Back in the good old days, marketing a small business meant putting up a billboard, taking out a few newspaper ads, and trusting that customers would tell each other about their good experiences through word of mouth.

Reaching customers seems a lot more complicated today. You have to navigate digital ads, social media platforms, paid search, inbound marketing and all the latest trends. It’s hard to know which areas to focus on your efforts and your hard-earned marketing dollars on. What gets the attention of your customers in the age of digital marketing, anyway?

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert in marketing to get impressive results for your business. A good marketing agency can make the process easier and take a lot of the unknowns off of your plate. But how do you find the right marketing agency to hire?

Set Your Tone

Consider the purpose, values and messaging of your business and how you want to convey that. Ask yourself questions like:


  • What attracts customers to your business to begin with? 
  • What types of people do you and your team enjoy working with?
  • Do you want advertising that feels innovative or nostalgic? 
  • What audience are you looking to target? 


Whatever your intentions, be sure to have them outlined in advance. Before you even reach out to an agency for an RFP, you need to understand your needs so you can effectively communicate to your agency of choice. 

Identify Your Goals

Think about exactly what you’re hoping to get from your marketing agency. Is it help with newer technology? A new website? An email newsletter? Articulating concrete objectives will help you assemble the best team of experts to serve your needs. 

Services to consider include:

  • Email campaigns
  • Website building
  • Marketing automation
  • Social media
  • Content marketing
  • Logo creation
  • Paid advertising
  • Direct mail

While outlining the deliverables you’re looking for is important, it’s even more critical that you outline what you’re trying to accomplish through these marketing tactics. Building brand awareness on social media or redesigning your logo is great, but how does it positively impact your business?

Plan Your Budget

Some important decisions to consider are the size of the agency that you’re looking for, and how much you want to spend on your marketing campaign. A large, well-established agency will have experts available for every need and will be able to solve problems quickly. You might find that the results are well worth your initial investment.

You might be tempted to go for the biggest and most expensive marketing agency right from the start, but you can get great results from smaller agencies as well. Rather than blow your entire marketing budget on securing the biggest names in advertising, concentrate on strategic and targeted ad campaigns. 

However, don’t be too stingy. If an agency is priced far below their competition, it could be because they don’t have the expertise you need.  Before you write a check to either, take a deep dive into their prior work and even reach out to references to help guide your decision-making. You get what you pay for, as they say.

Make a List

Beginning a search for agencies might seem overwhelming. How do you even find out which companies are out there?

There are a number of places to start your search:

  • Google “marketing agencies” plus the name of your city.
  • Ask friends and colleagues for referrals.
  • Look for websites that list and review agencies, such as Clutch.
  • Check LinkedIn for agencies with good reviews

You might not hear back from every agency that you contact, so it’s best to get in touch with a few at a time.

Explore Available Services

An experienced marketing agency should be able to help your business with a variety of campaigns. They’ll know the latest trends in social media, how to make mobile-friendly webpages, and what kinds of ads are most likely to attract attention. 

They’ll keep on top of the latest SEO techniques, as well as more organic marketing, and will use a number of tools to keep track of results. You’ll be aware of which strategies are making the most progress, so you can stay ahead of the competition.

Consider Staying Local

Consider a locally based marketing agency for your small business. It makes sense for large corporations to hire big nationally known marketing agencies, but those also come at a much higher cost, and they may not understand the local culture well enough to market to your target audience. An agency in your community will get that local flavor just right!

A local agency also gives you the opportunity to have meetings in person, for the best collaboration of ideas between your two companies. The creativity that can result from mutual brainstorming can lead to amazing breakthrough concepts. 

Beware of Scammers

You might see offers from marketing agencies that seem too good to be true. Listen to your instincts. Some agencies may be advertising services beyond their skill level, or they might even be outright scams. It’s easy for anyone to make a flashy website with impressive claims about their results, but you should research the company’s reviews and ask for examples of satisfied clients to be sure that they can deliver what they promise. 

Sometimes agencies are worse than just incompetent. Certain multilevel marketing companies promote themselves as experts, but further contact with the company reveals a pyramid scheme. Others engage in click fraud. If something doesn’t seem right, steer clear. 

Examine the Contract

When you think you’ve found the right agency, take the time to carefully read the contract between your two businesses. It should have clear language that specifies exactly what services will be provided to you. A reputable company will offer paid trials or other assurance that you will get what you need, so you know they will help you grow your business. This is just the beginning of the conversation, though.  For more ideas about collaborating with marketing agencies, take a look at these resources from BenchmarkONE.