*ping* New email! And this time it’s not a note from our bookkeeper about how much we owe SARS, a Facebook administrator alert (someone just liked us!) or the latest group buying deals. No, it’s an enquiry from our website – always welcome!

Article by Jo Duxbury

We’re on a bit of a new business drive at the moment and it’s a lot of fun getting out there and meeting new people, and learning about their businesses. In some cases we are not the only company they’re talking to – which is entirely sensible, of course.

But what has been quite an eye-opener is how bad some of the legacy marketing work is at some of the companies we’ve been meeting. (Actually, I’m stunned that some ‘marketing’ companies get away with doing such terrible work – and get paid for it!)

I realised that actually the fault is not the clients’ – very often, these clients are experts in all sorts of areas, but understandably don’t have the first idea about marketing principles. I worry though that if the client is unaware that they’ve commissioned bad work in the past, how will they be able to evaluate the companies they’re currently interviewing?

So here is my list of ‘things to watch out for’ if you are a non-marketer looking to hire a marketing, design or web company, or freelancer.

Be wary if:

  • They can give you fixed prices immediately. Anyone who answers a question like ‘what do you charge for a website?’ with a fixed figure is an amateur. Without knowing the scope of a project, it’s impossible to quote for it. And chances are you don’t want an off-the-shelf package. A range or ballpark figure is OK, as long as it comes with the caveat that it is subject to spec.
  • They promise to deliver the earth, by next week. Good work takes time. Remember that cost/time/quality triangle? Pick two. Cheap and fast = rubbish quality. A brilliant product in a couple of weeks = remortgage the house and get several ulcers. You get the idea.
  • They tell you your current marketing is great. Chances are it isn’t, or you wouldn’t be shopping around for help. Obviously you’ll be a bit put out if they insult your brand, but wouldn’t you rather work with someone who will give you tactful, constructive criticism, rather than agree with everything you say? After all, you are paying them for their expertise.
  • They can’t show you examples of the work they’ve done for other clients. If a company can’t show you any case studies, I’d seriously question their credibility. The same applies to client references. Google them and see if they have any kind of online ‘CV’. If not, avoid.
  • They don’t practice what they preach. For example, if you’re talking to a web company, is their own website easy to navigate? Does a company that offers copywriting services send you grammatically flawless emails? Are there typos in the presentation? Do they communicate clearly? If they’re not getting it right for themselves, they might not be able to do it for their clients. “Cobbler’s shoes” is not an excuse.
  • They’re unprofessional. Did they arrive on time? Had they done some research about your company in advance? And when they send you a quote, is it a proper document (preferably a PDF), with a letterhead, and terms and conditions? No? Then scratch them off your list and rather hire someone who makes and effort, is professional, and shows they want your business.
  • They’re all talk and no substance. Watch out for marketers who talk more than they listen – and who are more interested in winning industry awards than getting results for their clients. Beware of vague answers and questions answered with questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they mean by something – don’t let them blind you with jargon and industry terms.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and if you have other suggestions, please do share them in the comments below.

If you’re not sure that you’d spot a dodgy marketing supplier, perhaps you should consider hiring someone who does to help you choose your marketing providers. *cough* We happen to know just the people, if you’re interested

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