The 10 WORST Times to Hire a Marketing Consultant

Is there a right and wrong time to hire a marketing consultant? Author and ethical marketing consultant Lynn Serafinn believes so. Today Lynn shares 10 criteria that can help you avoid making a disastrous business decision.

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of requests for consultations from potential clients, and I have to admit I’ve turned away more clients than I’ve taken on. You might find it surprising to hear that I’m the one doing the turning away considering people are hiring me. After all, aren’t they the ones doing the hiring? Isn’t the client the one who makes the decision of whether or not to hire me?

Well, back when I first started my business…when I was clueless and desperate…that might have been the case. I wanted clients–any clients–so I could pay my bills. But over time, I learned that this open policy worked neither for me nor my client.

These days I have certain criteria that determine whether or not I am willing to take on a client. I’ve found them to be extremely useful in helping me avoid months of frustration on ineffective collaborations. In looking at them, I thought these criteria would be just as useful to anyone who might be considering hiring a marketing consultant, PR or business coach. So I decided I’d share them with you today.

WRONG TIME #1: When you’re just starting out
Since the start of the so-called recession in 2008, more and more of us are entering the world of self-employment. The trouble is, many people who are just starting out may be good at what they do, but have no idea what is involved in planning and running a business. The tendency is to want to run out and hire help in the form of a business coach and/or marketing consultant. In my experience, this is the WRONG time to do this. If your brand and niche are ill-defined, you are apt to choose the wrong consultant, who will lead you in a direction that may not be where you actually want to go. Furthermore, you’ll spend a heck of a lot of money on them that should be spent on other essential start up expenses.

WRONG TIME #2: When you’re clueless
Most new business owners are a bit clueless as to what is needed for their business or project. While I don’t mind authors coming to me with little idea about what is involved in a book launch (which is my specialty), I do mind them coming to me clueless about the value of what I offer them. If I have to spend all my time validating my strategies to a client during our sessions together, it holds both of us back.

Clueless people have “UNconscious incompetence”, meaning they don’t know anything but they have no idea what it is that they don’t know. Before you even ask for a consultation from a consultant, take some responsibility and do a little homework. Do some research; attend some webinars; read some books. Become what I call a “conscious incompetent”: someone who KNOWS what it is that they don’t know. Then, you’ll not only be able to choose the right consultant, but you’ll be able to understand what they’re talking about. But most of all, you’ll be able to ask the right questions during your initial meeting.

WRONG TIME #3: When you don’t know what you want
Never enter a client-consultant relationship if you don’t know what you want from it. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll never know if you’ve gained it. The first thing I ask clients when they call me for a consultation is what they WANT from the service they’re asking about. You’d be amazed how many authors who call about a book launch have no idea why they want one, except that it sounds glamorous. Glamour is not measurable. I want to give my clients measurable results. It’s up to you, the client, to know what you want to gain before you enter into that relationship.

WRONG TIME #4: When you have no game plan
It’s equally vital to have a bigger picture in mind before you call a consultant. Where do you see your business going AFTER you end your contract with the consultant? If you’re hiring a marketing consultant for a particular project or product launch, how will this help the business? Where will you take customers after the launch? My MOST successful clients are those who took our work together and created a bigger game plan from it. My least successful clients are those who jumped into a book or product launch and then stopped short, without a clue of their next business step. I try to help my clients with this as much as I can as we work together, but ultimately it is up to them to see this through.

WRONG TIME #5: When you’re desperate
I hate, hate, hate it when a client comes to me and says, “My business was doing great until this year. Now I’m in trouble. I’m hiring you to help me get out of this situation in the next 3 months or I’ll go out of business.” I’ve received such calls on more than one occasion. Some were from long-established companies that had global reputations. I can’t speak for other consultants, but I feel stressed if someone wants me to be their “saviour” or last resort to bring them out of a crisis. There are so many factors that can take a company to breaking point, and pumping up the marketing may NOT be the best solution. Besides, marketing is a long-term process. It’s about relationship building and brand identity. Furthermore, if your company’s really in crisis, you’re going to be panicking (and cursing your consultant) if your marketing campaign doesn’t work. You’d do better to sit down and do some market research with your audience to see what’s going wrong.

WRONG TIME #6: When you’re broke or living on credit
For many of the same reasons as #5, it’s the wrong time to hire a consultant if you’re having serious money problems. And if you’re thinking it’s OK to max out your credit cards to pay your consultant but your current income is barely enabling you to pay off the minimum monthly payments–well, that’s just plain dangerous. While your consultant SHOULD be able to help you increase your revenue in the long-term that does not mean the return on investment will happen before your bills are due. Do not even think of hiring a consultant unless you have some positive cash-flow in your life.

WRONG TIME #7: When you’re not ready to put in the effort
My most successful clients are those who “did their homework” in between sessions. My least successful clients are those who sent their assistants in to do all the work, and they didn’t even dip in to discuss and design strategies with me. A consultant is NOT another “hire”. They are there to help you build strategies for your business, brand or project. If you are not willing to put in the effort, you will not reap the rewards.

WRONG TIME #8: When you lack entrepreneurial spirit
If you’ve only just recently come out of employment and you still have a “regular salary” mentality, you are unlikely to be very comfortable with the financial ups and downs of entrepreneurship. A true entrepreneur understands the value of good, sensible business expenses, whereas a novice just sees everything as costing money. If you lack entrepreneurial spirit, and you do not enjoy the roller coaster ride, you will bring a fearful, restrictive energy into the client-consultant relationship, and hamper the results you get.

WRONG TIME #9: When the consultant doesn’t work within your niche
Make sure your consultant understands your audience AND has connections within your niche. So, it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that YOU need to understand your audience and that you are already established in your niche before you hire a consultant. Some clients come to me to help them crystallise their niche and branding, and that’s OK as long as we are clear that is the task at hand. But if you launch into a marketing project together and there is a mismatch or misunderstanding about what your brand or niche is, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money (not to mention finding it a frustrating and stressful experience).


WRONG TIME #10: When no one else works for your company
If you are a small or sole-proprietor business consider hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA) or other support staff before you hire a consultant. Most of these kinds of hires are outsourced. Create systems with them that make your business into an actual business. Then, if and when you do hire a marketing consultant, you’ll have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll also have a team of people to help implement the work the consultant recommends.

I consider myself to be an ethical marketer. If someone comes to me and I believe it is the “wrong time” to call me, I tell them. I don’t want any old client–I want the RIGHT clients. Some of these probably carry more weight than others, but if a client ticks more than one of these boxes, they are probably not ready to work with me yet.

And you, the client, should also want the right consultant. I hope these “10 wrong times” were useful to you as you shop for one…at the right time. When you do get it right, the relationship between client and consultant can be a dynamic, creative and fulfilling one for both parties.

If you think you’re ready take that step and work actively and strategically with a marketing consultant, drop me a line via the contact form on this site and we can have a chat. If you’re NOT ready, I recommend you check out my books:

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your comments and experiences below.

~ Lynn Serafinn

26 February 2013

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of MarketingLYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She was recently named one of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. In her work as a promotional manager she has produced a long list of bestselling mind-body-spirit authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.

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5 Responses to The 10 WORST Times to Hire a Marketing Consultant

  1. Great points, Lynn! I actually think, though, that when you’re just starting out, hiring a business and marketing strategist or consultant who has experience in helping startups can be quite beneficial. Though I work primarily with growing businesses, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for startups. I’ve had a great many clients over the years who really needed help in clarifying their target market and their brand. Without my help, they would likely have never gotten off the ground, simply because figuring out their target market and brand wasn’t their forte and they didn’t know how to clarify them OR build systems OR set up their marketing campaigns. Because I was there to answer questions and show them the ropes, they got off the ground instead of floundering.

    Other than those points, though, I really like the article. Nice work!

    • Lynn Serafinn says:

      Excellent point, Susan. How I wish I had found someone like you back when I was a new business owner. When I said it’s bad timing to hire a consultant when you’re starting up, I was really thinking about what many clients have told me of their own experiences when they were starting out. So many of them spent thousands (sometimes tens of thoursands) on a business and/or marketing consultant in the very beginning stages, only to have the consultant give them a “cookie cutter” model that didn’t work for them. Very often, the “brand” of a new business is a bit amorphous, and it takes a very skilled consultant to tease it out of them.

      It sounds like you’re one of those rare breed of skilled ones! (I’d like to think I am too 😉 ).

  2. Oh, Lynn, we must be kindred spirits!!! I have a feeling that you and I would have a lot to talk about.

    You’re definitely preaching to the choir with those darned “cookie cutter” gurus. HATE THAT!!! My biggest heartbreak is often that sometimes entrepreneurs come to me after one of those “gurus” has sucked their pocketbook dry and spit them back out without a dime or a profitable business to their name. While it’s certainly the client’s responsibility to take action when they’re not getting results, too often they keep buying into the promises and the hype and just never get what they pay for. By the time these entrepreneurs get to me, there’s not much I can do for them, if they can’t afford to hire me at that point. Breaks my heart every single time.

  3. Sandra Rea says:

    You couldn’t BE more right. When I first started out, I took all clients. That was a mistake. It worked out okay for them, but not so much for me. I found that often it was the client with the smallest budget who had the most demands, and I found it was real hard to make ’em happy. Some people simply aren’t happy no matter what. So I became more discriminating. I asked a lot more questions of the prospects, so we could figure out right off the bat if we were a fit. I also started limiting my consultation time. There are time-eaters out there. They’re the same ones who tell you that the plan sounds great, and send ’em a contract. Next thing I hear is crickets. We agreed on a price and tasks to fit the budget and I guess they get buyer’s remorse. That’s fine. They were my learning curve. I learned that it is okay to have boundaries, and that they are necessary. Setting the rules on both sides up front, and no “cookie cutter” plans. I treat my clients like I want to be treated. I too am ethical, and I found your article refreshing!!! Thank you.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Sandra! That buyer’s remorse can be a killer. That’s why I NEVER do what all my early business advisors told me to do: force people into a decision on the first consultation. I figure if people are switched on, they’ll come back and say yes. I know that goes against what most ‘close the deal’ marketers will tell you, but I believe that using persuasion to get a client to commit undermines their own choice and backfires on the consultant in the long term anyway (apart from the fact that it’s one of the ‘7 Deadly Sins of Marketing’). The best fits between client and consultant comes when BOTH parties are equally enthusiastic and realistic about what they can create together.

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