I know. You are shopping to build a new website or manage your marketing. You might have heard about this new "fandangled" approach to web marketing called Inbound.
You've decided it's time to get serious and compare your service providers so you ask for proposals. Some will just give you a proposal and some will actually take some time trying to understand your goals. Some might just ask for a list of features you want (a clear indication that they are just mouse clickers and not thinkers).
And now, you're at a point where you have to make a decision on which agency to choose.
What, OH WHAT, do you do to adequately compare these services?
Here's a fancy chart that might shed some light on the only way you can compare:
Yeah, I know that's probably not very helpful but it is how most people compare the services of web marketing or web design agencies. You will want to see the first list of features and then you'll want to see everyone else's list of features. You'll then look at the price and say, "I don't know. Bob, what do you think?" And Bob says, "I don't know, Joe, they all seem to be the same."
Of course, I might have confused you because your name isn't Bob or Joe, so you'll have to read between the lines a little.
Almost none of that matters. Just about every agency can do just about everything you want them to do (or, they will at least say they can). You want search engine optimization? Yep, we can do it. You want email marketing? Yes, we can do it? You want a gimble-hopper on your knob-knocker? Sure, easy peasy.
But, there really are three distinct things you are looking for. Only three. If you can adequately qualify these three things, you'll have chosen the right partner.
Little disclaimer. These three things do not absolve you of the responsibility to vet their history and skills. Look at their website. Look at their own marketing. If they can't do it for themselves, they won't be able to do it for you. Just make sure you understand their goals before you judge.
Oh, I also believe these are in order of importance.
Yes, this is first and foremost. Do you trust them? Will they be able to help you acheive your goals? Do they even understand your goals?
Little hint, if they never ask you what your business goals are, you can't trust they will acheive them through your marketing initiatives. If your goal is to increase your business and they say that SEO (search engine optimization) will get you more traffic then that means they don't understand your business goals and shouldn't be trusted.
Take the time necessary to ask questions that demonstrate they know and understand you, your business, and your needs and that you can trust them to accomplish those for you the way they say they can. If you worry that you'll have to tell them every step of the way what to do and when to do it, then don't hire them.
You are going to spend a fair bit of time with your new marketing and/or design agency. You are going to be in strategy meetings. You are going to get emails. If they are worthy of doing business with you, they will be doing a lot of work for you on an on-going basis. If you do not connect during the sales proccess, don't force it.
Make sure that when you go into their office or talk to them on the phone you feel comfortable. Culture can be felt at long distances if you aren't in the same city or even state. Trust your gut. If the culture doesn't feel right, they are not right.
You are going to spend a lot of money. You are probably going to spend more money than you think. Did you know that the average SMB website, when built properly, is a $12K - $15K prospect? Anything less than that, they are leaving something out.
Did you know that truly effective marketing for an SMB doesn't happen for less than $8 to $10K per month? Pieces might (and should) cost less. But the full-meal deal requires a full-meal budget.
Okay, did that scare you? But it's the reality.
There are those that can do some of those things for less and that might be okay as a starting point but if you want lasting success, you need to spend that money to make the money you want to make. Don't skimp.
But, there is something more important than just having the budget for the services they provide. You need to have budget for things outside of their contract. You need budget for advertising, additional content development, and even traditional media.
But, the reality is, regardless of where your budget lies and how much you are hiring them to do and how much you are doing yourself, you have to be able to trust that they will be able to handle your budget effectively.
So, what does it really come down to?
You are looking for a partner that shares your values and has the ability to pull off what you want done. You aren't going to figure that out by comparing services. No two proposals will look the same. They will each have their own approach. That doesn't necessarily make one better than the other. But, the company, and more to the point, the people, are what really matter.
Can you trust them? Can they fit your culture? Does your budget line up with what they can provide and with what your goals really dictate?
Find that in your partner and you'll be set.