Today, more than ever, people are leaving in-house marketing jobs, choosing instead to begin their own consulting business. Even I did it - after 12 years in corporate America, working in-house as a senior marketing manager, I chose to break off on my own and open my own consulting company.
There are both pros and cons for small businesses looking to hire a consultant. The pro is that you can find people with years of experience and can hire them as consultants. Not bringing them in-house means you save money on their insurance, bonuses and at times, even equity.
The cons come when you realize there's a much lower barrier to entry now - anyone with a personal Facebook Page and a large number of Twitter followers can offer their services to you.
And while they might be more affordable, it can sometime be hard to discern if they have any experience building brands, or if they’re simply any good at promoting themselves.
Once you make the decision to outsource, you'll want to strongly vet potential consultants and/or agencies.
Here are 10 things I recommend you ask or consider:
Ask what brands the person or agency has worked with and is currently working with (to ensure they're not working with a competing brand).
Don’t be shy about asking for references. Ask about a brand they worked with where something didn't work out – how did they handle that? Were they able to quickly adapt and change course? Do they have the necessary experience in your industry to properly advance your business?
The more they know about your industry, the less of a learning curve there'll be, and the more resources they'll bring to your brand. What are their first steps when taking on new clients?
Anyone with experience will be readily able to show you a portfolio of work as well as links to initiatives they've either run or been involved in creating.
Look for campaigns that have been repeated. You know things are working when you keep doing it.
Have the campaigns led to brand exposure? Sales leads? Will this experience help your market?
The background of each person working on behalf of your brand is important. If you're looking for marketing, PR and/or social media help, you want people that have leveraged those skills working with prior companies.
Do these people have knowledge and experience with trends in these areas?
We know that not everything has immediate return that's trackable when it comes to social media. But you can track most things.
You want to know that this consultant or agency isn’t simply looking to add likes, followers or fans, but is actually able to analyze conversion rates.
Brands that hire an outside agency will want to know that the agency or consultant is consistently monitoring results, and is being held accountable.