10 insights to hiring a reliable, passionate digital marketing consultant

Digital marketers are like lawyers at the capital, they are everywhere. (I was going to say plastic surgeons in California but it just didn’t feel right). Unlike a lip injection, though, where you can look on Google and Yelp for the best reviews near you, it isn’t as easy to pinpoint a digital marketer who can offer you what you need, or at least – what you think you need.

But why is that? Why are digital marketing experts so gray area and hard for entrepreneurs and business owners to find? Why can’t it be easy to pinpoint and find quality work that meets your expectations? The reasons are clear as mud, and that is basically your answer right there.

Here are 8 reasons why digital marketing consultants are hard to find, hire and keep:

  1. Anyone can call themselves a digital marketer
  2. Many digital marketers lack experience and make promises they can’t keep
  3. They are biased towards the strategies and styles that they have learned and are not always open to more suitable or advanced ideas
  4. Consultants each offer different strengths and they don’t always recognize their weaknesses
  5. Digital marketers don’t need a special license, degree or certification to take your money. And sometimes that’s exactly what they are doing: taking your money
  6. Many agencies are operating in a 2010 mindset; they don’t know how to change
  7. Consultants are competing with marketing-in-a-box products that make big promises
  8. There are no industry price standards: some agencies are too expensive, and some consultants are too cheap

But the vast differences between digital marketers, methodologies, and prices aren’t the only problem – sometimes it is a lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of the hiring entrepreneur or business manager.

Here are 8 more reasons it is hard for entrepreneurs to find, hire and keep digital marketing consultants:

  1. They don’t understand the different marketing methodologies used
  2. Outcomes don’t get measured because of a lack of understanding or time
  3. They know just enough about digital marketing to be dangerous, but not necessarily effective
  4. They may have their own ideas of how things should be done and don’t allow the marketer to have any strategic influence
  5. Because of previous failures, they are nervous to make the necessary financial investment that will make a strategy work
  6. Expectations are unreasonable or unnecessary
  7. While art is subjective, they fail to realize that human behavior is objective and consequently try to control the process
  8. Business owners or managers are stuck in an employer/employee mindset and can’t see the benefits of hiring a non-W2 consultant

You can see that there are things to be learned on all sides. Marketing consultants have massive amounts of competition, and there are no quality guidelines or single directory to choose from – creating a sea of unknowns for hiring entrepreneurs; meanwhile, entrepreneurs and business leaders don’t know what they should be looking for. Ergo – they hire a technician, instead of an expert.

You should be able to hire a reliable, passionate digital marketing expert with ease. All you need is to know what you are looking for, and then where to look. To get us on the right track, let’s go over some specific things you need to know about digital marketing experts who are true to themselves and will be honest and dedicated to your cause.

10 insights for entrepreneurs to hire a digital marketing consultant or agency

1. Define your business goals first

If you don’t have business goals, then nobody can help you – no matter how talented they are. You can hire anyone to make a few changes on your website, post to social media for you, or “do SEO,” but what are you actually achieving? And how do you know what their competencies really are if you are asking them to complete tasks instead of helping you to achieve a goal?

My favorite method of defining a goal is to use Dan Sullivan’s Impact Filter (which you can download and use here, under ‘Bonus Materials’), where he says: “Results, not effort, is the name of the game… All too often, there is a lack of commitment to results and an over-infatuation with ‘process’ or ‘hard-work.'”

The impact filter helps you to define your success criteria, the impact it will make, and ultimately what will happen if it is successful versus what will happen if you do nothing. While this is a little bit different than defining goals in the traditional way (e.g. Increase sales by 10% this quarter), it allows the strategy to be defined by success, and not by the specific tactics and methods used. The digital marketing consultant that you are hiring should have permission to take the full weight of success on their shoulders. This way, they are not responsible for completing a task, but for helping you to achieve your goal.

Regardless of how you define your goals, stay away from simple requests like “I want more visitors on my website” or “I’m ready to invest in Pay Per Click,” which takes you back to the how mindset and restricts the abilities and talents of a consultant to truly do their job. This brings me to my next point…

2. They should be asking “why?”

Did you know that according to Harvard Business School 95% of our decision-making is unconscious? Meaning that we are going through the motions without even realizing it. The same is probably true of your vision. Most entrepreneurs don’t have time to really think about or develop their “why” and won’t be able to fully express it to the people they are hiring.

Or as Tamsen Webster puts it in Find Your Red Thread: “When you’re trying to solve problems, achieve goals, and find answers to old questions, your brain is navigating a maze you can’t see but you can usually feel. You feel it when your mind keeps spinning on an unsolved problem or when the answer is just…out…of…reach. The fact that you can’t see that maze is why, when the proverbial light bulb suddenly turns on, it seems so surprising.”

If you can’t fully express your own vision, don’t worry – a good consultant should be able to help pull that strategy out. Experienced consultants are going to need to have a thorough understanding of your why. So stop talking and allow the consultant to do some digging by asking questions.

3. Ask the consultant for strategy, not tactic

If you’ve ever bid for public funds, you are familiar with the rolls of red tape that come with RFPs. Pages of questions, rules, specifications, and guidelines written by non-marketers. This is a major flaw in hiring. Would you tell your car mechanic what tools to use? Stick with what you are best at and let your digital marketer do their job.

The least successful conversations that I have had with hiring entrepreneurs start with their objection to change, “I am not interested in changing my website right now I just want conversions,” or, “I don’t need automation software what I have is working just fine.”

On the contrary, I’ve had many successful consultations with business leaders who are open to suggestions and want to see the value in throwing out their own scope if work in trade for strategic recommendations.

Strategic recommendations sometimes come with an invoice. Don’t always expect a good digital marketer to give you advice for free – but what you should expect is to get the recommendations free of any strings attached. You shouldn’t have to hire them to do the work. Honest consultants are going to want to help you, not just make money off of you.

4. Consider doubling your marketing budget

This one takes guts, but if you are thinking of hiring a marketing expert and they ask you to double your budget, it’s a clue into their mindset. Anyone can be hired to complete a task, but only strategic experts are going to want it to be done the right way – and that takes resources (i.e. money, talent, time, etc).

By giving your marketing team enough budget to do their job, you are also giving them a license to:

  1. Have a passion for your brand and project
  2. Become successful instead of completing a task
  3. Take ownership over the process

The rule of thumb is that the more resource you put towards your goal, the faster it can be achieved. In general, that really is true – if you spend $10,000 on SEO it is going to get you better results than a $5,000 investment. But a good marketer is also going to be fair and honest with you. If it isn’t going to bring greater results to spend another $5,000 on SEO, they should be willing to tell you that.

The same rule applies to resources that you already have. If you have a graphic designer that manages your brand assets, they may not need an extra budget for graphics. On the other hand, if your graphics are noticeably bad and are not getting you results, a marketer should have the guts to tell you so.

And that brings me to my next point…

5. They aren’t afraid to step on your toes to tell you the truth

Trying to juggle your multiple business ventures while also being your own marketing expert, huh? How’s that working out for ya?

Sorry to break it to you, but for you DIY serial entrepreneurs of the world – it’s time to let someone else tell you the truth. It goes back to reason #3 of why it’s hard for entrepreneurs to find, hire and keep digital marketing consultants: you know just enough to be dangerous.

In other words, despite the problems we all know exist, the real problem is… investing in marketing doesn’t just create more outcomes, it creates more unknown outcomes.

Certainly, you have been through enough rings of fire to realize that: 1) You have a wealth of knowledge and experience (which also means there are things you can’t un-know), and 2) making the same mistakes over and over again but expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

Ergo, you can’t make these decisions on your own. Trying to be your own marketing director among all of your other responsibilities could lead to:

  • Making the same mistakes over again (insanity, remember?)
  • Keep you from innovation
  • Make you crazy with decision fatigue
  • Losing track of your investment and outcomes
  • And ultimately… Stop you from being able to achieve your goals!

If you want to grow, you cannot be your own marketing director. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t valuable. Remember, you have a wealth of knowledge and experience that only you have. Here’s what the marketing director really needs you to do:

  • Be the expert in your field
  • Keep doing what you are really good at
  • Know the most about your customer, your industry, and your business

If you can do that, you will be the most valuable asset that your marketing team has. But going back to the truth serum… yeah, you should probably get some new staff photos, and by the way – your last website designer made a huge SEO mess that is going to be pretty expensive to fix. Just sayin.

6. They want you out of the way, and don’t need you to hold their hand

Following the previous point about not being your own marketer, a good hire will not want you to hold their hand. Remember, you are hiring an expert who knows more about marketing than you do. So get out of their lane, and let them do their job.

7. They use criticism to transform and expand vision

“That was a bad photo choice,” and “There’s a typo in the first paragraph” are sometimes the first comments that digital marketers get even on their most sought-after work. (I was once blasted by the CMO in front of his staff because his name was misspelled in an article… phew, that was fun!).

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who should get truth smacked in their face. They need to hear your feedback so that they can improve the process for your brand and the voice of your business. I am not recommending that you yell at your contractors in front of your staff for a typo (or for anything, actually), but professional marketers know that feedback is crucial to the process.

Remember, you are the expert in your field – so help them do their job by giving them feedback that they can use to better the process and ultimately get better outcomes.

8. They aren’t trying to sell you software for their own benefit

Marketers, this one is for you: never, ever make a recommendation for your own advantage. Unless you earn a commission for a living and the client knows you are in sales, it is a violation of ethics to sway someone else’s financial decisions based on your financial benefits. Entrepreneurs have the right to know the pros and cons of their software choices, and the potential impacts it will have on their marketing efforts.

Here’s a list of the software that I recommend on a regular basis that gives me a kickback:

  • Pay Per Click
  • Hubspot
  • Accessibility Compliance script
  • oh, and Amazon affiliates

9. Ask them what they can’t do

In 2007 I took a flight to Denver, CO to meet with a website designer at a nonprofit org. The purpose of the meeting was to guide the designer through the Dos and Don’ts of designing for search engines (SEO). Search engine optimization wasn’t really that advanced at the time, and most SEOs were still focusing on putting lots of text on plain pages to get search results. To my surprise, the designer didn’t really want to know. They weren’t interested in improving their abilities or getting great results for the client. They simply just didn’t want to work with another agency.

This kind of attitude can bulldoze any marketing campaign into the ground. And the truth is, there is no single marketer who can do everything. So, ask them:

  • What are your strengths as a marketer?
  • What do you hate doing the most?
  • Do you outsource?
  • Do you have partnerships with other marketers?
  • What is the cost associated with projects that you or your team cannot do yourself?

A note about outsourcing: A lot of entrepreneurs have had at least one bad experience with a marketer. Sometimes, their work was outsourced to India, the Philippines, or just to another firm. And sometimes that can result in a lack of quality, attention to detail, or overall success of the campaign. But sometimes, when something can be done faster and cheaper but retain its quality, it can benefit the customer, budget, and timeline of the campaign. Don’t just to conclusions if your marketer outsources some tasks, just make sure to ask them how it will impact the project.

10. In the end, you are hiring a who not a how

Dan Sullivan’s Who Not How is a great read – for all areas of your business and life, not just marketing.

“How” is not the most important question that you can ask when hiring a reliable, passionate digital marketing consultant. You deserve to work with a marketer or team of marketers who have the integrity to tell you the truth, to take responsibility for outcomes, and who will take this messy, confusing piece of the puzzle off your plate.

Disclaimer: Hell yes I am getting commission off those Amazon book links!

Where to find a reliable, passionate digital marketer

As we’ve discussed, digital marketers are everywhere. There are several kinds of digital marketers that you should be aware of. Here is a brief list of some of the varieties of marketers out there:

  • Freelance marketers who specialize in something specific: e.g. writers, graphic designers, web developers, SEOs, social media marketers, pay-per-click managers, etc. There are a wide variety of styles, methodologies, price points, and experience levels.
  • Marketing consultants who work solo or in small teams: these groups tend to specialize in traditional or digital marketing areas but can’t do everything.
  • Marketing agencies that specialize in verticals or specific software, e.g. Hubspot agencies or companies that work only with home care agencies.
  • Traditional marketing firms who are full-service, one-stop solutions and hire employees instead of contractors. In my experience, are the hardest to work with and the most expensive. This would never be my first recommendation.

Searching Google for digital marketers might freak anyone out – there are just… so… many. Instead, you might want to ask your Mastermind group, other successful business owners or your membership groups like GoBundance or M1 for recommendations on where to start.

Clārfire: Your Marketing Growth Officer

Jennifer Bailey

As the Marketing Growth Officer at Clārfire, I’ve spent almost half my life learning what excellence means (and raising four babies!). I know that outcomes start with vision. And for entrepreneurs who want growth, the right Marketing Growth Officer (MGO) allows you to continue doing what you do best, while seeing your vision come to life. Clārfire could be your MGO.

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