Over the last few years we’ve seen 1,500+ businesses and $14M+ in digital marketing spend come through Credo.

In that time, I’ve learned a lot.

One big lesson I have learned is that many businesses have no idea how to explain what they are looking to accomplish by engaging with an agency/consultant.

Here’s an example. I recently received an inquiry to Credo where the point of contact said this about what they are looking for. The prompt is “Describe your project. What problem are you trying to solve?”:

In need of online marketing service.

After a conversation with the client, we came up with this:

[Client] is a [location] based [type] company. They have been working with a local SEO and PPC agency but are looking to move away from them to get better work and to work with someone who cares about their business, not just another contract. They’ve been working on a new website with their current agency, but are open to having their new agency take that ball and run with it instead. They’re looking for a long term engagement with a digital marketing agency who understands local and national lead generation, can help them grow their organic traffic (via content marketing as well) and paid acquisition channels through both strategy and execution, can help them monitor and manage their brand reputation online, and who is open to working collaboratively with them as they are very involved with the data.

Where’s the disconnect?

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there’s a rule across the demand generation world that people tend to not provide enough information about themselves and do not explain themselves online. (This is why Credo has a high-touch approach to vetting out projects).

Research also shows that forms are really a balance between user-intent/trust as well as what you as a business need to qualify leads and then follow up with them.

Quite simply, it’s hard.

One of my missions with Credo is to level up the marketing world and help marketers think deeper about their businesses so that the client/agency relationship can be more focused on the metrics that matter (revenue and customers) rather than things like “links” or “cost per lead”.

While those two can matter as directional metrics, they are not ultimate business metrics. Marketers too often talk about things that don’t matter (every part of a business does this, such as engineers talking about “CRON jobs” and seeing executives roll their eyes) and are not helpful to them getting buy-in to grow the business.

So how do you write a good digital marketing brief?

Here’s what I’ve learned over the past years. You need to:

  1. Not be prescriptive, but rather consultative;
  2. Explain the kind of business you are and how you make money;
  3. Define your business goals and set measurable milestones;
  4. Know what team you have in place and what that means for who you should hire;
  5. Have an initial idea of the channels you want to invest in;

To that end, I’ve created a marketing brief generator to help you think through all of these and come away with something you can send to an agency or bring to us at Credo to kickstart the right introductions for your needs.

Check out the marketing brief generator

My best advice

My best advice to a business looking to work with and contacting an external marketing entity is this:

Do not be prescriptive about what you need.

Many businesses try to say specifically what they want, but if the person trying to find services is not a marketer themselves or is hunting for someone to fill a gap in their own skillset, then being prescriptive about what you instead of engaging in a consultative sales process is to the business’s detriment.

Instead of being prescriptive, do what any good manager does: ask questions and set goals then set the expert(s) free to set the strategy.

Explain the kind of business you are

When you’re inquiring to an agency and explaining what you need, one of the first things a good agency will ask you is what kind of business you are.

The kind of business you are determines the types of strategies needed for the different channels you are trying to use to grow your business. For example, a location-based business needs specific strategies around local citations and specific on-page elements for SEO purposes whereas a large ecommerce website needs to be more concerned about duplicate content and crawl budget.

Point is, you need to be clear with the potential provider about what kind of business you are, who you serve, and how you make money.

For example:

We are a home decor ecommerce website. We sell direct to consumer as well as to interior designers. We are looking to grow the B2B side of our business by targeting designers to our email list. We sell wholesale to interior designers, which makes up approximately 20% of our business right now.

Define your business goals

Next you need to be clear on what you are looking to accomplish by engaging with a marketing provider.

What you are looking to accomplish should map back to your business revenue goals, not a specific thing that an agency would do for you. You want to hire for results, not for output. Many ineffective people and organizations do a lot of thingsbut they never seem to accomplish anything.

Just like as you would not not hire a full time employee without a defined role and goals set with an idea towards how that employee will contribute to the bottom line, you should not hire an agency without clear defined goals for what you want to accomplish.

This of course gets tricky if you don’t even know the questions you should be asking to determine if the agency can do what you need in order to hit your goals. But it’s worth trying to get closer to that.

Most people out there in the world who are providing services are not hucksters. Most people you contact to see about working with them genuinely want to do good work and want to help you grow. Whether they have the skills to do it is another story, but most are not out to just make a quick buck off of you.

If you’re not sure that the strategy the person is proposing will get you to your goals, let the numbers do the talking. Press them to show you, based on research and data, how what they are proposing will get you to where you want to go.

Know what team you have in place

Once you know the team you have, you can look for the right kind of provider. One of the areas that we at Credo most commonly help businesses define is the type of provider they need. Many think that they want a consultant, but when I dig into their business and team setup I discover that they need services as well and thus an agency is likely the right answer.

The team you have in place determines whether you need strategy or services, and thus the type of provider you need to hire.

If you have a team in place but do not have a set strategy, then often the right answer is a consultant who can first work on strategy by digging in to discover what has been done and where the opportunities are and then work with the team to put that strategy into action. I call this telling the group where to run.

If you have a strategy but no team or neither of these, then you probably need an agency and not a solo consultant. While a solo consultant can usually help you with the strategy side, most lack the scale to be able to implement the recommendations. This is especially true in SEO and may be less true in areas like PPC or Facebook Ads because those have fewer moving parts (though they do often still require landing pages and analytics and optimizations along the way to get more optimal conversions).

Before saying “We want a consultant”, look at the team in place and your true needs.

In broad strokes:

  • Strategy and directing a team where to go = consultant;
  • Strategy and/or execution = agency.

Define the channels you think you need

No business except for the newest startups has ever done no marketing. As such, you might have an idea of the marketing channels you want to invest in because you’ve studied your competitors or spoken with others at similar businesses who have seen good success with (insert marketing channel).

I encourage you to enter discussions with potential providers with a general idea of what you think you want. At the same time, be open to listening to the expert and taking their advice on the direction in which they would take your business.

Just as you (hopefully) wouldn’t tell your accountant how to do your annual federal taxes, I encourage you to not try to tell a consultant or agency how to do what they are specialized in. If they have the requisite experience (and if they don’t, stop speaking with them) and good references, then listen to their advice the same way that you would listen to your accountant.

You might not have penalties and fees from the government like you could if you don’t listen to your accountant, but if you don’t listen to an expert’s input then you’re risking your business not growing like you would like.

Let an expert guide you

One lament I have heard many times from businesses looking to hire and speaking with an agency about a strategy is that they do not want the agency/consultant to be biased towards creating a strategy that they will then try to sign the business on for a longer period of time to implement.

This goes back to most people in the world being trustworthy. An agency or consultant who simply puts together something so that they can get a longer contract, and therefore doesn’t see the results for their client, will not stay in business very long.

If this is a concern of yours and you are afraid that having conversations with an agency will bias you towards hiring them when maybe a consultant would be a better fit, then we can help you at Credo with our Porter Service. This is a paid hour of consulting with me (John, founder and veteran digital marketer) to help you put together your strategy for hiring the right provider.


To help you send a better description to agencies you are interested in working with, I’ve created a matrix embedded below that will give you a marketing brief that you can copy/paste and either use on Credo so we can help you find the right providers to speak with, or to simply take and send to the providers you have found on your own.

Click the button below to be taken to the tool. Fill out the information requested and then click Submit. You will receive it via email.

Check out the marketing brief generator