Over the past year I’ve evaluated over 30 companies related to online marketing, and onboarded over a dozen of those that made the cut. In evaluating those that made the cut, those that were ultimately replaced, and those who never had a chance, some common themes emerged. For a small business owner, the bandwidth requirements and potential for costly mistakes are just too great of a risk. As a result, I thought I’d share this experience so that others may learn without the outlay of time and cash.

Digital Marketing Isn’t as Hard as You Think

Online Marketing is not particle physics. Despite what most practitioners will have you believe, if you’re capable of running business, you could quite easily become a proficient online marketer. It’s simply a matter of priorities and time.

So why do so many online marketing practitioners use a condescending tone and rely heavily on acronyms, when simple explanations will do?

It really comes down to the old adage, if you can’t impress them with your competence, dazzle them with bullshit.

If your bullshit detector goes off when you talk to your marketing team, it’s time to make a change.

You’ve got a business, and that means you’re busy, ultimately juggling a matrix of cost benefit equations with both short term and long term horizons.

Should I open a new location, hire more staff, find a new supplier?

“How much do I stand to gain, and how much does it cost?”

Any marketer worth their retainer should be able to give you a pretty good feel for how much you can stand to make within a few days of analyzing a business.

If you haven’t been doing any SEO, don’t have a PPC campaign, aren’t remarketing, and don’t have a content strategy, the answer is probably a lot. If however you’ve been doing all these things, and your current agency and consultant is half way competent, then answer will be not much.

Anyone who’s taken Econ 101 knows the law of diminishing returns, and the fact that in any market with low barriers to entry, competition will enter the market until profits are driven to zero.

What this means is that as your business goes up the curve of online marketing proficiency, it will become increasingly difficult to drive incremental revenue.

Even more importantly, the barrier to entry to becoming a competent digital marketer is effectively zero. All you need is a laptop, internet connection, passion for learning, and a kick ass work ethic. As a result, more and more qualified entrants to the field are minted every day.

So beware of anyone who tells you if you give them $50K a month will make you $300K after 4 months of effort. Take a reality check.

Are my current marketing efforts truly awful? Is there really overwhelming untapped demand for my company’s goods and services? Are my competitors really that behind the curve?

What most consultants forget, is that digital marketing is not the nascent field of yesteryear. While it used to be easy to return 3 to 4x on your marketing investment, the field has become relatively saturated in the last 3 years. You would be hard pressed to find a CMO that is not at least conversant in the major acquisition channels. Ten years ago, this was not the case, and as a result, a competent agency or consultant could easily earn their keep.

It’s About the Relationship

Much like any aspect of your business, your partnerships often boil down to the relationship between you and the other party. You need to feel comfortable working with whoever you partner with, as they will be privy to many intimate details of your business. You will have long discussions with them, over sometimes painful topics.

“Is this person someone I feel comfortable talking to about important business issues? Do I trust them to keep my confidences and best interests in mind?”

Ultimately, the answers to these questions frame the long term prospects of working together. Certainly if you hunt high and low, you can probably find someone who can squeeze and extra penny or two out of your marketing dollars. But will they take your calls in a timely manner? Will they explain how your money is spent in a way that makes sense to your business?

I’ll take a partner who understands me as a person, adjusts to my needs, over a pointy head who treats me like an account any day.

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