Find Your Match: Ultimate Guide to Hiring the Right Marketing Agency

Digital Marketing
By Janet Lee | April 18, 2022 | 18 min read

There are plenty of fish in the sea of agencies, but heck, it doesn’t provide any consolation during the agency hunt. 

Whether it’s your first time taking the agency route or you’re thinking about calling it quits with your current agency, finding the right match is hard. There are numerous digital marketing agencies out there with various services, expertise, and size. Where to start? 

Having been in the agency realm for over a decade, the Big Leap team has got you covered on finding the right one for your business. We understand there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to hiring a marketing agency. We also understand it takes a heck of a long time! But as they say, good things take time, and we’re here to help make the process a little easier.

Here’s your complete guide on how to select the right digital marketing agency. Use this to ask the right questions to potential matches and find “the one”—a team who will form a fulfilling and profitable relationship with you for the long run.

Table of Contents

How to Know You’re Ready: 4 Common Signs

Here are the four common signs you’re ready to partner with a digital marketing agency: 

  1. You’re a fairly new company that needs to ramp up your digital marketing efforts. 
  2. You already have a marketing agency but aren’t happy with their results. 
  3. Your brand is evolving in a way that no longer merits the size or expertise your current agency specializes in. 
  4. You have a dedicated, in-house marketing team, but they’ve got their hands tied and would like another team to take on some leg work. 

Whichever agency you decide to go with, you want to be absolutely sure about them. Hiring the wrong one can get costly. 

For example, our research survey on the real costs of agency switching, we discovered the top four costs are: 

  1. Time
  2. Performance 
  3. Morale
  4. Money

Our survey participants all agreed that taking your time in the decision-making process is pivotal. Kathleen Ahmmed from USCarJunker states: 

Take [your] time before making such a long-term decision, because the setback that comes with making the wrong choice will always be more impactful than being patient enough to find the perfect partner.

The following sections below will ensure you’re on the right track and give your business the best shot at finding a suitable agency.

Before You Start Shopping: A 4-Point Checklist

Let’s get your shopping list together first. You have to know why you’re hiring a digital marketing agency and what you want before you start conversations with potential partners. 

This four-point checklist aims to do just that. Better yet, it can shave off some of your agency research time, as you can get specific traits to filter your search.

1. Freelance vs. Outsourced

Freelance Digital Marketing Expert

Some companies just want to dip their toes into digital marketing without committing to an agency. These companies will often seek out a freelance digital marketing expert.


  • Easy communication: Working with an individual expert makes communicating your business’s needs and initiatives significantly easier. Any questions can be answered by that one person.
  • Lower costs: Paying a single person to do all your marketing work is clearly cheaper than paying for an entire in-house team. This can be ideal for newer companies. 
  • Better flexibility: Marketing teams can often have their preferred way of doing things and can be resistant to change. Individual experts may have more freedom and flexibility to tailor their approach to your business strategies.


  • A lot of (perhaps too much) responsibility: There’s a reason marketing is usually done by teams—there are a lot of things to juggle. Relying on a single person to accomplish all of those tasks can be risky.
  • More delays: When your marketing expert is overwhelmed, you will feel those repercussions with long delays, which can be costly. 
  • Stale tactics: Search engines are constantly improving and changing their algorithms, which can be a lot of information for a single person to take in. Therefore, working with a lone expert could lead to outdated practices.

Outsourced Digital Marketing Agency

Hiring out your digital marketing services to a specialized agency offers incredible advantages. After all, many companies have earned impressive results in the past. 


  • More cost- and time-efficient: In short, you pay for the project, not the people. This helps keep overall costs down significantly. And while your outsourced agency is churning out optimized content, you can focus on other ways to grow your business.
  • Access to top talent: Marketing agencies are always looking for the best strategists and creators to join their teams. When you work with those agencies, you get to reap the rewards of those experts.
  • Minimal management: Agencies are self-managers. All you need to do is establish expectations at the beginning of your professional relationship, and the agency will take care of the rest to deliver lasting results.
  • Additional marketing services: If you ever want to delve into other marketing tactics, agencies will often offer other services for you to try. For example, Big Leap offers content marketing, conversion rate optimization (CRO), marketing automation, and more in addition to our popular SEO package.


  • Difficult to coordinate: It pains us to admit, but it can be more difficult to coordinate marketing efforts with an outsourced team. Since there are teams involved on the agency side (teams who likely serve other clients as well), decision-making requires advanced planning and scheduling.
  • Limiting contracts: The contracts you sign can be rigid. This is mostly to protect you and the agency—it ensures you get what you paid for, and they don’t go unpaid for any extra last-minute work. However, dealing with those contracts requires spending time with negotiations on top of figuring out what marketing initiatives you want to pursue.

2. Agency Size

Will going with a small-sized agency be a good fit, or does going bigger produce better results? 

Some agencies have 10 people, while others have 100 people. The size may give your organization access to different assets, which can impact the strategy, planning, and execution of your digital marketing efforts.

Look at three areas when considering agency size:

Experience & Expertise

Some smaller, niche marketers may already have a comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape in your industry. However, they may also lean on cookie-cutter strategies and tactics in the name of profitability and scale, which may or may not align with your business goals.

Workflow Processes

Processes are essential in business. They support the scalability of a task or series of tasks. Larger agencies might have processes in place that ensure campaign execution, while smaller agencies might be more flexible in how they execute a campaign. 

Sometimes rigid processes may not be compatible with your needs as a client. This is where a smaller agency might be a better fit for you. A smaller agency will likely possess the flexibility to provide you with a customized approach and be willing to grow with you. 

Current and Future Needs

Ideally, you want to find the right “Goldilocks” fit for your business based on your resources and needs. One area where we see this come into play often is with startups and entrepreneurs. 

You may not be able to predict what your company is going to look like in six months, so you need an agency that is nimble and flexible to change with you.

3. Knowledge Gaps

Understanding what your team does well and what they lack can determine:

  • Specific areas you want your agency to focus on
  • The level of involvement you want from your agency

For example, if your team is pretty well-versed on content marketing but not SEO, you can search for an agency that is well-versed in all things SEO.

Identifying knowledge gaps might involve a deeper process such as: 

  • Doing a full audit on your website and/or campaigns: Taking inventory of your online presence and performance can help you identify sticky areas that need finetuning. If you don’t know how to conduct an audit, no worries. Some agencies offer free site audits to help you get started. 
  • Speaking with key stakeholders at your company: While you may have thought SEO was an area the business needed to work on, your CEO may feel sales enablement and paid search are two areas that need further attention. Overall, speaking with stakeholders early in the process can identify all knowledge gaps and align your search efforts.

4. Budget

Last but not least, you want to ensure you’ve got the budget for what you want. Look at three key areas to determine the right monthly budget for your business: 

  1. Industry
  2. Last year’s revenue
  3. How aggressive (low, medium, high) you’d like to invest

This handy budget calculator can help. It’ll spit out a monthly budget divided into specific marketing channels (e.g., SEO, social media, CRO, etc.).

Presenting your budget during agency “blind dates” can help agencies understand the level of investment you’re looking to do. They can use this information to present what they can offer with your budget. 

The 6 Things to Look for in a Digital Marketing Agency

Even as a client, it may seem appealing to find the biggest, most recognized agency in the country. But if your goals and values are not aligned, it’s entirely possible for your campaign to fail, while it could have succeeded with another agency.

There are six factors we’ve identified that ensure clients and agencies are the right fit for each other.

1. Strategy vs. Execution

Some agencies and consultants love to analyze, plan, and strategize for their clients but that’s where they stop. There can be a tremendous amount of value provided by this group, but if you don’t have the capacity to execute, all the nice-looking reports in the world aren’t going to move your campaign forward.

On the other hand, there are a lot of agencies out there who specialize in the execution but may be weaker on the strategy and planning aspects of a campaign. If you’re an experienced digital marketer blazing the trail for your company, this may be just what you need. Many of our Big Leap clients have the expertise in-house but need a partner they can trust to help with the leg work.

There are definitely agencies that can do both, but we typically find they’re better at one or the other. If we had to rate Big Leap, I’d say we probably lean 65% towards execution and 35% towards strategy.

2. Industry Experience

There is definitely value in finding an agency that has experience in your industry. There are even agencies that specialize in various verticals. At Big Leap, we’ve always taken a broader approach which we believe helps us learn and expand our knowledge outside of a single industry.

3. Conversion Goals

Experience in a specific industry is definitely helpful but not one of the most important items when finding an agency that’s the right fit for you. Another vital area is finding out whether the agency can deliver the right conversions. 

For example, finding an agency that has experience selling online life coaching may be difficult but many agencies have experience driving conversions to a registration page.

4. Services & Skills

Being a digital marketing agency can mean many different things. Some digital marketing agencies focus on a single skill like SEO or Reputation Management while some agencies offer 10-20 different services.

We don’t necessarily believe a company that only offers one service is better at that service than an agency that offers more. However, we believe many agencies claim to be experts in far too many things.

Depending on your needs, finding a highly specialized agency could be the right solution only if you have all the other aspects of your digital marketing covered. However, since many digital marketing channels work together and overlap, make sure your agency knows this and can help you maximize all channels.

5. Communication & Reporting

Asking about reporting and communication is a critical component of a successful agency-client relationship, yet only 30% of our potential clients ask about this.

Agencies vary quite a bit in report frequency and format. Some agencies even have specific limitations on how often you can communicate with them.

  • Frequency: Reporting frequencies can also vary from client to client. Some of our engagements require daily communication while others prefer a bi-weekly or monthly strategy and reporting meeting.
  • Format: Big Leap’s communication and reporting for clients are very fluid based on their needs. We start with our baseline report template and customize it to focus on the KPIs that matter most to clients.

When selecting an agency, you want to consider what your time and resources look like for communication and reporting and ensure these align with the expectations of your agency.

6. Pricing

Determining a budget for any digital marketing campaign can be difficult for the following reason:  

  • Pricing variations: You could meet with two SEO agencies and ask for the same services and get a budget that ranges from $500 per month from one agency to $5,000 per month from another agency.
  • Different pricing models: Most agencies typically sell retainer models where you pay a certain fee each month. But there are agencies that are built on a performance model where you may only have to pay for results.

Depending on your business and what stage you are in your business, one of those pricing models may work better than another for you. This is where your digital marketing budget will come in handy. Compare your budget to the price models being offered—is there one that aligns better with your budget over another?

Get the Conversation Going: 5 Questions to Ask

Before you have conversations with potential agency matches, be sure you have a list of questions and ideal answers you are seeking. This can help you weed out unqualified agencies and illuminate the ones that can offer what you need. 

Here are five questions and answers to consider. 

1. How Have Your Digital Marketing Strategies Worked for Past Clients?

The proof is in the pudding. Ask for case studies. Search for reviews. Seek out client testimonials. A good agency has no problem sharing their wins and happy customers are delighted to spread the good word. 

So make sure to do a bit of digging and let an agency’s clients speak for them. Along the way, you might stumble upon something not-so-flattering, but that’s good too. Knowing exactly what’s on the table is always better than being blindsided.

Ideal Responses Should Include…

  • An offer to share their case studies with you. They might drop a link or send over files to your team. The case studies should address three key areas: pain point, strategy, and results. 
  • How the agency has consistently worked on bolstering their clients’ performance even after earning wins. Good agencies don’t just dust off their hands after achieving a win—they keep going to maintain their client’s stellar results and identify more advantageous opportunities. 

Ideal Responses Should NOT Include…

  • “Wins” such as earning a number one Google ranking spot within a matter of days. This might indicate the agency is primarily focused on short-term tactics a.k.a. methods that don’t give your business the long-term viability it needs. 
  • Head-scratching when your team asks them how they earned a client a specific conversion or why they decided to focus on a specific keyword. They should be able to address the hows and whys without hesitation. 

2. How Specifically Will You Improve Our Rankings?

All agencies boast of getting you the best rankings possible, but not every agency wants to be transparent about how they’ll actually do it.

Ideal Responses Should Include…

  • References to specific areas on your site or other platforms and explain how they would improve those areas (they should have already done their research on your business by now to give you a substantial answer). 
  • Optimization strategies (e.g. keyword research and competitor analysis), technical SEO strategies (e.g. sitemaps for Google indexing), and/or link-building strategies. Ideally, choose an agency that can offer the best of all three worlds. 
  • A desire to align their goals with yours. For example, they might ask what your short-term and long-term goals are and the type of metrics you’d like to lean on.

Ideal Responses Should NOT Include…

  • Hesitation discussing their strategies. This may illustrate, that they don’t value transparency and/or use black-hat strategies to “get ahead.”
  • A one-way conversation, where they discuss their goals for your campaigns instead of asking you what your goals are first. The conversation may feel like a one-way street.
  • An emphasis on quantity over quality. Comments like, “We can aim to post on your blog or social profiles XX times a month” without providing context on the type or depth of the content. 

Tip: Take a look at an agency’s site to assess their content. Does it align with your perspective of what quality content is? 

3. How Will Reporting Work?

Results matter, and you need to know exactly what they are. Great firms will be completely transparent in time spent, content written, backlinks achieved, etc. 

Discuss reporting with the agency at the very onset of your communication. Ask what metrics they’ll be watching, what sort of reports you can expect to receive, and how often you’ll be given them.

Ideal Responses Should Include…

  • Examples of reports the agency has completed for past clients with specific metrics listed. What’s even better is if they offer examples from campaigns that closely align with what you’re looking to do.
  • Specific details on when and how reports are provided. For example, “We deliver reports to our clients at the beginning of each month via Swydo. We also schedule a 1-hour call to go over the reports with our clients.”
  • Asking whether the above timelines will work for you and how they can adjust it to better fit your schedule. 

Ideal Responses Should NOT Include…

  • Surface-level responses. For example, the wrong agency might say something like, “We generally track XX metrics for all of our campaigns.” without asking which ones are relevant to your business goals. 
  • Indications that reports are given only when necessary (e.g. “We only conduct reporting when we notice an issue in a campaign.”). This may indicate the firm isn’t very attentive-to-detail or diligent in managing marketing campaigns.

4. What Does the Collaboration Process Look Like?

How often will your internal team need to be involved and to what extent? How many meetings will you have with the team? What’s their method of communication? How much will they need from you? 

Gaining an understanding and setting expectations will be vital to a positive working relationship. Some agencies will require more hands-on engagement from their clients, while others handle most of the work themselves.

Ideal Responses Should Include…

  • Questions regarding your team’s collaboration process. Based on your response to their questions, the agency may point out ways their collaboration is similar to yours. They also indicate how their process differs and try to find ways to meet you halfway.

Ideal Responses Should NOT Include…

  • Collaboration process or level of engagement that differs from yours. 
  • Methods that they believe to be collaborative but are in fact, not. For example, being in the same office does not count as collaboration. Rather, it should involve actions that encourage team members to have discussions on strategies and together, find a solution.

5. How Do Payments and Contracts Work?

Make sure you’re clear about what a contract entails. Is it a one-time fee and a month-to-month agreement? Is it a retainer that requires a set time commitment? Do you need to pay for a single month upfront? Six months upfront? How do you pay?

If you get to the contract stage, review it carefully. Take it to your lawyer and have them review it. Make sure that it works in your favor and isn’t just benefiting the agency. Many rogue agencies try to sneak in clauses that protect them and hurt their clients, so be careful.

Ideal Responses Should Include…

  • An offer to send over documents on pricing models. The pricing should be broken down into services. Detailed pricing documentation also notes the estimated amount of hours the team will invest in a specific service/campaign.
  • An example of a 6-month or longer roadmap that outlines everything from onboarding to audits/analysis to execution. 
  • Assurance that the agency team will send over a customized contract that includes campaigns and timelines discussed during initial conversations.

Ideal Responses Should NOT Include…

  • A discussion on how much the services will be without providing documentation to get everything in writing.
  • Clauses in the contract that protect the agency but not the client. If roadblocks emerge in the future, this may hurt your business. 

Green & Red Flags to Keep You in Check

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Before your head starts to spin, we’ve tied everything up here with green and red flags to look out for. Keep these lists with you from the point of initial contact to contract signing, so you feel confident about your decision. 

Green Flags

  • The agency is communicative. They follow up with phone/Zoom meetings with emails to recap the discussion and details on the next steps. 
  • They take the time to browse through your site to get to know your business and identify areas for improvement. Agency team members ask you questions along the way.
  • The agency shows you project management and analytics tools they use and discuss ways on how to streamline these tools with your team.
  • They are transparent about project and result timelines. Experienced agencies understand digital marketing is a long-term strategy. Marketing results take time to achieve. 
  • They offer documentation to help your team understand the agency’s processes and pricing models. 

Red Flags

  • The agency takes over a day to follow up on your meetings and emails. It might begin to feel like you’re pulling teeth.
  • They promise immediate results.
  • They focus on short-term methodologies instead of holistic, long-term tactics.
  • They don’t ask about your short-term and long-term business goals.
  • You don’t get to meet all the folks who would be working on your account. This may indicate that the teams are siloed.
  • They don’t provide documentation or a presentation on their process.
  • Whatever happens, this phase should give your team a good idea on whether:
  • The agency can deliver your goals.
  • You can see yourself working with them.

Learn What Big Leap Has to Offer

Don’t rush hiring a digital marketing agency. It’s worth doing right. 

If you’re in the marketing for a new agency right now, check out Big Leap’s case studies to see if we might be a good fit for you. Even if things don’t work out, we’re happy to direct you to an agency that can be a better fit for you. Reach out to us!

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