How To Choose an Expert: Should You Hire a Marketing Agency, Marketing Consultant, or Fractional CMO?

Deborah Oster // August 3, 2023 // 0 Comments

Small business marketing involves an array of strategies and tactics and can become very in depth. And the complexity only grows as the business grows. 

For small businesses asking themselves, “Should I hire a marketing agency, marketing consultant, or other expert?” the answer often isn’t if they should hire, but when. The ‘when’ can vary significantly depending on your budget, your or your staff’s skill set, and the most efficient use of your time. 

Our perspective is this: You don’t HAVE to hire an outside expert. This article isn’t going to tell you that you MUST hire an outside expert. It’s not even going to tell you that you SHOULD. It’s assuming that you MAY consider it at some point, and we want to give you some information to think about when that time comes. 

With so many options available, it can be challenging to determine whether you should hire a marketing agency or a marketing consultant. And in this article we’re also going to include a third option, which is newer and fits the needs of many small businesses — a fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). 

In this article, we’re going to explore the differences between each of these marketing experts and share guidance with you on making the best choice for your business.

Assessing Your Small Business Marketing Needs

Before diving into the different marketing experts, it’s critical to assess your business’s marketing needs. Below are some areas to consider. It’s important to note that these areas don’t have to be in tip-top shape, you just need to know where they are in their current state. Knowing the status of these items will be helpful to you and any experts you may talk to in determining if they would be a good fit for you. 

A. Determine your marketing objectives and goals

First you need to have some marketing objectives and goals. Are you looking to increase brand awareness, drive more traffic to your website, or generate leads? Having these goals in mind will help you determine the type of marketing expert that can best support your business. 

B. Identify your target audience

Who are you trying to reach? Understanding your target audience is essential to creating effective marketing strategies. Consider factors such as demographics, psychographics, and geographic location when defining your audience.

C. Evaluate your current marketing efforts

Take a close look at your existing marketing efforts. What are you doing, what’s working, and what isn’t? Identify areas where you think you could use additional support or expertise.

D. Define your budget and resources

Finally, establish your marketing budget and consider the resources available to your business. You’re going to have to consider this factor when it’s time to make a decision about which marketing expert is the best fit. 

Understanding the Differences Between Marketing Agencies, Consultants, and Fractional CMOs

A. Marketing agency: Marketing services and team structure

Marketing agencies offer a wide range of services, such as advertising, branding, content creation, and SEO. They typically have a team of professionals with diverse skills and expertise, making them ideal for businesses seeking comprehensive marketing support. Some agencies will market themselves as specialists, i.e. SEO Marketing Agency, PPC Marketing Agency, but generally they will still offer additional services outside of those.

B. Marketing consultant: Marketing expertise and specialization

A marketing consultant is an individual with extensive experience in a specific marketing area or industry. They provide expert advice and guidance on marketing strategy and tactics, helping businesses optimize their efforts and achieve their marketing goals. A marketing consultant will generally be expected to tell you how to solve problems. While some will go a step further and do the work of solving the problem for you.

C. Fractional CMO: Executive-level marketing management

A fractional CMO is a part-time marketing executive who fills the role of a full-time CMO without the cost. They provide high-level marketing strategy and execution, making them an excellent option for businesses with limited budgets or resources. This has become more popular in recent years and has opened the door for small businesses to add this strategic skillset to their teams.

When to Hire a Marketing Agency

A. Need for a wide range of marketing services

If your business requires multiple marketing services, a small business marketing agency might be the best choice. They can provide a comprehensive approach to marketing, addressing various aspects of your strategy.

B. Comprehensive marketing campaigns

Marketing agencies excel at creating and executing complete marketing campaigns. If your business needs a coordinated marketing effort across multiple channels, consider hiring an agency.

C. Access to diverse skill sets and expertise

A marketing agency offers the benefit of a team with diverse expertise, allowing them to address a wide range of marketing challenges.

When to Hire a Marketing Consultant

A. Need for specific marketing advice and guidance

If your business requires targeted marketing advice, a marketing consultant for small business might be the ideal choice. They can provide insights and recommendations tailored to your specific needs.

B. Expertise in a particular marketing area or industry

Marketing consultants often specialize in a specific area, making them well-suited to address unique challenges or industry-specific marketing needs.

C. Flexibility and scalability of services

Consultants typically offer flexible and scalable services, allowing you to engage them as needed without committing to a long-term contract.

When to Hire a Fractional CMO

A. Need for high-level marketing strategy and execution

A fractional CMO is an ideal choice if your small business requires marketing strategy and its execution. With their extensive experience and strategic mindset, they can help you devise and implement marketing plans that drive growth and elevate your brand’s positioning in the market.

B. Limited budget or resources for a full-time CMO

A fractional CMO for small business is an excellent option if you need high-level marketing expertise but don’t have the budget or resources to hire a full-time CMO. This allows you to benefit from their expertise without the significant financial commitment.

C. Growth stage of the business

Fractional CMOs are particularly valuable for businesses in the growth stage, as they can help you scale your marketing efforts efficiently and effectively.

Making the Right Choice for Your Small Business

A. Analyzing your marketing needs and objectives

Take a close look at your marketing objectives and determine which expert best aligns with your goals.

B. Considering your budget and resources

Evaluate the costs associated with each marketing expert and consider which option offers the best value for your budget.

C. Evaluating the expertise and value offered by each option

Consider the expertise and skills each marketing expert can bring to your business. Look for an expert who can complement your existing team and address any gaps in your marketing capabilities.

Making the Decision

Certain aspects of your marketing strategy and marketing plan require skill, knowledge and experience to do well. The expertise of a marketing consultant, marketing agency, or fractional CMO can help you navigate these complex areas, ensuring your efforts produce the desired outcomes.

Understanding the differences between marketing agencies, consultants, and fractional CMOs is essential when deciding which is best suited to support your small business. Assess your marketing needs, objectives, and resources to make an informed decision. By choosing the right marketing expert for your business, you can optimize your marketing efforts and drive your business toward success.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide when to seek external expertise. We recommend initiating conversations with experts sooner rather than later, allowing you to gain knowledge in the interim and prepare yourself to make a decision when the time comes.

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