Digital strategy consultant advice
How to save money, keep it simple & avoid the pitfalls when hiring a digital strategy consultant
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Over the last 20 years marketing has fundamentally changed.
In the old days, marketers told the consumer what to think, what to do and what to buy and you only had a limited number of friends and colleagues to ask opinions on before you purchased.
Fast forward 20 years or so and you now have over 3 billion people worldwide to ask via search engines or social media.
Consumer review sites are the automated marketers of the 21st century as they can make or break your product with just a few good / bad reviews. A business can be defined by simple computer code (your website) just as you might look at a shop window on the high street and decide if you wanted to go in or not.
The world’s biggest brands now spend more on digital marketing than they do on TV ads as they are now able to have a conversation with nearly EVERYONE of their brand advocates via social media sites like Facebook.
Yes, the word digital means something totally different today, it covers what we call your “digital presence” this is everything from your website, mobile app, online blog, social media accounts, email and SMS marketing and much more.
As of last year, Millennials, the generation that grew up online, make up the majority of the workforce, which means digital marketing is now a necessity for all businesses and therefore, it’s important to hire agencies that are not only hyper-aware of the landscape but also passionate about the success of their clients.
Digital Marketing is very exciting, offers lots of fulfilled potential and if done correctly, generates engagement, brand positivity and ultimately revenue.
(There’s a BUT coming…)
BUT… there are literally hundreds of digital marketing agencies in the UK alone not including freelancer marketers too and like anything in life, there is a difference in quality from one to another! So, if your starting up a business and need the help of a digital marketer, how do you tell the good from the bad? This guide is designed to help you do just that, giving you the information you need to make a knowledgeable decision on hiring a digital marketing partner.
Who’s this guide for? Anyone who needs to understand their digital strategy options and be aware of the common issues so they can make informed choices.
What is a digital strategy consultant?
A digital strategy consultant, digital marketer or digital marketing specialist (many different names exist for the same role) is someone who can look at your business and its processes and help you to devise a plan and a direction. They will research ways to promote your products and services to help you acquire, engage and retain your customers across your chosen digital channels.
They should be experienced in the core digital channels social, email, mobile and online as a minimum (the better ones will understand marketing automation and CRM integration too).
What’s the difference between a cheap digital strategy consultant and a digital strategy consultant?
They say “experience changes understanding” and nowhere is this truer than in digital marketing.
A cheap digital strategist may not have the same experience as someone who is seen as being “expensive”. Thus, their ideas, knowledge and strategy may be ineffective resulting in less “bang” for your “buck”.
That said, just because someone is cheap doesn’t make them any less effective as an “expensive” one and in my experience, the cheaper ones often have the edge over expensive ones in terms of cost vs reward.
Another saying is “you get what you pay for” which as we all know is very, very true. Often the cheaper strategist just doesn’t have the resources to manage all the aspects of your digital marketing strategy so they will lead you down the social media route, conveniently forgetting other channels as they are too resource intensive for them.
The number of businesses that contact me about their digital marketing needs and tell me that they are happy with “just doing social” is ridiculous. It’s not unusual for these same businesses to be using only 20% of social media capabilities anyway!
A digital strategy consultant should always be judged on ability, Knowledge, resources and price, never price alone as it can be very misleading.
Why is choosing the right digital strategy consultant so difficult?
As we have previously discussed there are so many digital media agencies out there that it’s hard to make a choice. All of these agencies have a USP, experience, knowledge, particular product or service, automation system etc. So, who should you use?
The main reason it’s often difficult to choose the right consultant or agency is because the small business owner doesn’t know what it is they should be doing. Or they have an idea but aren’t sure how to go about adding this to their existing business processes.
There are components of every digital marketing strategy that are part of every business plan, no matter what the size. There are elements of each plan, like social media for example, that need to be integrated with your brand and product strategy no matter what size you are.
The problem the SME business owner can face is that unless the digital consultant sits down with them and explains this in an easy to understand manner, how is the small business owner to know what’s right and what isn’t?
The key point is this. A good consultant won’t tell you what they’re going to do or the channels you should be using, not straight away at least.
What they should do is talk to you about what YOUR goals are. What your targets are for customers, revenue, sales, engagement, your brand etc.. and how they can save you money and resources by implementing a digital marketing strategy across your marketing and sales departments of your business.
They will ask you things that should get you thinking hard about your business, not just marketing but operationally and your sales processes too.
Finally, they will go away and come up with a plan for you based on your needs and your needs alone.
Why is a digital strategy consultant so important for an SME?
A good digital marketing strategy consultant should act like an extension of your business, your own marketing resource, someone who loves to deliver results for your business almost as much as you do.
More importantly than that, they will provide you with a strategy. This can be used to grow every aspect of your business from sales through to operational processes that will save you money in the long term and increase revenue.
Over time they will alter the original strategy for you as your business goes through change, both good or bad. Success will be judged on revenue generation (60%) and business objectives (40%) by appraisals and as part of your ongoing partnership.
Digital strategy consultant questions that can help?
What are the best ways to save money?
There are several ways you can save money. The easiest one is to set up your own social media pages (facebook, twitter etc) and begin to develop your own content on them. This will help the Digital Agency to grow your social “brand” and engagement strategy for you, without creating it from scratch and charging you a “setup” fee, which might run into hundreds of pounds.
If your business relies heavily on showing content or results for other clients (eg a health and beauty business or other lifestyle businesses) then you will have lots of images, photos or videos even that you have collected on the quality of your work. By maintaining and creating this content you’re saving yourself thousands of pounds on content production and making the agencies job much easier.
Which areas should I be aware of that take the most amount of time?
Content production can take up a lot of time, especially if you have Instagram and You Tube channels as part of your social media assets. Creating Video content can be costly and time consuming compared to an email campaign or an SMS marketing campaign which are generally quite easy to turnaround.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are very important to your business. Get a good one of these and control the level of information going into it properly. Then your marketing agency can use it as their “holy grail”. Over the years I have worked with some of the biggest and best companies on the planet, delivering digital communications for P&G, Telefonica and Ladbrokes PLC.
The thing they all had in common? They valued data. They used great CRM systems and linked it into their marketing systems. This resulted in omni-channel campaigns being created. For instance, this is where you might send an email to a customer, track when they open it.
If they don’t open it in a specified timeframe you might want the CRM system to trigger an SMS reminder to that contact that they have an email waiting for them in their inbox.
Or alternatively, your agency can link your CRM to their Social Media platform and send one key message out to all your customers across many social channels (facebook, twitter, You Tube etc) and in many different formats (posts, videos, tweets etc).
So setting up, maintaining and using your CRM system can be costly initially until the automation and integration have occurred. A good agency or consultant will tell you exactly what they are doing and give you a breakdown of costs.
It’s a necessity to get this right early as I have seen great CRM integration enable 30% more customer engagement and poor or no CRM integration literally stop a business in its tracks. The ones that fail don’t know anything about their customers and couldn’t take advantage of the knowledge that would allow them to make bespoke offers.
What should I do first to make sure I pick the right digital partner?
Talk to several prospective candidates, get a feel for what they are like as people, can you partner with them for the long term? First impressions count! Tell them about your business and see what their reaction is, do they seem interested? Do they ask pertinent questions and respond with ideas that are relevant? Do they understand your industry or sector? Are the passionate about what they do? Do they ask you what you want them to do?
I have never spoken with any small business owner who knew 100% what they wanted from me as a digital marketing consultant. Some thought they did, only for me to bring up several things in our first meeting which changed the way they were thinking or added complexity to their customer acquisition plans etc. Expect a good strategist or agency to push your boundaries, challenge your thinking and almost say (without sounding condescending) we can do what you want but do it better!
How much should I spend and on what?
This is a hard question to answer as it depends largely on how you see your business growing, where your leads are coming from and what your business actually does!!
The tip I can give you here is that you should only start by spending what you can afford comfortably. If that mean your budget is £250 per month, then a decent agency will work out a strategy within that budget.
The larger agencies and consultants may not work with you if your budget is too small. So your budget may dictate who you can partner with, but the rules we have talked about in this guide still apply no matter what budget you have.
Remember… from small acorns, big trees grow! As a digital consultant with over 20 years’ experience and more importantly passion, I really like working with these small acorns and nurturing them to be that next big tree. The good consultants and agencies will think like that too.
What can I do myself, if any?
As mentioned earlier in this guide, you are your own biggest ambassador for your products or services. Therefore, your content, videos, posts, customer feedback etc. is better than anything an agency could produce. Content is king and you have the keys to the castle!
CRM and data management, take personal responsibility to manage your data as you would your personal bank details or your passport etc. Make sure that what goes into your CRM is perfect and you will give your marketing agency the best chance of hitting the right people with the right message at the right time, every time.
What are the signs that my digital partner is ripping me off?
There are several red flags. The biggest and most dangerous one is agencies that claim they can “guarantee” results or positions on search engines like Google for instance. Ask to see an example of one of their customers that they have “guaranteed” the same results to and actually delivered.
One factor that stands out when an agency isn’t doing the right thing with a client is the standard of their campaigns and the quality of their work. Are they using similar content and templates for multiple clients? If you look at their client examples and they are all very similar in orientation, then chances are the agency is using standard templates for all their customers.
This is a sign that the agency isn’t up to date with the latest offerings in the digital media sector or that they want to charge the earth for basic work by using templated designs.
Finally, beware the agency that pushes a plan at you without fully understanding your business goal. These are the eager beavers who want your money and use a one size fits all approach using templated websites and social media as a quick win.
Pitfalls and problems – before you hire a digital strategy consultant
Overspend – Under deliver
NEVER be tempted to overspend on your budget without knowing the average campaign results before you do. I have seen many businesses overspend on marketing via Google or Facebook ads and not actually cover their outgoings with the results of the campaign. This is usually down to poor planning, poor execution or just a poor message and relaxed call to action.
Field of Dreams – Build it and they will come!!
NO THEY WON’T – if you don’t have a solid digital marketing strategy you can have the best website in the world, the best customer experience via a mobile app in the world and the best product in the world, but your competitors will clean up and leave you counting the cost. Be careful that your digital marketing partner isn’t all talk!
You know your business better than anyone!
NEVER let yourself be bullied into accepting a strategy that undermines your brand or your business. Maybe the content isn’t quite right or the email isn’t on spec. Or the agency is talking about helping you take the business down a new road which isn’t quite you or you’re not ready for. Make sure you tell them.
You know what your business stands for, you know where it’s heading and what you want from it. Don’t accept half measures no matter what your budget is.
A good consultant works with you to make things better, but would never force opinions on you, never do the EASY thing or focus on an area before you’re geared up to make the most out of it.
The golden rules
Not many of us have thousands of pounds to spend on a digital strategy so these are the key areas you should be focusing on.
Always get a feel for the consultant and their company. Speak to them and use your gut feel. If they aren’t interested in what you need now then they aren’t likely to be in the future either.
Do they mention budget in the first 5 mins? Are they telling you what they can do before they ask you any questions about your business and its goals?
Are they affable, humorous and sociable? Do you think that you could have a relationship with them?
Trust is Golden
If you’re working with someone who is contributing to your business strategy the way a digital consultant is, then you need to be able to trust them not to get things wrong. Trust is key to the relationship. So ask yourself, do I trust these people or do they seem trustworthy. Have they ticked all the boxes for me?
Experience & References
Ask them what types of customers they work with. Do any of them cover your chosen sector? If not, what experience do they have within your business or product area? Do they have references or client testimonials?
Ideas and Quality Content
Right from the word go your ideal agency or consultant partner will have ideas about how you can grow your existing marketing channels, engage better with your clients and generally take your brand up a level. They will talk about the types of content you might use and give ideas that you haven’t thought about before based on talking to you about what you’re currently doing.
You need an agency or consultant that can work in an agile manner. They should be capable of running multiple channel campaigns at the same time to offer you what we call omni-channel presence. Depending on your budget you may not find this level of satisfaction is available due to resource issues with the smaller consultants. Keep looking, because there are smaller digital agencies and consultants who use marketing automation software allowing them to do multiple tasks at the same time or set things up in advance.
There are no short cuts
Expectations work both ways – there are no shortcuts but your agency should be able to show progress against the original plan you agreed and against proactive agreed timelines too.
It’s a two-way partnership
The number of clients that I’ve met who expect me to just get on with it and deliver a rewarding and revenue driving digital marketing strategy is huge.
Sometimes I must remind them that we all need direction. Leaving your agency alone to get on with a plan is ok, but try to regularly contribute to the partnership.
Highlight sales offers on your product, special occasions when a different campaign might work and general feedback on a campaign’s individual performance.
Tell them if something really worked for you just as much as something that nosedived. No agency in the world will get it right all the time.
Quarterly Appraisals & KPIs
With my clients, I have regular meetings on either a bi-weekly (new clients) or quarterly basis. We talk about the objectives we set at the last meeting. I show them the progress we have made and we talk about how this has contributed to sales and bottom line revenue. We agree what worked and what didn’t work and then we plan the next tranche of work until the next meeting.
Price & Length of Contract
It would be wrong of me to end this list of golden rules without mentioning price and length of contract. Any good agency or consultant will be more than happy to give you a trial price for their services, they want you for the long term remember so don’t be afraid to haggle!
NEVER sign a long-term contract at the beginning of a relationship – put them on a trial for a few months first. If they pass the trial put them on a 6 month one to allow you to gain the trust that comes from working with them over time. Once you’re happy with the relationship you can agree a standard contract.
Remember the Golden rules!!
By remembering the pitfalls and the golden rules we have written about in this guide, you will be able to navigate the minefield that is digital marketing and find your perfect partner to grow your business with.