I have been in marketing for 25 years and although I’m sure I haven’t seen it all I do feel that I have seen a lot. However, it wasn’t until I started AMI that I discovered how many people tried to pass themselves off as “marketing experts”. See in the corporate world this doesn’t happen often but in the small business world, it happens all the time. In the corporate world, it is about education and real experience. It is about putting things down on a resume and references being checked. And even if you try to fake it that doesn’t last very long. Because people will and do find out.

However, somehow in the small business world, it is about just saying that you are an expert at something and then charging people for it. So few people ask questions or the right questions. They don’t ask questions that will help them understand the experience and know-how of the person they are hiring. And that is probably why I have come across a lot of people who have been burned. People who have spent thousands of dollars and gotten very little in return.

There are a lot of excellent marketers out there that do great work. People that have business and marketing degrees, years of experience working in marketing or both. And then there are the others give us a bad name. The ones who profess to have skills they do not have at all. Or who greatly exaggerate the skills that they have. But as an entrepreneur or small business owner how are you supposed to know they difference?

Before I give you some tips I want to make something clear. I am not saying that for a person to be legitimate at what they do they must fit into a certain mold. Many consultants are excellent at offering guidance or hands-on help in a certain industry not because they have a degree or degrees in that industry but because they have had success in that industry. I’m also not saying that having a degree or degrees is enough on its own. But hiring a consultant that has neither the education (the basics) or the experience that truly applies to what you need will most likely leave you frustrated.

Okay now that that is said here are the two key things to help tell us a part. So that you make the best decisions for your business.

Get a written agreement or statement of work!

If the person you are considering hiring cannot or will not give you a written agreement (statement of work) that outlines exactly what they are going to do for you and what is required of you and when it is going to be done. Then they aren’t ready to do the work because if they can’t put it on paper how are you to know that they even know where to start.

Here is a breakdown of the kinds of things the agreement should include.

  • Work agreement – for my company I call this a Professional Services Agreement (PSA). It includes all the legal stuff for my company to work with you and your company. It is all the stuff that you will probably never need but want to make sure you have in writing up front if you ever do need it.
  • Project Plan – usually an exhibit of the PSA. The nature, size, and scope of the project will determine how detailed this plan needs to be. But at a minimum you should be able to look at this plan and know what you are getting for the money you will be spending and a general timeframe for when you will get it. Things included should look something like;

    •    A detailed description of the project

    •    Any design documents or specifications required for the project

    •    Deliverables that either or both of you are responsible for creating and developing

    •    Tasks, responsibilities, and agreements specific to project

    •    Deadlines, interim milestones, and other matters relating to timing and delivery or performance during the project

    •    Budgets for material purchases and other project expenses

    •    Payment amounts, terms and conditions.

Deposits are okay but don’t pay in full up front!

Many firms and consultants may want a deposit at the beginning of a project or relationship. This is especially the case if you don’t have a previous working relationship. However, if they want you to pay in full up front for services, beware! Why do they need or want all the money up front if they haven’t done any of the work yet? This does not include the following;

  • Things that the consultant or other company will have to buy on your behalf.
  • Workshop fees.
  • Stuff like books, online courses, and other stuff that is more a tangible product than a service.

Remember there is no perfect mold for picking the right partner for you. These are just a few key things that can help you weed through your potential partners. And as always you should find a reliable partner that you feel comfortable with and that you can afford.

By: Amy Matthews, CEO, AMI