Looking for a digital marketing agency is one of the first thoughts many business owners have when they want to grow their business. But choosing the right agency can be a daunting task.
There are over 13 thousand marketing agencies in the US alone. And choosing the right one for your business will make a huge difference in the experience and outcomes you have.
This article is meant as a guide. We want to help make your agency exploration as easy as possible.
First we’ll need to answer some questions about you and your business. We’ll consider why an agency is even beneficial in the first place. And then we’ll cover characteristics of a high quality agency, and how you can find and choose the right one.
Feel confident in finding and choosing the right internet marketing agency for your business!
Businesses turn to agencies because it’s extremely expensive to hire an entire team of professionals with the wide array of skills needed for effective marketing.
For example, If your business wanted to run a single video ad, and wanted to do everything internally, you would need someone to:
That barrier to entry is just too high for a single campaign. And as such, enters the digital marketing agency.
Agencies provide a scope of talent and resources that can be accessed as a whole without the need to constantly hire new talent.
An agency also provides an outsider view of your business. So often, business owners can have difficulty in seeing their brand clearly. The messaging, strengths and weaknesses gets blurred with their insider view. They’re too involved. And an agency can bring that perspective back to the table.
And lastly, the best agencies can deliver specialization that an in-house team never could. For example, an in-house marketing team could never be specialized in bringing the company to its goal of series B funding. This, of course, is because the in-house team is what brought the company to where it is today! But you can find an agency that is built specifically for your stage or need right now.
There are many reasons to consider hiring a digital marketing agency.
It all starts with you!
Every business is different. Different goals, wants, industries, management styles, and more. There isn’t going to be one agency that’s the right pick for everyone—everything starts with answering some basic questions about your business.
Before we go any further. Is your business actually ready for a digital marketing agency?
If your product or service is still in the “idea” phase, there often isn’t a lot an agency can help you with. In some cases it may be a good idea to hire some help in building a website. But even then the product often isn’t developed enough for the site to need the expertise of a team of marketers.
In this stage, we most often recommend that you set up a simple landing page for your business with something like Carrd.co. It’s an easy, free way to build simple one page sites. And it’s typically perfect while you’re still in the “pre launch” phase.
There are exceptions to this recommendation—especially in the funded startup space. But some time here to consider if you’re putting the cart before the horse.
The next group of businesses that likely aren’t ready for an agency are those looking to complete tasks rather than find and fulfill strategy.
If you’re looking for someone to send out your weekly email blast, we recommend you hire internally or just train someone that already works for you. You’ll likely save time and money by completing these types of tasks internally.
These types of activities will not only be more expensive to outsource, but will be done better by someone in house.
For example, consider if a company needed someone to respond to their online reviews. A team member may be personally aware of the situation that resulted in the review. And they’ll be able to respond more quickly, with more detail, more authentically.
But not all marketing tasks fall into this “to-do” category. Your biggest wants and goals require more.
Establish your business goals before you start looking for and meeting with agencies. This will be highly beneficial in your search.
Knowing your goals will help you quickly find agencies that specialize in what you need. Having an idea on how you think that goal would be best met is fine. But you don’t need to know the best way to meet your goals. The agency should be providing expertise on that.
Be as specific as possible with your business goals. It will help you get quotes and proposals from agencies that actually show different styles and methodologies.
When a goal is too broad, agencies often resort to a “cookie cutter” proposal with their suite of services. It’s then difficult to compare agencies when their proposed solutions are all generic. Specific goals should prompt specific proposals and marketing strategies—which are much easier to compare.
So you’ve decided that you’d like to work with an agency, and you’ve decided that you have goals that align with an agency being a good fit.
Before we start lining up a list of potential agencies, let’s cover what attributes you should be looking for. There’s a lot of agencies to choose from! It’s going to be important that you can quickly sort through who might be a good fit—and who won’t be.
Here’s some characteristics you might consider when making your list.
A high quality agency doesn’t need to specialize in a specific industry or service. But those that do tend to be higher quality than those that don’t.
Many agencies fall into a “we’ll do anything for anyone” mentality. And this makes sense! Agencies employ large teams. They have bills to pay just like you. And they don’t want to turn away potential work.
But unfortunately, agencies that are trying to be “everything for everyone” tend to not do any one thing particularly well. Having a broad set of services isn’t necessarily a problem. But these agencies tend to not actually have a defined “best practice” of their own. They instead lean on you to guide them on “what you want”.
This can feel like quality customer service at first. But it ends up being counter productive in why you went looking for an expert in the first place. You spend more time as a de facto project manager than you ought to. And the agency ends up backing away from best practices because they want to please their client.
Every agency is going to have some scope of clientele or services. You would be hard-pressed to find an agency that has “only worked in SEO” and has “only worked with bakeries”. What’s important is that you find an agency that knows who they are and play to their strengths.
We don’t have anything against new agencies! Talented, experienced, people start new ventures every day. But agencies are all about the talent and experience of the team. When choosing a digital marketing agency, ask about previous clients they’ve worked with. Ask about the work they’ve done—even if it was from their time at another agency.
Even if it’s clear that an agency employs experienced marketing professionals, it’s still important to see their work. Seeing what kind of work an agency displays is a good indicator of what they value and the kinds of success they strive to achieve.
Working with the agency in this initial proposal stage needs to be easy. In this initial stage you have nothing to lose, and they have a client to gain. If working and communicating is difficult or confusing in these first few interactions, it’s doubtful that it’s going to get much better.
Submit an information request form and see how long it takes to hear from someone. Take care to notice if you’re answering the same questions over and over or if your previous answers are being considered. Ask honest questions and see if their answers make sense. Establish what kind of communication standards will be held as a client. Take note of your experience.
There isn’t anything special you need to do here besides take notice of the communication as is. See if it works for you and your preferences. There isn’t any “right” answer for how it ought to be done. But do consider that these first few interactions are likely a high point of communication ease and clarity.
This is a hard one.
Everyone, the agency too, wants your new marketing efforts to be a wild success! But it’s also important that in these first conversations realistic expectations are set. This goes both ways, but if the agency is promising the moon, this is a red flag.
Agencies over promise when they don’t feel confident in their ability to create a more meaningful marketing plan. This isn’t to say that businesses can’t see dramatic improvements with some high quality marketing. But the detail and quality of the plan needs to support big promises. If an agency is going big on the expectations, but light on strategy, it’s probably best to move on.
A high quality marketing agency will have clearly established metrics to measure success. Even with highly skilled marketers, there’s often a lot of testing that goes into a successful marketing campaign. As such, quality agencies will know what they’ll be using to measure success.
Clearly defined expectations around reporting is a sign that an agency is confident in its ability to deliver on their promises. Make sure to ask about what kind of reporting you can expect. What metrics will be included. And what sort of cadence you can count on.
Now that you know what to look for in an agency, let’s cover some of the steps around finding agency options that might suit you.
The first thing to do is decide if you want to look for agencies that are local to you, or if you’re willing to work with agencies on a remote basis.
Working locally lets you meet up in person, but limits your available options. Remote gives you lots of options, but limits your interactions to more scheduled and routine video calls and email.
With the widespread adoption of remote friendly technologies, we’ve found very few drawbacks to working remotely with an agency. Even if you choose to go local, it’s likely that a majority, if not all, of your interaction with the agency will be online. But it’s still up to you and your preferences.
After that, start putting together an initial list of agency options! Start your list using referrals, Google searches, and review platforms like Clutch. Search for terms related to your goals or vertical. Search for list results like, “top digital marketing agencies in [your state]”.
As you start searching online for these terms you’ll also start seeing ads for other agency options. Take a look! The click won’t cost you anything. The important thing here is to cast a wide net.
Once you have a good list of agencies, start visiting their websites to get a feel for who they are. Submit contact forms for anyone that seems like they could be a good fit. Drop anyone that doesn’t. You’ll start receiving initial basic discovery calls at this point. In those calls ask the agencies who they primarily compete with—and take a look at those sites too.
Take notice of who takes a long time to respond. The initial discovery calls will likely be short (this is normal). Notice what questions they ask and what they say about themselves without any guided prompt from you.
Every agency calls this stage something different. But if they’re going to get you a custom proposal they’re going to need to know more about you. They likely asked a few basic questions in an initial call and then scheduled a more in depth conversation. If they don’t look to learn more about you, consider that a red flag.
In these discovery/exploration calls pay attention to what they’re asking. Try to get a feel for what they value and how they operate. Bring as many good questions of your own as you can. Every agency will handle this stage differently. But oftentimes the call attendees will reflect the kind of expertise they think you’ll need as they had gathered from the initial call.
At this stage you should start getting a feel for what it’s like to communicate with the agency as well as what they value.
You should be getting some proposals now. Compare them. See where they’re similar, but take special note of where they’re different.
Exactly which proposal you end up pursuing is going to be up to you. It’s a mixture of personalities, industries, styles, and tastes. But if you’re not comfortable with any of the proposals you received, start over! It’s better that you feel confident in moving forward with your agency of choice than to regret your decision months into a contract.
Do note that there is no perfect agency. They’re not perfect and you’ll be working people no matter what. Find an agency that you feel comfortable and confident in. But you’re not stuck forever in any of these decisions. If you need to pivot later, you can.
The RELLO team has been in the agency scene for years now. We know that it can be stressful finding a marketing partner that works for your business.
If you haven’t found an agency yet, if you’re looking to pivot to a different agency, consider RELLO as your next marketing partner. We’d love to speak with you about your business and see if we’re a good fit.
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Fill out our form and a member of our team will be in contact soon. Let’s discuss your marketing needs and see what RELLO can do for you.
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