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4 Things to Look For in a Marketing Agency for Startups

4 Things to Look For in a Marketing Agency for Startups When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

A marketing agency for startups isn’t the same as any old inbound marketing agency. Much like the small businesses it serves, a startup marketing agency adopts an us-against-the-world mindset. Collaboration and transparent client-agency communication are crucial, but it also takes data-driven insights and a Swiss army knife skillset to take on the established leaders in the industry.

A startup business is perfectly positioned to take advantage of an outside marketing agency. The budget is tight, time is limited, and there are a million things to do. Hiring a partner firm is like an instant upgrade from a solo act to tag-team — your internal team can stay focused on developing the core business while the agency handles outreach and messaging.

But rapidly growing businesses, like VC-backed startups, also have a unique set of needs. You may not have a surplus of personnel hours floating around, ready to allocate towards brand strategy or data collection. It’s also less likely that you’ve got a strong precedent of pre-established processes your agency can just plug into and supplement.

A great marketing agency for startups offers your growing business the flexibility, teamwork, and hands-off consistency you need. As you hunt for the perfect startup marketing agency, look for these 4 things:

4 Things to Look For in a Marketing Agency for Startups Featured Image Bottom Icon
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1) Data-Driven Strategy


Strategy is a cornerstone of any business, but it’s especially impactful with inbound marketing for startups. Category giants can cover up a wandering strategy by leaning into deep pockets and name recognition. Startups, on the other hand, can make up for what they lack in resources or history with savvy resource allocation and data-driven initiatives.

The best marketing agencies for startups rely on real-time insights from Big Data to fine-tune your strategy regularly. Data is your magic sword — a great equalizer — that can help you compete on the same playing field as much larger companies. The research is flush with examples of data’s power:

Look for an agency that pursues a data-driven growth strategy, and can demonstrate precisely how they wield real data to form your go-to-market attack plan. The agency should devote time to:

  • Analyzing your business, your market, and your competitors
  • Tracking essential metrics like conversion rates and lead counts
  • Comparing the impact and ROI potential of every possible channel
  • Sharing live dashboards of KPIs tied to core data metrics
  • Developing your strategy to maximize the highest performing opportunities

2) A Collaborative Mindset

Collaboration 2

HubSpot Sales Director Dan Tyre popularized the term ‘smarketing’ in 2008 as a catchy way to refer to sales and marketing alignment (specifically from frequent, direct communication between the two).

A marketing agency for startups is so integral to a growing team that you can’t afford to keep them on an island. You need an agency that feels like an extension of your motivated in-house sales or product squad. High performing marketers are 150% more likely to collaborate with sales teams than underperformers.

The only way to keep alignment that tight is to communicate frequently and work together around shared goals. Whereas a larger company might hire a firm, give it a list of marching orders, and supervise to see that directions are followed, a startup is in a period of rapid change.

The startup marketing agency is more like a partner in developing a fleshed-out vision for your brand and discovering each new foothold for your market growth.

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Look for an agency that will:

  • Assemble a well-rounded implementation team for your partnership. This might include a designer, copywriter, web developer, and marketing associate who will work with you to put your plan into action.
  • Offer the support of a creative strategist. You may or may not have a CMO (depending on your stage of growth), but a marketing agency for startups knows it will be counted on to contribute to the plan and its implementation, either as a collaborator or as a fractional CMO.
  • Call regularly with status and progress updates, hold monthly sessions to review your startup marketing plan, make adjustments, or add new projects.

According to HubSpot, good smarketing practices can generate 208% more revenue from your marketing efforts (in addition to a 36% boost to customer retention and 38% higher sales win rates). Misalignment, by comparison, costs B2B companies 10% of revenue or more per year.

3) Commitment to Transparency

Transparency 2

In 2018, 40% of marketers rated their client-agency trust level as low. ID Comms attributes this red flag to the fact that “many relationships are fundamentally transactional, where agencies act as suppliers rather than strategic partners.”

That mindset is a roadblock to an open client-agency partnership. The closer your marketing agency is to a strategic partner — rather than a transactional vendor — the more trust is built in the relationship. 94% of consumers say they’re more likely to be loyal to a brand when it commits to full transparency. B2B customers appreciate the same inclusivity and candor from their agency providers.

A marketing agency for startups can combat the low trust epidemic by committing to transparency in everything they do. This should include:

  • Access to a shared task management space where you can keep in touch with your marketing team, review content and assets, and monitor ongoing projects.
  • A one-to-one contact who is accessible when you need them, can directly answer your questions, and will always give you a helpful alert when something is coming up that could affect strategy or future costs.
  • A clear pricing model. Billable hours have long been the standard, but paying by the hour can lead to unpredictable bills, unanticipated overages, and “scope creep.” You’ll want an agency that’s consistent and upfront about costs. 

Forbes wrote about 10 things greater transparency does for a company, including improvements in goal-setting, operation, innovation, profitability, and customer relationships.

Heard of the Points System?

One pricing solution that’s been growing in popularity is the “points” model. Essentially, rather than paying for time, you pay for the value of the end product. Each project is assigned a specific point value (perhaps 3 points for a basic blog, 5 for a large infographic, or 12 for a research whitepaper). You pay the agency upfront for a total point allotment each month and allocate them as needed.

You can learn more about the point pricing and its origins in this interview from HubSpot Academy. The short version is that value-based pricing builds transparency and keeps you agile. You’ve got the flexibility to shift quickly — it’s easy to reassign points to different tasks when you want to switch a few projects around (making it more flexible than a pay-by-project contract). At the same time, you know exactly what you’ll get for the price you’ll pay. 

The agility and scalability of this model are perfect for the shifting sands of a startup company. Scalable outsourcing is one of the secret weapons of startup scaling.

4) Versatile Offerings

versatile 2

Finally, a marketing agency for startups can’t settle for one solution that has worked in the past. As you’re testing the market for the first time, a broad approach is the best way to discover what really works. Go for a marketing agency that has a portfolio representing a wide range of projects and services, such as:

  • Strategic consulting
  • Market and customer research
  • Targeted email campaigns
  • Automation technology
  • Social media engagement
  • Blogging (for both SEO and thought leadership)
  • Gated content (for lead capture)
  • Infographics
  • Website design
  • Press releases

Content marketing has changed a lot in the last decade. This will continue! The perfect marketing agency for startups blends versatile experiences with a curious, experimental mindset that’s baked into the company culture. Find a marketing firm that’s ready for anything, with a track record that shows it.

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