Running a small business today means operating in an era where there have never been more opportunities, choices and challenges. Small business owners have unlimited choices when it comes to marketing technologies and strategies to use or employ.
A small business could invest in an email service provider, a content management system, marketing automation software, online paid advertising or more traditional print advertising to grow their business. They could invest in a brand makeover, a new website or tradeshows. Every year thousands of new companies spring to life in the marketing technology industry alone.
The complex landscape of technology and strategies gives pause to small business owners to consider outsourcing their marketing. While there are times when it makes sense for businesses to keep their marketing in-house, outsourcing these tasks can open up new doors and help avoid costly mistakes. To make the best decision, small businesses should invest in a sound decision-making strategy and have clearly defined measurements in place to gauge the success or failure of their efforts.
Often, small business owners focus on the cost of hiring an agency. It's important to take a step back and understand the goals of your business before making a decision.
- First, you must decide if you want to grow your business or not. While the allure of fast growth is hard to ignore, many businesses thrive as lifestyle businesses, and they don't need fast growth. In those cases, hiring an agency may not make financial sense. An owner's goals can conflict with those of the agency.
- Second, a business owner needs to have a firm grasp on their industry and the possibilities for growth if they do want to grow. A business that hires an agency but operates in a depressed industry will end up disappointed in whatever agency they hired. Agencies cannot perform miracles despite their best intentions, and they will struggle to generate leads from depressed industries.
- Third, understand the concept of a lead and the value of that lead to your business. What does an email address mean to your business? If you had the email address and contact information from someone at a company, would that get you any closer to selling your product or service? Do you understand which kind of companies or buyers are a good fit for your product or services? If you struggle to answer those questions, an agency will struggle to deliver results.
- Fourth and finally, a small business owner should look at the budget. Do you have enough money to hire an outsourced agency and keep that agency for a number of months? Hiring an agency and thinking you will see results in the first few weeks is a poor strategy. When considering a budget, ensure you have enough money to keep the agency on retainer for at least six months so they have time to understand your business and build a long-term strategy.
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The checklist above is a helpful guide for helping small business owners rule out outsourcing. Assuming you have gone through the above checklist – you want to grow, have the ability to grow, understand the concept of a lead and have the budget – how do you decide whether you should use an in-house marketing team or hire an agency?
The first thing to consider is time. Analyze how much time you have in your day or how much time your staff has to focus on marketing and sales. A dangerous practice is pulling your (or someone on your team) energies away from other essential tasks to focus on something foreign and time-consuming.
The best way to figure out how much time you have is to write down everything you do during a normal business day. Using a notebook, jot down every task you accomplish. Ask your staff to do the same. Do this for a few days and analyze if you can really take the time necessary to focus on building and executing a marketing strategy. Building a marketing strategy and making it work can take anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week (and sometimes more). Do you have those hours to spare?
Second, a small business should consider expertise. As marketing moves into more complex areas, like artificial intelligence and chatbots, finding a marketer who has the skills to handle these complex tools and apps will become more difficult. Rather than stressing out your team by asking them to work on activities outside their skill sets or trying to find the perfect new hire, working with an agency gives your business access to a team of experts. An agency's team should have a diverse set of experiences and expertise that they can deploy for your marketing strategy. Don't limit your options by trying to do it all yourself. Outsourcing your marketing means you are opening your business up to different kinds of talent and solutions.
Finally, consider cost. An agency may charge your company $3,000 a month to build out and launch a marketing plan, which totals $36,000 a year. What's the cost of hiring someone full time comparatively when you factor in benefits and training? Keep in mind, to match the skill set of an agency, you may need to hire someone more senior (so more costly), and it can be hard to find a marketer who possesses the skills that a full-service agency has with their team.
When looking to hire a marketing agency, directories exist with hundreds of options. If you are worried about an agency not understanding your business, hire one that specializes in your industry. If you want to sit down with the agency face to face, look to hire a firm in your area. Develop a list of criteria the agency needs to meet to win your business and be clear about your expectations.
Within the right context, outsourcing your marketing can allow your small business to grow while freeing employees' time. Using the checklists above, analyze your position and make a decision based on your context and aspirations.