You know marketing is essential to growing your business. And, if you're considering hiring a marketing agency, you also know it can feel really intimidating.
First and foremost, know you're not alone! At Zoe Marketing & Communications, every year, we talk to and work with dozens of small and medium-sized businesses that are interested in a marketing agency — but anxious. Cost, specialties and contracts are among the top worries.
The reality? Sometimes an agency is a good fit. And others, it's not. In this blog, we'll tap our 35+ years of experience to shed light on some common "cons" of hiring an agency, such as:
Is a marketing agency right for you? Possibly. By the end of this article, you'll have a better idea of some of the drawbacks you'll want to consider before committing.
1. There's a learning curve
Your marketing won't be in-house, so it takes some time to align your brand with your agency. They need to learn about you before they hit the ground running. They want to understand you best so you can serve you best.
Onboarding takes about a month
During this time, you'll build a foundational understanding in multiple meetings. This includes a client needs analysis or assessment. Your agency will need to learn:
What service/product do you offer, and what makes you unique?
What are your marketing goals and budget? (If you don't know what one client is worth for you, monetarily, that will take some work.)
What is your target client's age, gender, income, location, etc.? (In other words, any "persona work" you've done.)
What marketing are you currently doing (or have you done)?
How do you get most of your customers right now?
How are you vetting your leads?
This can be pretty in-depth
Expect quality questions and conversation. We like to say the "getting to know you" phase is partly like being interviewed by a friendly journalist — and part therapy session.
It's about where you're at and where you want to go. It's a chance for business owners, managers and execs to slow down and contemplate their future.
It's an ongoing process
That learning continues — and requires input on your part. You'll need to communicate changes to your agency, such as new goals, products or services. This can impact their strategy for you.
2. It requires an investment mindset
Any way you slice it, a marketing agency is an investment. That can be a mentality switch, especially if you've been absorbing costs by doing your own marketing. Sometimes, it's even sticker shock.
The payoff takes time
Marketing is a service business. It's different than buying a product like a printer, for instance. In that case, you research, find the features you want, order it and get your printer pretty quickly.
With marketing, you're paying for different tactics — ads, social media, SEO, etc. — geared at getting results like leads and sales.
It cultivates a pipeline of customers with multiple approaches and platforms. It's an investment that pays off, but not right out the gate. Getting to that goal can take 3-6 months or more.
Agency marketing isn't cheap
Guidelines from the Small Business Association suggest small companies spend 7-8% of their revenue on marketing — and 10-12% for mid-sized businesses. Many wind up around 9%.
So what's the bottom line? According to the industry data experts at WebFX, in 2023, it's $2,500-$12,000 per month for contracts, and about $1,000-$7,500 per project. (It's worth noting that agencies do trend less expensive than hiring an in-house marketing expert.)
Over time, you'll learn how much marketing money it takes to get one new customer. You can compare that to how much they spend with you to ensure the investment is working.
3. Finding the right one takes work
Not all marketing agencies will offer what you need. You'll need to learn the strengths of the agency you want, and whether they align with your industry and tactics you want to explore.
Reflect and get clear on what you want
Often, small- and mid-size businesses need strategy and direction. In these cases, a boutique agency with a wide range of services might be best. Other businesses might seek an agency with a track record of working in their industry — health care or education, for instance.
In other cases still, you might have a clear idea of tactics you want to use. If you're looking for media buying or niche sponsored content, for instance, you'll want an agency that aligns.
Research and interview your options
Start with an agency whose work you've admired. Maybe you know someone who's worked with them. Or you appreciate their messaging. Do some digging and see what clicks.
Google the agencies that speak to you. Scan any reviews you can find. Look at case studies (or ask to see some if they're not provided).
Plus, do some interviewing of your own. Ask questions like:
What does your agency specialize in?
Do you work with other companies like mine?
What sorts of tactics do you offer? Are they in-house or outsourced?
Who are my points of contact/who am I working with?
What can I expect as far as check-ins and reports?
Be crystal clear on expectations
Is your agency consulting, and they expect you to do the work? Are they doing the work for you, but they need your feedback and guidance? Get clarity on your roles from the get-go.
Also, don't hire an agency and expect them to run with it entirely. Remember, they still need your participation to a greater or lesser degree. Without it, it can stall progress.
4. You're not the 'only customer'
Agencies work with multiple clients, so you're not their sole customer. A good agency will be responsive and proactive, but some requests will take more time.
Expectations are everything. Since it's not in-house staff managing your marketing efforts, they won't always be able to drop everything for you. It might take more like 24 hours to respond, for instance — typically more quickly for emergencies, though.
5. Contract commitments are the norm
Long-term contracts are common for marketing agencies — and often required. This can feel daunting, especially if you're going in cold with a limited rapport and no personal track record. But contracts are designed to benefit you and the agency mutually.
Kicking things off takes the most work
The lion's share of work for your agency happens in the first month or two. There's the exploration, then setting up your campaigns — from picking platforms to writing copy and designing and deploying ads — and allowing some time for things to start working.
Your agency is making you a priority, managing your expectations and holding themselves accountable to you. All of that is a time commitment and investment on the front end.
If a client bails out after a couple of months, it's a loss for the agency (and, at least short-term, for the client, too).
More time allows you to see results
The other side of the coin is that getting the leads you want bubbling through that pipeline takes time. Your agency's plans depend on a longer spell — usually at least six months.
Marketing efforts don't happen overnight. Depending on your tactics and plan, it takes a certain amount of time. A contract locks everyone in to see the results of these efforts.
Next steps for working with a marketing agency
So, is a marketing agency right for you? Now, with a clearer sense of your potential challenges, you might have a better idea.
This blog covered the learning curve, cost, prep work and contracts to consider. We also highlighted that you're not your agency's only customer, so some needs may take more time.
Feel ready to explore your digital marketing agency options? Talk to your advisor with Zoe Marketing & Communications. We'll walk you through a client needs analysis and tap our 35+ years of marketing experience to determine the best way to grow your business.
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For 17 years, Julia Elliott crafted strategies and stories for Zoe, along with its sister companies, Metro Parent and Chicago Parent. A deep background in journalism helped her create customized content marketing to drive client success.