I recently published a post called “Where to start with marketing if you don’t have much budget“, where I talked through a conversation I had with someone who was looking to hire marketing help. They’re a business owner, not a marketer, but they were trying to take a small budget and buy top-shelf marketing services.

That’s not possible of course, but when I encounter someone like that (which is fairly often) I always ask myself “So they can’t afford what they are looking for, but what CAN they afford for that budget?”

A long time ago I wrote a post about how to price something, and pointed out that at any one time you have three things to spend and will often spend two of the three at a time:

  • Money
  • Time
  • Expertise

The way to think about this is that whichever of the three you don’t have, you realistically need to spend the other two in order to see results.

Don’t have expertise? It’s going to take time and money.

Don’t have money? It’s going to take time and expertise.

Don’t have time? It’s going to take money and expertise.

What I’ve arrived at, after a lot of conversations with prospects who think they need to hire, is that they can usually afford a good marketing audit.

This can be an overall marketing strategy, if the provider can do that, or it can be a focused strategy like an SEO or PPC strategy (which is often also called an “audit”).

Looking at our data from the last few years, an SEO or PPC audit usually falls between $750-$2500 (and can be much more expensive) based on the type of business, size of website or account, and how quickly it needs to be done.

With that established, what should someone commissioning an audit/strategy of this type be looking to learn?

When you commission an audit/strategy, you will likely be given a laundry list of things that are broken and that can be changed. And while those are good to know because it helps you understand the scope, if you are not a practitioner yourself you may find it overwhelming.

Looking through the nitty-gritty of the audit/strategy, you should be able to take a few main things away from the document delivered to you (and you should ask your marketer to make these clear):

  1. What’s the opportunity?
  2. What’s the investment needed (team, budget, etc) to reach your goals if you hired out for it?
  3. What are your competitors doing?
  4. What are your competitors not doing and thus where is your opportunity?
  5. The way forward.

Let’s unpack each of these individually.

What’s the opportunity?

First, what is your business’s marketing opportunity if you invest in it?

If we are talking about SEO, then you should learn the landscape of keywords and topics in your industry, how much search volume they have, which keywords are likely to convert, and where your website currently stands with those rankings.

Here’s an example of what an SEO might do, taken from SEMrush’s keyword magic tool (click here for a free 14 day trial of SEMrush) if you are in the CBD dog treats space:

Beyond this, they should then take those topics/keywords and help you understand whether to create transactional or informational landing pages and the prioritization of creating those.

If we are talking about PPC then you should understand the range of keywords around your company, how expensive they are to buy, who is bidding, and how much you might need to spend to reach your goals. They can also help with auditing your account and restructuring it as needed as well as expanding it.

If we are talking about Facebook advertising then you should understand the potential size of your audience and what’s working for similar companies to yours, as well as if you’re even allowed to advertise there. As an example, if you’re in the CBD dog treats space you won’t be allowed to advertise on Facebook at all.

What’s the investment needed (team, budget, etc) to reach your goals if you hired out for it?

This one is important because it’s all well and good to know what needs to be done tactically/technically/strategically, but you also need to know HOW it will get done and WHAT it will cost you to get it done.

This is moving from the simple “what needs to be done” to the “who will do it” part of building a company or a team.

If this is a question mark in your mind about how to get something done (such as who to hire, what to pay them, etc) then you should ask your firm to help you understand this based on their experience.

While the answer may come back as “hire us to do it and here’s what it will cost” and that may very well be the right answer, you should have the options in front of you before making a decision.

What are your competitors doing?

Any good strategy should take into account market factors, which is why sometimes it can be helpful to have someone/a firm with experience in your space.

Maybe they’ve worked with a competitor previously (in which case you should ask them why the engagement ended and what they learned through it), but that’s not 100% necessary if they have a solid process for analyzing an industry and showing you the landscape of marketing.

In order to do this, they need to study your competitors and should be able to tell you who your main competitors are from a marketing perspective as well as a business model perspective. You may already know some of this, but it’s always good to get an outside perspective on who you will be competing against online for eyeballs and why the customers you are pursuing are being marketed to by those competitors.

For example, in the SEO space an expert/firm may ask you who you think your competitors are so that they can investigate them. But you should also ask your expert/firm to bring competitors who they find in their investigations.

They should show you things like:

  • Competitor growth;
  • Competitor growth strategies;

This should all be hard data, though if the expert/firm has the experience then it can be very useful to understand how your competitor (or those who are often considered your competitors by others) are messaging themselves and what their value proposition is.

What are your competitors not doing and thus where is your opportunity?

Finally, any good competitor analysis should help you understand where your competitors are not investing and thus where you may have an unfair advantage.

Maybe your competitors are spending hard on PPC and it will be very expensive to compete, but they are asleep at the wheel with SEO or content marketing.

You need to know that.

And vice versa, maybe your competitors are investing a lot of money into SEO (as seen from their organic growth, links built, etc) but they are not spending on Facebook. You can then dominate that area where they do not yet have a presence.

Knowing what someone is not doing can be just as, if not more, valuable than knowing what they are doing.

The way forward

Finally (and I’ve hinted at this already), no audit/strategy should be considered complete without a “what happens now” or “what to do next” section.

After you’ve seen all the things uncovered and what is broken, you need to understand:

  • What investment is now required;
  • Your options for getting it done well;
  • Timeline for achieving your goals;

This shouldn’t be as simple as “hire us”. As I said earlier, while that may be a viable option there are likely other viable options as well like “hire a marketing team” or “invest in your copy before you invest in paid ads”.

In my opinion, any firm whose only solution to an audit/strategy is “hire us” shouldn’t be trusted. They should be on your side and paid in the strategy to tell you all your options.

Don’t let them off the hook without this.

If you’re interested in getting a marketing strategy done, you can start that process on Credo here.