The Essential Guide to Hiring an Inbound Marketing Agency
Jason Thomas has been helping launch and develop start ups for 10 years. Jason's passion is working with motivated entrepreneurs to validate and implement ideas that grow their business.
Jason is a husband, father, and homesteader in training. In his spare time he's generally outside working with his hands and getting dirty.
Companies know they need contemporary marketing methods to compete for today’s consumer. They also know that modern marketing strategies – valuable blog content, relevant email campaigns, attractive website design, and a strong social media presence (to name a few) – are labor-intensive projects.
Your company may be eager to dive into 21st-century marketing.
But where will you get the expertise?
How can your already-stretched-thin team extend itself even further?
How can you be sure your marketing strategy will bring results?
SHOULD YOU HIRE AN INBOUND MARKETING AGENCY?
1. Do They Have a Significant Online Presence?
You wouldn't take voice lessons from someone who can’t sing, and you shouldn't hire an inbound marketing agency with a weak showing on the Web. A good inbound marketing agency will practice what they preach – with obvious, positive results. They will have a solid presence on social networks. They will appear high on Google search lists. They will generate and spread valuable content.
Do a little homework. If a marketing agency does a great job marketing themselves, they will do a great job marketing you.
2. How Happy Are Their Current Clients?
A good inbound marketing agency will be able to provide success stories. They should be more than happy to connect you with clients who can give glowing reviews. Should you get the opportunity of open communication with past or current clients, ask the following questions:
- How well does the agency handle problems that arise?
- How efficient is the agency?
- Do they complete work when promised?
- What is it like to work with this agency?
- Is there anything about the agency that I should know?
Problems inevitably pop up from time to time; you want to be sure your inbound marketing agency is organized and competent enough to handle them. When an agency submits a success story to you, pay special attention to cases where the goals accomplished were similar to your own company’s.
If the marketing agency can cite itself as a success story, that’s a good sign.
3. What Is Their Strategy?
An inbound marketing agency will not spend extensive amounts of time planning strategies for you until a contract has been signed. They should, however, be able to provide something of an action plan up front.
What initial goals do they have in mind?
What approaches do they foresee using?
Once they get you five thousand new Facebook fans, how do they plan to convert those fans into loyal customers?
Make sure your vision aligns with the one the agency projects. See if the agency can begin to help you flesh out goals and ideas for your company’s brand.
4. Do They Outsource Their Services?
Some agencies are experts of select venues, such as specializing solely in social media marketing. Others do it all, from strategy and reporting to video and graphic design. Neither is better than the other; it all depends on your company’s needs.
Some agencies will offer both in-house and outsourced services. If you ask about a service and the agency says it is outsourced or even that they can’t do it, appreciate their honesty. Be wary of agencies that promise “yes” to everything you ask about. It is better to have a clear understanding and expectation of an agency’s services than to be disappointed when it turns out they do not have the expertise they've promised.
5. How Much Time Can You Invest in Marketing?
While marketing is the agency’s job, you will still need to view your arrangement with them as a partnership. The marketing agency will become an extension of your company. As in any relationship, you will need frequent, meaningful communication. This will take some time on the part of your sales team, particularly in the beginning. You may need to meet with the agency from time to time. You may want to approve social media updates, email campaigns, and blog posts before they are sent out until you are satisfied they uphold the image and goals of your brand.
Any amount of time you invest partnering with your marketing agency will be less time (and more cost-effective) than if you were attempting the work on your own.
6. Is Your Company Ready for Inbound Marketing?
Great marketing can’t fix sloppy customer service or polish a product that needs help. If there are significant problems with your services, focus on ironing out the kinks before hiring an inbound marketing agency. Once you've corrected outstanding issues and you know you have a great product to promote, an inbound marketing agency will help you spread the awesomeness.
Download our eBook on Conquering the Inbound Marketing Mountain. It includes 7 things to consider before you start.
7. What Price Can You Afford to Pay?
Inbound marketing is not cheap, but it is worth it. Considerable time is involved in creating quality content, attractive websites, blog posts, and eBooks. If that were easy, your team would be doing it already. With an inbound marketing agency, you’re not only getting the benefit of the manpower, you’re enjoying the experience of professionals who know how to effectively develop and execute a plan. A good marketing agency will help you achieve greater success than you ever could on your own.
In contrast to traditional methods of outbound marketing, inbound marketing generates customers who are better fits for your services and your brand. You may not experience high jumps in profits immediately with an inbound marketing agency, but you will generally see improvement within a few months. Eventually, the majority of companies implementing inbound marketing services earn an ROI that more than covers their costs.
How to Get More Accurate Pricing from Your Agency
This does not mean there is no risk in hiring an agency. The tendency of some agencies to go over budget should be a major factor in your decision process. If you’re considering hiring an agency, you need to know how to mitigate the risk, save money, and get quality work done efficiently.
In dealing with clients, we’ve always been focused on how to save them money by increasing the efficiency in which we work. We’ve found a few ways clients can get more accurate pricing, and higher quality work from their agency partnerships.
PRIORITY 1: HIRE THE RIGHT AGENCY
It’s important to find the agency that best fits the needs of your company. Find someone who is experienced and knowledgeable in the areas you need the most help.
Most importantly, hire an agency you can trust.
Review their track record.
Ask them to document their process to get to the final deliverable.
Your reputation is on the line so no question concerning the legitimacy of an agency is out of order. Take what they give you and put it on the calendar. Monitor their progress to make sure they are reaching each milestone. Hold your agency to the same standards to which you hold your own employees. Then, demand they live up to those expectations.
Tips on Hiring the Right Agency
When considering different agencies, inquire about budget summaries from previous projects. You need to know they manage the time and money of their other clients before you trust them with yours.
Ask them to demonstrate their ability to hit budgets, and show to records of success and failure. This goes for timely project launches as well.
Budgeting and time management go hand in hand; one is rarely successful without the other. Reviewing an agencies project launch history helps to assure you that they, not only take their work seriously, but they also respect their clients’ time and money.
Do Your Homework!
While it is not common, it is not unheard of for someone to make up statistics in order to gain the approval of new clients. Before you invest in an agency, do your homework.
Ask for references from past projects. Check the level of satisfaction from their other clients. If the company has nothing to hide, it should proudly encourage you to dig into their previous work as proof of their capabilities.
Doing your homework and finding an agency you can trust will five you the confidence to put your brand’s reputation into their hands.
What happens when a project falls short of its goals?
This needs to be established at the beginning of any agency relationship. You need to agree and document specific measurable business objectives. You also need to agree on what happens when these objectives are not met.
Who pays for revisions?
Make sure you have agreed on a procedure for revisions. Enter each project with the understanding that revisions will have to be made along the way.
Plan for them.
This permits you to budget for unforeseeable changes without being surprised or threatening the outcome of the project.
PRIORITY 2: SET THE PROJECT UP FOR SUCCESS
Your interaction is important to the overall success of the project. Even the best agencies and most talented employees fail if their project was set up to fail from the beginning.
You are the deciding factor on whether or not tha agency has the direction and freedom to be successful. In order to experience success in your agency projects, you need to set the project on the right road. Then, keep it on the right road.
To accomplish this efficiently, split your larger projects into smaller sections. Complete each section in short sprints. Long distance, cross-country style projects get mired in different terrains and obstacles and seem to go on indefinitely.
Make Smaller, Measurable Objectives
Take a 3-to-6 month project and cut it down into 30-day mini-projects. Complete one at a time as you move toward the final goal. This allows you to monitor each phase more closely.
Unlike your local pizzeria, projects ‘by the slice’ cost less than subbing out major projects as a whole. It’s much easier to digest one slice at a time rather than attempting to consume the whole pizza at once.
This approach inserts natural times to test and make necessary adjustments before moving on to new territories. Put these types of reviews on the calendar, which will ensure quality is being maintained at each step in the progression.
Make sure all meetings are scheduled well in advance to give all parties enough notice to make time, prepare, and make the most out of each meeting.
Make sure that all meetings are scheduled well in advance to give all parties enough notice to make time, prepare, and make the most of every meeting.
Give the Agency What They Need
When revisions are necessary, provide the agency with all changes at once. Nothing is more frustrating than receiving one revision, followed by another, then another after that.
Giving all the revisions at once enables the agency to work at the pace, and in the sequence that allows for the most efficiency.
Not everyone works in the same way.
Giving your agency the structured freedom to accomplish their objectives in their own way empowers them to reach their maximum performance. In the end, this gives you the best outcome possible.
Be Present. Be Involved!
Make sure you are available.
Every relationship rests upon clear communication. When questions must be answered, your direct involvement and accessibility determines the efficiency the agency can achieve. Your involvement and input is vital to the success of any project.
GETTING QUALITY WITHOUT EXTRA CHARGES
Ultimately your choice of agency and plan development with them will determine the success of your project. The right agency, with the correct expertise and the proper planning, goals, and understanding is the life behind every well-executed agency project.
In the end, quality of work and output rests on the quality of the agency, and your ability to provide them what they need to be as efficient as possible. When it comes to getting more accurate pricing, and staying within budget, clear communication and accurate planning goes a long way to keeping the project on track.
Hire and agency you can trust. Then be involved.
How to Hire an Inbound Marketing Agency
Businesses take plenty of care in seeking out the best possible hires for their business. Talent and personnel can make or break a company, particularly when the staff size is small. It's no different with external agencies hired to handle inbound marketing and other aspects of operation: one wrong hire can make all the difference.
Business professionals often have some idea of what they're looking for in a given employee, but what about when it comes to hiring an inbound marketing agency? An entire new set of factors needs to be considered. Asking the right questions before you sign on the dotted line could save you thousands of dollars, not to mention months of headaches if you blindly sign on with the wrong operation. Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision.
3 Ways to Use an Inbound Marketing Agency
The best agency to serve your needs depends on your expected uses of the company. Typically, this breaks down into one of three possible methods. The first such method focuses on setup: the agency builds the infrastructure and the system, and then leaves the client to handle all the actual writing and marketing work.
A more involved method of this service involves providing all the necessary setup for your inbound efforts, but then offering some assistance--particularly in the early going. The agency may do some of the writing and other inbound work, and as you take on this workload the agency will be around to offer regular guidance and help in optimizing your efforts. Finally, you could be on the lookout for a full-service agency. In this scenario, you tell them your goals and they do the rest, setting up your system and managing it themselves. As the client, you will get weekly updates on the progress of your campaigns, as well as the ROI you're starting to see.
The "Fit" of the Agency
Once you understand the type of service you want from an inbound marketing agency, you will need to consider its "fit" with your company and your own preferences when working with outside organizations. For the most part, this relates to the type of experience you'd like to have in this working relationship.
For example, one prospective customer looking for an agency of their own might want to think of their inbound marketing agency as a vendor--the customer pays a set fee for the agency's services, and the vendor can easily be swapped out for another if a better value comes along. There are plenty of inbound agencies that cater to this approach. The downside to customers is that most of these agencies are very large--they're fine being viewed as a vendor because their own customers are just as easily replaced. In many cases, this leads to customers feeling like they're just a number to their inbound agency.
Alternatively, another prospective customer may want to develop a personal relationship with their inbound marketing agency. They are likely to be seeking guidance and expertise that improves all related aspects of their business, including the company's website, its social media marketing, its conversion funnel, the customer experience, SEO, and so on. They're paying for more than the basic services, and they're hoping that connection produces optimal results.
The strategic partnership is an important one to consider as it relates to a prospective agency's fit with your business. In the end, many companies lean toward agencies that function more as partners than as vendors because of the large role they play in that company's success. Additionally, the services tend to be tailored better to individual clients when coming from agencies that try to fill the role of a partner. In successful working relationships, businesses give those inbound agencies significant influence within their organization, utilizing them similarly to a CMO and figuratively--if not literally--offering them a position on the company's board of directors.
This relationship can be invaluable when trying to shape your company's brand experience. Of course, there's nothing wrong with the vendor approach, either--it's all a matter of determining what, exactly, you want.
The cost of an inbound marketing agency depends largely on the type of services and the depth of involvement you are seeking. Inbound retainers can start as low as $3,000 a month, and for some companies an involved, full service campaign can cost closer to $30,000 per month. A number of factors play into the set price, including the size of your company, the size of your campaigns, and the overall involvement of the inbound marketing agency.
Because of the dramatic price variance, it's wise to gather quotes from a number of businesses before settling on one provider. You want to consider not only the up-front price, but the value of those services and the projected ROI.
Tips on What to Look For
The final phase of assessing inbound marketing agencies comes down to the details. As you examine the top candidates to become your company's agency of choice, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you agree with the agency's philosophy?
- Do you like the marketing services delivered to the agency's clients? (These services are a strong indicator of the type of services you can expect to receive.)
- How is the agency treating you? Are you being sold or consulted? Are you comfortable with this dynamic?
- Are you learning from the agency? Their expertise should come through before you reach an agreement.
- Are their services scalable, or do you have to lock in to a contract?
- If they were holding a conference next month, would you attend? (If not, they may not have displayed their value to you yet.)
- Do their processes fit with your business?
You will also want to gather background information about the past success stories agencies have enjoyed with clients, the amount of turnover they experience, their methods of measuring success, and what they do when their efforts are falling short of established goals. Finally, ask them what happens if things don't work out--if you aren't getting the results you want from that agency, how do they handle being told you want to switch to a different provider?
Hiring an inbound marketing agency is a big step, not to mention an intimidating one. But if you're able to retain some flexibility and freedom to make sure your needs are continually met, then you've already succeeded in a major way.
Should You Hire an Inbound Agency?
The Internet is not going anywhere, and that’s a good thing: far more potential customers are hanging out on the Internet than ever flipped through a phone book’s Yellow Pages. We hope you consider our advice when hiring an inbound marketing agency and that you see great results.
If you would like to chat with us about your marketing goals, you can engage us here.
Have you had any noteworthy experiences hiring a marketing agency?
Are there any considerations you would add to our list?