I’ve worked in the digital marketing industry for 10 years. I started developing my own brands, picked up an internship, and moved up to CEO of a decently-sized agency. I transferred into solo consulting until I exited the industry completely this year.
Outsourced Marketing: How is It Going?
I’ve talked to many potential clients who were unhappy with the results of their marketing services. They had either contracted an agency or hired a freelancer. Monthly fees are paid to experts who manage social media accounts, paid advertising campaigns, SEO, email marketing, and much more.
These contracts might last only a few months, which can sometimes be the result of impatience on the side of the business. But they can also last for years, bringing in lackluster results.
The Digital Marketing Environment is Vast (Too Vast for One Provider)
Larger companies have multiple full-time social media managers. The amount of marketing that can be done on social media is almost infinite. The same goes for paid advertising optimization, email marketing campaigns, copywriting, and much more.
Almost none of these services are ever successful on their own. If a social media manager is sending qualified leads to a website that doesn’t convert, sales don’t happen. If an email marketer isn’t getting any new contacts to speak to, even the best campaigns will remain unopened.
If you don’t have any internal digital marketers, how many do you employ elsewhere? Are you using multiple companies for these services, or just one agency who can “do it all”? Or, do you have a freelancer who is desperately trying to make one service work in a silo?
Small Businesses Struggle to Justify The Necessary Fees
Many marketers who work with small businesses (those who need the help) usually end up somewhere in the $1-$2k monthly range. Often there is advertising spend on top of that.
That monthly fee translates into real work hours. And if your marketer is any good, not very many of them. At $100 an hour, that’s only 10-20 hours being spent on your business a month. Almost nothing in business (or even life) grows with that little of a time investment.
But when a marketer starts requesting $4-$5k a month, it’s a tough pill for smaller businesses to swallow. And if those businesses can afford those fees, there are better solutions I’ll explain shortly.
Mowing Your Lawn A Quarter at A Time
Very rarely are business owners trying to pull one over on you. Most of the service providers I’ve met are trying their best. I certainly do.
But even if you have an absolute expert single provider with multiple clients, it’s like mowing your lawn a quarter at a time each month. They can mow really well, but the hours just aren’t there to make any real progress.
Digital Marketing and Growing A Company is an All-In Affair
Growing a company is one of the most difficult things a business owner can do. So why do we expect a digital marketer to turn on the funnel of growth for a small monthly fee?
If you want your marketing to work, it’s a 24/7 game. You need to be obsessed with the target market, product, and specific business challenges. You need to spend time thinking of creative ideas and burning through them until you find the 10% that actually sticks.
When I ran the agency with 50 clients paying average fees and 12 employees, it’s nearly impossible to create individual solutions. You are a checklist on a Monday meeting, and a list of tasks that represent marketing best practices. But where is the magic? Where is the grind? It’s possible to outsource that, but you’ll need to pay quite well for it.
When I was a solo freelancer, I kept only 3-5 clients at a time. These were different industries, customers, and products. It took everything I had to carve out the time for the real work: the problem solving. Any marketer can run through the to-do’s: launch this ad, post this video, send this email. But marketing isn’t basic cooking, with an exact recipe you follow for success. It’s art, or warfare, or healthcare. A thousand strategies to use with a thousand different potential outcomes.
How to Help Your Outsourced Marketing Succeed
If you can only afford to outsource $1-$2k of marketing, you need internal members to participate. As a business owner, you need to be checking in with your marketer, providing feedback, critiques, and even generating ideas of your own. This can work.
But, let’s say you outsource social media marketing. You’re probably expecting to pay for the “expertise” of the marketer, as well as the service provided. However, one of my top recommendations was always to bring social media in-house.
The expertise can be learned. Focus on the disposition of the employee: find an extrovert who is glued to their social media accounts, give them some growth metrics to hit, and see what they can do.
You can either send a few pictures to your marketer each month to work with, or you can give an employee a significant raise to create and post content 9-5, every day. They are constantly seeing your clients, participating in strategic meetings, and enjoying daily fun with coworkers.
This content is what people want, and an internal team member can get it out to the public ten times faster than an external consultant. And that’s not necessarily the consultant’s fault: anyone who has tried to get information, content, or deliverables from a client “on time” knows the struggle.
And if your provider ever makes a “Happy Thanksgiving!” post with a stock image, it’s time for a talk. That’s not real work.
If you’re hiring out, try setting metrics-based deliverables vs. the checklist of services they say they can provide. This puts the consultant in the hot seat to generate results. But you should be patient with them. In sales meetings, I’d tell the client that 80% of what we try isn’t going to work (interesting tactic to close a deal, huh?), but the 20% that does makes this all worth it. The best clients were willing to invest in that success.
How to Get Your Marketing to Succeed, Period
As soon as you can afford something like $5-6k a month, make the right move: hire a full-time in-house marketer. $5k to an agency or consultant translates to 30-50 hours of work on your business per month. $5k to an employee translates to 40 hours of work on your business per week.
That in-house marketer has one job: make your business succeed. There are no other clients that take their brain power or attention. Your marketer can learn the skills to succeed. Pay for certifications or allot hours for self-teaching. What you are paying for is that full-time dedication to your customers, your platforms, your challenges, and your marketing.
After 10 years in the industry, that’s what I’ve learned. I am sure there are rockstars or agencies out there that are crushing it and would make me look foolish. But a solo consultant who is smashing it out of the park isn’t going to stick around with you for long. They are going to increase their rates, move to corporate level marketing, or make their own business dreams come true with the skills they’ve learned.
At the end of the day, you’re not going to grow your plumbing business if you have a plumber on-site for only 20 hours a month. Your business administrator needs to be plugged into everything, not checking in monthly. Your marketing deserves the same respect and attention. Set an employee-sized budget for it as soon you can, so you can market from in-house or pay for the hours needed to succeed.
What I Do Now
Smart Inbound has moved exclusively into high-quality, strategically built websites. This means we design with marketing at the forefront. Your website is supposed to achieve a business goal: let’s find out what that is and optimize everything accordingly.
We use the best quality hosting, the most popular design tools, and create completely custom designs. In the same vein of “your website should sell for you”, visit our home page. You can see our design principles, portfolio, features, timelines, and pricing. Leave a message for a free consultation.
PS: I wrote this for fun, in an hour on an iPhone note, and highly caffeinated. Please excuse any errors. Like I said, I’m out of the marketing industry. That includes writing inbound blogs like this one. And if I never have to log into a Facebook ad account again, I’ll be so happy.