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How to Hire a Digital Marketing Agency for Small Businesses

When, Why and How to Work With a Small Business Marketing Agency

This is it! This is the resource to help you get the answers to your questions about when to hire a marketing agency (or not), why it’s a good idea (or not) and how to hold them accountable.

At NiceJob, we support agencies with our expertise in online reputation marketing to benefit their clients. This puts us in a unique position to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.

Working with a digital marketing agency for your small business frees up your time so you can focus on what you do best. But—and it’s a big but—it’s important that business owners know what they need from a marketing agency and how to measure success to get value from their investment.

Consistent Marketing Is Key

Consistent frequency in marketing campaigns is important.

Whether it’s a weekly blog post, a social media posting or a monthly newsletter, finding time to accomplish these tasks is difficult and it can sometimes take weeks to even plan a successful marketing campaign.

Hiring a digital marketing agency helps with the following:

  • Brand recognition
  • Increased revenue
  • Customer engagement
  • Executing marketing campaigns
  • Staying relevant on search engines
"Small business owners of home-service companies are up at 5 a.m. and don’t get home to their families until 9 p.m. or even later. The last thing they have time for is writing a blog or Facebook post. Agencies can schedule marketing items in advance to ensure maximum lead generation and receive monthly reports about what’s going on with SEO, leads and anything else." - Jeff Smith, Hooked Marketing

Why Hire a Digital Marketing Agency?

Hiring a small business digital marketing agency helps you update your marketing strategy with dedicated experts, leverage payroll efficiently and empowers you to spend your time effectively.

But the benefits of working with a marketing agency are contingent on a mutual understanding of your needs & deliverables and their impact on your business.

The first question that we always hear from our customers is, “When should I hire a digital marketing agency?” But first you have to ask yourself why do you need an agency?

Do You Need to Hire a Marketing Agency for Your Small Business?

These are the questions you should ask yourself before hiring a marketing agency:

  • Do you need to create or update your business website?
  • Do you want to do online advertising on platforms like Google Search & Facebook or to create banner images in Google Ads that you see all over the internet?
  • Do you need help clarifying your brand or producing content?
  • Do you want your business to perform better on Google Search (SEO) or social media?
  • Do you have a limited budget to expand your full-time, in-house team?
  • Do you have limited time to do your own small business marketing?

When to Hire a Marketing Agency

If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, then you’ve got your answer and can now begin evaluating your options.

Of course, each of those needs come with a ton of different solutions and not all of them require an agency to do. So the “when” question can then be answered based on how much time & money you have.

For example, when deciding when to hire a marketing agency, gauge to what extent a) your website or marketing sales are stagnant or declining; b) marketing work is falling through the cracks; and c) your time/budget restrictions could allow you to fix any problems.

If the problems can be fixed and even reversed in a profitable way with a marketing agency, then you know the time to hire a marketing agency is now.

A good digital marketing agency should be able to help walk you through this process if you ask them the right questions.

BONUS CONTENT: FAQs About Agencies with Alex Glenn from Partnerprograms on the NiceJob Podcast

Questions to Ask When Selecting a Marketing Agency

When you’re evaluating a prospective marketing agency, whether that be for a website, paid advertising, search-engine optimization (SEO) or branding/content, there are important questions to get clear answers to.

These questions can be broken down into three categories: 

  • Logistical: How does the marketing agency operate? How will they collaborate with you? What are the terms of their contracts?
  • Expertise: What do they specialize in? Are they up-to-date on all of the latest marketing strategies, opportunities and news? Are they thought leaders and can you learn from them?
  • Cost Structure: How do they bill for their services? Will you get better value by paying by the hour or paying by the deliverable?

Here are the important questions from each category to ask in your first meetings with a vendor when evaluating whether or not to work with them:

Logistical Questions to Ask When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Logistical questions are great to start with because they allow the marketing agency to explain their workflow and recipe for success. They also allow you to objectively compare an agency’s answers against other agencies’ answers to determine which marketing agency is best for you.

  • Do they offer free consultations? Most agencies should provide you with a complimentary audit of your website and a meeting to review it. In this initial meeting, they should show you the value that they can provide, not selling you using the same generic language from their websites. Ask specific questions, get specific answers. And from that meeting, you should have a good idea if this is a company you’d want to work with regularly. 
  • What are the terms of their contract? How quickly and easily can you cancel? Some things, like improving rankings on search engines, take time, but be cautious about signing a long-term contract, especially if there aren’t opportunities for you to cancel or reduce payments if the marketing agency isn’t hitting the goals you created together. You should know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and at what price before the work even starts.
  • What time zone are you in and what are your hours of operation? If you need to get a hold of your marketing agency during your regular working hours, can you? 
  • What software do they use? Ask your marketing agency what their “stack” is, in other words, what set of tools they use. This could be a good way to assess their processes but also to give you an idea of how much of their own software costs they pass on to clients. Finally, if the tools look both simple to use and relatively affordable, maybe you can do some of the work yourself. See the Pro Tip in “When to Use Software Instead” below for more information.
  • What’s your team structure? Will you have one point of contact (what are their hours?) or can you contact anyone at the company to help you (ideally!)? If so, how many people are on the team?
  • How often can we contact you or schedule a meeting? Some agencies limit contact to improve efficiency. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. You should have monthly meetings with your marketing agency to review performance and optimize your budget. Or at the least, the agency should be able to provide detailed reports for you to review.
"A short-term contract means a marketing agency will be reliant on their results to keep you as a customer. Plus having a responsive point-of-contact will help you get questions or urgent concerns answered fast. Regular meetings or transparent reporting will help you to see if the goals you set with your marketing agency are being met." - Joe Kirwan, DigiTool 

Expertise Questions to Ask When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

The next step in the evaluation is to determine what level of expertise an agency has. It’s important to hear from each agency about what makes them the best solution for you.

  • What results can you expect to see from x, y and/or z services? Set goals with your marketing agency. Establish benchmarks of where you’re at currently and where you’d like to be in three, six and 12 months. Hold them accountable to those results each meeting. If they’re not meeting the goals, there better be a good reason for it. If they’re exceeding those goals, adjust the targets and aim higher.
  • What expertise or experience do they have that others do not? Usually expertise = experience but that’s not always the case in digital marketing, considering how quickly best practices are updated. Even if the agency is young, they should be able to back up their claims with case studies and concrete examples of how they’ve helped clients in the past. As with all things, the best usually costs more but even the best shouldn’t break your bank.
  • What resources do they have to help educate you? And what resources do they use to educate themselves? A good marketer should always be learning. Things change quickly in the world of digital marketing and you want to work with a marketing agency that is proactive about learning and adapting their practices. If they’re producing a bunch of great resources for their blog or conferences, then you can be confident that they’ll know what they’re talking about and can even learn a bit along the way.
  • Do they have case studies? We mentioned this before but it’s super important that you get and review several of their case studies to ensure that they have the knowledge to support your business in your growth stage, in your industry and in your geographic area.
"Clear communication from an agency is imperative. Look for an agency that will build trust with you. Agencies are most effective when clients are engaged, asking questions and soliciting opinions on other areas of work. That way, you ensure that your agency thinks in multi-channel strategies and keeps all data in mind when making business decisions. The more an agency can help you achieve a high ROI, the better you'll feel about working with them. That takes clear communication." - Jamar Ramos, Crunchy Links

Cost Questions to Ask When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Our last criterion for evaluation is cost structure.

If you’re hiring an agency, be prepared to work with them for at least six months or a year. It often can take this long to achieve significant results from SEO or advertising campaigns.

When you’re considering an agency, calculate how much it will cost you in that time frame and what return-on-investment (ROI) you can expect. More than anything, the most important aspect of how to work with an agency is holding them accountable to the results that they promised.

So the first question regarding cost structure should always be:

  • How much does it cost? And why? Do they charge hourly or do they charge for services rendered? Are they signing you up for a software account that they use to manage their services? If so, how much is that account and what are they doing with that account to manage their services for you? Are they adding services, and thus value, to the software they’re using? This is the most important question, so make sure that you spend some time going through it and are satisfied with the agency’s answers.

How to Calculate ROI from a Marketing Agency

After you know how much it will cost you and for how long, you can then begin to calculate what your ROI could be. Any evaluation of results should focus on these things:

  • Increasing website traffic: All marketing campaigns related to SEO or ads rely on website traffic. Existing website traffic before any new campaign should serve as a primary benchmark. With SEO, your website ranks higher in search results for more keywords, leading to more website visits. Same thing with ads, as more ad impressions generate more website visits. If impressions increase but website traffic doesn’t, the campaign isn’t doing what it should.
  • Increasing website conversion rate: If you’re getting more traffic to your website (from SEO or ads or other marketing initiatives), but that increased traffic doesn’t lead to increased leads and/or bookings through your website, changes will need to be made to the website to encourage conversions. Learn more about how to build a lead-generation website.
  • The lifetime value of a client: Acquiring new clients for the long-term should always be your goal. Of course, not all clients will be clients for life, especially for service businesses that don’t operate on a recurring retainer (e.g., plumbers or carpet cleaners). But if you’ve put in the work and have built a company you’re proud of, a new client should represent more than just the first job you’ll do for them. When estimating the ROI from a marketing agency, calculate the lifetime value of one of your typical clients. How many times will you realistically service them in a year? How many reviews can you expect to receive from them? How many new clients can you reach by having them refer you? This way, you won’t be too scared to spend $1,000 on marketing if it means that you’ll acquire 10 new customers whose lifetime value (LTV) represents $50,000.
  • More time, less stress: If you’re paying an expert to do something for you, you shouldn’t have to waste energy worrying about it. You should see tangible results in your monthly meetings that make you smile and look forward to each meeting with your agency so they can summarize the great success they’ve achieved for you. Not every meeting will be a euphoria of joy, but there should be good results to review and some fun had in planning new campaigns and strategies.

When to Use Software Instead of Hiring a Marketing Agency

If you’re looking for the most cost-effective solution, using marketing software yourself is probably it, and it’s a solution that can be adopted at any stage of your business growth.

There are tons of software platforms out there to help you automate your marketing, your website, to get more reviews and just about everything else related to your business.

Most of the time, the cost of buying software is less expensive than hiring someone to use it for you. Some of these software platforms take time to learn, while others are super simple and intuitive. Either way, you’ll usually have to spend some time learning. If you’re not technologically savvy or don’t have the time to actively manage software (usually at least once a week, if not more), then you’ll probably want to hire an agency or freelancer to do it for you.

PRO TIP: Ask Marketing Agencies What Softwares They Use

Always ask any potential agency or freelancer what software they use to power their services, because 99 times out of 100, they’re using one of the software platforms that you looked at too.

If they don’t want to tell you, consider that a red flag because any good service provider should be honest about what they do and how they do it. Good agencies leverage software to help them provide their services more efficiently and thus more cost-effectively to you.

If it’s a software platform that you think you’d like to learn in the future, or a platform that you think could power your processes at scale once you’ve grown to that level, it could be a huge benefit to you to work with that agency. You could learn from them and build on what they started once you’re ready.

Small Business Software to Grow Your Company 

Here are some software companies that we know and trust so you have the option to DIY at a better price than hiring someone:

Small Business SEO Software

Hike SEO: Hike SEO enables you to audit your website for search-engine performance and optimize & track competitors, keywords, backlinks and more.

Small Business PPC Software

Optmyzer: Optmyzer enhances your Google advertisements, Quality Score, landing pages and more to help improve your cost-per-lead metric and increase conversion volumes on pay-per-click (PPC) platforms like Google Ads.

Small Business Websites That Convert

NiceJob Convert Websites: We’d be remiss to not mention NiceJob’s own Convert websites. We build websites for small businesses on a two-week turnaround and with a guarantee to increase your website’s lead-generation rate by at least 10% in three months—or it’s free.

Banner image promoting NiceJob Convert websites for a lead-generation website and reputation marketing.

Choosing Marketing Software for Small Business

Before committing to any software platform, always ask for a trial and always try to connect with their customer support team.

The trial will give you a chance to evaluate how the features match your needs. When you get confused or things aren’t working the way you think they should, a good customer support team will be responsive (even better if they were proactive in contacting you), patient with your questions and hands-on in helping you resolve your issues and teaching you in the process.

As good as some software can be for specific things, humans can still do most things better, especially when it comes to complicated things like ad managers or creative things like websites. So when it comes to shopping around for an agency, a business consultant or a freelancer for specific tasks, ask a lot of questions and spend some time getting to know your marketer (that should be a holiday!).

We hope that this has provided you with some valuable information for your evaluations and that whenever you’re ready, you find an amazing partner to work with to grow your business.

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