There was a time, even in my lifetime, when the best way to attract people to your business was to hang out a sign in view of passers-by. Hopefully people would see your “shingle”, and remember you when they needed your services or products. Ideally, this would result in having some satisfied customers, who would spread the word about the quality of your work to their friends. Business generated by word-of-mouth, or referrals, was always considered to be a great way to do business, since a strong recommendation from an existing client typically speaks much louder than volumes of self-promotion and advertising.
In the digital era however, the sign in front of your store or office just isn’t going to cut it any longer. You do want visibility to your customer base, of course, but nowadays, it’s your website that’s going to serve as your “virtual shingle”. Reputation is as important or perhaps even more important than it was in past years. But it’s not so much word-of-mouth that’s going to make or break your business. Instead, it’s your online presence and reputation that’s going to have the most impact, based on what people are hearing and seeing about you on the internet.
Managing your online presence is critical at this point in time. More and more, consumers are basing their purchasing decisions on information they read in blogs, forums, and social media. It’s crucial that you make sure that you’re presenting the face that you want the public to see, and also that you monitor the responses you’re getting, and what people are saying about you. It’s a complex and rapidly changing online world. If it all seems overwhelming, you may do well to consider having professionals handle the work. You could hire someone in-house to coordinate everything having to do with your online presence. But you can do much better by instead outsourcing the whole project to a virtual marketing agency.
No matter how you started out, in every business, there comes a time when it makes more sense to have some functions handled by professionals outside of your company. Unless you’re a huge corporation, you probably don’t have an attorney on your payroll, working in-house. The same goes for a variety of other tasks, such as accounting, payroll, distribution, and research. So why not marketing? In fact, there are numerous advantages to hiring a virtual marketing agency, when compared to maintaining an in-house marketing department. These include.
- Cost savings - It’s expensive to maintain employees on your staff. Between salaries, benefits, and a host of overhead expenses and soft costs, you’re likely to find that you could hire a virtual marketing agency for less than what it costs you to keep one person on staff.
- Diverse Expertise - While you may be able to find a marketing professional who can do everything you need them to, that can’t possibly compare to the diverse collection of talents you’ll find with the full service team that your virtual marketing agency will provide you with. Keep in mind that there are a variety of tasks involved in creating and managing your online presence, including web design, blogging, SEO, social media, and more, and that it’s unlikely that one individual will be at expert level in all of those areas.
- Bleeding-edge Techniques and Technologies - Things change quickly in the online universe, and it’s difficult to stay on top of all the changes, especially if marketing is not your primary focus. A virtual marketing agency is focused exclusively on the online presence of its clients. And since they work with a variety of clients, they have the knowledge and experience with what techniques are most effective for your industry.
- Keep your focus on what you do best - Unless your field is marketing, you’ve got better things to spend your time on. There’s no shortage of tasks involved in running a business, especially when you’re in a startup or growth phase. Hiring a virtual marketing agency to handle your online presence frees up your time to be used where it’s best needed - refining and perfecting your offerings, and managing client relationships.
Choosing A Virtual Marketing Agency
If you begin to look for someone to handle your online presence, you’ll certainly find that there is no shortage of virtual marketing agencies, all eager to manage your digital marketing and media. You’ll find that they vary in size, and that some have areas of specialization, in a particular industry, or in a particular distribution channel. Choosing the one that will best serve your needs may not be easy. Here are a few points to consider when you evaluate agencies:
- Reputation - It almost seems redundant, after the earlier comments above. But when we’re talking about hiring a group to manage your online presence and reputation, it behooves you to check out their reputation first. You may want to speak to associates in your field about their experiences with virtual marketing agencies. And any agency you’re considering hiring should be willing to give you names of satisfied customers who you can speak to about the quality of the work the agency did for them, what kind of results they achieved, and how enjoyable it was to work with them.
- Their own online presence - You’re hiring this group to handle your online presence, right? So, don’t go too far without investigating their own online presence. If their website looks outdated or shoddy, think about what they’ll do for website. If they’re offering to help you with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and say that they can ensure you’ll rank high in search engine results, do a search for their services, and see where they place in the search engine rankings. If they don’t turn up until the third page of results, think twice about whether they’re able to deliver what they’re promising. Because we’re talking about results that are easily visible online, it won’t take too long to see how effective this agency really is.
- Tools and technologies - Ask the virtual marketing agency what tools they use to accomplish what they’re promising. For starters, there should be a good deal of transparency about the methods and tools they employ, and why. At Rhino, we’re advocates of using HubSpot, which is an integrated platform from which you can manage all aspects of your online marketing campaign. It’s not the only tool out there, but it’s worth asking what tools and technologies they’re using, and why.
- A Good Agency - Client Fit - Even with all the new media channels and new technologies, some things haven’t changed over time. It’s essential that you work with a virtual marketing agency that you’re comfortable with. Ultimately, you need to enjoy working with the agency. It’s not going to be a productive relationship if you don’t feel that you can communicate openly with them, if you don’t fully trust them, or if you don’t feel that they understand your business and its goals. Spend time speaking with them, discussing your plans and vision, and make sure that you have a high level of comfort that they’ll be working for your best interests, and that they’re capable of accomplish what they promise.