When to hire a marketing agency, and when to make it work yourself

When is the right time to stop doing marketing yourself and hire a marketing agency to help? We get asked this a lot by small business owners who want to ‘get their marketing sorted out’. There are several things to consider when you’re looking to take your marketing to the next level and there are 4 stages in this process. Some companies can go from 1-4 but others have to work through them all. Which are you?

What the agency wont tell you

What an agency won’t tell you

The one thing most marketing agencies won’t tell you is that making marketing work well for a business is a lot easier if they already have an audience and have some form of marketing working already (even if it does need some work). It removes a lot of the guesswork and makes scaling it up a lot simpler. They won’t tell you this because they don’t want you to go away and try it yourself, they want you to pay them to do it.

Square 1

You’re not starting at square 1

You might already have an audience, even if you’re not actively done any marketing before. If you rely on referrals and recommendations,  then you have a large audience in your existing customers. You also probably know who you want to work with, even if you’re not actively engaging them yet.

If you have no marketing in place and only a few customers, then you will need a lot of cash to hire an agency at this stage. To hire a good agency, that will work on all aspects of your marketing, you’ll need around £20,000 for the first 6 months and then £2,000- £5,000 per month for around 12 months after that to really see results. You get what you pay for with marketing so if you’re paying less than this you’re not working with experts, and results will be hit and miss.

If you don’t have that kind of budget then don’t worry! There is a lot you can do yourself to build up your marketing in a manageable and more cost-effective way. Then when you have the budget you can hire an agency to really grow your business.

Graph showing 4 stages of marketing your business

The 4 stages of marketing

There are 4 stages every business goes through with their marketing.

  1. Do It Yourself – When you start your business you wear all the hats and you have to spend a lot of time getting everything set up and working. There is a lot to learn and it’s a lot of work. This is often where you’ll feel overwhelmed and might be tempted to spend money on ‘solutions’ without knowing what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Done With You – After the DIY approach doesn’t work you’ll go looking for some help. This is where you learn how to do marketing, what works and what doesn’t. With the help of a coach, you use a strategy to make a marketing plan. This makes it more manageable and you’ll start to see results.
  3. Done With You+ – Once it’s working you need to keep that momentum but you’re getting busier with new customers so you need to bring someone else on board. Most businesses start with outsourcing some of the more time-consuming tasks like posting, writing and content creation, whilst they continue measuring the results and driving the strategy.
  4. Done For You – Once you’re seeing good results and you’re ready to scale your business it’s the perfect time to hire an agency. They’ll do it all for you, you define the results you want and they advise you on and deliver the strategy. They report back to you with results and your return on investment.
Taking the leap

Leap from DIY to DFY

Most business owners want to go from DIY to DFY in one leap, and some do, especially if they get a big cash investment. 

If you’re building your business without any investment then trying to go from DIY to DFY means you don’t know what you’re asking for. So you’re relying on an agency to make all the decisions, and make an educated guess as to what works and what doesn’t. 

This approach needs time to work, whilst they refine your audience and messaging, which all needs testing in the marketplace, as it’s never right the first time. So if you have the budget then this approach will work.

Sadly, few agencies will communicate this to you if you don’t have the budget. They don’t want to lose the sale, so they’ll say they ‘do something with your budget’ and that they can get your results. In reality, they rarely can, frequently we hear that they take the money and then slowly run down your budget using graphs and jargon to convince you to keep going. 

This is why so many small businesses say “I’ve worked with an agency and it didn’t work”. Most likely the agency we’re ok, but because you didn’t have the budget or ask the right questions there were no results. 

If you have a clear idea of what you want, and the right budget then a good agency will help you get it. If you approach an agency and say can you get me results with my budget, then the agency you choose will most likely be the one with the best salesperson, not the one who can deliver.

Simon Batchelar presenting at a Marketing Success Club session

Making it work

To make marketing work at any of these levels you need to understand your customer, story and offer. As a small business owner, it is your job to know who your customers are, why they are your ideal customer and how you help them. You should also have a compelling business story that makes you stand out from the crowd; an amazing offer that makes your ideal customer say “WOW that’s just what I’ve been looking for”.

Once you have these 3 clear then you can start marketing. If you start before you have these in place then you’re trying to flog a dead horse. You’ll be spending a lot of money trying to sell something no one wants to buy.

It’s tempting to skip this step and ‘pay someone else to do it’, but as I said before, unless you have the budget then you are going to have to put the time into making it work yourself.

I don’t have time = I am choosing not to prioritise

Andy Bounds

Getting new customers (marketing) is the second most important thing in your business, after actually delivering your product and service. So many business owners put it a lot lower down their priority list, and I often hear them say “I don’t have time to do marketing”. 

What they’re really saying here is “I am busy doing other things that I don’t need to do”, or even “I don’t know what to do so I’m making something else a priority to avoid doing it”. 

You do have time for marketing, guaranteed, I’ve never met someone who doesn’t. I’ve met a lot of business owners who still do their own bookkeeping, answer the phone, pick and pack the orders and hundreds of other ‘vital’ jobs. 

If you could get 1, 10 or 100 new customers with a few hours of marketing a week would that enable you to outsource these low-value tasks?

Steps to success

Taking the first step

So now you can make the time, how do you know what to do next? You need to work on getting the essentials of your customer, story and offer sorted. Then build a marketing plan and follow a tried and tested marketing process to link it all together. Once these link together you will be able to get it working for your business, and it won’t take as much time as you think. Even if you need to get someone else in to help you after you have the essentials sorted, you’ll be well on your way to needing an agency to help you, and crucially you’ll know exactly what results you want and how you want them to help you.

Getting started

We’ve worked with over 400 small businesses to get their marketing working and we’ve created a free course Get Marketing Working for Your Business to teach you the 5 high impact steps you can take to start getting marketing results. (DIY)

If you want to take it to the next level you can join our Marketing Success Accelerator programme where we combine live training with 1-2-1 coaching to supercharge your marketing and grow your business. (DWY)