Having a background working with a traditional online directory company, I have had the opportunity to interview countless small business advertisers regarding their digital marketing needs. The one question that I ask advertisers to determine their product needs is, “How do you know if your current advertising is working?” More often than not I get blank stares, sheepish looks, or general puzzlement.
My intent here is not publicly humiliate small business advertisers, but to address a fundamental and costly problem many small businesses face – understanding their core competency and — by doing so — focus on those things you do well as a business. If you’re a builder by trade, let’s assume that your core competency is building homes. If you are a business professional, let’s say an attorney, where is your time best spent? I’ll venture an educated guess that your time is not best spent trying to build a leads-focused website or doing keyword research for your pay-per-click campaign. Plainly said, it’s better to take an honest look at your business strengths and outsource the parts that are not core to your business – even digital marketing.
Who Do You Contact To Outsource Your Digital Marketing?
Small business have several appealing options for outsourcing their digital marketing:
1. Traditional Online Directory Companies
If you have been in business more than a couple of years, you more than likely have talked to a yellow pages sales representative. Most yellow page companies are slowly making the transformation into local leads companies that offer a broad assortment of digital and print advertising products. They generally resell services from national local leads companies like Yodle, Marchex, WebVisible, and Web.com to name a few. Also included in the mix are video products, online directory inclusion (adding your business to a premium location on the online directory’s search results), website creation and hosting, and maybe some low-end SEO (search engine optimization) products and reputation management services. Actually, if the cost is competitive, advertising in print yellow pages directories can be a good source for leads. Despite a slow decline in usage, traditional print directories still have a large user base. An additional benefit is having a sales representative that you can actually talk to in person. There are two major downsides to outsourcing your digital marketing to a traditional online directory company. First, you are often dealing with someone with limited knowledge about the digital products because (1) they are probably new to the company, and (2) they have to learn such a broad array of products that they generally don’t have the time and the training to become real subject matter experts, as you may find at companies with more focused product offerings. Second, because most traditional online directory companies tend to resell products rather than develop them internally, the products tend to be more expensive due to additional fees in the selling process, or the products may be slightly less effective, due to product cost controls, than if purchased directly from a local leads company.
2. Local Digital Marketing Agencies
Local digital marketing agencies can come in a couple of forms, but the most common form is a local agency that focuses on search engine marketing (SEM) and website creation. There can be a wide range in the actual ability of these firms, some are one-person shops and while other local agencies may actually have up to 10-15 staff members. You can find real local experts and often at very competitive prices, but you’ll need to ask for references and do your due diligence before hiring a local digital marketing agency. Because many of these companies operate on thin margins, they tend to go in and out of business frequently, so try not to prepay for more than a month or two of services if you can help it.
3. National Local Leads Companies
Finally, as the economy tanked in the last two years, many small businesses reevaluated their marketing mix and decided to make the switch to search engine marketing (SEM), which tends to provide one of the most cost-effective lead generation options available. This is especially true when coupled with a call tracking phone number and an effectively designed website that has marketing-focused content. A well-executed campaign matched to an easy-to-use online reporting system can yield invaluable lead information and make the return on investment (ROI) evaluation much easier for small business advertisers. There are a number of national local leads companies providing these offerings at reasonable prices. The chief consideration points here are: (1) national local leads companies typically do not have local sales representatives, so you’ll have to do all of your communication by phone or email, and (2) the product offerings tend to be narrowly focused on SEM and websites only.
In the end, you need to think about your core competencies and take an honest look at how much you really know about the success (or lack thereof) of your current advertising solution. Then assess your needs in terms of the three basic outsourcing capabilities detailed above and begin investigating available choices for your business type and advertising needs.