July 31

Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency – 5 Tips Most Founders Miss

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Awad Makkawi

The worst part about hiring a digital marketing agency that's not the right fit is that by the time you realize they can't deliver results, it's already too late. Imagine hiring an agency that can’t pinpoint the design or message to engage your audience.

What if they can't accurately target your ideal customers?

It would be a complete waste.

That's why in this article we’ll uncover 5 deeper mistakes that turn up after you’ve started working with the provider.

If you plan on hiring a digital marketing agency or are already working with one, knowing how to evaluate your selection is crucial.

Research shows that digitization leads to small business growth, performance and competitiveness.

But still:

Simply participating in digital marketing is not enough.

Regardless of which category of digital marketing you’re addressing whether it’s your website, SEO, PPC, Content or anything else, if you want to compete you need to work with people that execute effectively.

Lets get to it!

#1 Clarify the Communication Process With Your Digital Agency

We researched 100+ SMEs in Dubai.

One of the most common outsourcing complaints received (from both providers and clients) was:

Poor communication.

In fact, a study by Lacity et al examined over 500 companies globally in different industries and had similar results. It determined that managing the supplier-customer relationship is the most important factor for outsourcing success.

Another study by Rhodes et al where they looked at the Critical success factors for services outsourcing also found that communication is a key factor for the supplier-customer relationship.

So planning for effective communication when hiring a digital marketing agency cannot be left to chance.

A clear and agreed process is the first step.

Here are 4 points that need to be set between you and the provider before outsourcing:

  • Frequency: how often will you be in touch? Is it a daily 5 minute call, is it every 2 days, once a week, longer? How often will you have in person meetings for updates and project review?Think of it this way: If the marketing company you hire is to be seen as a partner and extension of your team, then ask yourself how often would you communicate with your team?
  • Lines of communication: If the person you deal with can't be reached who is the backup you turn to? Would this person be up to date with your project and be able to answer your questions?
  • Points of contact and escalation: Who is the person that you will be in touch with regularly? Who do you go to if you run into bigger problems?
  • Response time: Ask yourself what is an acceptable time period for you to receive a response to a communication? If you send an email, or if a call is not answered, what is acceptable to you for a happy working relationship?

Clarifying these points will set expectations and lay the ground work for accountability from both sides.

If the agreed communication process is not met, then at least you both know where you stand and quick, data driven decisions can be taken regarding whether the relationship proceeds or ends.

#2 — Keep It Face To Face When Hiring Your Digital Agency

What’s the first thing that normally happens when hiring a digital marketing agency?

You're put in touch with someone from sales or business development.

Which is great because they're very welcoming, presentable, well spoken and have a wealth of knowledge.

What's not so great is:

Once you sign up as a client, you get passed on to another person who is not as welcoming, presentable, well spoken or knowledgeable.

You just started to develop a relationship and feel comfortable with the business development person and start to think you'd like to work with him/her only to find out that you'll be working with someone else that you've never met.

After you’ve already committed!

Don’t accept this.

It’s pointless if the person you are speaking to at the start is not the person that will be doing the hands on, day to day work on your project with you.

This is the person you need to qualify and decide whether he/she is the right fit for you.

You'll decide based on your own preferences whether it's experience, communication quality, response time, problem solving, approachability etc.

Bottom line: this is the person to talk to.

Where possible, meet the rest of the team that would also be involved in your project such as designers and content writers.

You get to discuss your project with them directly, hear their feedback, thoughts and have everyone on the same page regarding goals and objectives.

It’s not always possible but no harm in trying.

The success of your marketing campaigns depends on these people so meet them before going ahead with a hire.

#3 — Don’t get caught out on Tax

As obvious as this might seem, it has to be included and let me tell you why.

During our research of 100+ SMEs here's what we found:

70%+ SMEs do not ask vendors for a copy of their license and registration documents prior to working with them.

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70%! That’s crazy!

Since you will be paying the provider (that should be part of the plan) you need to ensure that you’re working with a tax registered business (if applicable) to avoid tax troubles.

To do this, ask for the providers Tax Registration Number (TRN).

In Dubai, this is a 15 digit unique number assigned to the provider by the Federal Tax Authority at the time of VAT certification and registration.

Verify the TRN of the agency you’re assessing by visiting the
FTA portal and verifying the provided number.

Here’s how:

Under the “Getting Help” tab you will find a TRN verification option which when clicked will redirect you to the following page:

Enter the TRN number, hit validate and the providers details should pop up (hopefully).

There's no need to ask the company for a copy of the VAT certificate since this is not released without a TRN, so verifying the TRN is enough.

Side note:

Only pay VAT if you receive a proper Tax Invoice with a valid TRN number.

Tax invoice must include the following by the provider:

  • Name
  • A sequential tax invoice number or a unique number
  • The volume supplied (where applicable)
  • TRN
  • Address
  • A clear description of the product or service provided
  • Date of Issue
  • Mention the unit price (where applicable)

Disclaimer: For more info and/or any updates regarding VAT regulations and requirements make sure you consult a registered Tax advisor, consultant or your FTA directly.

#4  How to Avoid Hiring "Copy — Paste" Digital Marketing Agencies

It's sad.

Too many digital marketers copy previous work they've done to reduce their workload.

When hiring a digital marketing agency you'll want to make sure that you outsource to a company that builds campaigns specifically geared towards your business goals.

How do we do that?

It starts by
clearly knowing your goals and communicating them to the service provider.

“I want more leads” and “I want to increase my website traffic” are NOT concise goals.

On the other hand, this is:

“I want to increase my email newsletter sign ups by 20% within the next month so that I can be in direct contact with leads to nurture and educate them about our offering”

You can learn more about setting SMART goals here.

Will you need to revise your SMART goals with the digital marketing agency you hire?


But you must have a clear goal up front that you're targeting.

Now depending on these goals, the provider should be able to discuss how they will arrive at your desired outcome.

This is where you will assess the digital agency based on their approach.

When it comes to digital marketing, there’s no shortage of channels to work with from Facebook, to Google, to Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Linkedin and plenty more other than social.

Each one of these are used for different reasons with different strategies.

For example:

A complete Facebook sales funnel campaign, is different from an exclusive traffic campaign which is different from a brand awareness campaign.

And that’s just within Facebook alone!

Bottom line:

When hiring a digital marketing agency they should be able to:

  • Advise on what the best strategy would be for your situation
  • Explain why that strategy is best

Ex VP of Growth at Hubspot, Brian Balfour provides an excellent explanation on how to determine your ideal customer acquisition channel based on your current constraints:

Determine your constraints  —  next determine available options to reach your outcome  —  then rank the options to arrive at the best option.

Here’s a visual from Brians’ article showing a breakdown of how you would compare and select the right channel for your needs.

So when reviewing a provider, check whether they try to understand your deepest struggles such as time, money, control, scale etc.

Pay attention to whether they suggest alternative solutions with explanations of why one might be more effective than another based on your goals.

A provider that says something like:

“Sure! We can do all kinds of lead generation campaigns for you — When do we start?”

Does not mean that they arew fast and can get results.

It's quite the opposite.

They will not provide a structured and customer oriented solution because they never took the time to understand your needs.

So there's no reason to assume they would deliver meaningful results.

#5  How To Stay On Track With The Agency You Hire

"What get's measured gets improved"
Peter Drucker

We’ve covered the need for SMART goals and the need to assess how the digital marketing agency you hire might achieve these.

Now we need an understanding of how they will measure performance towards these goals.

In other words:

How will they set the Key Performance Indicators a.k.a KPIs for your project.

The line between SMART Goals and KPIs sometimes gets blurry so think of it this way:

Goal: The desired final outcome that you want to achieve

KPI: The performance metrics that determine whether you are on the right path to achieve that goal

Lets say we take our earlier example of increasing the number of email subscriptions by 20% within the next month.

KPIs in this scenario might include things such as:

  • Email subscription conversion rate
  • Time spent on your site
  • Number of unique visitors to your site & bounce rate
  • Content engagement on your site
  • Traffic distribution

By collecting data on each one of the above you will gain the knowledge and confidence to optimize your site for what’s working and remove whats not.

You'll make data-driven decisions directly in line with increasing the number of email subscriptions.

The KPIs you select guide your decision making towards reaching your goals.

You have to ensure when hiring your agency to define which KPIs are most relevant to track.

Then you can agree on how to measure results whether by using tools such as Google Analytics, Hotjar, Crazyegg, Facebook Pixel or others.


The impact that online marketing can have on business growth and performance can’t be understated.But to get the full benefit of online marketing it needs to be executed effectively otherwise you’ll just be wasting time, money and effort.

Hiring the right digital marketing agency is crucial to achieving your goals. And small businesses absolutely can avoid working with the wrong providers through effective preparation in assessing providers capabilities.

All it takes is a little commitment, knowing where to look and honesty when reviewing providers which your business is definitely worth.Moreover, this won’t require anything drastically more than what you already normally do to assess a provider.The return on this investment will more than repay itself when you’re working with a digital marketing company that is smashing your goals time after time.

Keep moving forward.

Any other hiring criteria that are normally overlooked? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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