You’ve decided that you need some external marketing support for your business and you’ve found the right freelance girl, guy or agency for the job. What next?
After many years in marketing and PR agencies, a few more as a freelance consultant and several years client-side, I’ve sat on all sides of the client / marketing supplier fence and have experienced both brilliant and tricky relationships.
I’ve picked up a wealth of learnings along the way and thought it worth sharing my tips for getting the best bang for your buck.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
The first thing to do before you get started is to prepare. After all, failure to prepare is to prepare to fail. You should take some time to think about how to you can set up your new marketing relationship for success and then communicate this on. If both parties understand what they need to bring to the table for the partnership to succeed, then you’ll be more likely to start off on the right footing. Things to think about include: what does success look like, what outputs do you expect to see, when do you expect to be feeling the benefits / seeing results, who internally can impact the project’s success / when should they be involved and how much time can you give to provide support.
2. Work in partnership
You need to work with a freelancer or consultant as a partner if you are to get the best value. One PR agency I worked for used to have a dedicated ‘Partnering’ programme to get the relationship off on the right foot and cement the team dynamics. You don’t necessarily have to go that far but you do need to embrace your new consultant as part of your team and on-board them as you would a new member of staff. Give them an induction, make sure they are fully armed with the info they need to do their job and make sure that all key stakeholders know who they are and what they are doing, and vice versa. Make time to regularly meet up with them to check in on how things are progressing, providing feedback on the results coming through and outlining any elements of the plan need to change.
3. Set clear objectives and agree a written brief
Marketing plans should align completely with your business plan, with any marketing objectives falling directly out of your business objectives. Make sure your new partner understands the business’ ambitions and then be clear about how you need them to contribute to this. Make sure that you understand what it is that you want your consultant to deliver. Then make sure that they are clear and get the brief agreed by you both in writing. This can come in handy further down the line if there’s a requirement for clarity and you both know what you are signing up for.
4. Share information
You need to be prepared to share insights about your business with your freelancer. A good marketing consultant will base their strategy and creative plans on insights. They need to understand what your business does, the market it operates in, the problems it needs to solve and where you want to position the brand. Their plans will only be as good as the info that you make available to them. If sharing confidential information makes you a tad nervous, then think about putting an NDA in place. Keeping them in the dark about forthcoming plans, will cost you more further down the line, as inevitably they will have to spend time changing the plan or utilising the time allocated to another element of the plan.
5. Time costs money
Marketing freelancers and consultants are not only selling their expertise, they’re also selling their time. Therefore, you need every hour they spend on your business to be a productive one. If they are coming to work from your office, make sure that the necessary IT is set-up, meeting rooms are booked and key people are on hand. If they have a dedicated day of remote working, then make sure that any feedback or information that has been promised for that day is sent over the night before so they can get cracking from the off. Any time specifically dedicated to your business that you use or squander will be charged for (and will impact results) – so make the most of it!
6. Respect their expertise
You may know your business and your industry inside out, but there’s reason that you are bringing in external support. It’s because your newly appointed freelancer knows how to take all of your great learnings and insights and apply them in a way that will create customer appeal. It’s their job to deliver you a plan and create the results, so let them drive the planning and the thinking, while you direct. After all, it’s what you’re paying them for!
7. Be transparent on budgets
Where possible be clear when it comes to your budget. Often clients don’t want to share their initial budgets. However, being upfront with the total spend figure means that the freelancer’s time (which you are paying for!) doesn’t get wasted on devising concepts and ideas that will never see the light of day…because the budget wont stretch. And, you save time not having to delve through and feedback on plans that offer no value to your business. Also remember you will need to hold back funds, over and above the agreed day rate or project fee, for expenses and activations of any brand, PR, or content marketing activity.
8. Be patient – rushing can be a false economy.
You’re never going to get a fully blown brand strategy, a book full of PR coverage or influencer partnership set up in month one, maybe not even month two depending on how much time you’ve signed up for. Getting to know your business, working out how to position it and then how to market it, not only takes time but also headspace. How well your marketing plan delivers comes down to strong upfront thinking and a clear strategy. Over the years, I’ve seen lots of great ideas executed poorly because of an emphasis on speed rather than quality. It’s a false economy. Give your freelancer the time they need to deliver the right level of thinking and it will save you time when it comes to the production of creative and the delivery of results further down the line.
9. Set & agree deadlines. Try not to move the goalposts.
Be clear up front about when you want to see results, this way you can have the discussion at the start about the art of the possible. Your consultant should be able to advise you if what you are asking for is feasible or if the timings need to be adjusted. Remember your part in meeting these deadlines and think about whether you can commit the time required for reviews, revisions and feedback. Moving the goalposts on deadlines, while sometimes inevitable, can become an inconvenience on both sides – just make sure it doesn’t become a habit for either of you or it could increase costs.
Of course, there is more to building great relationships— I couldn’t cover everything in this post, but this should provide a solid foundation. Establishing ways of working, understanding the demands on both sides of the client / supplier relationship and being clear about expectations will ensure that you have a fruitful (and cost-effective!) relationship.