Choosing a web marketing agency is something many very-small businesses have never done, or know how to do. It is such a relatively new field, so this is totally understandable. I decided to put this brief list of questions together for you to ask when choosing an agency to do web marketing work for you (including me!) Off we go.
1. What Real-World Business Experience Do They Have?
My great-grandmother used to say some people have “book-learnin’ but no horse sense”. This is just as true in the web marketing world as it is in your business, I would imagine. There are a lot of very smart people in the interactive marketing field. Not everyone, however, also has a good set of basic business skills to complement their interactive skills. For medium and large businesses, this is not as big a concern, since they most likely have plenty of staff on board to manage the marketing operations and business side of things. However, for the very-small business owner, having good solid business skills and experiences in addition to their knowledge of web marketing and social media tools is critical. As a small business owner, you need to find out how much real-world business experience the prospective agency has. Some good questions to ask include:
- Have you ever had any people-management responsibility?
- Have you ever had to manage a program,departmental, or project budget?
- Have you ever worked in sales where you worked on commission or carried a sales quota?
- Have you ever had a job with profit and loss responsibility?
- Have you owned any other businesses besides this one?
2. Can They Provide You With a Written, Detailed Interactive Marketing Analysis Prior to Implementation?
Said another way, are they going to do their homework, and communicate their research findings to you in writing, AND can they show you an example of the type of report they will provide you with?
Not “Oh yeah sure we can do that.”
I mean something you can see in your hand or on a computer screen. In my view, the ability to do this type of analysis and demonstrate it to you as a client should be mandatory. Now, don’t get spooky about analysis, reporting, etc. This isn’t going to be something like GE’s annual report to stockholders. It should contain information such as: competitive activity, search engine activity, geographic trends, keywords, and so forth.
Any agency worth their salt should be doing this type of planning work for you. If they can’t, or they are sketchy about it, run.
3. How Do They Plan to Reach Your Target Customers?
One reason I am such an advocate of interactive marketing is the ability to really zero in on a client’s target customer segment. What an agency should not do is take what I call the “put it out on the back porch and see if the cat eats it” method - just slap up a website and hope somebody finds it somewhere. Further, your agency needs to show yo how to reach the target customers who have some money and want to buy from/hire you.
4. What Is Their Measurement Plan?
How will you determine how your interactive strategy is performing? What measurements will they use, and how will they be communicated to you?
5. What Is Their On-Going Maintenance Plan?
I tell all my clients, the real measure of good web marketing is having a plan for keeping their website, Twitter account, Facebook page,etc current. Having a website does you absolutely no good you can’t keep it refreshed with current content. If I go to your website and see a 50% off coupon that expired in 2007, that is a poor image. Outdated content is the kiss of death online. The answers are simple: either you plan to maintain it yourself, or pay someone to do it for you. My point is this needs to be spelled out to you as part of your strategy.
6. Are They Set Up to Do Business With A Very-Small/Home-Based/Micro-Business?
This is pretty self-explanatory but no less important. Before you agree to hire an agency,find out if the way they do business is going to work for a company of your size.
- What forms of payment do they accept? For instance, if you are a 4 chair barbershop, chances are you won’t be issuing a purchase order to a web marketing agency.
- Are they available outside business hours for meetings/communication? Sticking with our barbershop example, you will likely not have time to stop cutting hair at 10am on Friday to review a marketing plan. A web-marketing agency targeting micro-businesses needs to be ultra-flexible with their availability.
- Will they require face-to-face meetings or will email, phone, etc suffice? This goes with the item above on availability. Based on the business you’re in, in-person meetings may not always be feasible for you. Your agency should be able to accommodate that as well.
- Do they bill by the hour or by the job? This will vary from agency to agency. I prefer to charge by the job. It’s just easier for the client, and for me. Again, we’re very-small businesses with no purchasing and procurement staff right? If they charge by the hour, what is their minimum fee? 2 hrs, 4hrs? Many agencies won’t work with you unless you pay for a minimum amount of consulting work. Kind of like the fee they charge to put your car on the lift at the auto shop.
7. What Services Do They/Don’t They Offer?
In a field like web marketing, it is very easy to “assume” certain services are available. My simple advice is: Don’t assume anything. Ask. Every agency has a different business model that may or may not allow them to offer certain services to their customers. Some commonly assumed services to ask about are: training, site maintenance, writing posts or articles, graphic or logo designs, updating pictures, shooting video. There are many others, but the main lesson here is to be very specific about your needs, and ask if the agency can provide them or sub-contract them out to a trusted partner.
8. Shop Around, Shop Around
There are 2 types of shopping around you should do here:
1. Shop agencies
2. Shop other forms of marketing and compare “bang for the buck”
Just like any other business decision you would make, you should compare the offerings of at least three agencies before you hire one. As with any industry, there are good ones and shady ones, large and small . If you feel an agency is taking advantage of your lack of technical knowledge by overcharging you, or just flat out trying to get one over on you, walk away. I’ve personally seen a quote from an interactive agency for $10,000 to submit a blog to a blog ranking site. They must’ve been using the Wheel of Fortune mark-up pricing strategy. Seriously, whether you choose to hire Shoebox Interactive or not, I’ll be happy to look at your quote and tell you if they are in or out of the ballpark.
Okay,I hope you feel armed and ready to start interviewing agencies and find the best fit for your company. Please contact me and let me know if this tool is helpful to you, or what we could add to make it work better for you.