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David Mills
By David Mills on August 19, 2022

7 Things to Skip When Hiring a Small Business Marketing Consultant

Avoid these time wasters in your search for a small business marketing consultant.

People who run small businesses don't think of the work they do as small - nor should they. They are the primary drivers of employment, and they pay the taxes that allow cities to operate. Small businesses create the environments that make communities great. The truth is a $10 to $40 million dollar company isn't small.

When looking for help, knowing what kind of consulting will move the ball forward can also help you to spot a marketing consultant that won't get the job done. Here's how you can sort through some of the noise to get the right kind of help.  

What's small about small business? Nothing.

Small business is officially categorized as between $1 million and $40 million in revenue and between 100 and 1500 employees. These numbers are adjusted by industry type. When placing companies into the official small business category, management firms are considered small up to $38 million, and those in the information sector range from $7.5 to $38.5 million, as do those in the education, recycling, health care, and social service.  

About 50% of all U.S. businesses fall below 250 employees. That might be a better way to measure a small business. Regardless, these are substantial revenues and a substantial workforce. 

Whether you normally view your company within these categories or not, it can help you find the right kind of marketing consultant. You need to know the size of companies that specific consultants work with. Many work only with start-ups and small entrepreneurial companies, while others are focused on local retail. You should be talking with small business marketing consultants that work with an appropriate size business so they have the experience that you need.

Do you really need a marketing consultant? 

If you are already bringing in the traffic, leads, and customers that you need for growth from your online presence, then the answer is no. If you don't have a full in-house marketing team, and you want to keep up with the market (especially after these past 3 years of disruption), then you may need some outside help to steer your digital ship in the right direction. 

Important business changes like adding product or service lines, expanding into new markets, or adjusting the customer target make the use of a marketing consultant an important option. Stalled growth or the desire to push past a revenue plateau is also a good time to look for some help with marketing.

7 things to skip when you need a small business marketing consultant

1. Skip working with marketing consultants who don't have experience in the same size range as your company.

The needs of a $30-million-dollar company are a lot different than one at $5 million in revenue. The organizational requirements are different, team interactions are different, and priorities shift as companies grow. Familiarity with a $100k ad spend is different than a $2.5K monthly marketing budget. 

The growth challenges of these different-sized companies are also unique, and marketing has to be prepared to help you respond to the right budget and deliverables - the ones that fit your size.

2. Don't restrict yourself only to marketing consultations with industry-specific experience.

Here's why: While you might appreciate someone who knows the definition of a PEO, FCL, ATS, Change Order, or a Daily Census (if those don't make sense to you, then don't worry, they're probably not from your industry), industry-specific marketing consultants tend to deliver the same set of recommendations from company to company. 

Market disruption and changing buyer trends reach far beyond one industry, and getting access to up-to-date resources depends on marketing knowledge beyond a single industry. You also don't want to restrict yourself to in-the-box thinking when branding, creative development, and growth strategies require just the opposite. Just imagine what you could apply to your business from a completely different industry.

Even though you're not in the Space or Electric Car Industry like Elon Musk, would you like to get insights from someone who has worked in his circle? Fill in the blank with your own favorite business leader. The solutions that work for growth tend to translate across industries, and you need to be able to get the best growth strategy - not just canned answers that have been re-hashed from others in the same field.

Remember, you're the expert in your industry, what you need is an expert in marketing. Your marketing expert is helping you to reach people- and people respond based upon their needs and challenges. 

Think of it this way. If you were selling a new breakfast cereal, would you hire a marketing consultant that knows all about the formulation of cereals, or someone who knows about packaging? Marketing for growth is packaging, and that skill reaches across industries. Your marketing consultant should be able to do the same and package your great idea to reach the market.

3. Avoid Single Strategy Consultants.

The old saying is true in marketing just like in life: If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Some consultants are limited to a single marketing strategy or tactic, which means that they'll be working to sell you that specific tool throughout the process. If that is an email strategy (email is good, don't get me wrong), then that will be the centerpiece of their advice. Social media, SMS (text messaging) and video can all fall into these narrow strategy sets, along with others.

What you need is growth consulting - expertise that is focused on the same goal that you are focused on - growth. 

Try to prove your different

4. Know the difference between a Growth Team, an SEO Firm (Search Engine Optimization Firm), a Traditional Agency, and a Digital Advertising Consultant. 

These four approaches to marketing all view the online experience through a different lens:

  1. Digital advertising views the process of winning leads through the lens of paid (rented) placement.
  2. Traditional agencies usually operate as generalist vendors and complete tasks that fall into broadly accepted marketing methods or deliverables.
  3. SEO views the lead process through the lens of technical adjustments to your website, making it more attractive for search engines to index and rank.
  4. Growth teams view your website and marketing through the lens of the buyer experience and focus on delivering value in every online encounter tied to specific growth outcomes.

You may need some of these services at one time or another, but the core of your strategy has to be to find the right solution for the right purpose. 

Once you know the difference, skip the ones that don't fit. Traditional marketing tends to work from task lists and fixed feature sets. They operate as traditional vendors and the problem with this approach is that they are always looking for something else to do. Plus, if they have checked their box of tasks, they may not step up to the task of being a real business advisor who is vested in your success and will give your insights that fall outside of their list of to-dos.

Ad agencies make their money by placing digital ads. It's a single focus and will always come back to this same rented strategy of traffic placement using paid placement.

Growth teams operate as an extension of your team and help you focus only on activities that will contribute to actual growth and ROI. They'll push back on requests that are dead-ends (you'd want that right?) and measure their value on increased traffic, leads, and customers, the same way that you do. Their strategy will take all available methods and lean into what will work best.

You can skip the SEO and the Ads if you haven't figured out how to deliver value online. If you want to stand out or focus on growth, a traditional agency will offer more of what most other businesses are doing. These strategies are designed to get eyes on your brand, but without a value experience, it won't amount to much. The insider scoop is simple: Google ranks traffic on the quality of the content and the user experience, and people who are already searching for answers will be your best customers. 

5. Skip looking for a local firm. 

It can be tempting to look for a local firm to help you. But here's the truth: most marketing work is done remotely, and even if there is a local office, the people you will probably work with won't be local.

It's far more important for you to find someone who will build from the assets you have, and work collaboratively to augment the skills present in-house. The primary skill that you are looking for is demonstrated not in a local storefront, but on a website, start by looking there.

6. If you rely upon eCommerce, then skip those who don't work in this field.

eCommerce is truly its own expertise. It involves optimization of online stores, uploading products, and helping visitors to purchase. For those who need a digital conversion element that is not eCommerce, then a growth team is a good choice. Their consulting will be about moving a visitor through the decision journey with a digital conversion at the end, but that's not eCommerce. 

realign with the buyer

If eCommerce is only a portion of your business, you may need to work with a consultant on the service conversions, and someone else who can manage your online store. Of course, online stores have become very user-friendly and can easily be built on most websites. But if that is all that you do, go with an expert.

7. Avoid Top Secret, Slick Click Consulting. 

You've heard it before: if it sounds too good to be true, or if no one else knows about it, then it is probably mostly hype. There is a never-ending list of those who are peddling a single great idea, or who have a top-secret approach that will guarantee more leads. The reality is that the massive digital players in the market (think Google, Facebook, etc.) will always sniff out any hack that is trying to work the system, and they will squash them sooner or later.

Also in this category are small business services that are attempting to cross over from one media to another, as well as celebrity-driven marketing services that won't ever give you personal service. Services like digital ads from radio, or newspapers are going to deliver far less than what you'd get from someone whose focus is on the digital experience and your growth. These services are usually add-ons to the real media they want to sell look more attractive.

The best approach is to align your goals first.

Any small business marketing consultant or service that you work with should begin the conversation by talking about your goals. If they begin with their new method, their unique strategy, or anything other than what you specifically need to accomplish, it probably won't end well.

Pushing your business or nonprofit into a simplistic program is unlikely to create the results that you need. Growth only comes online when you line up what your buyers actually want and need and match that with the unique value of your services.

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Published by David Mills August 19, 2022
David Mills