Google+ The Marketing Survivalist: March 2016

Should You Hire a Marketing Agency or Use Freelance Marketing Specialists?

As you think about outsourcing your marketing, one of the first questions you'll need to answer is...

Should I hire a marketing agency to handle everything for me, or would I be better off hiring freelance writers, web designers, graphic artists, etc.?

The answer is - it depends. (Isn't it always!) You'll need to take a look at the pros and cons of each to decide what's right for your business. Let me give you some general guidelines and an assessment of the pros and cons of each approach. I'll also share a few tips for working with these different groups.

Working with a Marketing Agency
When I talk about marketing agencies, I'm referring to an organization that purports to be an expert in "all things marketing." Many of them have a specialty like web design, but that doesn't mean they can't offer a plethora of other services.

Pros: The primary advantage of using an agency is that many of them can handle everything for you: web design, SEO, collateral, social media, etc. They can also help you prioritize so you get the biggest bang out of your marketing budget.

Cons: The disadvantage is that this expertise comes at a cost. Many of these agencies use freelancers, so they need to cover those costs as well as the cost of the project manager assigned to your account, internal marketing talent and the usual sort of miscellaneous overhead that comes with running a business.

Tips: Be wary of the "all things marketing" firm that really specializes in one or two things. For example, if an organization's forte is SEO, and that's how they approach every project, you can end up with website content that ranks well (for awhile) but fails to resonate with your buyer.

Working with Freelancers
Freelancers are by nature specialists. They are often sole proprietors, but most of the freelancers I know - myself included - maintain a network of other freelancers that round out the solutions we can offer. For example, my focus is copy. You wouldn't want me designing your website - just takea look at mine and you'll see why! However, I work with a number of designers (and agencies) who do a fabulous job designing client websites, brochures, white papers, etc. They help me see the vision, and then I create copy that fits and gets the message across - with the appropriate attention paid to SEO, of course.

Pros: If you have a specific project like a white paper you want written, working with a freelancer can be much less expensive. The freelancer's expertise also tends to be deep because they are so focused. And, without a middleman (external project manager), projects can often get completed faster.

Cons: Freelancers can get a bit myopic. As the saying goes, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Plus, if you have a lot of multifaceted projects, you may need to do more project management ensuring the project flows smoothly from one phase to the next. When you work with an agency, your account manager normally takes care of this task.

Tips: To avoid the hammer/nail paradigm, look for freelancers with a broad marketing background. Also, make sure you have someone internal with a strong marketing background in charge of your project. Generally, you don't want to put your fresh-out-of-school new-hire in charge of a project that involves a lot of moving parts and people.

I would love to hear what you think. Do you outsource at least a portion of your marketing? If so, do you favor freelancers or agencies?

Have a specific question? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.

View Melissa Paulik's profile on LinkedIn

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Website or Product Brochures - Which Comes First?

I am sure many of you will recognize this all-too-common scenario...

I am working with an old friend who owns a small technology company. Like a lot of small business owners, he has a laundry list of things he'd like to get done, but budget dollars are scarce. The two most vital projects - a website overhaul and new product brochures - will take more dollars than he has available.

Option A - Spend a little here, a little there.
One way to address this is to try to fit both into the budget by doing it himself or hiring lower quality freelancers. While that's an option, I'd argue it's probably what got him to where he is in the first place. Replacing his current website with one that doesn't improve the user experience or brochures that are poorly written or designed, will just be throwing good money after bad. 

Nor will trying to do it himself result in a better quality product. He heads a team of technologists not marketers, and there are significant opportunity costs involved.

Option 2 - Prioritize
In truth, he has enough funds to do either the website or the brochures well. We're not talking "Cadillac" versions of either, but he doesn't need that. He needs something that allows his team to put their best foot forward. Ultimately, he needs to prioritize and pick one over the other.

The big question is, where does he start? I have the luxury of being somewhat of an unbiased source. That is, I don't necessarily make my living from website redesigns nor sales collateral creation. I supply copy for both as well as a number of other types of materials such as blog posts and white papers. Where he ultimately chooses to start makes no difference to me. That said, while I have no horse in this race, after spending three decades in sales and marketing, you can be sure I have an opinion.

Let the Sales Funnel Decide
customer's journey, sales cycleMy friend needs to look at his sales funnel and determine where his biggest challenges lie. Let's take a closer look.

One of my clients divides the customer's journey into three phases - awareness, buying, and implementation and usage. Naturally, you are going to have more opportunities - and I'm using that term somewhat loosely - at the top of the funnel in the awareness phase. At this stage, your prospects are starting to frame their challenges and research potential solutions. The key is to capture their attention and help them see your solution as at least one potential option so they can progress to the buying stage.

During the buying stage, the prospect is digging deeper into their potential options. At first they may have general questions - the kind that can be answered via sales collateral. Later in this stage, their questions will go deeper and need to be supported by more specific resources such as white papers, case studies, ROI tools and subject matter experts.

For now, I'm going to skip the implementation stage. If my friend's team can close the business, implementing and creating long-term relationships is not an issue.

To make a wise choice, he needs to look at his funnel and determine where his biggest challenges lie. Is he having a problem attracting new opportunities? If so, his website is the most important focal point, especially since he sells B2B products across a wide geography. His website is the first introduction most people have to what his business can do.

On the other hand, if finding new opportunities isn't an issue, but keeping them engaged is, he will want to focus on the collateral needed to keep the opportunity flowing through the funnel. He believes product brochures are necessary, but other organizations may choose to start with supporting collateral like case studies if they are more instrumental in keeping prospects engaged.

If the answer is "all of the above" as I suspect it might be, he needs to start at the top of the funnel. After all, he can't close opportunities that he doesn't have to begin with.

Want to ask a direct question? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.
View Melissa Paulik's profile on LinkedIn

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