can see online about their business? If it’s a yes save their details as we go through the next steps.

4. Validate their testimonials and reviews
From the research conducted in step 3 you probably know what this digital marketing agency or consultant does, but now consider how they do it and if their clients think they do it well. Many websites will include client testimonials and bigger agencies boast case studies. Client reviews can also be found on a companies social media pages, directory listings and their Google My Business profile.

This research step gives real context to their service and ethos. What are they or their team like? Do they deliver results? Are they efficient? You know what kind of people you like to work with and will be able to gauge if they fit that criteria. It’s totally acceptable after an initial consultation to request references and/or speak to their current and past clients for a more personal referral.

5. Finalise your shortlist and meet in person
At this stage you should have a list of about 3 digital marketing agencies or consultants you’d like to work with. Send an enquiry and schedule a face-to-face consultation with the person who will be your main contact not just their business development manager. This is a collaboration to last at least a few months so you need to establish rapport with your day-to-day contact. Following your consultation you can expect to receive a bespoke proposal presented over the phone, email or face-to-face. Be critical yet reasonable and ask yourself: Do they understand you, your business and your customer? Do you like them? Are they value for money? It can be that simple. Trust your instincts and remember you can ask to speak with their current or past clients.

6. Avoid digital marketing training courses in your early stages
It’s tempting to sign up for a digital marketing course and ‘learn’ it all in a few hours. However, do you really have the time to spend a day or more a week implementing these new ideas? There’s a lot of homework from these courses and they are suited to somebody with enough time to invest in them and get the best results. Training courses are often in groups rather than personalised to your business so there are a lot of data gaps that you will need to personally fill.

Whereas, if you utilise an experienced digital marketing agency or consultant to set your digital foundations for growth and gain momentum you can always bring it inhouse later. Outsource those digital marketing skills you don’t have yet and let your consultant create a beautiful website that is fit for purpose, looks great on every device and is easy for you to update ad maintain in the long term. Let them create and deliver a digital marketing strategy aligned to your business goals, whether that’s paid social or PPC, or a social media strategy with content creation.

Just like an accountant or HR manager a digital marketing consultant has honed their skills over several years for successful brands, and to put it bluntly you can’t learn effective digital marketing in a few hours. Invest to learn alongside your digital marketing consultant in 1-to-1 sessions with bespoke advise and ideas tailored to your unique business, Ask lots of questions and when you’re ready to take it inhouse do, you’ll be set up to scale your activity and continue your business growth for years to come.

Hi Digital are a boutique, digital agency based in Harrogate. We are dedicated to growing small businesses with effective digital strategies and we’d love to help you reach your business goals. Please email us info@hidigital.co.uk or please get in touch with using the form below to book a free consultation with us.

Alternatively find out more about what we do or discover more free digital marketing tips on our blog.

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