Consultant or Agency: Which Is Better for Your Business?
Have professionals on board if you want to get your business right and avoid costly mistakes. But between a Chicago marketing strategy consultant and an agency, which should you pick?
While these two titles sound alike, they have significant differences. To help you choose, this article compares them based on the following factors:
- Scope of Work
- Relationship with Clients
- Working style
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A consultant and an agency can both be marketing experts, but their specializations vary. Let us begin with the former.
What is a consultant? Some run small firms, but most are a one-man team with deep knowledge and experience in one or a few aspects of marketing. These can include:
- Sales (lead generation and customer relationship management or CRM)
- Customer profiling and segmentation
- Branding and positioning
- Digital advertising, including organic search, paid search, and native marketing
- Data analysis and forecasting
- Public relations (such as networking and community building)
- Organizational development and process improvement
On the other hand, marketing agencies are small teams with professionals from various backgrounds. These range from copywriters to designers, strategists, and analysts. Further, their services are usually more advertising-specific.
For example, if they specialize in digital marketing, they are likely to provide:
- Social media marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Email marketing
- Mobile app development
- Content marketing
- Website development and design
- Local search
Sometimes the services that consultants and agencies offer overlap, such as in data analysis. They may, however, measure different key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, an agency may focus on website traffic, impressions, and conversions. A consultant may be more concerned about customer lifetime value (CLV) or profit margins.
Who to Choose: If you want a specific marketing service, such as copywriting or web design, look for an agency. Consultants are the best people if you want advice or help with business activities. These might include updating a business plan or developing a cohesive marketing plan online or offline.
Today, marketing consultants earn around $60,000 to $80,000 annually. But how much you pay still depends on many factors, including:
- Are they working alone, or are they a team?
- How experienced is the consultant?
- How many years of experience do they have in the industry?
- Are additional services and support included in their offer?
- Do they handle multiple projects or only one?
- Are you planning to retain them?
- How do they charge? Is it hourly or per project?
How about if you work with a marketing agency? Again, it depends, although most charge by the hour. Because most consider their services ongoing activities, they may also ask for a retainer fee on top of the regular rates. It is not surprising to spend around $5,000 monthly, on average.
Fortunately, you can explore many ways to reduce the cost, whether you hire a Chicago marketing strategy consultant or agency:
- Negotiate upfront.
- Set realistic goals and timelines.
- Be specific in your requests.
- Opt for packages instead of one-time orders.
Alternatively, consider working with a fractional chief marketing officer (CMO). This professional performs various marketing tasks part-time. In the process, you can manage the budget and get more control over their services.
Who to Choose: It depends on your budget and needs. A consultant is more affordable than an agency, but the latter can offer service bundles or packages.
3. Scope of Work
What can consultants do and not do? Well, a lot.
For starters, they can:
- Develop a marketing strategy, then track and review it
- Analyze customer segments to discover opportunities for growth
- Research and implement (or combine) the best marketing channels
- Improve branding, positioning, and messaging
- Examine competitors’ activities and create competitive assessments
- Manage business costs and resources to maximize profitability
- Enhance processes and even organizational culture to increase productivity and efficiency
However, you cannot expect them to:
- Create automated systems for marketing operations
- Design and develop websites, mobile applications, or other technical solutions
- Run campaigns in multiple markets or regions
- Formally coordinate with external vendors regarding services and products
- Handle sales and customers directly
Marketing agencies can also be superheroes with limited capabilities. They can:
- Design and code websites, mobile apps, and other tools.
- Create visual content for various marketing channels.
- Produce marketing materials, such as flyers and brochures.
- Analyze big data to find useful insights.
- Develop automated systems to support marketing operations.
- Coordinate with vendors on behalf of your business.
- Run campaigns in multiple markets and regions.
But they are usually not suitable if you need services such as:
- Business and financial planning
- Organizational development
- Legal advice
- Financial forecasting
- Tax or compliance considerations
- Strategic growth initiatives
Who to Choose: If you need technical support for marketing operations, such as website design and automation systems, go with an agency. A consultant is ideal if you need more general assistance with strategy development, branding, and competitive analysis.
4. Relationship With Clients
How does a Chicago marketing strategy consultant help small businesses and other clients compared to an agency? Let us count the ways:
- A consultant typically works directly with the client in an advisory role, offering expertise and advice on how to approach marketing campaigns best. This differs from an agency since its team members may take over some of the actual execution tasks for you.
- Consultants pride themselves on being flexible, as they can adjust their services based on your needs. On the other hand, an agency has more rigid processes in place and may be less focused on individual clients.
- When it comes to communication, consultants are often able to establish a closer relationship with their clients than agencies. Depending on each client's requirements, they can provide tailored advice and action plans.
Who to Choose: If you want a personalized, individualized approach with plenty of one-on-one interaction, you will do better with a consultant. An agency is perfect if you aim for more structure and hands-on execution.
5. Resources Used
With resources, the difference between a consultant and an agency is clear. Consultants rely more on their personal experience or professional knowledge (or both), supplemented by external research tools or services. These include:
- Surveys, interviews, and focus groups
- Industry-specific magazines, books, and reports
- Competitor analysis tools
- Data and analytics platforms
- Methodologies, such as SWOT analysis or Five Porter’s Forces
Agencies, on the other hand, have access to more resources than just those available to consultants. They usually employ larger teams of specialists who can do different tasks simultaneously. This means agencies are better suited for projects requiring multiple skills and large budgets.
In addition, many agencies also offer a variety of additional services, from technical development and design to media buying.
Who to Choose: An agency is better if you need comprehensive services beyond research and analysis. But if you value results based on data-driven insights over multiple resources, a consultant is your more cost-efficient choice.
In a nutshell, whether you should work with a consultant or agency depends on several factors. Consider the size and scope of your project, the budget available, technical requirements, and desired level of client relationship before deciding which would be better for you.
In any case, you can work with specialists who can give you both. Digital Authority Partners (DAP) is a full-service consultancy and agency that can help you get the most out of your marketing campaigns. Contact us today for more details.
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