6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Digital Marketing Agency

Over the last 20 years I have worked collaboratively for and with several agencies. Each has had their own strengths and their own way of solving digital headaches.

The good news for you: there are lots to choose from! But how do you pick the right one for your business needs? Here’s my advice…

Be crystal clear on what your issue is and the ROI you expect

Before you think about finding and appointing an agency make sure you know what problem you want solved. You don’t need to have solutions in mind — this is where your agency should help — but what would success look like? How will you know that you have achieved your target?

Have an idea of what you are prepared to spend by thinking about what your ROI should be. I appreciate it is not always as cut and dried as this, but think along the lines of what you are prepared to pay for each new sale. For example, if you make £5,000 per sale, are you prepared to invest £500 (10% of this) in marketing activity? In this example, to deliver £50,000 of new sales, are you prepared to invest £5,000 in marketing?

Tell this to the agencies you invite to tender. They’ll advise on what’s realistic and how best to deliver your goals. Being ROI-based with your budget will also allow you to scale your marketing investment should everything be going well.

Agency or freelancer?

There are a lot of good digital agencies and a lot of good freelancers available. How do you want to work? How much time do you (or someone in your team) have available to spend managing the project? For larger and more complicated projects an agency will provide the most holistic solution. Agencies are usually comprised of specialists, agencies can tap into a broad resource pool to deliver results, including managing the project timelines and budget.

It is rare (but not impossible) to find a single freelancer with a broad spectrum of digital marketing skills. However, if you have some project management experience (and the time) then it is conceivable that you could source and manage multiple freelancers.

You might also want to think about up-skilling or boosting your internal capability. As I mentioned above, you’re unlikely to find all the digital marketing skills you’ll need in a single person, but perhaps you could use internal resources to manage one area (e.g. social media) and then use external resources for other needs. 

Researching and drawing up an agency shortlist

So how do you find potential agencies? Try asking your business contacts who they use for their marketing. Who do they trust? Is there anyone that you’ve worked with in the past — perhaps at a previous company — who might be of use now? If you already have agency contacts and they are not suitable (because some specialist skills are needed) who would they recommend?

Search on Google and take a look at their social media pages too — after all, a digital agency should be practicing what they preach! They should be ‘showing not telling’.

From personal experience I’ve also learned not to jump towards the agency with the shiniest website. I have a suspicion that agencies with very slick websites might not be as busy with clients as they’d like to be! Focus in on their case studies — what ROI are they able to demonstrate? Are they credible? Most importantly, are they the type of results you’d like to have for your business?

An additional consideration will be if they work with any of your competitors. In some cases this can be a good thing. For example, larger agencies will often be able to provide completely separate project teams. It could be ideal if they have specific tools and knowledge in a particular vertical market (e.g. automotive), as you’ll be employing industry knowledge as well as digital expertise.

I’d suggest that you aim to have a short-list of five to seven potential agencies. Talk to them on the phone or via email first, and rule out any who don’t respond to your enquiry quickly.

Get a feel for whether they can help before you commit to meeting them — what is their methodology and how will they solve your business issues? Ask them to actually demonstrate this — ‘to show not tell’.

Avoid any agency who talks primarily about themselves. They should be understanding your issues, not telling you how amazing they are!

Go and see them at their office

By this stage you should probably have narrowed the agencies down to two or three options, perhaps by giving them a brief/tender document to respond to.

If they visit your office, the agency will send their best people. They’ll give you a good impression of themselves, but not necessarily of the full service you can expect from the agency.

If you visit the agency’s office you’ll get a sense of ‘the vibe’. Was there a palpable ‘buzz’ indicating a vibrant and fast-paced environment; a place full of focussed passion and energised people? Or did it feel flat?

When buying digital services you are effectively ‘buying’ the agency’s people. You will be getting their time, their knowledge and their passion. With this in mind, it is vital you meet members of the delivery team as well the sales team. The delivery team should be experts (so check that they are); but put simply, are they people you feel ‘get you’ and with whom you want to be in regular contact?

What can they do, that you can’t?

This a big consideration if you want the most ‘bang for your buck’. Do not employ an agency to do something that you or your team could do.

For example, despite being willing to pay for the time, I have advised clients that they should do their own website content uploads. One reason is that they get familiar with their own content management system but more importantly, that budget would be better spent on services like SEO, PPC, graphic design etc — areas where a niche digital skill is needed. In some cases, it has been more cost effective for the client to hire a temp to manage website uploads. If there is anything in the agency’s proposal that you know you can do internally, then strike that off the list.


I hope that these thoughts prove useful if you’re considering a new agency relationship. Whatever success you and your agency achieve, try to celebrate success together. The very best agency-client relationships are the ones where a true sense of partnership develops. When trust and rapport builds and the agency begins to think and function like a part of your own business you know you’ll have the right one working with you.

For further reading on this topic, check out our free eBook, ‘A guide to choosing an inbound agency’:

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