Lots has been written over the years about hiring a consultant or agency for your business. When I sit back and think about what you as a business owner have on your plate for the day to day of your business, worrying about whether or not a service provider can do the job you need them to do should not be something you have to do.
More businesses have come to me as of late who want to work with a consultant, but have been burned in the past so they propose a “test” project with a small budget to see if they get any results. I think this is a terrible idea, and without minimizing the fact that there are many consultants out there who are not nearly as good as they say they are, getting hurt by one is more of a failure in the vetting process than anything.
Here are the three areas that you should look for before signing a contract with a consultant or agency.
Domain expertise (experience with your business model or situation)
Your business needs to make money, which is ultimately why you are hiring a consultant. Consultants and agencies are hired based on a hope and faith that they will be able to provide outsized value to the business that the business cannot generate internally.
Because of this, you the business owner (or VP/director/manager of marketing) should find someone who has experience with your business model or situation your business currently faces. For example, if you are a B2B Software As A Service (SaaS) company that needs to generate leads, you would be well served to work with someone who has experience driving targeted leads instead of someone who has vast B2C experience and is accustomed to generating millions of pageviews that are then monetized via advertisements.
In the future when I will likely hire consultants or agencies to help with my business, I’ll also look for someone who has experience with companies like mine (marketplace, bootstrapped, low headcount) because they’ll understand those dynamics. A consultant who is used to working within large companies and navigating company politics will not serve my needs as well.
Proven track record (Case studies)
One of the most important ways to vet a consultant or agency is to ask for case studies fairly early on in the process. You want to be sure that they can do what they claim they can do, so ask for case studies from similar companies and what they were able to accomplish (while keeping in mind that results from marketing, just like dieting, will vary).
I say to ask for these case studies fairly early on in the process because many agencies or consultants will take it as a negative sign if you get all the way to the contract negotations phase and then ask for references. This will feel, to them, like you are delaying or do not trust them. By asking for references and case studies earlier in the sales process, you accomplish two things:
1. You disqualify early on anyone who is not actually as good as they claim
2. You still accomplish the goal of learning that the consultant or agency is good and they have the client rapport to prove it.
Ability to explain things clearly in words and in writing (communicative)
Similar to the subpoint above about finding someone who has experience with and thrives in working with a company like yours, communication styles are incredibly important to deduce from a potential service provider or strategist.
One given in business is that something will always go wrong, and often this is no one’s fault. The markets shift or other businesses fail that affect yours, so there will always be fires to extinguish. It’s important in these moments that you be able to work well with the other person, so having a consultant or agency that works similar to you is incredibly valuable.
Finally, you likely hired the outside help because you do not have the expertise internally. Therefore, part of the value with having a consultant is learning from them so that eventually you can either do the work yourself or hire someone to do it. If the person you are working with is not transparent and patient enough to explain to you not only what they are doing but also why, and the return you may get from it, then in my opinion you should seriously consider if you should still be working with them.
If you’re in need of digital marketing help, we have a tightly curated and vetted list of consultants and agencies on Credo that can help your business grow. Over time we’ll be working to provide a lot of the above information for every partner on the site.