You are a business owner and have reached a point where you would like to build out your marketing strategy. With the economic climate that we are all adjusting to in 2020, every dollar needs to count. So more businesses are turning to digital marketing for its ability to target highly-qualified markets. This is not the easiest pill to swallow. Many business owners are unsure of what digital marketing is or how it works.
So when you reach a point where you are interviewing digital marketing consultants and agencies, it is wise to ask the right questions. Not every consultant is the same, and this fact can be detrimental to your success. Remember, their motivation for working with you is probably different from your motivation to hire.
This is not always a bad thing, but while you are looking for every reason to weed out contractors that may not meet your needs, they are trying to make money off of you, which can possibly lead to dishonesty or desperation. There is plenty of evidence of this on freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiver. Although there are good apples on those platforms (myself included), there are quite a few bad ones.
It is good to know the indicators of a good digital marketer ahead of time. This is why I wrote this guide. So you can get the information you need to make a wise choice.
“What Questions Do You Have About My Business?”
This is a question used during job interviews in general. It is seen by the candidate as an opportunity to find out more about them, but the response is just as valuable to you, their prospective client. However, in an employment interview, this is one of the last questions asked. For hiring a consultant, this should be one of the first. Here is why:
A marketer shouldn’t say they can help you without first learning about what your business does. Every business is unique with different needs and objectives. So look for a response that suggests they are trying to find this out. They are looking for information that could guide them towards a strategy that will be successful. Otherwise, they may be pushing a strategy that they believe will work across the board, or one that does not live up to best practices. This simply does not work.
Hopefully, one of these questions (possibly the only one) will be about the audience you are trying to reach. This matters in order to determine strategic factors like the best formats and channels to use, content placement strategies, the messaging, and keywords to focus on.
Bonus points if you are asked these questions proactively. This is a good sign they want to help you in the right direction.
“What Would You Recommend To Make Our Current Marketing Strategy Better?”
Admittedly, this is a little bit of a loaded question. If a person is just learning about you and your company, how are they supposed to give a genuine critique of a major part of the business. What you are looking for is a sense of honesty and confidence in their answer.
There is no way they should have a solution that they have 100% confidence in. Like I said, they barely know the business. But they will hopefully be honest and give an answer suggesting they may have some thoughts, but need to know the audience and the business better before they make any recommendations beyond basic marketing practices. They may suggest an audit and a meeting or two. You want this neutral answer.
If they confidently tell you your strategy is perfect, unless they have seen the data and results, they may be trying to butter you up. Which is odd, because why would you need to hire them then? Also, no marketing strategy is perfect. It takes ongoing review and analysis of results and the audience to optimize most strategies.
If they immediately jump into a million things that need to change, this is also a problem. Two behaviors may be exhibited, they are either trying to look confident by grasping for something to display expertise, or they truly are overconfident and jumping the gun over what needs to be fixed, when in reality, it may be the best strategy. A note about these behaviors though: they may have some good ideas right away that they may blurt out, but until the confidence can be backed up, they may retract those ideas at some point until further evaluation.
“What Results Have Other Businesses Achieved Through Your Services?”
You may have already seen portfolios and resumes for all of your candidates. They may be why you chose to consider them for your project, but you should ask this question anyways. It would be great if they talk about a client that is similar to your own business or audience, but if they don’t, that is okay, it is the passion or attitude towards the work they did to achieve those results that tell you what you need to know.
Yes, you want results, but more specifically, you want results that the candidate is genuinely proud of. Something that says, “Yes, I’m glad I got paid for it, but I’m so excited about how I helped this person.”
Good digital marketers are looking for partnerships in success. A person or organization that is dedicated to something important, and that they want to be part of. For you, this means they want you to be successful. So they will do what is right for you.
Besides, most great results can’t be attributed entirely to one person. It is not impossible, but in the world of marketing, it’s simply not common. This is a hypocrisy I struggle with when I write my own resume or talk about my work. I can certainly take some credit, but I try to share it with those who deserve it when it’s real. But if you are interested in talking to me about the results I’m proud of, my Twitter handle is @BACEdigitalBen, I would love to talk to you.
“What Do You Charge For Your Services?”
This is such an awkward question. Nobody likes asking it, and by the same token, nobody likes being asked it either. But it is something we all need to get more comfortable with. Because unlike some other questions on this list, the actual number contained in that answer can say a lot.
This is where the world of independent contractors, freelancers, and consultants gets very, very brutal. Here is an example, two consultants offer search engine optimization services for two very different prices. Naturally, it is tempting to take the cheapest option right?
Consider this: If your website currently ranks on page 45 for an important search term in Google, and after the contractor says the work is done, you end up on page 8, was it worth it to pay the cheapest cost? As far as the results go, no. The consultant probably did some work, but maybe not the work that needed to happen. At best, it was the bare minimum. At worst, they were engaging in practices that can hurt your business in the long term. More on that later.
The answer you should look for is the one that you need to discuss further. Where detail is given behind the work your consultant would actually be doing, and displays a sense of value of that work. Let’s look at this again and tell me which is more impressive between these two statements:
“I charge $20 an hour for doing SEO.”
“Based on what I have learned about your business during our conversation, it appears that while getting traffic to your website is important, that will not be enough. I will audit your business further and work with you and your marketing team to establish a strategy that is competitive in your industry and makes sure you are targeting the right customers with your content. I will also update your website to have higher page speeds and a better user experience which will not only help you rank higher in search, but also give your visitors reasons to stay and engage with your website, and share on social media. Let me come back to you with a range of costs per value and you can decide what works in your budget.”
That second statement doesn’t even give a number, but do you think you will be getting that same value from the $20 bid?
The smarter digital marketer didn’t just show value, but also what really makes them different from others.
“Do You Also Do Social Media or SEO?”
…or email, or web design, or text messaging (etc.). There are a lot of specialists within digital marketing. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But whether specialist or not, they should be able to speak to the extent that they can help. If they just say yes without asking for more specifics, you might be in trouble. For example, a digital marketer who specializes in Google Ads could probably help a lot on Facebook if what they need is help with ads on that platform. However, that may not be what you are hoping for. Look for somebody who asks for those additional details.
The downside is if you really like the person, they may not be the best fit if they can’t offer what you really need. They may be able to help you, but if not, the digital marketing community is large and well-connected. They may know the right person you need and is looking for a fellow digital marketer to work with anyway.
“Can You Scale Your Marketing Strategies For Future Success?”
Do you want your business to grow? Of course you do. Does your consultant know this? They should have already assumed the positive. But the answer to this question will give an indication of what they are looking for in your relationship. If they are looking for a way to make some quick money, they may not have an answer for this, but if they are looking for a partnership with continued success, this is probably something they have already planned on incorporating into the strategy.
Digital marketing changes very frequently. A lot can happen from one day to the next, (if the COVID-19 epidemic didn’t make this clear already), and you need to be sure there are plans for both negative and positive impacts to your organization. Most importantly though, is if they would plan for your success. This can include things like web development processes that allow for a lot more content to be produced quickly, without needing to worry about inconsistency.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”Benjamin Franklin
This means, you should look for a consultant who not only sees the potential of your business, but plans for it. The last thing you would want is to find your businesses an overwhelming success, and not be able to scale your marketing for it.
“Can You Make My Website Rank #1 in Search?”
I will tell you off the bat, nobody, and I mean nobody, can make yours or any website reach the first position in search. They can probably help you a lot with it, and probably make very significant progress, but it is unrealistic to expect this. You should still ask the question though.
If they say yes, or make a guarantee of ranking at the top of search, they are either lying, or do not have your best interests in mind. There are many practices known as “black hat” that have a chance of working for a limited time (or long enough to get paid), that are very poor practice and do not help the website visitor, nor the business, achieve anything but that one specific goal.
Any other answer is a better answer. However, they will more than likely tell you “it depends”. As annoying as it sounds, that is probably the most honest answer they can give you. This is partially because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to digital marketing. Every organization is unique as far as a competitive landscape, audience, products, and budgets. If they promise anything, it should be to always be working toward that goal through best practices and routine data analysis and optimization. In other words, they will do everything they can to bring your business to its highest potential.
“Do You Have a Process For Managing Campaigns?”
At this point, it may be clear that a good digital marketer would need to learn more about your business before applying this question specifically to you. This question may also be met with a slight hesitation if you asked the others since it suggests you already fully intend to include campaigns in your strategy. Let the hesitation happen, and if necessary, clarify by asking how it would work if campaigns are included.
The answer to this question should tell you how serious the marketer is about continuous optimization of your strategy. There are many ways to operate pay-per-click campaigns through Google Ads or Facebook Ads or a similar platform. There is no right or wrong way to do it starting out, but the commonality between them all is the need to review the results frequently, and make necessary adjustments to do better. In other words, you want to see if they make ongoing data-driven decisions.
If they do this during a campaign, you can be sure they will make decisions across an entire strategy with data to back up their choices.
In practice, you may not see this immediately as there is some necessary trial-and-error and initial data-gathering to be done in order to make these decisions. An experienced digital marketer recognizes this need. Unfortunately this goes against the desire for immediate results, but as I tell everybody, quick fixes are rarely as helpful as they seem.
“Can You Educate Me On What You Do, As You Do It?”
As a group, we love talking about what we do. Search #SEO on Twitter and see what happens. We love discussing digital marketing with each other and collaborating. They would love to educate you for other reasons as well. Digital marketing can be a lot of work and would like to take a day off on occasion, so it is nice for them to hear that somebody else can be educated enough to take over for the occasional break.
This question benefits you though. It opens up a conversation about reporting and opportunities to build continual trust. You need to know what the numbers in those reports mean. There are many analytics tools the digital marketers use that you will likely have easy access to as well. In many cases, the numbers can be deceiving, or even alarming, if you don’t have an understanding of how to analyze them. Trust is also a very important part of the partnership in both directions. You may need to justify your decision to hire a contractor to superiors. Being able to explain the work and value in your own words is helpful here.
No, you don’t need to know everything, but if you give them this opportunity, a good digital marketer will be able to tell you enough to prove they know what they are talking about.
To Summarize: Be Informed About Who You Hire As A Consultant
These are all good questions to ask a digital marketing consultant when looking for a solution to your needs. But they all roll into assessing the value they bring to your business. These do not need to be the only questions you ask, and they may have already been answered for you. But the information you get from asking them will indicate the quality of the candidate to you, and also what an ongoing relationship with them could look like. If you make the right choice, you shouldn’t be disappointed.