As an ambitious entrepreneur growing a business, you cannot ignore marketing. But do you take care of it in-house or hire external help? Onboard a freelancer or instruct an agency? Everything has to be considered before moving forward. If you’re thinking about hiring an agency, the fit has to be perfect. They have to understand who you are, what you want to achieve, and be willing to care about your company as much as you do. Get this right, and jump from start up to legitimate outfit, with predictable revenue and a notable brand.
Alec Winter is founder of marketing agency Creators Collective, based in Austin, Texas and focused on helping entrepreneurs execute marketing strategies that can multiply their business. Creators Collective’s most notable clients include a small wellness salon that quickly grew into ten busy spas and a real estate start-up that was promptly acquired by a competitor after gaining traction through marketing. Winter knows how much of a difference marketing agencies can make for entrepreneurs, which he says is less about fancy sales tactics and self-promotional features, and more about repeatable campaigns that bring about scale.
Winter advised that you vet an agency thoroughly before signing a contract, and here are the five questions he recommends you ask.
Ask these 5 questions before you hire a marketing agency for your business
1. Do they have relevant industry experience?
If they don’t know your jargon or have the jist of your field, they’re at the start of a steep learning curve that you probably don’t want to pay for. So ask about their industry experience. “You’re looking for an in-depth understanding of the industry dynamics, customer behavior, market trends, and competitive landscape,” said Winter. As an agency owner, he’s politely turned down clients because he knew his operation didn’t have the proper experience to do the best job, but not all agencies do the same.
Experience matters, and starting from scratch is not advised. “Creative agencies with industry experience have pre-existing relationships with media outlets and influencers that could be leveraged to your company’s advantage,” he added. A history of relevant industry experience means they’ll take you under their wing and do what they know works. You’re then buying their contact book and years of knowledge, not just an hourly rate.
2. Do they understand your business model?
Understanding the industry itself is the first stepping stone, then they need to understand you. “A competent marketing agency should have a strong grasp of your business; its objectives, target audience, style, tone and voice,” said Winter. Without that, they’ll miss nuances and treat you like every other client, and that won’t do. They’ll potentially be communicating what your business does to your customers, so make sure they know how it operates.
Fundamental to creating strategies and campaigns that drive your growth is research. “A good marketing agency will familiarize themselves with your offering, learn about your customer personas, study your market positioning, and understand your company culture.” This intimate knowledge, coupled with their years of sector experience, will enable them to craft messages that resonate with your audience and align with your brand’s identity.
3. Can they grow with you?
Your business will adapt and grow, and so should its partners. The marketing agency you hire should be able to scale up its services as your business expands. “Nothing is worse than an entrepreneur being stuck with an agency whose capabilities are maxed out,” said Winter. Make sure you won’t outgrow them as you see results.
Find out if the agencies you’re courting have the necessary resources to meet your increasing demands. Hear how they plan to flex up with your growth. Don’t risk them becoming a victim of their own success, “look for signs that they are agile and innovative, prepared to evolve with you, and intent on maintaining their effectiveness as your brand’s reach expands,” added Winter.
4. Can they prove their track record?
Fluffy metrics and vague stories will not cut it for proof of results. “An effective marketing agency should be able to demonstrate a track record of success and prove it with solid data points,” said Winter. Don’t overlook the specifics. “This includes case studies, analytics reports, and key performance indicators that prove their strategies and campaigns have yielded tangible results for clients past and present.”
If they’ve got the track record, they won’t be shy. “Look for agencies that leverage data to inform their decision-making process, providing clear and measurable outcomes.” Look for agencies that can calmly assess and pivot if results aren’t as they hoped. “Relying on flashy pitch decks or cool videos instead of provable metrics is a warning sign,” said Winter. Data-driven marketing, high transparency with clients, and some kind of live dashboard will give you visibility and confidence and ensure a return on your investment.
5. Are their clients raving fans?
A reputable marketing agency will have positive client testimonials. They will have Google reviews, videos or quotes on their site, and their clients will be happy to put their name to their words. “Honest endorsements from clients mark a clear indication of an agency’s capabilities and overall service quality,” said Winter. So ask to see them.
“You want to know the agency you’re considering consistently delivers on its promises, has good customer relations, and is likely to provide a positive experience for your business,” he added. And while nothing is ever a guarantee, if the agency has helped clients like you overcome challenges and achieve their goals, it bodes well for your business with them at your side.
Ask these five questions to figure out if the agency you’re considering is the real deal. Do they have relevant industry experience and do they understand your company? Can they grow with you as you see results, and can they do what they say they will? Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper so you can move forward with confidence. Weed out those that are all talk and work with the true gems that are worth their weight in gold. They do exist, and you can find them.
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