How to hire a marketing consultant without throwing your money away

Photo courtesy of morguefile user cohdra

Photo courtesy of morguefile user cohdra

It’s a Catch-22, isn’t it?

I’m talking about that two-sided chatter in your head that pulls you in opposing directions.

One side is telling you it’s time to make a move––now! It’s time to beat back the advances of your competitors. It’s time to get serious about growing your customer base. If you’re ever going to achieve your dream of building a legacy, it’s time to invest in marketing your business.

Then the other voice chimes in.

It’s the one that reminds you about last time. “Slow down, partner. Remember that consultant who convinced you to invest in online directory listings last year? It cost you thousands of dollars. And you don’t even know if it has generated any new business at all.”

This quandary leaves you with three choices.

One is to do what anybody else faced with uncertainty would do. You could do nothing and hope for the best. But you aren’t like anybody else. You’re a starter, and a finisher. That’s why you are where you are today. So, you cross that off the list.

Your second choice is to try to do it all yourself. But that’s not realistic. After all, you have a business to run. You don’t have time to figure out a marketing strategy or how to implement it. So you cross that off the list.

Your third choice is to hire a marketing consultant. But you risk financial loss if the consultant you choose to work with doesn’t deliver the results to achieve your business goals. How do you blunt the risk? How do you break out of this Catch-22?

The solution is easier than you think.

It starts with your very first conversation and a Request For Proposal (RFP). A formal RFP helps you set the table for a mutually beneficial working relationship. One that ensures you will be happy with the results. Not sure what should be in your marketing RFP? This slide deck lays out seven things you should include.

7 parts to a marketing RFP that helps you get the right consultant

The overview is where the consultant shows an understanding of your company, your product, the market dynamics and your business challenge. An inability to briefly summarize your business situation should be a red flag.

Setting the business objectives is the most critical part of the proposal. All of the work and marketing tactics should flow from your objectives. SMART objective setting is the ideal model to follow: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time-bound.

This part details the specific work the consultant will deliver and be paid for. Linking the deliverables to business objectives will help to avoid “scope creep” and keep the focus on the most productive activities.

This part outlines the steps taken to get the work done. It identifies the action items, workflow and who is accountable. A good consultant will give you a clear picture of how he or she will work with you each step of the way.

With the previous steps in place, costs and value should be pretty clear. You can manage your budget resources by prioritizing the scope and process based on your objectives.

A professional consultant prepares a working agreement for every client. It establishes the various legal aspects of working together at the beginning of the process. It covers confidentiality, payment terms, cost estimates and rates for work outside the scope of the project, ownership of work and intellectual property. Ask for one up front. It’ll save you a lot of headaches.

Most people use the same boilerplate information in their professional bios. Look to see if your prospective consultant talks about specific skills and experience that relate to your business and project.

Following this process can take a lot of the risk and uncertainty out of hiring a consultant. You will have clear objectives for determining what work needs to be done. You will know how it will be done, who is accountable, and how you will measure success. Best of all, you won’t have to listen to that nagging dialog in your head!

Are you using an RFP to vet consultants? What would you add to this one?

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Guest bloggers for the TDS Business Blog.

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