You need some help with your marketing.  You have some budget.  Sounds like the perfect situation to engage with an agency, freelancer or consultant, right?  We all know it’s not as simple as it sounds.  Without taking some critical steps, you might find yourself disappointed with the result (or lack thereof) wondering, where did I go wrong? 

struggleI’ve been there more times than I care to count and I’ve learned some important lessons along the way — both as a client and a consultant.  Take it from me and don’t let your investment turn out to be a mistake with an ineffective partnership.  Here are the four steps you can take before you sign on the dotted line:

Step 1. Ask Around.

Google is great for parenting, diagnosing illness and winning bets.  However, do not use it to find a marketing agency.  Instead, talk with your friends, colleagues, connections, classmates – you get the idea.  Ask around for recommendations.  Attend networking events to meet more people with the same challenges as you.  Look at companies in your network you think do a great job and reach out to them (people love a compliment and usually are rewarded for the referral).

Tip: Don’t get too stuck on one partner yet

Not only should you build a list of options, be prepared to get multiple proposals and understand differing approaches.  You may even need to spend some time talking to references and looking at previous project work.

Now that you have your list of referrals, it’s time to engage partners that you like.

Step 2. Document/Define the goals of the program PRIOR to discussion.

We’re busy, right?  It’s hard to slow down and make time for goal setting.  Its easy to assume your marketing partner will pick up the planning slack, and they might.   But frankly, you are better served to have your own project plan, decked out with goals, milestones and ideas long before you take that first discovery call.   No one knows how this should go better than you, no matter how many strategy sessions you sit through with your newly minted marketing pals.

Also, If you can’t clearly articulate and document the desired outcomes of the engagement, don’t waste your money.   Most agencies will still take your business (because…money) and it won’t be a successful partnership because you haven’t set clear definitions for success.

OGM Project Brief InfographicTip: Don’t Be ‘Too Busy’

I realize this might seem counter-intuitive.  If you are so busy you need help from a marketing agency, how would you be expected to have time to package up the project neatly beforehand?   I’m suggesting that if you can’t make the time for a project brief, you have no business hiring an agency right now.

A simple and standard project brief is a great place to start.  It basically forces you to take what you have in your mind and get it on paper and think about what questions remain unanswered.  That gives your partner a clearer picture of the work needed and what you have and don’t have already available.   Need a project brief cheat sheet?  Check out this  OGM infographic –> [click to enlarge].

Your partner can then use this information in their proposal or create a variation on the brief in their client format.

Step 3. Build a “Get to Know Us” package.

A get to know us package is essentially the CliffsNotes on your business.  You can use this repeatedly with agencies, contractors and even new hires. Here are some ideas on what to include:

  • Your branding guidelines
  • Target Market(s), Total addressable market (TAM) data
  • Messaging and positioning documents
  • Marketing team org chart with roles/responsibilities
  • Strategic Goals of the org
  • Industry reports, trends

For best results, hand this over to your marketing partner early and often.  Think of it as ‘[Your Company Name] 101’, required reading prior to the engagement kick off.

Tip: Call Attention to Gaps

Being upfront with the information gives your potential partner the best shot at prioritizing ways to help.  If you know your messaging is weak, or your brand guidelines are only half-baked, include it in your comments/introduction to this package.

Step 4. Get Social. 

In today’s remote world it is increasingly common to hire someone having never met in person.  That’s okay – just try to spend sufficient time with the agency/freelancer/consultant — whether on the phone, Skype, out for coffee or a drink if you can.  Do you get along?   Do you like the way they think – and do they challenge your assumptions?

Tip: Know your “type”

For me, I know a sense of humor is key and I try to find it in my clients and collaborators early.  We marketers do work that is deadline-driven, highly visible, and often on the chopping block budgetarily.  That’s stressful — and I think best handled by making it fun.  Not everyone shares my sentiment and that’s why it’s important to allow for some courtship where you discover long-term compatibility.

And while business is no popularity contest, working with someone you like just makes more sense than the alternative.  Also, if you report to an executive sponsor make sure they get along with your proposed partner, too. It will get you through the best of times AND the worst of times.

Happy hiring,


P.S. – I am excited to share my new bi-weekly newsletter with you, Branching Out.  Opt in to get it in your inbox here.

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