For most small business owners, marketing is a necessary evil they'd prefer to avoid. In fact, a TD Bank survey found that after bookkeeping, marketing is most small business owners' least favorite task.
On the one hand, marketing can be time-consuming, and small business owners already have enough to do between running daily operations, handling finances and sales, and developing products and services.
On the other hand, some may want to maintain control of their marketing efforts, and may even find it can be rewarding when it pays off.
For entrepreneurs and others stuck between those opposing sentiments, the decision regarding whether to outsource can be a tough call.
Here are some of the pros and cons to weigh when you're considering outsourcing your marketing.
Pros: Four Reasons to Outsource Your Marketing Efforts
One of the most compelling reasons to outsource your marketing efforts is time. Creating and distributing quality marketing content—writing, editing, graphic design, and video production—takes hours of dedication on an ongoing basis. As does interacting with your blog and social media followers.
If you and your in-house team lack the time to engage in these activities, outsourcing your marketing may be a viable solution, freeing up time to spend on other high-priority tasks for your business.
Many marketing firms and agencies have teams of experts who specialize in various marketing efforts, including branding, creative content, and distribution. Those teams have the knowledge and experience to develop and deploy successful marketing campaigns for you. That expertise can translate into more effective campaigns that yield better results.
For instance, when interior design company Lulu & Georgia outsourced its marketing to an experienced chief marketing officer, its revenue doubled in four months, average revenue per email increased 12-fold, and the average lifetime value of their customers rose 29%.
A marketing firm can also help you stay focused on a concrete marketing strategy. If you lack experience in marketing, you may not be sure which strategy or tools to deploy for the best return on your investment, and you can waste time and money getting distracted by a marketing tactic that turns out to be unproductive. For instance, you might not be sure which platform is the best social media tool for a particular marketing campaign. An experienced marketing firm will know which tactics yield results and can help you stay focused on the right activities to achieve your goals.
An outside marketing company can also bring objectivity to your promotional efforts. For instance, you might be inclined to judge the effectiveness of an ad or a piece of content by what sounds good to you, which may or may not work effectively for your target market.
Professional marketers use powerful analytic tools that measure the effectiveness of promotional campaigns, providing information such as how many likes or shares a social media post generated or how many visitors came to your site from searching on a particular keyword phrase. Relying on such objective data rather than a subjective opinion can mean the difference between waging an effective promotional campaign and wasting your time and money on something that sounded good to you.
Marketing Activities to Consider Outsourcing
Marketing encompasses a broad array of activities, from branding, to pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization, content creation, graphic design, video production, social media management, e-book publishing, email marketing, TV advertising, radio advertising, print ads, direct mail, telemarketing, and public speaking. You may have some sense of which tactics you'd like to pursue based on what you're already doing. One thing an experienced marketing agency can help you do is to identify the options that best fit your product or service, your target market and the goals of your particular marketing campaign.
Finding the Right Marketing Firm
Finding a marketing agency that fits your needs can be challenging, especially if you're inexperienced at working with agencies. Once you've identified some suitable agencies, interview their representatives, asking probing questions about their specialties, their experience, and their team. Check their references, as well as online reviews. Comparison-shop before negotiating a contract.
If it looks like they might be a good match, prepare an outline of the specific marketing problem you want them to solve, how you will measure the marketing agency's success in terms of sales targets or other key performance indicators, and your budget for the project. Ask how the marketing agency will keep you updated on progress once you've hire the firm.
To assist you with finding the right firm, you can use marketing firm directories to help steer you toward established agencies with solid reputations. For instance, Ad Age publishes LookBook, a directory of marketing solutions listing agencies' specific areas of specialization. Other directories are the American Marketing Association's Marketing Resource Directory, Direct Marketing News, and Redbooks.
Cons: Four Reasons Not to Outsource Your Marketing Efforts
Expense can be one of the big reasons companies hesitate before reaching out to marketing agencies. The expertise a marketing firm may have can come at a steep price. Review your budget carefully before hiring a firm, weighing the potential cost against the potential benefits.
If your in-house talent can do the job at a lower cost, you might want to stick with your own resources. On the other hand, if your in-house team isn't delivering the results you want for the time and money you invest in their marketing efforts, investing in an outside firm may be worth the cost.
Another possible drawback to hiring an external marketing firm can be loss of creative control. If you prefer to be in control of the details of your marketing campaign, you might think twice about delegating marketing decisions to an agency. On the other hand, if you don't have marketing experience, handing over control to a team of experts may be beneficial. You might, however, find middle ground where you and the marketing agency you employ collaborate over the marketing content they create.
3. Risk of Finding the Wrong Firm
Another risk is the possibility that the firm you hire may not meet your expectations—for various reasons. In some cases, it may be a consequence of poor communication between you and your agency, leading to misplaced expectations.
For instance, an SEO firm might be able to boost your traffic, but that might not automatically generate more revenue—for numerous reasons. If you hire the firm and you expect more traffic to automatically translate into more sales, your expectations may be out of alignment with what the agency is prepared to deliver.
In other cases, a firm may be too eager to get work even if it's already overloaded or even if it lacks the specific expertise to do the particular job you want. It's also possible to hire a firm that's good at one area of marketing and then mistakenly assume it's equally competent at all types of marketing. For instance, a firm that is great at producing blog content may not be equally skilled at video production.
4. Lack of Passion
You're bound to be more passionate about your own business than any outside agency could be. For you, your business is your livelihood and possibly your life's dream. But for a firm you hire, you may be one client among many whose needs must be simultaneously met. A firm with a strong sense of professionalism will still prioritize making you a happy client.
You may be able to gain a sense of how much passion prospective firms have for serving clients from what they say about their company values on their website or what their representatives emphasize when speaking with you. A client-focused firm will seek to ascertain your marketing goals and needs through well-considered probing questions before taking you on. In contrast, a firm that is only interested in getting your money will focus less on identifying your needs and more on getting you to sign a contract.
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Hiring an outside marketing firm should be approached as a calculated risk. Take a clear, hard look at potential pros and cons. Identify the potential opportunities and risks. Minimize your risks by carefully screening prospective firms before making a hiring decision.