Finding the Right Marketing Contractor

We’ve talked before in this space about hiring a marketing team. Sometimes, the financial resources within an organization are so constrained that hiring a full-time marketing person or staff is out of the question. That said, marketing is still a necessity, even for nascent companies with fiscal restraints. What to do? Consider calling in a marketing contractor.

Now I can hear some of you saying that contracting for professional marketing help can be an expensive proposition, more expensive on an hourly basis than full-time help. Well, that may be true, but hiring contract help provides some distinct advantages over hiring a full-timer when budget is a concern. Contractors can work on a specific project or for a period at a specific budget. You don’t have to pay taxes and insurance. Finally, if top-line revenue or cash flow doesn’t improve, you don’t have to worry about putting a valued employee out on the street.

Still, hiring a good contractor is not all that easy. With a limited budget, success on any marketing project is critical to growing the company. For some, it may be one of the last bullets in the chamber; you don’t want to waste a shot if you don’t have to. The following are some things to look for when looking for the right marketing consultant.

Has she contracted before? Believe it or not, not all who call themselves consultants have a great deal of experience as consultants. If you identify someone you think might work out, make sure you ask how long she has been doing project work. If she is new at it, ask why she just started. I’ve known some outstanding full-timers who moved to consulting and just weren’t good at it. Conversely, I’ve known excellent consultants who couldn’t handle full-time jobs. Don’t assume that because someone has a shingle out, she can contract successfully.

Does he have experience in the role he will play in your company? I’ve met very few marketing consultants who didn’t think they could handle any marketing project thrown their way. That someone has had broad experience can be helpful, but I still tend to look for specialists when hiring out project work. Look to see that the person has the right skill base and work experience for the task at hand. Someone with a strong PR background and some advertising experience is probably not the best person to develop your brand strategy and media plan. If you’re trying to hire someone to help with launching your company, look for someone who has done launches before, preferably in your industry sector.

How accountable is she? Critical to a successful working relationship with a consultant is how accountable she will be during the contract period. Will she provide a detailed work plan and report activities and results in a way that allows you to effectively manage the project? Ask the contractor for copies of work plans and progress reports from previous jobs so you can understand how she manages her time and you, the client.

Sign a contract. Not only is it important to have a contract, but it should clearly define the work to be performed, specify the date by which it needs to be performed, outline the deliverables that are expected throughout the project, and clearly articulate compensation, payment, and billing criteria as well as provide out clauses if you are unsatisfied with the work. One issue you will have to resolve is whether you pay hourly or by project. I always prefer project fees with a bonus structure tied to results. In my experience, this moves the work along more quickly and makes the consultant more efficient with his or her time. Additionally, it provides a fixed cost for you to work with. Remember, you are on a limited budget.

Is the fit right? Yes, cultural fit is important for contractors, too. They need to be able to work in your environment with your people. If you find someone whose skills are topnotch, but the fit just isn’t right, this could prove to be a roadblock to success.

My preference leans more toward building a team, even on a budget. But if that’s not an option, marketing contractors can really deliver if you know what to look for and how to manage them. Hiring a contractor is just one more tool you can use to build a winning marketing program.

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