These days, more than ever, people are leaving in-house marketing jobs, choosing instead to begin their own consulting business. Even I did it – after 20 years in corporate world, working in-house as a marketing manager, campaign manager and social media manager, I decided to step out of the corporate world and start off on my own and open my own social media business.

There is both positives and negatives for small businesses looking to hire a consultant. The positive is that you can find people with years of experience and can hire them as consultants. Not bringing them in-house means you save money on their salary, bonuses and staff costs.

The negative come when you realise there’s a much lower barrier to entry now – anyone with a personal Facebook Page and a large number of Twitter followers can offer their services to you. Some people believe they can easily do this job because they have had success on their own social media pages.

And while they might be more cheap and affordable, it can sometime be hard to know if they have any experience with marketing and building brands, or if they’re simply any good at promoting themselves.

Once you have made the decision to outsource, you’ll want to strongly research potential consultants and/or agencies.

I have put together some points I recommend you ask or consider:

Can they demonstrate a proven track record?

Find out what brands the person or agency has worked with and is currently working with, ensure they’re not working with a competing brand.

Don’t be shy about asking for references. Ask about a brand they worked with where it didn’t go so well – how did they handle that situation? Were they able to quickly adapt and change strategy? Do they have the necessary experience in your industry to properly advance your business? Are they adaptable to any industry?

The more they know about your industry, the less of a learning curve there’ll be, and the more resources they’ll bring to your brand. What are their first steps when taking on new clients?

Who will be handling your account and what background and experience does this person have?

The background of each person working on behalf of your brand is important. If you’re looking for marketing, PR and/or social media help, you want people that have leveraged those skills working with prior companies.

Do these people have knowledge and experience with trends in these areas?

Ask to see examples of their work?

Anyone that has experience will be more than happy to show you a portfolio of work as well as links to projects or campaigns they’ve either run or been involved in creating.

Have a look at past and current examples of their work. Have the campaigns led to brand exposure? Sales leads? Increase in traffic to clients’ websites?

How do they track ROI?

We all know that not everything has an immediate return that’s trackable when it comes to social media. But you can track most things. That is one of the things I love about social media, is knowing you can spend money and then actually see the results of how each campaign performed.

You want to know that the consultant or agency isn’t simply looking to add likes, followers or fans, but is actually able to analyse conversion rates and give you the statistics you need as well as recommendations.

Brands that hire an outside agency will want to know that the agency or consultant is consistently monitoring results, and is being held accountable.

You want to know there’s a standard monitoring and reporting process in place that works for both you and the agency or consultant.

What will they do if something goes wrong?

How would they handle a social media crisis with your brand? Have they got the right skills to handle trolls?

Marketing campaigns that look great on paper can go wrong in application, no matter how experienced the consultant is.

How will they react? How do they respond to negative reviews? Tweets? Negative Facebook comments? Ask for examples of when this may have happened in the past and how they handled the situation.

Managing a social media crisis is important, you want the right people to represent your brand.

What is their process for reporting?

How often will you meet with them? How often will you be provided status updates or check-ins? How will they communicate with you?

If the agency or consultant doesn’t have a method to suggest immediately to you on how they’ll communicate, it might be a red flag that the agency/consultant isn’t as connected with their clients as you want them to be.

How do they come up with strategic plans?

How much does writing content figure into their experience and plan for your business?

A good agency or consultant will have a workflow that works for them and you. They will know how to integrate social media with PR and traditional media with your marketing plan.

They should want to talk to your sales team and find out what plans they have and will know how to integrate them into all they are doing.

A key part of social media is working your marketing campaigns into your content plans, so everything ties in together.

How will your content be developed?

It’s important you know how your content will be created, will you have to approve all of the content written on behalf of your brand? Will it all have to be planned, or will you trust this person or agency to create on-the-fly content for you?

Does this person have the experience necessary to understand the nuances of writing content specific to each platform? What images will be used with your content and to these represent your online brand?

Content developed for your brand needs to be likable and shareable. A consultant or agency should be able to show you examples of previously created content for other clients, as well as their content calendar, or what their content creation process looks like. They should step through the process with you on how they create, post and monitor.

What does success look like, and how will they measure it?

Brands that are investing in consultants and agencies must have clear goals in mind when starting this process. An agency or consultant should be able to help you achieve your KPIs. The agency or consultant you choose will help you establish these KPIs and will (with you) write strategies and tactics to hit those goals.

What does this cost?

Outside of the monthly charges or fees you agree to with the consultant or agency, you want to know that your budget is being kept in mind in what they are doing.

Make sure you find out what your monthly fee is covering. Find out if there is going to be any additional costs in managing your brand.

What’s the process for getting the additional budget approved before the consultant or agency agrees to something?

Do they have a plan for ads on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? What will that cost? Is it an added extra? Is the advertising spend included in the costs or is this additional?

Knowing from the start what costs are covered saves any surprises at the end of the month.

Last Minute Thoughts:

Choosing the right consultant or agency is a big decision for every brand. You are trusting your baby to someone outside the “inner circle.”

It’s important to know what their personal social media profiles look like, and how they conduct their networking…… Do your research, before committing. Make sure they have a marketing background, qualifications and experience.

With so many people becoming social media consultants and talking themselves up, you need to make sure they not only have the experience on the social media platforms but also they have the marketing knowledge and experience of creating a social media strategy that ties in with your business and marketing plans.