Many businesses hire digital marketing consultants to see instantaneous results, and get deflated when they don’t. They hire these consultants thinking that their problems are solved, that these consultants are capable of doing a lot with very little, and that the needle will start to move in about a day’s time.
"If I hire you, I want to 10x my sales overnight!"
But once they see that growth actually still takes time, they get a little confused. If that is really how it works, if patience and time are key, then why do people even need digital marketing consultants?
Well, think of it like this: you could take that time to do what you think needs to be done, and then patiently wait to see if your experimentation worked, or you could hire someone who already knows what to do. The waiting game will lead to different results with a good growth marketing consultant.
But before we get any more in-depth, let’s take a look at what this specific guide can do for you.
How Will This Help Me?
Although there are plenty of resources available online that could tell you what a growth marketing consultant actually does, and what to expect when working with one, few of these guides actually put an emphasis on the fact that not every business truly needs to hire one.
This is in large part because we live in a world where reaching as many people as possible “overnight” has become the norm. We see startups grow fast, we see solo entrepreneurs thrive more than generations before. The idea that you would choose to pass up on a growth marketing consultant is strange, because who doesn’t want to reach more people in the next 24 hours?
But the reality is that it doesn’t happen that fast, for one thing. And secondly, although growth marketing consultants are invaluable in expanding your audience, you as an entrepreneur have the tools to make some changes for yourself. Some businesses get by with their own free will, dedication, and patience.
So the real question here is how do you know when you need a digital marketing consultant? And more than that, how is hiring one different than going after audience expansion for yourself?
With this one-stop guide, you’ll get all your questions answered. You’ll learn how to:
Pinpoint the signs that you need a digital marketing consultant.
What to look for in a consultant.
What to expect when working with a consultant.
Reading the Signs
Imagine for a moment that you have been spending the last 3-4 months working on expanding your audience. You’ve changed the style of your content, your posting times, and even your approach when asking for feedback. You’ve launched some email campaigns, tried your hand at paid advertising, and all you have to show for it is many a handful or two of new customers, and more money out the door thanks to those ad payments.
In other words, you’ve been trying for a while to grow your audience, and all you really have to show for it is some wasted time and effort.
This is the name of the game, unfortunately. This is often the result of experimentation, something which is still highly encouraged for entrepreneurs, because there is no one-stop approach that works for everyone. Brands and industries are different, styles and content, branding, images, they’re all different. There are far too many variables there to even fathom a singular solution that works across the board.
But there does come a time when the experimentation starts to take a toll. Your resources start to run low, your patience starts wearing thin, and the results, well, they’re just not there. You’ve tried, but there isn’t anymore you feel like you can do.
This is when it’s time to look into hiring a growth marketing consultant, someone who does this for a living. A professional who knows exactly what to do to grow your audience.
In other words, don’t hire a consultant right out the gate, before trying anything for yourself. Experiment first, tinker around and see if anything sticks. If it does, great, keep going. If it doesn’t, call in an expert. They will tell you what is wrong with your approach, and then tailor it to finally meet your goals.
Here are twelve more signs you need to hire a digital marketing consultant:
You need extra hands, because you’re so wrapped up doing a billion other things for the business.
You need a marketing strategy that finally gets results, which means you’ve only been looking at the deliverables without properly planning anything beforehand. Clearly, you need to be stopped.
Your team needs to be trained, but you lack the time or even the experience to do it yourself.
You’re trying your luck with every approach under the sun, and nothing is working.
Your business stalled, you’re in a rut, and you don’t know how to encourage further growth.
You need to set stronger, more defined online marketing goals.
You need help measuring key analytics.
You want to expand your customer base.
You want a marketing plan that focuses on more than just short-term goals.
You want to expand into a new marketing and connect with a new type of customer.
You want to get the full scoop on competition.
You want to improve relationships with both your existing and prospective customers.
But it's not all about reading the signs. Don't make the mistake of deciding on hiring a consultant before you've been honest about things like your budget or your ability to provide feedback.
Let's look at some of the things to keep in mind before hiring a consultant.
#1 Your Budget Needs A Hard Look
Hiring outside help, especially if it’s ongoing, requires some careful financial planning. You want to be able to have the funding for it, and that usually means both saved up capital, as well as ongoing, incoming funding.
This means you need to understand your business finances, how much you need to pay yourself (bills, savings, expendables), and pretty much any other financial commitments you have to handle.
#2 Hiring An Expert Can Be Intimidating
When you hire an expert, you’re paying for someone to come in and handle something that you find too complicated to figure out yourself. Or, to handle something that you legitimately do not have the time to do yourself at all.
As such, it’s important to remember that these people spend hours, days, weeks and years just mastering this type of work. This is what they do, and it’s likely that they can do it in their sleep. And when you’re that invested in something, you’re not only used to it, you also become very knowledgeable of things like how it’s done, why it’s done that way, the terminology, and which practices work best in specific situations.
It can be intimidating to work with people like this, but the best experts are the ones who make their work accessible to others, and are kind enough to explain everything in detail. Remember that.
#3 Just Because They’re Experts Doesn’t Make Them Ideal
There are many types of ecommerce. You could be running a clothing store, a makeup store, a bookstore or shoe store. Maybe a niche collectible store. Ideally, you want to hire someone with experience in your niche, but hiring someone with well-rounded experience is also a plus.
You don’t need to settle for anything that doesn’t feel quite right. And if it doesn’t, and the person really is an expert, chances are they will tell you when it’s not a good fit.
#4 Paid Scoping Vs. Unpaid Scoping
Some teams like to work with their clients to come up with a list of specifications. Others prefer to do paid scoping projects where they put together a standard process they work through with every client and deliverables they work on for a few dedicated hours.
Either way works, but it’s really up to you what you’re comfortable with. Ideally, you want to make sure you’re on the same page, and that the expert understands your business and objectives.
#5 Prepare to Give Feedback
Whether you’re going with an agency or a freelancer, feedback is always welcome. This allows them to better gauge problematic areas, things they could improve on moving forward, and issues that they might otherwise taken forever to notice.
If you ever decide to work with them again, chances are you’ll be able to see the effect your feedback has had on the process too. This is always a great thing, as it’s a sign that they’re professionals, adaptable, and capable.
What to Look For in A Consultant
The downside of so many technological advancements these days is the fact that everyone has access to tools that allow them to spring up in a matter of minutes. Being able to differentiate between a real and a fake has become vital at this point. Far too many people have been duped, thinking they’ve hired an expert in their field, only to find themselves hiring a consultant with no qualifications or background in growth marketing.
Don’t make the mistake of hiring the first consultant you find. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting research because their website is spectacular and informative enough to make you believe you’re making the right decision.
Instead, consider the following criteria.
You’re ideally looking for a consultant with a degree in marketing, or at least a related field. Keep in mind, however, that most people tend to work in fields that are entirely unrelated to what they went to college for. Turns out career changes are quite popular, both for lifestyle changes, and pay increases.
What counts more than the subject they studied in college is their proven experience and results, as well as work history with a larger company in the marketing department. If they’ve proven that they’ve done the work elsewhere, and that they can get the results, then they are worth a second look.
Regardless of whether you’re focusing on a digital strategy or not, it’s a massive warning sign when a marketing consultant states that they are not familiar with digital marketing in this day and age. After that statement is made, run. Otherwise, you’d be expected to grow your business entirely analog, the old school way, which doesn’t typically work except in very specific circumstances anymore.
Areas of Expertise
Ideally, you want to hire a consultant who is familiar with all aspects of the marketing field, so that when you have questions about other approaches, they know enough to teach you the ropes, and tell you why those approaches haven’t quite worked out for you in the past.
However, very good consultants will have more than just general knowledge in all of these areas, they will be specialists in one specific area. Something that sets them apart from your average generalist. It could be social media, it could be content marketing, it could be SEO. Whoever you choose should have an area of expertise that aligns with your current goals.
Here are some of the other niche specializations that consultants often opt for:
PPC (pay-per-click) - these consultants will be Google AdWords certified and have a strong background in analytics.
Social Media Digital Marketing - they evaluate a brand’s audience and match it with the social media channels that represent the biggest opportunities and growth.
Custom projects - consultants who work with highly specific and challenging projects, such as international SEO, launching an app or website or email automation campaigns.
Experience With Your Industry
Just like no two companies are alike, no two industries are alike either. Unsurprisingly, this calls for totally different marketing strategies. Someone with little to no experience in your specific industry won’t really know what to do, which approach to take.
That being said, they could utilize previous experience in similar situations, use educated guesses, and use you for insight in the field. It could still work, you may still get results.
But nothing will ever beat hiring a consultant who has worked in your industry before and who has had proven success in that niche. There’s a level of knowledge and confidence there that just wouldn’t be the case otherwise.
Here are ten of the absolute must-haves for a digital marketing consultant. All of the best in their field can do the following:
Analyzing your existing marketing tactics
Finding you new clients
Conducting competitive research analysis
Optimizing your content strategy
Personalizing content for your audience
Performing detailed market research
Developing an analytics and data-driven strategy
Selecting KPIs for your marketing strategy
Conducting keyword research
What You Can Expect
Depending on your industry, state of affairs, and consultant, you’ll have a different “average day” of working with an expert. There is no generalized statement to accurate summarize what you can expect when working with a consultant.
That being said, there is a general approach that consultants take when working with their clients. This systematic approach is highly detailed oriented, and begins with research, but ultimately is just a fancier, smarter way of experimenting.
But wait, remember we discussed experimentation in the beginning of this guide. It’s encouraged for business owners to experiment themselves, before hiring a consultant. So what’s the difference between your experimenting and a consultants? Couldn’t you have saved money?
A qualified consultant will use a deeper knowledge of your industry and digital resources to make an impact. They will use previous experience in similar situations, and know how to course correct if need be. They will also have much more time on their hands than you would to conduct in-depth analysis on the current state of your business before even attempting to do anything.
In other words, you get what you pay for with a growth marketing consultant. Hiring an expert who can truly make a difference is a lifted weight off your shoulders.
Let’s run through the systematic process these experts use to grow their clients’ businesses.
Build, Compile, And Get Familiarized
The best growth marketers stay on top of the latest tips, tricks, and strategies. That means they constantly read articles and posts from other marketers. When they put together a growth marketing list, they use tools that allow them to plug in their favorite growth influencers and receive a specialized feed of everything being published by those influencers.
Building a list helps to compile the invaluable tips being published, all without having to scour the internet hoping to gather the latest and greatest.
From there, consultants will audit the company. They evaluate existing growth and marketing assets, including excel docs of experiments, keyword analysis, and previous website versions you’ve tried in the past.
Finally, they will figure out the tools that they’ll be expected to use. Their tech stack typically gets used cross-company, so you’ll need to provide logins for all of those tools so they can get to work sooner than later.
In-Depth Metrics Analysis
Sometime around the second week in, consultants focus on finding their North Star Metric, better known as the metric that best shows the value they’re delivering to their client. For example, Dropbox may have a North Star Metric of “trial accounts with >3 users active in week 1.” This would capture all the new and free accounts that are getting value and providing a signal of future conversion. That equals subscription revenue.
For AirBnB, it’s actually the number of nights booked. It lets them know that they are providing thousands, if not millions of people, places to stay everywhere imaginable, and generating profits for both themselves, and those hosting the guests.
But finding the North Star Metric is just part of the process. Consultants still need to map the user journey so they know how these people go from total strangers to loyal customers. To make mapping easier, they use information on user personas.
And with that information, they create a funnel analysis. How is your funnel system working in comparison to the findings? What needs work?
Meet And Backlog
In the third week, the consultant will set up a growth meeting and ask a few different people at the company to toss out ideas. This builds trust among coworkers, higher ups, and the consultant, while simultaneously allowing the consultant to gain inside knowledge of the company that might have been overlooked, or outright missed.
The meeting needs to stay small in order to be organized, so the consultant will need to be selective. Typically, they invite some marketers at the company, some engineers with experience in growth experiments that require technical assistance, as well as some team leads from the design department.
Using An ICE Score
In the fourth week, the consultant will figure out what experiment to ship. At this point all the research has been done, the brainstorming has been done, it’s just time to be smart about which experiment to start with.
They choose the one that has the most potential for impact, for half the hassle. Something they can easily launch with limited resources, and still get results with. In fact, the experiment they select will be a surefire success in the consultant’s mind, they will be confident in their selection before even launching.
This is called the ICE Score, an experiment that they feel meets the trinity of growth criteria: Impact, Confidence, and Ease.
At this point, the consultant will launch the experiment and follows that up with multiple experiments per week. This speeds up North Star Metric improvements. There will be several A/B tests, many split URL tests, and many of failed experiments, but also, there will be measurable improvement in the company’s growth.
Of course, nothing happens overnight. And it will definitely be one step forward, two steps back in many cases during the experimentation process. But once the growth marketer finds exactly what works and why, you’re in the clear.
Diving Into Specifics
To get a more specific sense of what working with a consultant may look like, take a look at these specific business models, and how consulting helps:
Ecommerce Digital Marketing
Ecommerce sites are the ones selling products online, instantly recognizable by the shopping cart and web catalog.
In this instance, a consultant will check the website’s usability and check-out process, then make sure there are many payment options available. They will also set up drip email campaigns to aid with abandoned shopping carts.
Branding business models create a name, symbol or graphic that differentiates a product from others, and it tells customers what they can expect in terms of goods and services.
For instance, Nike is iconic, and brings forth images of athletic individuals pushing their bodies through rigorous tasks, such as marathon running. Based on those images and the “just do it” slogan, customers continue to purchase their products.
In this case, a consultant will come in and develop a strong brand identity after doing extensive data gathering and analyzing. This will lead to changes in images, copy, colors, graphics, slogans, etc.
This is common in industry blogs, where an expert produces posts that relate to a very specific niche. They usually make their revenue through ads or training videos.
When a consultant comes in, their objective is to establish the blog’s industry expert status by participating in social discussions, creating strong email campaigns, and optimizing every piece on the site.
This business model focuses on providing information, sometimes around a specific subject, but not always. Think of major news publications, like The New York Times, or The Seattle Times. They make their revenue by selling subscriptions to their content, but sometimes rely on advertisements.
When a consultant comes in, they ensure the company is delivering strong, engaging content, to keep people hooked and coming back for more. They also work to make the company more visible and authoritative in their field.
This model focuses entirely on generating leads, as the name entails. And that means there’s a wide net here. It could be a trade school, a doctor’s office, even Uber, since it connects buyers who needs rides with people who are willing to give others a ride for a fee.
Consultants will come in and edit content, tailoring it by using lead capture and magnet tactics. Then, they will focus on conversion optimization and lead nurturing, to make sure leads follow the funnel set in motion.
How to Hire Ecommerce Experts
Referrals are the most common way entrepreneurs tend to connect with experts. This involves asking around to see who other businesses have hired in the past to tend to their problems. In your case, as an ecommerce entrepreneur, ask friends who also run their online stores.
Don’t forget to ask them why they chose to work with those experts, how much those experts charge for their services, and how to connect with them. This will allow you to get some upfront details, both positive and negative. It also makes it easy to find these experts online and do some further investigating of your own.
Pay special attention to any past projects they’ve included as case studies, anything they’ve written about how they work with clients, and their social media presence. That can all give you insight on what it would be like to work with them.
If referrals aren’t working out for you, try out organic search engine searches, LinkedIn, and even freelancing sources. Although you’ll have to sift through to find quality experts, they are out there, and they are usually very upfront about whether or not they have the time to take on another client.
Interview & Connect
Once you find the two or three experts you’ve whittled your list down to, it’s time to schedule some interviews. Plan on at least one call with the agency or freelancer before you start working with them, even if you can’t meet face-to-face. This gives you a feel for who they are, what they’re all about, which companies they tend to work with, and how you would fit into that.
If you can talk to multiple team members, that’s even more insightful, as you’ll see how they work together and what their dynamic is. Because remember, once you’re working with them, you want to make sure that they aren’t the type of team that will leave you high and dry, missing deadlines and delivering low-quality work.
More so, remember that there’s two sides to every story: while you’re putting them under the microscope, they’re doing the same to you. If they don’t think they’re able to help with what you need, they’ll tell you. They have extensive experience working with other clients, so they’ll be prepared with a proper presentation, qualifications, and an overview of their ideal clients. If you’re not the type they work with often, they may not be the experts you need.
For instance, say a freelancer typically works on creating and directing content marketing for niche clothing brands. But you’re running dog ecommerce shop specializing in high-end toys, treats and collars. Very different niches, and styles, and therefore, an entirely different target audience and content marketing style. If the freelancer doesn’t have experience in that field, they will tell you upfront, and won’t have any related work to show you.
Something else to keep in mind is that unrealistic guarantees are not only tacky, but very clearly the tactic of someone with less experience. An expert will have years worth of experience, a portfolio to showcase work, references, and high ratings. They know that speaks for itself. They don’t promise the world, and they don’t make the mistake of saying things like “my content marketing is guaranteed to meet and exceed your sales goals for this year.”
No, an expert understands that marketing is all about experimentation. If anything, their content will aid you in your goals, but won’t outright meet them for you. There’s no way to truly tell, except by digging through piles of data, formulating a plan, forming a hypothesis, and executing that plan. Then it’s all about tweaking elements until the marketing begins to show results. And all of that takes time.
In other words, saying they will need deadlines and have certain projects done in a certain time frame is just fine. But if they’re promising the moon and stars, especially in a tiny window of time, then it’s best to move on.
How to Work With Ecommerce Experts
Working with experts means you’ll be dealing with people who do this kind of content all the time. They probably read, write, and talk about it in their sleep. It’s a huge portion of their lives, it’s what their entire career is all about.
And that can seem very overwhelming, especially if you know nothing about it, hence why you’ve asked for their help.
But the good news, is that working with experts can be divided up into perfectly actionable steps.
Step One: Set the Project Scope
This is when you outline what work the expert is going to do and on what timeline. This is a project’s scope.
Now, let it be known now, most of the time, the timeline will just be a simple guess. Most projects spill over much longer, so keep that in mind before you run out of funding. If your budget is small, be realistic about how much time you’re dedicating to the project.
If you’re unsure about the time, most experts have a pretty solid idea about how much time things take, because they’ve been there before, so they will tell you how much time they are used to spending on projects like yours. After careful analysis of your goals and current status, they will be able to tell if you should be aiming for more or less time as well.
Step Two: Setting Up A Successful Kickoff
It’s a smart idea to start all of your projects off with a kickoff call or otherwise lengthy email exchange to really sort out the details.
Some freelancers really like to check out what the company site looks like, what the company is all about, the target audience, etc. Any preparation they do on their end, in the form of research on your business, is welcome, since they spend less time trying to get to know you during the call, and more time telling you their ideas about your company.
This kickoff also gives everyone a chance to voice concerns, special requests, and really iron out all the wrinkles. Maybe you’re under the impression that the freelancer that you’re hiring for content marketing also does YouTube video content? What if they don’t? Ask any burning questions, and feel 100% free to voice concerns. You want to be on the same page, everything on the table, before starting the project.
Step Three: Practice Good Communication
Finally, it’s time to actually get to the work. And this involves a clear way of checking on work progress, turning in ongoing work, asking questions, and voicing feedback. Most people use email as a classic form of communication, but there are other alternatives, including texting, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Slack. These resources help you keep in contact with the expert, tweak anything as its coming in, and more efficiently streamline how you work together.
Expect to give feedback on the work at different stages. If you’re unsure about how to refer to something, and lack the technical terminology to explain it, feel free to bring a visual. Links to sources that have what you’re looking for, or images of content that you’ve see and would like, is a great way of cutting out the guesswork for the expert. And in turn, you not only get what you want, you’re likely to get some education on the terminology, and what it may or may not be used for. It will also shed light on why that particular item may or may not work in tandem with your business goals.
Consultants are there to make life easier, to course correct, and to ensure companies are putting their best faces forward. Meeting the right goals is the cornerstone of what they do. Don’t be afraid to call upon a consultant if you want or need to do anything on the list above, or if you simply feel like you’d benefit from having someone come in and take a look at what you’re doing. It never hurts to get someone else’s fresh perspective, especially since their objectives are the same as yours: to see you flourish and use your full potential.
So, do you need a digital marketing consultant after all? What do you plan on doing?
Leave a comment below, would love to hear about the business decisions this guide helped to inspire.