Considering there are hundreds of thousands of digital marketing agencies in the world, how do you find the right one for your business?
Not all agencies are created equal either. So making a hiring decision is not just a case of decision overwhelm with the sheer number of marketing agencies available. It’s also a case of engaging the services of an agency that’s an expert, has no direct stake in your business, and won’t cost you an arm and a leg (and a kidney to boot).
While the hiring process can be a daunting task, the results of hiring a digital marketing firm speak for themselves.
The right agency can be a true partner to help you generate loads of revenue and help meet your online business goals.
Here are the best steps to follow to help you hire a digital marketing company.
What you will learn
- The steps to take when hiring a digital marketing partner
- Why hiring a marketing agency is worth it
11 steps to hiring the right marketing agency
It’s crucial to choose the right digital marketing agency because it has a significant impact on your business growth, brand reputation, and return on investment (and more).
Here is a step-by-step process to help you hire the best marketing agency partner for your business.
1. List your marketing goals
Before you start searching for a digital marketing agency, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of your business objectives and marketing goals.
It’s only when you know what your business needs that you can set clear expectations and goals so the agency is aligned with what you want to achieve.
With clear goals, the agency can develop a unique strategic approach that is specifically tailored to your needs. A customized approach also has a higher chance of success than a generic approach.
Plus, when you specify your goals early on, it helps you save time (and money) when you choose and collaborate with an agency.
It’s a good idea to use the SMART method when defining your goals.
This ensures that the goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Examples of SMART business or search engine marketing goals you can share with the marketing firm include:
- I want X number of new leads in 3 months.
- I want to increase the conversion rate by X during the holiday season.
- I want to grow organic traffic by X%.
- I want to increase my email list by 25% by the end of Q3.
Setting creative goals is vital too. Without the agency understanding your company’s brand, tone, and voice, the execution of their digital marketing strategy can easily fail.
You need a complete assessment of your corporate identity and should create brand guidelines (if you don’t have these yet).
Measurable goals enable you and the agency of your choice to monitor progress and determine when targets are achieved.
2. Look for potential marketing agencies
Once you’ve identified your business needs and goals, it’s time to research potential digital marketing companies.
You can find potential marketing agencies by:
- Consulting with your team, finding other word-of-mouth recommendations, and networking
- Looking at association directories, like the American Marketing Association (AMA)
- Looking for recommendations and references from non-competing businesses or vendors you currently collaborate with
- Examining well-regarded brands to gain insights into which PR and marketing agencies to consider
- Using Google search
- Reading through round-ups, rankings, and reviews of top marketing agencies, like this list from Influencer Marketing Hub
- Using agency aggregator sites and directories
- Checking out Clutch testimonials
- Browsing through industry-specific social media groups and marketing communities, such as Big SEO
- Using a search consultant to help build a shortlist of qualified agencies
Once you’ve identified potential agencies that can help you with your digital marketing campaigns, create a shortlist of the best candidates.
These are the agencies you will directly contact when it’s time.
3. Evaluate agency expertise and offering
When you create a shortlist of marketing companies, it should be based on their portfolios and testimonials from clients.
Don’t just work off what you see on the company’s official website as that’s what they want you to see.
You need to verify the company’s track record, so also request case studies and traceable references.
Pay attention to whether they talk about general goals or if they can back up their claims with key performance indicators (KPIs) and actual results.
Assess their communication abilities and creativity to ensure they can effectively convey your brand’s message.
Another key consideration when creating your shortlist is to look at the type of agency and the range of services they offer that will best fit your business model. Here are a few types of digital marketing firms to consider:
- Traditional marketing agencies: A full-service agency that’s similar to an ad agency or advertising agency. These companies typically do not focus on online marketing since they offer public relations, television ads, radio ads, and print marketing services.
- General digital marketing agencies: A full-service digital marketing company that focuses on search engine optimization, e-commerce, content marketing, social media, and internet marketing.
- Specialized niche digital marketing agencies: These agencies focus on one marketing service only, and they may niche down, offering their services to companies in a specific industry only. For example, such an agency could only offer web design in the e-commerce space.
4. Check references and testimonials
There’s a lot of value in talking to past or current clients of the agency.
They shouldn’t have a reason to be dishonest. And their feedback speaks to the quality of the agency’s services and validates its performance.
During the screening process, check public testimonials and references provided by the agency.
Find online reviews about the online marketing service too. Review their website and social media channels to see how professionally they present themselves.
A digital marketing agency is in the marketing business, and thus, they should market themselves to build credibility and trust.
If they can’t market themselves, how will they market you?
Putting all of this together indicates the agency’s authority, expertise, and trustworthiness.
During the screening process when you check references and testimonials, ask the following questions:
- How many years of experience does the agency have?
- What kind of experience does the agency’s team have?
- What case studies and client references can they share?
- Does the agency have a varied portfolio of clients?
- Are their clients all the same?
- Does the agency seem to use a cookie-cutter approach with their clients when you look at their social media platforms, content, and website design?
- How does the agency measure or benchmark success?
- How many positive online reviews do they have compared to negative reviews?
- Have they responded to the reviews? And what were their responses like? Professional? A blame-game for the bad reviews?
5. Schedule a consultation
To shorten your shortlist of online marketing services, schedule face-to-face meetings or virtual meetings with candidates.
This will give you a clearer picture of the agency, and you can easily spot a misfit, especially if there are immediate misunderstandings, misrepresentations, or the company doesn’t fit what you need.
Topics you can discuss during the meeting include:
- Your company, business goals, and expectations
- The agency, their mission, and the services they provide
- Marketing plan and strategy
- Measuring success
- Handling of client disputes
- Past clients
- Potential costs
During your discussion, evaluate the capabilities of the agency and how well they would culturally fit into your business.
Note how they handle difficult questions, whether they value transparency, and what their communication style is like.
You’ll know whether they’ll fit well when you evaluate their mission, values, past clients, and the work done for clients.
Passing the beer or airplane test is also a strong indication that your marketing director will like working with them.
6. Ask the right questions
The topics you pick for the consultation phase will help guide the questions you ask the agency about their digital marketing services.
Here are some key questions to ask:
- What’s the size of your agency?
- How much experience do you have?
- What services do you provide, and what does each entail?
- Do you stay updated with the latest marketing trends and tech? How?
- What tools and processes do you use to get results?
- How much help or assistance will you need from our in house team? (if you have one)
- How do you measure success?
- How often do you measure success?
- How soon after you start on our marketing campaigns can we expect to see results?
- What are the deliverables for content creation, linking, adverts, paid search, and graphic design that we’ll receive?
- Who will be managing our account?
- How do you communicate with your clients? And how frequently?
- Is there a case study or two of similar businesses you’ve helped? What were the successes, failures, and learnings?
- What are some recent failures, and what did you do to remediate them?
- What’s the cost of your services? Are there extra costs for subscriptions, etc.?
Asking the right questions are essential. It reveals whether the agency will be a good fit for your business.
Based on the answers you get, you can decide to improve your negotiating positioning or eliminate the agency from your shortlist (meaning you won’t be going ahead with working with them).
Or, you can continue to compare the various proposals from the other agencies on your list.
7. Review offers and pricing
Once you’ve consulted with the agencies on your short list, it’s time to review offers and pricing.
It’s essential to understand the digital agency pricing model and rules to genuinely evaluate the value or cost - what you are paying for versus what value you are getting.
The agencies should send you a detailed business proposal, service agreement, or request for proposal (RFP) with line-item costs.
Collect this information from the agencies that best suit your business to compare the offers and pricing.
Regarding pricing, marketing companies use various pricing models, and it’s essential to know which is best for your business.
Here’s a brief overview of the most common pricing models from marketing agencies:
- The hourly rates agency pricing model is best for ad-hoc tasks with an uncertain scope. For example, opt for this if the agency helps you moderate your social media pages.
- The project-based or fixed agency pricing model is ideal if you only have a few projects for the marketing company, such as redesigning a website.
- The retainer-based agency pricing model means you pay a recurring monthly fee for ongoing services. A good example of when you can opt for this pricing model is if the agency is doing your social media management, content strategy creation and publishing, or email marketing management.
- A mixed agency pricing model combines different pricing models. For example, an agency will have fixed prices for website design and an SEO audit, and charge hourly rates for implementing recommendations from the initial audit. Choose this model if you have loads of projects for the agency.
When evaluating a digital marketing agency’s proposal, consider factors such as their understanding of your business culture, their ability to effectively communicate your brand’s message, and their proposed marketing strategy.
Once you’ve assessed the proposals and compared agencies, choose the one that best suits your requirements.
8. Read contract terms carefully
Before you make a final decision, it’s crucial to understand the agency’s contract terms and how this reflects in the pricing. Look carefully at the:
- Terms and conditions
- Duration of the contract
- Termination clause and the notice period
- Payment terms
- Scope of services, specifics of the deliverables, and deadlines (interim and final)
- Content ownership
- Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) terms
- Investment increases
- Any other legal considerations
Have your legal department or a legal advisor review extensive or complex contracts before you sign.
Consult with your legal team if you need clarification on the terms of agreement with the marketing agency.
Only sign the contact when you are ready to commit to a partnership with them.
9. Negotiate your final offer
Always negotiate an offer, no matter how good it may look.
You can bring the price down, increase services or the tenure at a fixed rate.
Don't just accept the first proposal made to you.
Carefully examine the business proposal and/or contract, and identify the areas you are not entirely comfortable or satisfied with.
Ask for clarification or changes, and use this opportunity to negotiate an agreement that you and the digital marketing agency agree on.
Before you sign the contract from the agency, double-check to ensure that all the changes and new terms of agreement are reflected.
10. Make a decision
It’s essential to ensure you’ve considered everything before signing the final contract.
Ask yourself if you are happy with the level of expertise, the agency’s previous work quality, their communication style, and the value they offer for the price you have to pay.
There is no need to rush and jump into something or go with the first agency that seems to fit the bill.
Take the time you need to be sure, and hire the best digital agency for your needs once you are.
If you opt to not work with a particular agency, let them know.
The feedback you provide should be brief and courteous; you never know when your paths may cross again so don’t burn any bridges.
If you decide to go ahead with a specific digital marketing agency, don’t sit back and relax.
Keep your finger on the pulse, so to speak.
Frequently check in, keep an eye on the agency’s performance, and ensure they continue to meet your business needs.
You can revisit your decision and terminate the contract if needed - just be sure to adhere to the T&Cs of the contract you signed.
11. Plan the onboarding process
The last step with how to hire a digital marketing agency is the onboarding process.
This process is just as important as all the other steps in this guide.
A proper onboarding strategy ensures a smooth transition.
It also lays the foundation for a successful partnership.
Part of your onboarding process is to clearly define your expectations, the projects’ goals, KPIS, and the timelines.
This ensures that the agency’s marketing team and your marketing manager or relevant stakeholders at your company are on the same page.
Arrange an introductory meeting or workshop between your team and the marketing talent from the agency.
This is the time to share resources and schedule regular communication and reporting.
Are marketing agencies worth it?
Yes, hiring a marketing agency is worth it because the right agency can provide your business with the expertise, experience, and resources needed to create a successful digital marketing strategy.
Since a marketing firm has a deep understanding of the various online marketing channels, they can help you reach your target audience more effectively.
Hiring an online marketing company is also a time and cost-effective option compared to working with an in house marketing team because you pay for the services you need and avoid overheads like training costs and employee benefits.
Your company also has access to advanced tools, marketing software, and technologies through the marketing agency.
This will help optimize your marketing campaigns and boost competitor analysis, keyword research, and analytics to help you grow, improve your brand reputation, and maximize ROI.
- Hiring a digital marketing agency can be extremely rewarding, but it's essential to choose the right marketing firm for your business and ensure you put together a successful marketing campaign.
- Start the hiring process by fully understanding your marketing needs and goals. They need to be specific, actionable, timeous, relevant, and measurable.
- Next, you need to look for potential agencies by doing a Google search, using Clutch testimonials, and looking through marketing communities and association directories.
- Create a long or shortlist of the best digital agencies, and then evaluate each agency's expertise and offerings while you check references and testimonials.
- Schedule a consultation to help you spot misfits, but remember to ask key questions so you can suss out if the agency is right for you.
- Review the digital agency's offers and pricing model, read the contract terms carefully, renegotiate if needed, make your final decision and sign the contract, and plan the onboarding process so you can start working with the digital marketing agency.
While you can work in house with your all star marketing team, most small businesses (and larger ones too) find it easier and more rewarding to hire a marketing agency to help them achieve success with their marketing efforts.
Have you found it easy to hire the best digital marketing agency by following these 11 comprehensive steps? Share with us in the comments below.