The frustration was immediate as we were in our regular coaching meeting working through the action items to implement.  My question was simple, “is the SEO company you hired providing you with their documented activity and updated results?”

The answer was deflating.  

This well-established and progressive business owner shared, “not only do we not have reports and updates, but he is also degrading and makes us feel like idiots when we ask him questions.”

I lightened the mood by asking, “so is that the magic touch to win the favor of clients?  If so, I need to commit to be more of a jerk in our coaching time.”  The laughter came and went,  but the frustration lingered.

Unfortunately, the common theme when talking to small business owners about hiring a  marketing agency is simply…

A lot of money with very few demonstrable results.  

Why?

What’s the similarity between a marketer, a business coach (we can self-deprecate a bit:), and a palm reader?

The barrier to entry is on the ground; anyone can hang a shingle and become one.  

I’m not much of an expert on palm readers, but I do know that with any other profession there are really great practitioners and really bad ones.

So how do you find a great marketing agency to work with?

A few things to consider.

Lead Well.

If you're looking for more resources to work ON your business, we have them. 

First, NOBODY will know your business or be as passionate about your business as you.  You cannot delegate your passion.

The majority of the time, we see small business owners abdicate the marketing responsibility to a distant, remote person who has you as one of many clients and does not wake up everyday obsessing about how to grow your mission.

Marketing agencies, by design, have a book of business…multiple clients.  They can only market what they know, and they can only know what you and your market tell them over and over again.  

Markets change constantly.  

A marketing initiative that works today will likely be tired and irrelevant in six months.  It’s akin to a doctor having checkups with patients to monitor and tweak their treatments.  Things change, and if you allow your marketing agency to be measured on activity instead of outcomes, then they are prone (not in every case of course) to hit “rinse and repeat”.

Second, because your marketing agency needs to see and hear directly from you (or someone in your business) you must commit to a weekly “touchpoint” with your marketing agency.

This is a very brief check in on story, content, activity, and results.  It empowers your marketing first to capture the nuance, the client successes, and all of the little bits that happen day to day that in most cases go unnoticed and uncelebrated.  

I will say this, if your marketing agency balks at this as a condition of working together, RUN.

You are hiring them as an employee of sorts (on contract of course) and in many cases paying them what you would invest a significant part-time or even full-time employee.  If they are unwilling to have a weekly meeting that actually benefits you and them…move on.

Thirdly, clearly write ALL of your expectations down before signing up with any marketing agency.

Please don’t be offended, but most of the failure of marketing agencies is not the fault of the agency, it is the fault of us as business owners for not communicating clear expectations. 

Think through, write down, and agree to outcomes first, and then everything else second.

The goal of a marketing agency is first and foremost to either grow your revenue and margin or grow your brand awareness (which ties directly back to revenue and margin).

Marketers may disagree and say that it is more complex than that.  For businesses above fifty (50) employees that may be so, but for businesses like yours with between two (2) and fifty (50) employees, marketing is almost exclusively tied to growing the revenue and margin of the business.

Write down your expectations and don’t be veiled.  It will then be up to the marketing agency to decide if they can perform to the level of expectation you have set.

Fourth, don’t get sucked in to “number of hours” or “number of posts” per week or month.  Marketing is about OUTCOMES, not about the quantity of any one technical strategy.

Views, likes, and impressions; we obsess over these because they are quick and give us an immediate snapshot into our public vanity.  We know deep down that they are a bit like jolly ranchers…taste sugary but offer no long-term health benefit.

Unless you are willing to spend BIG money on paid advertising (and I mean BIG), you are likely to see very little return on direct social media advertising at the scale you can afford.  

I know I know…someone reading this will be the exception.  Let’s focus on the general rule.  

Social platforms (YouTube, Blogs, Podcasts, etc.) are truly valuable assets IF you see them as air support to your ground game.

In most businesses, still, the number one lead generation strategy is good ole fashioned face to face referrals and follow-up.

Your social presence is critical to provide authority and credibility when someone hears of you from one of their friends or contacts.  When you get referred, the first place they go to learn about you is online.  

Don’t be fooled, your online presence is very important…but it is not the most important.  

What is your ground game?  How do you get in front of potential customers and clients face to face?  

When you set expectations with your marketing agency, it needs to be around outcomes regardless of strategy.  

MOST marketing agencies will try to sell you a marketing engagement that is $X per month and includes # of blog posts, # of social media posts, etc. 

We have over 500 episodes on our My Business On Purpose podcast and we love providing that as a tool…but does it lead to us being able to liberate business owners from chaos?  

What is the outcome?  Not the activity.

Finally, know your numbers and set a budget.

I have heard it said before that a very conservative marketing spend for your business is 3% of annual revenue, and an aggressive spend is up to 15% of revenue.

Do you know how much that would be?  And if you spent that on marketing, do you know how much that would have to return in revenue in order for the marketing spend to be worth it?

A marketing agency should be able to tell you, if you spend $X with us throughout the year, we will not be doing our job unless it generates $Y in revenue.

Outcomes, not activity.

Many marketing agencies are brilliant at delivering results.  Just make sure that is who you are working with.

If not, move on.

Scott Beebe is the founder of Business On Purpose, author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, And Build A Business That Matters.  Scott also hosts The Business On Purpose Podcast and can be found at mybusinessonpurpose.com.