What are the key skills of a good digital marketing consultant?

When you’re seeking a partner to help grow your business, you won’t be short of options. A simple Google search yields a wealth of results for consultancy firms and freelancers, promising big results.

The importance of finding someone with key skills as a professional is always more important than how they sell you. But how to tell the difference?  

Here are some key skills to look for, and methods of sifting through the sales talk. 

Do they get your mission?

You want someone with the chops to have smart know-how about your industry, as well as intuitive insight. When someone really listens to you, gets it, and can get excited with you – that’s what you want. This could be even more important than whether or not they’ve worked in your industry. Of course, experience is vital, but the brand voice is always tantamount. The question to have to ask yourself is if they have been able to realize other brand voices in new and engaging ways? 

Don’t allow them to just say, “I get it.” Ask them to articulate back to you, what your vision is for your business. What was the journey that brought you to this point, what is the gap you’re perceiving that you’re wanting to close, with digital marketing? 

Seek concrete portfolio examples of the work that they’ve done before. Focus more on the quality of work – what changed from the time that they started with the business, until they finished. 

Understand that everyone uses ‘best practice’

In that vein, you have to be realistic about your expectations. There aren’t just a select few with knowledge of how to get you ahead through digital marketing. You Googled. There are thousands. Unfortunately, with thousands of people doing things the right way, it means that for any consultant, it’s going to be challenging to help you rise to the top. The same goes for SEO.

You don’t want someone who is going to promise you results. You want someone who is going to promise you integrity, and their best efforts. Nowadays, big business often traps a lot of ad-space, and it’s important to know how to leverage your current audiences. Because they have the most money. The best agency or consultant will work with you to strategize where your money and time is best spent. When it comes to growing new ones, you need someone who’s going to give you the hard truth: it’s going to take time, and it’s not going to go well at the start. You lay a lot of groundwork, then lift-off and hope for the best.

If you’re a smaller business, ask them what, realistically, you could hope to achieve? Better returns as a local option in your neighborhood? A branding update that really attracts consumers? Let them help you set milestones, and see how honest and realistic they are. 

What are their design chops like?

There’s no underestimating the importance of aesthetics. It’s the heart and soul of messaging for your brand. Technology is now available that lets a layman build a seamless website, or a sleek logo, for free or on the cheap. As such, standards have gone through the roof. 

If your chosen fonts aren’t consistent; if your logo is outdated; unfortunately, these things do matter. “One-third of professional services buyers have ruled out a firm because of an unimpressive website.” Audiences, particularly those in the younger generation, will go elsewhere. Unless of course, you’re providing an extremely exclusive and hard-to-obtain service, or already have a stellar WOM reputation. But in that case, you probably aren’t looking for a marketing consultant…

Not all consultants will handle logo or website design, but you can expect that they’ll have feedback on these. Ask for their thoughts right off the bat – what would they improve? Ask to see what kind of work the consultant has done with regard to design, or at least, examples of brands they admire. If you don’t like how they brand themselves, that’s already a flag for incompatibility. A digital marketing consultant who can’t tick this box is worth letting go – there are plenty out there. 

Are they evidence-first, act second?

Ask them how they market research, and to provide solid examples. Many companies and freelancers include this as part of a service, but don’t truly deliver. They talk about it in vague terms and refer to it, but it’s more lip service than concrete action. What and who are their sources? Do they conduct studies? How? Is it in-house? If so, what is the control group? 

They need to know what works for your ideal consumer. And no one can clue into that better than you. 

Fact-driven decision-making is necessary with all of the smoke and mirrors. It’s too easy for someone to pitch themselves as a marketer without having the patience to go through the nuts and bolts. Ask them about how they test your channels and website for conversion rate optimization. Get them to describe a recent A/B test they conducted, and ask them what the results were! 

Most importantly, do they have integrity?

You want someone who is down-to-earth and a good listener. Do they contribute creative ideas, or are they just nodding along to everything you’re saying? It’s important to gauge whether they’re passionate about their work, or just passionate about making money doing it. You can observe this in the way that they speak to each other and your team, but the best way is always through reference checks. Speaking with previous clients and asking for an honest appraisal. Did they have regular push backs on deadlines for no good reason? Were there struggles in communication? Unexpected costs? Were they transparent in their expectations from the get-go for what they could achieve? 

Good communicators, slow burn over fast ROI

If you’re completely new to the world of digital marketing, it’s important to note the importance of planning and regularity for social media. Building up a body of work over time and having a regular release schedule is part and parcel. As mentioned above, real ROI usually happens slowly, not in large leaps. Pair with someone who is realistic about that. And someone who takes the initiative to set and deliver on their schedules. Check their communications, be it over the phone, email or in person and see if you feel comfortable and clued in. Set expectations around how often you will check in and update one another. 

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