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How to hire a marketing agency (Don't sign a retainer yet)

When I started my ecommerce brand in 2012, I honestly didn't even know what an agency was...and I certainly did not know how to hire a marketing agency to grow my ecommerce brand.

I was just trying to build something around my passion and find a marketing strategy that would drive growth. In 2012, digital marketing and selling online was a fairly new concept and there wasn't a proven marketing plan I could follow. So, I started out by simply following where I found traction and doing more of that...

I did not start out by saying I need to hire a marketing agency to run Facebook ads, send emails, design our website, increase our conversion rate or even an agency to help us rank on google..the list goes on.

There is no shortage of marketing agencies.

My only goal was to try and put my effort into things that were showing me signs of traction and growth.

When should you hire a marketing agency?

Before I go into how to hire a marketing agency, I think it's important to take a step back and talk about WHEN you should hire a marketing agency for your ecommerce brand or really any online business. So...When do you hire a digital marketing agency?

I am a slow learner and a stubborn business owner so it took me longer than I care to admit to finally say I need to hire someone whether it was an in-house expert, a marketing agency or a freelance expert. I was always pushed by some life event such as having a child or being sick to finally say I can't do EVERYTHING myself an admitting that their are true experts that can do it FAR better than I ever could.

I feel that once you hit $1 million in revenue it's time to start looking for an ecommerce agency to help you where you are the weakest. Not to mention, free up your time to spend it on bigger lever things than looking at the back end of your Facebook Ads account and or Klaviyo email accounts.

I hope at this level you have SOME cashflow to afford an expert or marketing agency and also know enough about each silo of your business to be able to hire the right marketing agency and fire them as well.

What makes a good marketing agency partner?

So...Your doing $1 mil or more a year...Congrats! That is most than many small business owners out there! That is no easy feat, and now that you are ready to hire an ecommerce agency...HOW do you hire a legitimate agency that will IMPROVE results, FREE up your time and have a ROI.

The unfortunate truth is that their are so many agencies out there that are mediocre at best. And the reason that there are so many meh agencies out there, is because the barrier to enter is very low...Filtering through these so called experts can be wildly expensive, painful and frustrating.

Don't worry...I can introduce you to marketing agencies that actually understand marketing strategy that I personally have used in the ecommerce battlefield...

How to hire a marketing agency

But..before I do that, I want to finish the concept of how to hire an agency. First, you should truly know enough of each category yourself to be able to know if a marketing agency is doing a great job, good job or terrible job...Hence, you will continue to work with them or fire them.

This is where small business owners struggle, I often see start ups or those new to marketing and they think that they just need to find the right marketing firm. First you must prove it out whatever marketing channel you are attacking out yourself before wasting time, money and effort with marketing agencies that may not be able to have an impact.

Plus if you have some proof that your marketing is working you should have more cash flow for an actual marketing budget. Not having enough to spend is a sure fire way for marketing to be ineffective.

Hiring a marketing agency the right way

The easiest way I have found to truly vet any agency is to have them do a small project for you. Here is an example of how I found my facebook ads agency. I first learned how to run ads myself, as an ok student that was difficult for me but I was able to learn the basics and run them to be profitable. This baseline knowledge allowed me the ability to know if someone was blowing smoke or could actually get the job done.

From there, I invited as many agencies and experts as it took to find someone that could outperform my results. I then paid them for a one-hour screen share to show me what I was doing wrong and teach me what they would do. I didn't ask them to do it, just show me and I did it. It took me 12!

Yes, 12 one-hour screen shares with experts to find a boutique Facebook ad agency that could outperform my current results. And this was NOT the first time I have done this exercise.

Another option is to simply hire an agency for a smaller project that doesn't include an ongoing retainer. A good example of this would be for hiring an Email Marketing Agency (full transparency - I am an agency partner in an email marketing agency

A good way to hire an email agency would be to ask them to do a FLOW project where they can build out emails for you to see how they perform and how you like working with them. This is a shortcut to finding an email marketing agency for your ecom store that can actually drive results versus directly hiring them for retainer work like sending campaigns.

You can take this same approach with any agency you are looking to hire.

What other marketing agencies do I use and how can you vet them?

As previously mentioned I use a digital marketing agency to run our Facebook and Google ads and I own an email marketing agency. On top of those I also use the following agencies to help drive growth via digital marketing. There are other marketing channels like Tik Tok, Bing, Pinterest and many more.

But I found that Facebook and Google to be the true core for any effective marketing strategy for a successful online business although many marketing strategies exist. Dial in these two first and you can scale into other channels that may not be as profitable at the start.

Here are some of the marketing companies I use in my own business.

CRO - Conversion Rate Optimization - Ask them to build 2 A/B Tests or make a loom video of how they would do a test

SEO - Search Engine Optimization - Have the agency write a blog post and you to review the work. Having experience ranking content for search engines is a special skill set and I personally have become obsessed with content marketing and inbound marketing, especially as I launch this blog with those goals in mind! Organic traffic can be a great way to grow your small business without spending a ton on paid traffic in the process.

Social Media Marketing Agency - Have the Social media agency make a Facebook post or Instagram post. Before hiring them on retainer to do ALL of your social media work. Maybe they don't get your brand, or you just don't enjoy working with them. This is your business, you get to decide who to hire.

Web Design - I like to start with a small one time project like a logo design or landing page design to see if we can work together and have a similar vision. They can be a great marketing partner if they understand your brand, but a lot of times design can turn into a lot of back and forth without getting to the ideal outcome you want.

Customer Service - Send them 5 different questions and how would they answer them.

At the end of the day - No matter who you decide to hire, make sure you know how to do each task well enough to know if they are performing or NOT.

Should you hire an in-house marketing team or outsource to a marketing agency?

I personally am a huge fan of outsourcing to a marketing company or agency that can run effective marketing campaigns and truly understand your strategy. There are many reasons that I prefer to outsource versus hire an in house marketing team.

My reasons for outsourcing to an experienced marketing agency

  • Costs are variable and not fixed which means more profit.

  • Each agency is a true expert in each category.

  • If someone leaves, I am not stuck trying to hire a new marketing manager in house

  • Marketing agencies typically have insights from other accounts that we can use

  • Less time and oversight if they are good.

The hardest part is finding a marketing agency that can perform and make your life easier. Many marketing agencies simply aren't great because the barrier to entry is so low. Anyone can start a marketing agency, offer web design, do pay per click advertising, inbound marketing.

All they need to do is be able to sell you, which doesnt mean they can actually perform. Hence why I always vet my agency partners. Small businesses have enough to worry about, and hiring and firing a good marketing company should not be one of them.

As I found success in my own ecommerce business, I have had a lot of other brands reach out to ask how I use.

Now, I help others find a marketing agency. Most of my marketing partners are small and only work with a handfull of clients. I found these boutique agencies typicaly have the best results in their marketing industry.

If you want to hit the EASY button and save time and money - I would love to introduce you to pre-vetted agencies that I use. Ask them to show you how they would do it. If you don't like what they have to say or their work..Don't hire them!

A great agency or many great agencies can truly build you an ecommerce business that can scale without your personal effort, time and energy. For me, I found it amazingly freeing to have 90% of my business outsourced. It also was very effective for selling my ecom brand for almost 8 figures. Which is a different story for a different day!

Want help finding an expert marketing agency? Hire my agency experts by clicking here.

One last thing, I think having realistic sales goals and previous experience in each marketing channel is critical to finding and trusting a marketing firm to improve what you are already doing. The best way to think of it, is that a good marketing firm can add fuel to the fire but they typically don't start the fire!

No matter if you decide to hire a marketing director in-house or outsource to an agency, I hope you hit your sales goals and have the growth you desire.

Want to launch bigger and drive more profit from your Klaviyo email marketing? 🚀

Must be doing at least $50k a month to qualify

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