Before a business owner identifies their need for an SME marketing consultant, they usually resolve that their inability to grow the business is the result of the amount of time they spend working in the business.
However, in many cases, a small-to-medium sized business owners’ time and energy is best spent in their area of expertise. Whether it is financial planning, property development, physiotherapy or graphic design, this is what they do best and was likely the basis for why the business was able to exist in the first place.
That doesn’t suggest that they don’t have the business acumen to make the right marketing decisions, rather, it serves to highlight that you should play to your strengths. This means appointing the right people to handle certain areas of your business, so you can keep doing what adds the most value to your business.
This leads you to go down two paths; employing staff, or appointing a consultant.
The choice really comes down to you and perhaps is a post for another day. For now, let’s deal with the important factors you should be considering when looking to appoint an SME marketing consultant.
Here’s my top 4.
#1. Does the SME marketing consultant understand your business
There is a common belief that for a consultant to be effective, they need to have a deep experience base in your industry. I disagree.
In fact, at times, this can be a weakness because they lack the capacity to bring a fresh set of eyes to your business.
Sure, they have to have a suitable understanding of the market that you operate in. They also need to build a working knowledge of the needs, wants and challenges of your customers. That’s a given. What’s more important is that they understand your business:
- Will they invest the time (and genuine care) to get to know your culture and your vision for the business?
- Will they get to know your team and help develop a value proposition that captures the essence of what you do best?
It’s important to consider these things because it can make all the difference in an SME environment. Likewise, if a consultant usually only works with large companies, it can be difficult for them to truly appreciate the flexibility and limitations that exist in small and medium sized businesses.
You need to ensure that your SME marketing consultant can work within your budget and available resources. This sounds obvious, but if a consultant is used to running million-dollar campaigns that require a 50 person sales team to follow up on generated leads to see an ROI, then you need to be confident they can shift their thinking to a more feasible, integrated approach.
Your marketing budget is likely to have been the salary increase you would have loved to have paid yourself. Therefore, the idea of spending it on a fluffy, blue sky idea leaves the palms a bit sweaty!
#2. Do they understand online marketing
Whether you like it or not, your business needs to embrace the digital age.
Some businesses are going to be more reliant on online marketing than others, but the fact of the matter is that in 2016, if you can’t be found online, then you are losing business to your competitors.
Make sure that your SME marketing consultant can demonstrate to you the digital strategy that would work for your business with specific reasons why.
If you have limited experience with online marketing then without the appropriate demonstration of a suggested strategy, you run the risk of being sold a solution that has a limited chance of success, but it will be hard for you to see that upfront.
A good marketing consultant won’t sit there and throw techy jargon at you, so make sure you go into such a conversation with eyes wide open because you can understand online marketing.
As a matter of fact, you need to understand online marketing. No, you need to know how to build a website, but you need to understand the method behind what you are spending your money on.
If you do feel that your consultant is speaking over your head, ask them to break down for you, in simple terms, the nature of their proposed approach and the likely results. This gives the consultant the right opportunity to properly explain their strategy and for you to get a solid understanding before approving anything.
#3. Are they a good long term fit
To get true value out of a marketing consultant, you have to give them time. Sure, keep them accountable to results, but get a clear understanding of what you expect those results to be.
You will come across people that spout anomalies in their client case studies and suggest to you that you are likely to get the same explosive growth. While it may occur, you should feel much more excited about a consultant that has a considered process that is backed by data and methodology. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true…..
Working with a consultant is a partnership based on the mutual acceptance of an adopted strategy.
You need to see this as a long-term relationship, similar to the way you view the relationship with your accountant.
- Will they be the one who works with you long term, or are they just securing the contract on behalf of their company?
- Are they a good fit for your culture?
- Do you like spending time with them?
Some people subscribe to the notion that as long as a consultant is getting results you shouldn’t care too much if you get along with them.
Well, I think that you shouldn’t spend time with people that you don’t like spending time with. Business is hard enough as it is. Sure, don’t accept mediocrity because they are a nice person, but do yourself a favour and engage someone who will add to your culture.
By virtue of their nature, many marketers are genuinely fun people, so if you can have someone like that as part of your team, then it’s only going to add to the value they can bring to the business.
Capability and character – yes you can have both!
#4. Are they willing to be hands-on
When considering what you want out of your marketing consultant, make sure you identify whether you want a coach or someone who will execute marketing tactics.
There are some excellent marketing coaches out there who add tremendous value to their clients. However, if, as we established above, you don’t have the time or expertise to execute the marketing strategy, then you are left to engage someone else to implement the marketing plan and that is more trouble than it’s worth.
You don’t want to be paying consultant rates for someone to do the paint-by-numbers stuff, you can get a graduate student or a member of your admin staff to assist in these areas. When it comes to the more strategic efforts, you do however want the person devising the strategy to be the one implementing them. It gives the consultant a deeper understanding of your business and the challenges that exist in the marketplace.
Through setting this expectation early, your are much more likely to have a specific plan with more defined objectives because the consultant starts thinking through the lens of strategy and the lens of execution.
So, before you begin talking to a prospective SME marketing consultant, spend some time to get clear in your mind:
- What it is you want out of this engagement.
- What your goals are.
- What challenges you want to overcome.
- What timeframes you need to achieve your goals by.
- What you are willing to invest in your marketing.
With this clarity and a considered framework for selecting the right SME marketing consultant, you are setting yourself up for a successful appointment.
I’d love you to come back and tell me how you get on.
Remember to be excited, this is a great time in the history of your business and you are allowed to enjoy it!
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