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How to hire a digital marketing agency for your small business

Like many small business owners, you might come to the realization that a) you can’t do it all on your own and b) it doesn’t make sense to try. You know your business needs digital marketing to grow and compete in a competitive marketplace, but in a new frontier where the rules of engagement are written in pixels and algorithms, you need help. Hiring a digital marketing agency is one of the most important decisions your small business can make. How do you find the perfect partner?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to hire a digital marketing agency:

Step 1: Understand your needs and goals

Before starting your search for the right digital marketing agency, it’s crucial to first understand your own needs and goals. You need to define your objective clearly—whether it is to increase brand awareness, drive website traffic, or boost sales.

What do you need from an agency? Looking to level up your SEO? A website redesign? A new marketing strategy? Or a bit of everything?

It’s a bit like online dating—how can you expect to narrow down your choices if you have no idea what you’re looking for? You may end up swiping right on a profile that looks amazing, but you’ll soon realize that you have zero in common.

Similarly, it’s important that your goals fit your agency from the start. Once you have a clear idea of what you need from them, it’ll be easier to find an agency that fits. Identifying your specific, actionable, time-bound, relevant, and measurable objectives will serve as your guiding star throughout the hiring process.

You may also be interested in: Marketing Agency vs In-House Resource: Which is best for your small business?

Step 2: Finding potential agencies

Now that you’ve spent some time deciding what you want and need, it’s time to seek out potential digital marketing agencies. While a simple Google search may an overwhelming number of options, there are other ways to start your search:

  • Marketing communities and association directories
  • Social media platforms like LinkedIn
  • Referrals from other small business owners or professionals in your network
  • Local chambers of commerce or business development organizations
  • Ask your colleagues if anyone can share relevant contacts
  • Ask other companies and non-competing businesses for their recommendations

TOP TIP: You might want to look for an agency that has experience in your industry.

Recommended reading: How to choose a digital marketing agency for your small business

Step 3: Evaluate expertise and offerings

The next step in hiring a digital marketing agency marketing agency for your small business is carefully evaluating the expertise and offerings of the candidate list you created in Step 2:

  • Request work samples and traceable references to verify their track record
  • Check out portfolios and client testimonials
  • Take a close look at their online presence and social media platforms
  • Evaluate their blog content, design, and tone to gauge compatibility with your brand voice and values
  • Look at online reviews to assess the agency’s credibility and professionalism

Considering these factors collectively can help you identify an agency that embodies authority, expertise, and trustworthiness in their field.

Step 4: Schedule consultations and ask key questions

The next step is to schedule face-to-face or virtual meetings with shortlisted candidates. These interactions offer insight into the agency’s culture and compatibility with your requirements. During these discussions, you’ll have a chance to evaluate their capabilities, transparency, and communication style.

Prepare a list of questions covering aspects such as their processes, strategies, and any specific clarifications you need.

A typical agenda could include topics like:

  • Your company, business goals, and expectations 
  • The agency, their mission, and the services they provide
  • Introductory services to help you get to know each other
  • Onboarding process
  • Marketing plan and strategy
  • Marketing tools and tech stack
  • Measuring success
  • Communication protocols
  • Reporting
  • Handling of client disputes
  • Past clients
  • Cost estimates

If you feel comfortable moving ahead with an agency, you can request a proposal to formalize discussions and gather crucial information for vendor selection. The request for proposal (RFP) should outline project details, goals, and specific inquiries about the agency’s approach, timeline, pricing, and contract terms.

TOP TIP: You know how it goes. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re in a particularly competitive market, be wary of any agency promising quick results.

Step 5: Review offers and pricing

In Step 5, it’s time to carefully review offers and pricing after consulting with the agencies on your shortlist. Understanding the digital agency pricing model is essential for accurately assessing the value proposition. Ensure you receive detailed proposals to help you compare the agencies that best align with your business needs. Take the time to assess the agency’s expertise, previous work quality, communication style, and the value they offer in relation to the price.

TOP TIP: When evaluating offers, prioritize value over cost. While a lower price may seem enticing, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a better deal.

Step 6: Make your decision and plan for onboarding

With all the information you need in hand, it’s time to make a hiring decision and plan for a seamless onboarding process. Avoid rushing into decisions; instead, prioritize thorough evaluation to hire the best-fit agency for your needs.

Once you’ve made your choice, your appointed agency will likely send you a contract to sign. Make sure that you thoroughly understand the agency’s contract terms, ensuring clarity on key aspects such as duration, termination clauses, payment terms, and content ownership.

Should you choose not to proceed with a particular agency, provide honest feedback.

Most agencies have a standard onboarding process, which sets the stage for a successful partnership. Establish clear expectations, project goals, KPIs, and timelines during this phase to align the agency’s marketing team with relevant stakeholders in your company. You can expect introductory meetings to facilitate resource sharing and establish regular communication and reporting schedules.

Ready to hire a digital marketing agency?

We hope these steps provided some guidance and clarity into the process. If you’re a small, service-based business looking for help creating and maintaining an online presence that helps you achieve your goals, we might just be a match! Peruse our website, blog, resources, and socials, and let us know if you’d like to go to Step 4 with us.

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