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ASK THE EXPERT: How to hire a marketing team or an agency

Starting a business is exciting, but it often comes with many risks and uncertainties. For most entrepreneurs, having a trusted resource when problems arise can often be the very element needed to achieve game changing success.

“Ask the Expert”, our biweekly feature designed especially for startups, invites North Texas industry thought leaders to share helpful advice and strategies with current and aspiring business owners. This week we’ve reached out to a local marketing guru to help entrepreneurs avoid getting stuck when it’s time to build a marketing team.

Landon Ledford is an accomplished marketing expert, fractional CMO & entrepreneur with a broad range of experience – specializing in innovative, outside-the-box methods to drive revenue & grow brands. He is the founder of Double L Brands.

Landon Ledford

Landon Ledford

How to Hire For Marketing

As the leader of a startup or small business, you’ve been the one in the marketing trenches since jump street. You know the brand better than anyone and can sell it like your life depends on it (because your livelihood might!). There comes a point, though, when you need to bring in professional marketing help. This may be because you’re in “growth mode” or you’re in “oh s*&t” mode – either way, it’s a big decision, and can be a surprisingly difficult one. Marketing needs for different businesses vary based on too many factors to list here, which is why there aren’t many prescriptive articles or
guides out there on how to do this.

Getting Started

My recommendation to all clients is to first address marketing needs at the macro level, which will provide direction for more tactical next steps. On that note, here are a few questions to help drill down further by getting your mind working in the right direction:

  • Do you need marketing or a sales team? Different people have different definitions of “marketing”, so it’s important to first understand what you really need. If you’re building a local commercial real estate firm, you’ll probably be okay with a good-looking brand and website for a while, as long as you have relationships and a sales team. That would mean you don’t need to hire a traditional marketer yet. If you’ve launched an e-commerce book company, and want it to one-day offer delivery, sell household items and be worth $1Trillion (sound familiar?), you do need to invest in strategic marketing leadership. That’s only 2 examples, but enough to help you realize which way to go next.
  • Are you hiring to scratch an itch, or for someone to lead the marketing function? Do you need something tangible like creative assets or a team to work your booth at a trade show? If you need something like that, you’re probably better off outsourcing these tasks. However, if you need someone to lead all discussions and strategic moves that take place before planning those creative assets or investing in that trade show (and everything that comes with it), an internal marketing hire might be worthwhile. Alternatively, a Fractional CMO could step in here, more to come later on that option.
  • Is there a marketing strategy in place? There is a BIG difference between having goals and having a strategy in place. Just because you have metrics in your fundraising deck, that doesn’t mean you have a true marketing strategy in place. Among other things, this would include brand guidelines, a breakdown of the overarching marketing mix, positioning statements, a detailed digital strategy, a PR/media relations plan, and timelines and goals to ensure accountability across the board. The existence or lack thereof is another sign to help you understand the need for hiring a marketer (or team, or agency).

Those were pretty vague, and that’s by design. If you’re comfortable with those macro-level issues and have those things handled, though, you’re in a better spot than many startups and small businesses I speak with.

Marketing Options for Growing Enterprises

Now that you’re thinking about marketing differently, you need to understand the options available. It’s not as simple as “outsource it or bring it in-house”, but we’ll address those options as we go. Below are the 3 most prevalent thought processes or scenarios I hear from entrepreneurs when they’re making this decision. These aren’t recommendations,
but this will help you understand just how confusing and frustrating it is for many other people in your shoes (and hopefully learn from it).

  • Outsource to a marketing firm.  This is to simply outsource marketing needs as they come because it’s a quick fix that will yield professional results in a timely manner. This short-term thinking can be a great way to misuse resources, and ironically, a way to waste time when you have to figure it out again and again. That said, if you don’t have a marketing team in place, and have a budget to invest to “get you to the next level”, this is an option. As the CEO in this case, you need to be prepared to continue leading the marketing strategy, managing the process, and being highly involved. A good example of where this often makes sense is for e-commerce or SaaS businesses that need a digital marketing strategy and implementation to drive leads, conversions and sales, quickly.
  • Hire an internal marketer and/or team.  For those that need help quickly, but also plan to have the entire marketing team in-house eventually, this might be the easiest move (not saying it’s the best, but the easiest). Hire a mid-level marketer with 5-7 years of experience – someone that has done this before, but that you can still afford – to dive in, lead the marketing, and get things rolling. All you need to make sure of is that you hire someone experienced, strategic, and that is also able to jump in and do all the work themselves to avoid additional expenses. The reality is, this is more like finding a Unicorn, especially if you’re expecting it to happen quickly. If building a full marketing team is the plan in the next 12-24 months, it makes sense to hire that Marketing Manager, and let them learn from you and grow into the role you need. They can gradually build a team around them based on competencies and needs as you grow, and gradually take “marketing” off ownership’s plate. As the CEO, if you don’t want to have to continue leading the marketing function, though, there is another option:
  • Hire a Fractional CMO. This is a hybrid between hiring a Marketing Manager and committing to a full-fledged marketing exec salary – providing marketing leadership, as-needed. You benefit from the experience of a seasoned marketer, and they can either build your team for you, or your existing marketing team can learn from them and gradually step into that role. This person might be in the office 1-3 days a week, working anywhere from 15-30 hours.  Many traditional organizations are still hesitant to do this because they don’t believe a leadership role works if they’re not in the office (which is simply not true). I’m biased due to positive experiences, but if approached correctly, this option doesn’t have a downside – the brand and business move forward at both the strategic and tactical levels, then informed “next steps” decisions can be made.
  • Invest in a CMO to lead marketing initiatives. In a perfect world, you could simply hire an entrepreneurially-savvy, experienced CMO that shares ownership’s vision. This ensures the business continues scaling at the desired rate, and ensures marketing dollars (marketing budget, personnel hires, agency fees, etc.) are spent in a targeted, measurable way, and provide maximum impact. Of course, you need to then figure out how to afford them AND the team they’ll need for implementation. That CMO-level hire isn’t going to lead the strategy, and also post on Instagram and engage on Reddit. If you do go this route, you have to find the right partner with experience in building a brand in the true sense of the word, with a propensity for digital, a desire for continuous learning, and the ability to work cross-functionally. You need a CMO who works well with others, with emotional intelligence and digital savvy. There are many ways to figure out what type of CMO is right for your business, but that’s a whole other article.

Ultimately, the marketing team for a startup has to be able to get out there and make sales happen! They need fundamental marketing skills, but also have to be able to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes when times are tough. You need a marketer that is a member of the leadership team, but that can also get things done. For example, as a Fractional CMO in the bridal space – a male, single, heterosexual, fashion-less, 32-year-old Fractional CMO – I’ve hopped in and written blog posts, sent out email campaigns, sold in ad campaigns and created graphics (not amazing, but they worked given the platform and goals). Whatever it took! That said, this should NOT be a lead marketer’s primary function and if you’re hiring a CMO expecting them to do a ton of grunt work for the next couple years, you probably aren’t yet ready to hire that person. Hiring a marketer, team or agency isn’t as simple as some people think, but these questions and thought processes should help you figure it out!