Outsourcing your marketing tactics can be a great way to scale your business without adding FTEs. I’ve seen this work especially well with marketing tactics because there are so many specialities. You might need an SEO manager a few hours, an email marketing expert a few hours, and a web developer.
The problems arise when businesses forget they still need to manage the outsourced staff (or agencies).
Here are the top mistakes I’ve seen businesses make over the years when outsourcing their marketing to agencies, freelancers, fractional CMOs, and maybe even the CEO’s niece that needs college credit.
1. Expecting killer marketing expertise without the price tag
Also known as: champagne tastes on a beer budget.
I’ve been studying marketing for about 20 years. My CV looks identical in terms of a skills list and certifications as someone right out of college. There is a huge difference in expertise though. Just because you see a lot of certifications doesn’t mean they have real-world experience and know when to use what strategy to reach your goals.
When you’re interviewing, ask about specific challenges they have seen with companies like yours. Ask them what marketing blogs, podcasts, or newsletters they follow. You don’t have to know what they are, you just want to know that the person or team you’re hiring is constantly learning and actually excited about their career.
If you’re making a budget hire which generally means someone newer to marketing, set aside extra time for a one-on-one weekly meeting to make sure you have eyes on your marketing. Trust, but verify. There are risks in hiring inexperienced marketers and it could hurt your brand and reputation with your target markets. So keep an eye on things and know you’ll need to manage a bit more.
Finally, know that you’ll need to direct the tasks of a junior marketer or junior agency team. They likely aren’t paid enough to think about your company and brainstorm opportunities while taking their dog for a walk. So you’ll have to tell them what needs to be done.
2. Trying to outsource too many marketing skill sets in one person or agency
If your job description is a laundry list of every marketing term you’ve ever heard of…this one’s for you.
Seriously, go look at your job description. Unless you’re willing to pay top-dollar for a marketing unicorn, revise your description to focus on one specialty. Yes, ONE!
Think about everything you want to get done in marketing. Think about the challenges you’re facing and the mix of marketing tactics you want to use to solve for those challenges.
Now, prioritize which skill set you need to onboard first.
- Is it a web developer to help you code up content and keep your website secure?
- Is it a content writer to start generating white papers to delight your target market?
- Or maybe you need SEO help to get your site looking great to Google?
Start with your top priority and find the best resource you can for that very specific skill set. Then hire the next one…and the next one.
Please remember, you want A-players and you deserve A-players. Don’t settle.
Do not try to hire them all in one person. You might think a full stack marketing agency could handle it all for you, but be warned: most agencies really do have a specialty and then backfill to upsell their clients in other adjacent areas. For example, an SEO agency might call themselves “full stack” because they can kind of also handle writing blogs.
I’m being harsh, but I can usually tell which specialty an agency started with. There are, of course, exceptions which can work great, but be prepared to pay a premium (and yes, it’s worth it and we’re happy to make introductions).
3. Expecting a specialist to advise you on strategy
Expertise in a marketing silo doesn’t mean expertise in strategy…and an agency will never know your business like you do.
Keep the marketing strategy in-house and don’t let agencies or freelancers get you off course. When you’re a hammer, all you see is nails. When you’re an SEO specialist, you’ll automatically try to solve everything with SEO. See my point?
I’ve seen agencies do this too – they will try to solve a client’s problem with the skill sets the agency already has on staff, not necessarily the skills actually needed.
Keep your marketing strategy in-house. You can hire someone to help you build it, but hire a marketing strategist like a fractional CMO. They know how to pull the right marketing levers to get you where you want to be.
Once you have your path, you just need to stay on it and don’t get derailed by special offers or free SEO audits. Stay on course!
4. Trusting your outsourced marketer with your assets
Please, please, please do not hand over ownership of your assets to an outsourced marketer.
This happens a lot with ad accounts. Often the ad agency wants to use their own Google Ads account. This means when you stop paying them, you lose access to all of that historical data.
I’ve also seen social media accounts disappear when an agency contract ended. Even websites have gone poof because the agency was the one that purchased the domain.
This is an easy fix.
First, don’t ever hire an agency or freelancer that only uses their own accounts.
Second, document access to everything. Make sure 2-3 employees have admin access at all times and any vendor is limited. It will annoy them, but it’s worth it because the alternative is awful.
Involve your HR team to add an access review to your off-boarding process to make sure former employees are removed in a timely manner.
And if you think documenting isn’t needed, we have at least 20+ online assets alone with various access levels. It would be easy to miss something if it wasn’t documented. We have a template if you need it!
5. Hire because of a referral from a networking group
Your buddy might be great at golf and talk a good game at your weekly networking events, but that isn’t enough.
There can be a huge difference in competency between an agency owner and the execution staff. Don’t hire just based on the thought leaders that happen to be in your networking group.
Or, for that matter, if you get a referral. Keep in mind that people rarely like to admit they made a bad hire. So try to read between the lines on how enthusiastic that referral is.
Scope out the staff carefully and get more bids before signing. It’s okay to ask to meet the team that will actually be working on your account before you sign a contract. Don’t be shy and ask about agency staff turnover.
Turnover happens a lot at agencies. The team you signed the contract for might switch around. You don’t want to be catching up new staff on your brand every quarter. Include a clause in your contract that you can break it if the core team assigned to your account changes.
And yes, I’ve seen agencies charge clients extra hours every time they had to onboard a different staff member. You shouldn’t pay the price for their staff turnover.
Outside the box idea to prevent the outsourced marketing mistakes
Hire an agency to do an initial vetting of the agency you’re considering. I do it all the time. If our program isn’t a fit, I am happy to consult to review proposals and translate marketing BS into plain English. I want to facilitate good fit client-agency relationships. So if I’m not in the running for the project, then you can trust that I have a pretty unbiased opinion.
It might feel weird at first to even consider doing this, but it could help mitigate mistakes that are much more costly.
The same goes for specialists you have a gut feeling about. Don’t hesitate to hire another specialist to do a review. I absolutely found this annoying when I ran a full stack agency, but I respect it. Be up front about it and give it a try. It’s not for everyone, but worth considering.