By Anita Campbell

You can’t do everything. That goes for marketing your business. Even marketing firms hire marketing help, because they know that there are times when a specialist is called for, or they just need more hands on deck.

Finding good — no, great — marketing help without spending an arm and a leg is the challenge. Here are six ways to make sure you get great marketing help, on a small business budget:

  1. Be as specific as possible in your search for marketing help. Marketing today has fragmented into many different specialties: email marketing, search marketing, direct mail marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, mobile marketing, partner marketing, word of mouth marketing, event marketing – and that’s just a partial list!  The faster you can zero in on the type of marketing you are looking for, the better. Start by focusing on your business goals. For instance, if your business centers on a local geographical area, then referral marketing through existing customers or local event marketing may be prime approaches. But if yours is a national e-tailing business, then you probably will be looking for sophisticated online marketing expertise, such as search marketing or email marketing. That kind of analysis gives you a starting point for what to look for.
  2. Scan for words in the marketing firm’s website or the marketer’s bio, to match your specific needs. Many marketing firms that support small businesses are small “boutique” firms that do a few things really well. Your job is to figure out their sweet spot(s). At times that is easier said than done. One way is to review their website and/or blog, as well as the LinkedIn® profile of the firm’s leaders. Look for words that match your key needs. If mobile marketing is critical to your strategy, you are going to want to see mobile marketing mentioned. If you don’t see that, you may end up paying for the marketer’s on-the-job education.
  3. Check them out in Google® and in the Better Business Bureau®. You want to see what is said about this person and their firm. This is partially to see if they’ve had negative mentions – but chances are you won’t find anything negative (that’s good!). Mostly you are checking them out to assess their expertise. Is the firm name associated with the type of marketing you are looking for? Have the principals published articles or blog posts on that specialty? Have they spoken at conferences on that topic? Look at how they describe what they do in their social media profiles, Chamber of Commerce directories, and elsewhere.
  4. Examine testimonials and case studies, and speak with references. You are going to want to check out the marketer’s work, and the most practical way to do this is through testimonials, case studies, and client references. Who has the marketer worked for? What industries are their clients in – are they similar industries to yours (a big plus, because it means less learning curve) or vastly different? Does the website have case studies pointing out what the marketer did for the client, or can the marketer provide case studies on request? What do past clients say in testimonials? Look for LinkedIn recommendations, also. Ask to speak by phone with one or two existing clients if possible. It’s amazing what you can uncover in a short 10-minute phone call with an existing client. You’re looking for evidence that clients are satisfied, yes — and you’re also looking for how relevant the marketer’s expertise is to your needs, how well the marketer communicates, whether fees are reasonable, and similar factors.
  5. Inquire: hands-on help versus strategic advice. Often small businesses need “hands-on” marketing help, e.g., help writing marketing copy, or updating blog or social media pages. Yet, some small marketing firms are staffed leanly and provide strategy and advice only. They will advise you and guide you on what to do, but can’t devote the man hours to help you execute it. If the marketing firm can’t help with execution, they may still be able to refer you to subcontractors or other service providers who can.
  6. Ask colleagues and industry contacts who they use. This is simple and powerful. Ask other business owners (non-competitors) who they recommend for marketing. If you’re at a networking event, it’s a good icebreaker.

Here’s a bonus point: talk with the marketer a couple of times to determine personal rapport. This may be the most important factor in choosing a marketer: how easy will it be to work with him or her? You could be investing a sizable chunk of money in a marketing firm, and you’ll be taking a chance. Make sure you can develop a good working relationship.

Hiring a marketing firm can be scary, especially if you have never hired outside marketing help before. But the right marketing help can propel your business to the next level, so embrace the opportunity!

Anita Campbell is CEO of Small Business Trends, an independently-owned small business website, and, a social media site. A former General Counsel, she held a variety of senior executive positions in the corporate world. Prior to that, she was an executive and associate counsel for a regional bank.


Any views expressed from the writer may not be those of Nevada State Bank. The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.