Whether you’re looking to jump ship from your current marketing agency or starting from the ground up needing an entire online presence, there are certain stereotypes and truths people lean on:
- Nobody likes their marketing agency and it’s a constant battle to get anything done.
- Somebody loves their marketing agency and won’t tell you who they’re working with.
Shopping for a new agency can feel similar to shopping for a new home — there are parts that are exciting with possibilities of a great future while other parts can feel long and tedious. This is especially more daunting as a small or medium sized business owner who may or may not have a dedicated in-house marketing person who understands what to look for. There are so many fancy, technical buzzwords flying around and the promise of Shiny Tech Object (SHITO?), it can be overwhelming. There are many company types ranging from the established smaller team to the big and corporate. Which is the right fit? Am I choosing the right agency? What if I made a mistake?
I’ll break it down to 8 questions:
- 4 questions to ask yourself before you start shopping
- 4 questions to ask your potential new agency
4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Shopping
What are you looking to achieve with your marketing agency? It’s important to identify some high-level goals to help give you a better sense of direction in the agencies you research. Are you looking to build an entirely brand new site? Are you looking to get a social media presence going? Do you want to update your logo and brand? Defining these high-level goals will help you refine your agency search.
What type of personality or team do you work well with? One of the many keys to a meaningful and successful relationship with your agency is finding a personality you work well with. For example, if you’re constantly busy and are prone to missing deadlines for internal projects, you may work better with someone who sends you regular reminders and hops on weekly check-in calls. If you want to take more of a hands-on approach with editing your website or crafting content, you may work better with someone who is also great at coaching and guidance. You and your agency are a team. Being a successful team means everyone working collaboratively together.
What is your marketing budget? This number doesn’t need to be categorized. It’s more of a “how much am I willing to spend on specialized services?” This varies greatly depending on the size of your practice, your cash flow, practice area, and geographic region. For example, if you’re a personal injury attorney located in Dallas proper in Texas, you’ll very likely need a higher budget than a steady family law attorney in smaller towns around Lubbock (smaller city in Texas). A good rule of thumb is to think about marketing services in a retainer or hourly rate similar to how you bill/charge your clients.
What is important to you in a marketing agency? Create a simple list of the qualities and services that are important to you. These can be high level things. For example, do you prefer to have one point of contact or access to the entire team? Is having an after-hours phone number mission critical for you? Do you prefer an agency who’s in the same time zone as you? Having this list handy ahead of time will help you vet different agencies to your needs.
4 Questions to Ask Your Potential New Agency
What metrics do you track to gauge the performance of my website / SEO efforts / advertising campaign? Any agency worth their weight will have a reporting system in place to present the data (industry term: KPIs or “key performance indicators”) in an easily digestible way. Depending on the goals you’ve established with your agency, the tracked metrics may vary. The report should come with a call from your digital strategist to discuss the numbers together. Your agency should also be ready and open to sharing the not-so-good and bad news. Not every month is going to be absolutely amazing from the get-go. It’s a fact of life that there will be some months where the performance has slowed, remained flat, or declined — this is normal and to be expected. If you get a sense of “toxic positivity” from your potential new agency, that’s a cue to keep looking. If an agency heavily promotes or promises gleaming results without setting expectations of the bumps along the way and the financial investment needed, that’s a big cautionary flag.
Could I talk to my potential account manager? During the sales process, your main point of contact is the salesperson who is operating in a very different capacity than your day-to-day account manager. Ask your salesperson if they can schedule a call with your account manager. This will provide a great opportunity to get to know another person on your marketing team. If you get the feeling you and your future account manager are going to be a good fit, then that may be what seals the deal for you. If you get a vibe that the account manager may not be a good fit, that’s alright too. You can ask if there is someone else available or keep searching.
What is the process for transitioning between sales to your account management team? Depending on the agency’s infrastructure, sales and your day-to-day team may work in a vacuum independent from each other with different environments which could potentially create an unpleasant experience for you. Ask your salesperson what the transition process entails. It could range from internal workflows that are out-of-sight, a call or two to introduce you to your team, or a mix of the two. How long will it be for your account manager to reach out to you? Are there any other forms or small items needed from you in the meantime? Having these expectations ahead of time will help make things easier for you.
What if I’m having an emergency problem with my website? This goes into the “life happens” bucket — servers may go down, you forgot to renew your domain name, or the new IT guy mixed up some changes between the website and your company email. It’s important to ask who to contact if you have an emergency. Does the agency have an after-hours help email or phone number? Do you contact your account manager? In the rare case a website emergency happens, you have a path and plan to make sure it’s resolved ASAP.
After you have talked to and narrowed down your agency choices, be sure to read through the details of their contract (most agencies will send this ahead of time to help close the sale). Most contracts include the normal details such as explaining terms and vocabulary, and provide a breakdown of what is included with the services and/or packages you are going to purchase.
The key items to look for are specific to the termination of the contract. Life happens and you may need to leave the agency at some point. It’s imperative to check for any funky cancellation terms and what you’ll be receiving when you leave. Some agencies sneak in fixed terms in tiny font such as being locked in for several months and/or having to pay a pricey cancellation fee if you terminate early. Be sure the contract states you will receive your content and website files in the case you decide to leave. With contracts being sent via email, it’s easy to open the contract and make the font bigger on your computer screen. Take the time to read through the terms. If anything looks odd, be sure to ask your salesperson for clarification. It’s best to get ahead of those questions rather than getting into a series of calls and emails about it later.
Taking the time to ask yourself and your potential agency these questions will help save your time, money, and sanity in the long run. Hopping from agency to agency can be costly and a big headache. I recommend investing the time up front to do your research, review the proposals and contracts you receive, and choose a team who aligns with your business goals while also providing a roadmap for steady growth.