Do you know the difference between a marketing agency and a contractor? Why should you hire an agency, and when is the right time for your business? In this episode, we answer all those questions and more as we discuss what a good agency will do for your business and your marketing strategy.
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When Is the Right Time to Hire a Marketing Agency Transcription
Hi there, and welcome. I’m Audrey Kerchner, co-founder and chief marketing strategist here at Inkyma. Inkyma is a full-service marketing agency. We love to bring that big agency feel and process to small business owners. We do marketing strategy, branding, website design and hosting, content marketing, search engine optimization, social media and digital advertising. To learn more about what we do, ask a question, or to schedule a marketing evaluation for your business, go to our website, inkyma.com, that’s I-N-K-Y-M-A.com.
If this is your first time listening, welcome. If you have listened to a couple shows before, welcome back. So glad that you love the content enough to keep listening. All of our shows are available on our podcast and the podcast is available on every major, minor podcast system out there. So just go to your favorite player and do a search for Inkyma, I-N-K-Y-M-A, and marketing strategies will pop right up for you.
So today I’m going to talk to you about the right time for your business to actually hire a marketing agency. I talk to a lot of business owners in that two to three-year range, five range. Some startups that have it all put together after that first year and it’s always a question of, oh, when do I hire someone to do my marketing for me? When should I stop doing it myself? Should I have an employee do it? We get all those types of questions. So why should you hire an agency? The reason you hire an agency, a good agency is going to take over all of your marketing or one piece that you designate for them. And they’re going to really create and craft a strategy for you and then execute that strategy on your behalf. And really the good ones will do everything for you and just provide information back. So it’s mostly hands-off, but you still have to be involved.
And they’re really doing this so that you can feel confident in how your business is being marketed and also so that your business grows consistently. So when do you do this? When do you stop DIY-ing your marketing? And for most startups, DIY-ing, doing it yourself is the right thing to do. Those first three to five years, it’s volatile, right? You’re not quite sure who your target audience is. You may not even be quite sure or honed in on your best product or services. You need to kind of go through that learning phase, especially if you’re not only new to the business, but you’re new to owning a business or being in charge of a business. So you need to go through those growing pains, figure things out. Otherwise, you’re just kind of throwing money away by having people doing things for you.
So the top two indicators that I look for that a company is ready for an agency is one, you start hiring employees. You’re starting to hire other people to do other things because it’s gotten beyond you or you and your business partner. And so when you start doing that, especially if you bring on an accountant or a bookkeeper or an HR manager, you also need to bring on a marketing company because then you’re poising yourself for growth. And you’re really serious about your business too.
The other really huge indicator, and this one probably happens before anything else, is that you’ve been doing your marketing and then all of a sudden you get really crazy busy and the marketing is the first thing that falls off your plate. And what that creates is a yo-yo effect. So you market, you get some clients, you get some money and then you stop marketing because you’re servicing those clients and then the money goes down and goes away. And so you start marketing again and you kind of create this up and down financial effect, which is not good for long-term growth. For long-term growth, you want to keep adding clients, servicing clients, and then building upon your existing finances to where you’re seeing like an upward ski slope as opposed to this up and down effect. And marketing has an enormous impact on that.
The other thing to consider when you’re talking about hiring an agency, you don’t have to do everything all at once. You don’t have to hire an agency and have them take over every aspect. You can give them one thing to start with, build the relationship with them, make sure you’re both a good fit for each other before you just hand over the reins completely. And then the nice thing is you give them a good significant piece, they grow your business, and that gives you the ability to expand their budget more as you go rather than all at once.
There are different types of categories of people to get to do marketing for you. There are employees, you can have someone on staff, you have contractors, and then you have agencies. And so I want to talk about the difference between an agency and hiring a contractor because they are very different and they offer different things. So an agency, it’s a group of people and they’re specialists in there. There are writers, there are graphic designers, there are strategists, there are social media experts. And they all come together to form a team on behalf of the client, whereas a contractor, they’re subject matter experts. They’re a Jack of one trade. They may be a great website guy, they may be a great social media person. And they don’t go outside those lines and they look to the client to fill in those gaps on their behalf. So you can have multiple independent contractors, or you can have an agency that fulfills that whole need for you.
And the reason I’m talking about this is because a lot of times someone will want and think they’re hiring an agency, but in reality, all they’ve done is they’ve hired a subject matter expert specialist in one thing and they’re not getting what they thought they were going to get. So let’s go through an example of this and let’s use website design and creation as an example. So if you hire a contractor, a single person that’s going to do everything within what they’re offering you, this kind of person they’re going to create and set up a basic website, but they’re going to do it based on what you’ve asked for. I want five pages and this is what I want on those pages. And I want the menu to look like this. You’re acting as your own strategist and they’re just merely the architect putting it together.
They will usually ask you to source your own images, whether they be your images or stock and tell them what pages you want each one on, and then they’re going to ask you to write all your own content too because they’re not content writers and they’re not subject matter experts in your field. They haven’t done any research. And they probably won’t give you a whole lot of thought on improvement like, oh, you should write… This paragraph should be this size or this image would look better on this page versus that page. They’re not going to do that.
And the majority of the time, unless this is part of their skillset, and it’s not for every web person, is they’re going to ask you to host and maintain the website yourself, meaning you go get an account. We don’t care where it is, GoDaddy, HostGator. We’ll put the site there, but then it’s on you to make sure that it stays updated, that you’re paying your bills, that you’re doing all the things to keep a website safe.
Now, an agency on the other hand, it’s a totally different experience. The agency is going to sit down with you and do what’s called the discovery process or a fact-finding mission. And they’re going to ask you questions about your goals, your target audience, and communication preferences, like how you want them to contact you. Then they’re going to come back and they’re going to propose features and layouts and recommendations on where to put things on the website to give you your best shot of converting visitors to leads if that’s your goal. If your goal is to convert visitors to leads or to get people to download things, they’re going to set the site up so that it’s as successful as possible.
They’re also going to choose the images for you, or if you’re the type of business where you need to use your own images, like an architect or contractor, someone where you need to show your work and they’ll throw stock images in there where appropriate, but they’re going to figure all that out. They’re going to say, “Okay, these pictures should go here. Those pictures should go there. You don’t have something we want quite to reflect this particular thought. So we’re going to go out and grab a piece of stock and show it to you.” They’re also going to do all your content writing and make sure that the writing is exactly what is needed for that spot both to provide information and to make it aesthetically pleasing. So we’ll cut a sentence out so that it looks better in the spot that’s there or change out some words that mean the same, but again, makes this the space that the copy fits and looks better.
They’re also going to offer hosting for you, meaning hosted on our servers. We’ll do all the maintenance for you so that your site safe, up to date, and compliant with the latest versions of software. And so they’ll do all of that for you. And then they’re also going to provide you an ongoing support program, whether… And they’re going to base it off of your needs. If you don’t do a lot of site updates, maybe you do something that’s more of a bucket of time, prepaid for five hours, and then whenever you use it, you use it, but it doesn’t expire. Or maybe you got a lot of changes that need to be done and you need to go on a monthly program.
So I like to make these differentiations. I do. I hear so many stories of people thinking, oh, I’m going to hire an agency to build my website and they’re going to do everything for me. And then they find someone, they talk to them and they don’t realize what they’ve hired is a contractor. And then they’re really, really disappointed with the process, with what they received. They’re frustrated because they’re being asked to do things that are not in their wheelhouse. And many, many times, these projects will get abandoned by the business owner because they don’t have time to write the content, to find the images, to give the feedback and the leg work that’s necessary to get that set up off the ground. So they actually just walk away. Leave the bill half paid, the contractor’s not happy, they’re not happy. So I want you to understand what you’re looking for and make sure you’re getting what you’re looking for.
And so that’s what we’re going to talk about next is finding and hiring a good agency for whatever you need from a marketing perspective, because this is a long-term relationship. If you find the right business, the right agency, you can be with them for years and years and years. And so you got to know what to look for. You’re listening to Marketing Strategies and I’m Audrey Kerchner. And we’re talking about when is a good time for a small business to hire a marketing agency?
So hiring an agency. First of all, decide if you want an agency. Not every business owner wants an agency. Not every business owner wants to be hands-off. They want to be more hands-on. Let’s say you’ve built this great social media process that works great for you. You just don’t have the time to do it anymore and you want someone who’s going to follow your process. That’s when you hire a contractor because that contractor is going to be like, “Yep, you tell me exactly what you want me to do and I will do exactly that every day, every month. No problem.” Whereas an agency is going to come to you with a process and then recommend what gets done. And you go, “Yeah, I like that. Let’s do that.” So decide first because if you hire an agency and what you really wanted is a contractor, you’re going to be disappointed.
So I put together a list of questions for you to ask an agency to interview them to see if they’re really offering what you’re looking for. And don’t worry, you don’t have to scramble to write all of these down. Go to the website, go to the show notes. I’m going to link a PDF document there so that you can just print it out for when you need it. So the first thing I want you to talk to them about, the agency, is ask them what industries do they like to work in? That they have a deep knowledge in? And if they like it, they’re going to have a deep knowledge in it. They may not have a whole lot of clients. They may say, “Oh, I’ve got one or two here or I’ve got five,” but they may not be specialized in just that industry. And so you want to see if they have an interest because if they are truly interested in your industry, have deep knowledge or willing to get more knowledge, they could be a really good fit for you.
So an example is, we work with good businesses, right? We try to find the right businesses and I’m not so concerned about the industry because we have processes for learning industries, but one that I really, really enjoy is working with physical therapists. I’ve used physical therapy. I’ve run, I’m an athlete. So having conversations with them about target audiences and how people think of physical therapy and the health industry and the medical industry in general, it’s just one of those things I really enjoy. So yeah, I’m going to work harder and I’m going to dig deeper because it’s not tedious or boring to me where another agency, it could be like the worst thing on the planet for them. So that’s always a good question to start with.
Another one that I think gets overlooked quite often is the onboarding process. Ask them what their onboarding process is for a new client to get them from the start to the finish, or to get them to, if it’s a monthly reoccurring thing, how do we get through month one and get into a nice rhythm? And if they don’t have one, that’s a red flag because you need processes to onboard a client regardless of what you’re doing. You need to know what the next steps are. And they need to be documented, especially for an agency because it’s not just one person. The person you’re speaking to day-to-day, your account manager needs to know how to get that information to the right people, the graphic designer, the website person, the writer, and then also flow the information back to you and to gather feedback. I actually had a client where like we didn’t know how to give feedback. And that’s a problem. The agency needs to manage that process.
The next question and this really depends on what you’re looking for first, what you’re hiring them for, is make sure they’re specialists in what you need to have done. So when you have full service agencies like Inkyma, we specialize in a few things. It’s by no means everything. Like we don’t print business cards. We don’t create T-shirts. We don’t do a whole bunch of other things. We do a lot of core things. So you want to make sure that the agency you’re talking to is at least a specialist in the one thing you’re looking for now, but also make sure that they can do the things you’re going to need into the future too so that you don’t have to hire multiple agencies.
So I have specific questions for you based off of what type of marketing you’re looking for. So let’s start with branding. You’re going to want to see examples of their work that they’ve done and preferably something that’s diversified. If they’re going to show you three different examples, you want to see something from maybe the entertainment industry and something from the financial industry and something from clothing. And none of those may be your industry, but what it shows is how they handle different industries because you’re not going to design in the entertainment industry the same way you’re going to design in the financial industry. One is avant-garde, they push the edge. The other is highly conservative and their clients are conservative.
So to that end, make sure they have a discovery process. Make sure that they sit down and talk to you about who you are, how you see your brand, who your customers are, how you want your customers to see your brand so that they can develop that brand completely. And a branding agency will do that, but if you get a website guy that says, “I can build you a logo,” that’s probably not the right way to go. Because in addition to the logo, which is good, they need to provide you some type of a style guide. And what that is is it can be one page, it can be 15 pages depending on who you hire, but it just tells you, this is the brand. These are the colors. These are the fonts. This is how it’s allowed to be used.
You’re giving them a guide on how the brand is supposed to be used so that you don’t get this dilution of the brand when you give the logo to a car detailing company, to a shirt guy, because then they pick their own colors based off of what they see rather than saying, “Here are the actual color numbers. Here’s the Pantone color that you need to use for this.” And that data allows them to create exact matches or as close as possible, like thread colors to that color so that when they look at it online and they see it on the shirt, it’s the same. And the same thing with the fonts. Don’t make people guess what your font is. Give them the font, give them the link to it. And that’s what a good branding agency will do is they will do all of that for you.
For website design, you want to talk about their process for creating and completing the website. If you remember back to my example of projects got abandoned, or I’ve heard horror stories where a project that should have taken two months, a website project does not take long. I don’t care how big it is, but it’s taken a year, a year and a half. And that’s because the agency or the person or the company didn’t have a process in place for feedback, for keeping everybody on task. If I ask a client for five things, I document those five things, I put dates on them, and then if we miss them, we have a conversation about them and we regroup. So not saying you don’t go off track, but if it’s supposed to be done in two months and it takes three months because of those things getting off track, that’s a lot better than it taking an entire year or worse not finishing at all.
Again, you need that discovery process. Ask them, how are you going to understand my business? What process do you have in place to understand who my audience is so that we’re targeting the right people with this website? Ask them specifically, who’s in charge of finding images if I’m using stock? Or if I give you images, how are you going to incorporate them in the website? Are you going to figure out where they go? And the same thing with writing content. Ask that upfront because even some agencies may decide that they don’t want to write your website copy.
And if you’re okay with that, that’s fine. You may even choose that. Like, I want to write all my own copy. Writers, poets, they’re like that. They’re like, “I really shouldn’t have someone else ghost writing on my behalf because that’s what I do for a living.” But you can still give them guidance. Ask them about testing. How is the site tested? Are you testing across not only multiple machines, but are you testing across mobile devices, iPads, and different browsers on all of them because the Safari browser on an iPhone, your website could work differently than if it’s on a desktop or if it’s on an Android because some people will do that. So ask about their testing. And if they say, “Oh, well, we sort of test it,” that’s a red flag right there. You want someone who wants to make sure that your site is as perfect and polished as possible the day it goes live as they can make it. That way you’re not dealing with issues for months after.
Make sure your site is mobile first. Ask about the technology they’re going to use. Can your mobile versus desktop versus tablet versions be tweaked independently or do they all follow the same template and you make a change in one place and it looks the same everywhere else? Mobile first is really, really important for search, for usability. And if your site doesn’t work well and look good everywhere, then you’re missing out on opportunities. Where will the site be hosted? Do I have to find my own hosts? Are you going to host for me? The answer to that question again is your preference. Maybe you want to host the site. Maybe you want to keep control of that. You’ve got to find the right agency that meshes with what you want.
And then ask about support and maintenance. Who’s supporting it? Who’s doing all the software updates, the plugin updates, making sure the site is safe? Who’s ensuring that the SSL certificate is always valid? Am I paying for that? Are you doing it? What’s going on? Those are the types of questions you have to ask there.
Now let’s move on to content marketing and blog writing. So if you’re going to hire someone to write on your behalf, you want to make sure that they have specialists or subject matter experts that have written about or can do a deep dive research into the type of content that you want to serve up to your customers. And you got to be really specific here. And that’s where that discovery comes in because you could be a property management company, but they’re all different. Some of them want to do long-term rental, some want to do short-term rentals, and some are property management companies that support an entire housing complex of 50 homes or more, or a high-rise condominium in a different state. And so you’re going to write about different topics depending on who your target audience is. And you want to make sure your writer, one, understands that, and two, can write to that.
And then of course, if you’ve listened to any of the past episodes that we’ve had on websites, one of the main thing you have to know is that your search engine optimization ongoing long-term comes from your blog articles. So you need to ask the writers, are you optimizing my content for search engine optimization? How are you doing it? Because you don’t want to pay all that money to have an article written and then nobody can find it because it’s not optimized. Then ask them questions about the systems they use for newsletters and for sales funnels, because that’s all part of content marketing. You can push blog articles out that way, how do you get people to sign up for it? Find out what systems they’re using. Are they partners with the software company? Do they have people on staff that are certified or trained to use it? Because it makes life much easier and they know the little quirks and the ins and outs and the cool little features that someone that didn’t take the time to get trained in something like that wouldn’t know.
Now let’s talk about social media. This is a big one. And it’s usually one of the first things that get handed over to an agency. And so the big question you have to ask is that for the package that you’re buying for the fee that you’re paying for, are they providing images? Are they providing video for the social posts? How many are they writing per month? Are they writing them or are they expecting you to just give them copy and then they schedule it to go out? You get what you paid for there. You’re better off paying more to have them do the writing, the image sourcing, and/or video creation and also scheduling it to go out at certain times.
And do they provide reporting? Reporting, especially in social media, it’s important everywhere, but it’s really important because you want to be able to look and see what content is doing well and do more of that content and less of what’s not doing well. Like if you have a post and only two people looked at it, you know that’s not right for your target audience and then you can test along the way. And that’s what the reporting is for is to tell you where to go into the future.
And then the last specialist area I’m going to cover is digital advertising. You got to have an agency that understands and knows digital advertising. I keep going back to discovery, but it’s really, really important that they understand your business and what you’re trying to do because then when they put a plan together for digital advertising and they suggest platforms, it’s going to be based off of where your target audience is and then how you speak to them.
Ask them how often ads can be changed out. Is it once a quarter, once a month, anytime at all? Especially if you put together a strategy for a year, like I’ve worked with learning centers who have three to five ads going up and down and changing because it follows what’s going on in the school year, or a auto company that every season they offer something different because something different is done to a car every season. So they’ll offer a break discount. They’ll do air conditioning in the summer, all different sorts of things. So you got to make sure that it’s not like, oh, we’re doing this one ad for you and it’s going to stay up there and that’s all you’re paying for. You have to make sure that there’s flexibility built in there.
And then talk to them about minimum ad spend across the platforms that are being recommended for you. Your ad spend, your budget that you’re going to pay the advertisers has to match your goals. If you’re a company and you’re running one ad, that budget is going to look very different than if you’re a company that’s going to run seven ads because you’re promoting three different product lines simultaneously. And if you don’t have enough money, then you’re throwing it away because it’s not getting the exposure that it needs with a small budget.
So those are the top areas that if you’re going to hire one or you’re going to know you’re going to need folks into the future, make sure they’re specialized. And then in general, always ask about a discovery process. How are you going to understand my business? How are you going to know what I need to do? And that’s what a discovery process is. That’s what that fact finding is. They need to understand your business so they can build you a strategy and a plan. And if they don’t understand your business, then the strategy and the plan is going to be all off. And so they should have a process for that.
Ours here at Inkyma, I’ve got four pages of questions that I ask. It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get through it and I glean so much along the way. A lot of times, if we’re doing it video-based, which I really like, I record the session so that I can go back to it. I can forward sections of it to my team that it’s relevant for them because again, the better I understand the business, the better they understand the business, the better things that are going to come out the backend. And there will be no frustration on the client side because we’re going to know what to do.
So mistakes are inevitable. We are humans. We make mistakes. We misunderstand. We have bad days. So don’t expect perfection from an agency. And those mistakes happen early on in the relationship. And so hopefully the agency will learn from it. But the way to understand this is ask them what their process is. What if I don’t like something? What if you make a mistake? What if you misunderstood me? Are you going to rewrite an article for free? Are you going to put up new posts? If you put something on the website and it’s wrong, are you going to fix it without charging me? If they own their mistakes and they do all of those things, then it’s a good indicator that they’re a good fit for you.
And then the last thing you want to talk to them about is their fee structure. A lot of times people get excited and they’re like, “Oh, I want to work with this agency. I want to do these things,” but they don’t understand how they’re paying or what they’re paying. So make sure you understand your fee structure and get it in writing. So all these things are really great, but they’re useless unless you take action. So I’m going to outline some action steps that you can take right now, especially if you’re excited about finding your first agency or a new agency because you realize, hey, mine’s not what I wanted or expected.
So first thing, decide if you’re ready for an agency. Pick a milestone. X number of dollars we’re making, we’ve got X number of customers. I just hired my fifth employee. Set that milestone. And then when you hit it, start looking for an agency. And the one thing that I will also tell you here is I strongly recommend that you don’t give this as a side job to an existing employee. I don’t even recommend someone hiring someone specifically for marketing within their small business because you’re actually paying more for less. When you hire an agency, especially if they do multiple things, it’s far less expensive to do that than it is to bring on a full-time employee and pay the benefits and do all the training and all the upkeep and everything. Agencies don’t need or take sick days. When people go on vacation at an agency, it’s the agency’s job to backfill everything and the work never stops.
When you are looking for an agency, find three that you like. Don’t go overboard. You can go to four if you’re not sure, and interview them. Ask them all these questions that we just laid out and talked about. And then if you find two that you really like, give them both a small project and see how you work with them. A lot of times, the person that you talk to to get the contract signed is not your day-to-day account manager. And you start working with an account manager and they may not be your cup of tea. So do it that way.
Once you hire an agency, stay connected. They should have a process in place where they report back to you. You meet monthly, you meet quarterly. Don’t blow these off. Always have those discussions because a good agency will give you the information they’re finding from your programs, recommend changes to your programs, and then also this is your time to talk about things you’ve seen, changes you want to make, new things that you want to try. So don’t not do that. Stay connected.
Here at Inkyma, we like to give back to the business community. I provide a free 45-minute marketing consultation to any business owner regardless if they’re looking for an agency or they’re looking to get some advice on maybe one small thing within their business, not quite sure to do it. We’ll have the conversation that you need at that moment in time. Just go to the website inkyma.com, I-N-K-Y-M-A.com. In the upper right-hand corner, there’s a schedule and marketing evaluation button. Pick your day, pick your time, and we are on the schedule. Well, I hope you found this information useful and helpful and now you’re inspired to go find an agency. And if you think you know other business owners that could benefit from this information, please share it. Share the podcast. That’s what it’s here for. Thanks for listening and have an amazing day.