When it comes to online marketing agencies, there are plenty to choose from. One Google search can lead to hours down the bunny trail looking at different agencies’ websites and social media accounts. How do you know which one to invest in?

At the end of the day, we all want to make the best choice for our business. We want to spend our money effectively and work with a team that not only understands what we need but also gets the job done right. We want to find a solution that makes our life easier.

The real question on all of our minds? How to choose a digital marketing agency that offers the best ROI.

Read on for what you should (and shouldn’t) do when making this important decision for your business.

Know What You Need Before You Start Searching

To find a great fit, you want to make sure you know exactly what your business needs are. This will help you narrow down your search and effectively communicate your needs when you chat with different agencies. 

1. Determine the type of marketing you’re looking for.

If you Google “digital marketing agency,” you’ll find a lot of websites that basically say the same thing: “We’re the best in the business. We help with digital marketing: SEO, content marketing, social media, email marketing, website development…” The list goes on and on. Some agencies even offer traditional marketing and advertising alongside their digital efforts.  

The fact that people spend 10+ hours online each day is just one of the multiple reasons why you should start out with digital marketing. It’s more cost-effective, offers a larger reach, better measurement tools, and allows you to engage with customers in real-time. 

But even within digital marketing, there are various options. Social media marketing isn’t the same as content marketing (here’s why). If someone offers SEO, it doesn’t always mean that they’re also a great web designer. If you don’t have a large budget for paid ads, you don’t need someone who’s a pro at Facebook advertising — cross them off your list, and look for an agency that specializes in organic marketing tactics. 

It’s all about your needs. What kind of marketing efforts will get you to where you want to be a year from now? 

Key takeaway: Choose what kind of marketing you want to invest in, then look for an expert who can help you achieve your goals.

2. Know what success looks like for you.

Ask yourself: “What will make this worth my while?” Do you want to get $3,000 per month in sales if you’re spending $3,000 per month on marketing efforts, or are you more concerned with the lifetime value of a new customer? 

For some companies, an entire year’s worth of marketing budget is worth acquiring a single customer. Other companies don’t consider marketing “valuable” unless they’re acquiring twelve customers a week. What’s important to you? What will make this worth your while? 

With an ideal marketing ROI in mind, you can write down a list of goals you’d like your dream agency to help you accomplish. Start with what you want to achieve in the next 365 days, then work backward and determine what needs to happen each quarter in order to get there. 

This way, you can show up to every meeting and ask, “How can you help me achieve XYZ in this amount of time?” 

Key Takeaway: When you clearly communicate your goals and expectations with an agency, it’s easier to determine whether or not they can help you succeed. 

3. Clarify your strengths, weaknesses, and needs.

If someone on your own team can help you with your efforts, why should you outsource? You need to become very well acquainted with your team and their abilities. 

You may have someone that’s currently writing content for your blog, but it’s not what they do for a living — they also manage social media, help you with press releases, and wear all the marketing hats in your office. They’re not focusing on their expertise, because they’re pulled in too many directions. 

When this happens, most often, that person is doomed to fail.

They might be a great paid marketer or strategist, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a great writer or social media manager. You need to learn your internal marketing team’s strengths and allow them to lean into these strengths (typically vision and strategy). Outsource the components of execution, and let them focus on how they can best help you succeed. 

Key Takeaway: Assess your team’s abilities and determine what you really need from a marketing agency. Will you want them to act as your outsourced chief marketing officer, or do you need them to fill specific gaps in your team?  

Related: How Flow’s Marketing Flywheel Puts You on a Path to ROI 

Two Key Things to Remember During Your Search

1. You need a specialist.

Many people opt for a full-suite marketing agency, thinking that they need a full suite of services. In reality, you’re better off going with someone who specializes in certain services than somebody who offers a lot of things.

Ultimately, you’re looking for help with things that will help your business scale. It’s better to choose someone who is great for the certain things you need rather than someone who is average at a lot of things. It’s very hard for people to be good at everything they do, but they can be very good at a handful of specialties. 

2. These people will be part of your team. 

A marketing agency should feel like an extension of your team. It’s very important that the energy between the agency and your team is right. Take a look at the agency’s core values and see if they line up with your own. 

Is there an immediate connection between your team and theirs? Has your team bought into the agency’s people and the work that they do? If not, there’s a potential for underlying distrust or tension that’s going to come out down the line. You — and your team — deserve to like who you’re working with from the get-go. 

Do They Need to Be Located Near Me? 

If you find an agency that you really click with, but they’re based in a different city, don’t worry. Since most marketing is now digital, it’s okay to choose a digital company! Choosing an agency that’s located in a different, smaller city will actually be more cost-effective for you in the long run.

When a marketing agency is in a smaller city, their employees don’t have overly expensive rent to pay. Their cost of living is lower, and while their employees are being paid a reasonable amount for living expenses, you’re getting access to great talent at a reasonable price. 

Red Flags

They have a long list of services. 

If you look at an agencies’ menu of services and it’s overwhelmingly long, move forward with caution. More often than not, this means that the agency is very large (and expensive!). Agencies with a long list of services may also try to tack on extra services that you might not need. If you feel overwhelmed by an agencies’ offerings or the number of people listed on their team, pay attention to your own reactions and move on if they overwhelm you.

They want you to sign a giant contract. 

You should be wary if the agency asks you to sign off on a quarterly or year-long contract. An agency that is confident in its ability to provide ROI should be comfortable with giving you a trial period or 30-day cancellation period. You want the ability to hold them accountable (and back out if they don’t meet the results that were agreed upon). 

They’re a “yes-man.”

If someone agrees with all of your ideas, thank them for their time and walk away. You’re looking for an agency that can challenge your own thought patterns. Remember – you’re hiring an expert for a reason. Someone who gives you a pat on the back instead of offering ideas on how to better your business won’t help you grow. 

Green Lights

They’re a problem-solver. 

Consider your agency a trusted advisor. Your most trusted advisors are not always going to tell you things that you want to hear, but they will solve your problems.

The best agencies do their research before you meet with them, and see holes or gaps in the business that you yourself can’t see. They should offer a solution and some insight into a customized strategy that’s going to work for your brand.

They’re transparent with you. 

Many marketing agencies don’t list their services on their site — you have to schedule a consultation and have several meetings to fully understand what it’s going to cost.

If it’s hard for you to get an answer on pricing, go with your gut, drop it, and move on. You should be able to find an agencies’ pricing on their website, or after a short email exchange, or during your first meeting.

In the same vein, the agency should be honest about their abilities. If they have a very small team, but tell you that they can do it all, you probably want to carry on your search. It’s much better to find a small team who will honestly tell you that they can help with XYZ, but not ABC. They should also be transparent about how long it will take to deliver results.

They can show examples of their expertise. 

Can the agency show you a portfolio of work they’ve done for other brands that are similar to yours? Not only should they have these examples at the ready, but they should also use their expertise for their own company.

If they specialize in content marketing, take a look at their blog. If they focus on Instagram, check out their Instagram page. You want to make sure that their content speaks to you. You’re their audience, after all! During your meeting, ask them how these services have worked for their business, and what kind of growth they’ve seen using these methods. 

Related: It’s Time to Ditch These 8 Myths about Content Marketing

How Many Meetings Should I Have Before Making a Decision? 

At the end of the day, it’s not really about the number of meetings you have — it’s about the quality of the meetings. The agency you choose should value your time. Are they using time during your meeting to schedule your next call? If they are, that’s a good sign.

The first meeting should typically take 15-20 minutes to get acquainted. At the end of this meeting, you should have a good idea if you want to move forward with another. This process shouldn’t be overly long and involved. Within the first two meetings, you should know if this agency is a good fit, and it shouldn’t take more than three meetings to have a proposal in your inbox. 

At the end of each meeting, you want to walk away feeling relieved and confident that these people can help you. If you walk away feeling uneasy, or if you walk away confused because they used a lot of lingo you didn’t understand, it’s a big red flag that the agency isn’t a good fit for your business. 

Remember: Every meeting should be centered around ROI. If the agency is dancing around ROI, they’re not prepared to deliver and be held accountable. 

Related: How to Pick the Right Personal Branding Agency in 2020

Final Thoughts

When choosing a digital marketing agency, there’s a lot to consider. Come to the table prepared with the type of marketing you’re looking for, your vision of success, and your current strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Keep in mind that you want to look for a specialist and that whoever you hire will ultimately be a part of your team.

There are three red flags you want to look out for: a long list of services, a giant contract, and an agency filled with “yes-men”. On the flip side, there are three green lights that will point you towards a great agency: a problem-solving approach, a transparent attitude, and examples of their work. 

When you have your meetings, focus on ROI, and make sure they’re making use of your time. You should know if this agency is a good fit after three meetings with them. If you keep these things in mind and focus on which agency will provide you with the best ROI for your business, you’re sure to find someone who’s a great fit. 

Curious how Flow can help with your customer service, content marketing, and branding needs? Drop us a line. We’d love to have a quick 15-20 minute discovery session.