Let’s start with a story, one you’ve probably heard before. Jon has a successful company that’s already selling over seven figures a year via Amazon. Jon is doing pretty darn well. Going forward, he wants to start diversifying his marketing channels by building an eCommerce website and other marketing channels such as Facebook and Instagram. He hasn’t really tapped into his full potential yet because he’s barely scratched the surface when it comes to marketing. This is a common scenario and actually a very good one. The possibilities are nearly endless for Jon. But, now he has to make a decision. Who will he hire to execute his marketing initiatives?

Unfortunately, Jon (and many other business owners) are often left at a disadvantage when choosing the right marketing agency to hire. They don’t conduct enough research or ask enough questions. In this scenario, Jon doesn’t know that the company he is interviewing is less than one year old and outsources their work overseas. Yikes! A true recipe for disaster. But Jon hires them anyway, not knowing these things up front.

Initially, things start out well. The agency builds Jon’s company a great website, they launch a few Facebook ads, and so on and so forth. But then progress stops pretty rapidly and his Amazon sales start tanking. What happened? The agency did something wrong and now Jon’s seven-figure business is banned from Amazon for at least three months. This costs Jon over $250,000. And you know the saying when it rains, it pours.

And did it pour alright…

One thing leads to another and they find out their credit card has been maxed out because the agency didn’t set up the campaigns correctly. They overspent on their ad budgets among a number of other things. When Jon tries to get in touch with the agency, the owner doesn’t answer for a few weeks and then proceeds to tell him that he’s closing the company to pursue other opportunities overseas.

It might sound dramatic or like hyperbole, but we’ve heard this story from a number of our clients. Due to the nature of online marketing and what it has become, we decided to put together a how-to vet an agency cheat sheet.

Don’t be a victim

In today’s evolving digital ecosystem, it’s easy to fall victim to a scam. Whether it’s through a social media advertisement or by a full-blown marketing agency, online users are at risk of being scammed. If you’re a business that is trying to hire a marketing agency, you need to conduct thorough research before making any concrete decisions– otherwise, you could make a costly mistake.

Hiring a marketing agency to guide your strategy efforts and improve your chances of success is a strong, long-term choice. Agencies can offer a wide variety of knowledge and guidance for your company. Generally, agencies are the best at what they do because they have ample experience and have worked with multiple clients in a niche space. However, agencies are expensive. You need to find a balance between affordability and a proven track record. If you choose the wrong agency, you may lose money, time and opportunity.

Unfortunately, there are a number of scam artists out there. There are a few common scenarios that you should become familiar with if you are looking to hire a marketing agency. Being aware of these scenarios will help you stay away from scammers.

Bait and Switch Scenario: This is when a sales “professional” actually has his/her team overseas and doesn’t deliver based on the contractual agreement. This is extremely common, so beware when you’re interviewing agencies. It’s sometimes easier than you think to fake who is actually doing the work when you sign with an agency. You don’t want a team overseas who may or may not deliver. You want an agency that will give you a dedicated account manager– one that is available throughout the week.

High and Dry Scenario: This is when you get scammed by someone who then moves to Europe and leaves you high and dry. You might be thinking, “There’s no way this happens.” But, it actually happens all the time. Do your marketing agency scam research ahead of time!

Learn on Your Dime Scenario: This is when someone sets up a company and then wants you to pay them to learn. You don’t have time to pay them to learn. That’s why you’re hiring a marketing agency in the first place to bring value and expertise. Don’t fall for these scammers!

Today, it’s extremely easy to build a website and appear to be credible online. But that’s not enough. Scammers can build a legitimate appearance in less than 24 hours, so how can you tell who is actually credible?

Doing thorough research on the agency is a necessity. You can’t take the easy way out and just hope for the best. Otherwise, you could lose tens of thousands of dollars. To avoid a marketing agency scam, follow the steps below to verify if a marketing agency (or person) is credible.

How to Vet a Marketing Agency Cheat Sheet

Check for domain authority

First and foremost, domain authority is key. Sadly, tons of marketing agencies throw up a ton of statistics on their websites, claiming to be the “best of the best.” To figure out if an agency is credible or not, you need to look beyond its claims of competence and honesty.

You can spot the reality at Domain Authority Assessor. The Domain Authority Assessor shows how much trust an agency has with Google. For example, a new website that was just launched would have a domain authority (DA) of 1 while an established, credible website like Facebook would have a domain authority of 100.

Domain Authority is determined by a number of factors including:

  • The number of back-links to a website from another website
  • The quality of those back-links
  • How long the website has been around

For the sake of choosing an Amazon marketing agency, a good domain authority score is anything over 30.

Are they insured?

This is a question that most businesses forget to ask. Remember, ad spends can easily go over your credit limit. In this specific situation, being insured is imperative. Protecting yourself and your business should be a priority in your decision-making process. Always ask if a marketing agency is insured before you begin working with it.

How long has the company been around?

Although there are a few startups out there that are credible and reliable, you’re better off hiring an agency (or person) that has been in business for at least three years. Three years would be the minimum duration we recommend. Unfortunately, many newer agencies go out of business within their first two years of operation. As many people know, most startups fail. This puts all of their clients at risk. Look for a company that has been around for at least three years, because they are also more likely to have more reviews for you to evaluate. With a newer business, you’re gambling. It’s as simple as that.

How many employees do they have?

This isn’t always the case, but it’s usually better to work with agencies that have at least five full-time employees. You’re probably thinking, “Why? Why does it matter as long as someone gets the work done?” Because, if something happens to one person in a three-person company, you’re in trouble. If something happens to one person in a company with 20 employees, your work will likely be unaffected. This might seem negative or pessimistic, but when you’re investing a lot of money, it’s something to consider. To avoid a marketing agency scam, choose an agency that has at least five full-time employees on staff. Ask the owner of the agency this question during your interview.

Who will be doing the actual work?

This is a huge one! Marketing agencies are especially notorious for outsourcing work. Outsourcing work is the practice of having certain job functions done outside a company instead of having in-house employees handle them. The main concern with outsourcing is that it’s usually done overseas to keep costs down. You want to know who’s actually going to be executing your work. Is it someone in-house? Or is it a third-party team in China? This is important because it can certainly affect the quality of your work and the results you receive. You don’t want to work with a marketing agency that outsources your work overseas.

Check for other credibility cues

Besides asking all of the right questions (listed above), there’s ample research you can do on your own to prevent your company from hiring the wrong marketing agency. Checking for credibility cues is one of the best ways to determine if a marketing agency is a good fit for your company.

Check for cues such as:

  • Awards
  • Reviews (this is very important)
  • Case Studies

Find out if the agency has prominent industry partnerships that will help you reach your goals. For example, does it have a point-of-contact at Facebook? Amazon? Google? These are all things that will greatly benefit your partnership, so it’s great to work with a marketing agency that has established industry partnerships. After all, that shows a lot of reliability.

When in doubt, do more research!

Listen, we all want results as much as the next person. But rushing into these kinds of hiring decisions is what gets companies in trouble all of the time. Most companies won’t take the time to research, interview and ask lots of questions. Marketing agencies are always let off the hook because people don’t spend enough time verifying their credibility beforehand. If you fail to do these things, you’ll likely make a $10,000 mistake. Perhaps, an even bigger one. Don’t do that.

Follow the detailed steps in this article, ask the questions listed above and conduct the proper research to avoid being scammed by a marketing agency.

Ryan Flannagan
Ryan Flannagan

Ryan Flannagan is the Founder & CEO of Nuanced Media, an international eCommerce marketing agency specializing in Amazon. Nuanced has sold $100s of Millions online and Ryan has built a client base representing a total revenue of over 1.5 billion dollars. Ryan is a published author and has been quoted by a number of media sources such as BuzzFeed, CNBC, and Modern Retail.

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