You have heard this before: you can’t do everything. Even big brands depend on ad agencies and marketing and PR firms to frame their message and get it out; for small business owners struggling with operations and sales, it’s an even more obvious decision.
On the other hand, marketing, especially on social media, is all about finding and using your authentic voice, about putting a personality to your brand. How do you reconcile the two? How do you outsource design or even copywriting of your advertising and marketing materials while retaining the authenticity of your voice?
1. Document your brand characteristics.
It doesn’t have to be a formal written policy, but you do need to decide what you feel your brand is about. Casual but business-like? Exclusive and aspirational? Friendly and warm? Think of who your brand would be if it were a person. The polite but efficient repairman in overalls? The chic fashionista who only goes to the most exclusive parties? The kindergarten teacher who always has a smile and a hug for her students?
2. Document your brand guidelines.
Based on the above, figure out how your brand should look and talk. Do you use cool blues and grays to convey professionalism and credibility? Blacks and whites and silvers to convey exclusivity and style? Warm colors like orange and yellow? Curves or straight lines?
What kind of language should you use? One good thing about the prevalence of social media is that brands now talk like people, not like obscure policy documents (or lawyers). But how does your brand sound? Do you stick to polite, business language? Do you “hey, y’all” or “yo, peeps”? Are you strictly PG-rated or do you talk like a collegian?
3. Find the right resource for you.
Don’t just rely on your friend’s nephew who’s in design school. Find reputed industry experts who have demonstrated work in businesses like yours and are recommended by other businesses for the results they have achieved. Talk to them at length to find out whether their business model and culture matches your working style and business requirements. Now once you find that perfect match . . .
4. Give detailed, specific instructions.
I can’t tell you how many times our clients fail to do that and are surprised when our designs don’t match their expectations. If you have something specific in mind, you have to really tell them what you mean. You can’t just say “make it like our current logo, only better.” You have to say, “I don’t like this black box in our logo because it makes us seem unapproachable. Replace it with something pink and poufy and transparent.” Yes, the designer will use their judgment: that’s what you’re paying them for. But you can’t give them vague statements and expect them to read your mind.
Of course, you might not have something specific in mind. This is where you really use an expert designer who can translate your brand values into a logo. Treat this designer like a valued consultant and prepare to spend lots of time with her going back and forth on what your brand is and isn’t.
5. Train your outsourced team.
If it’s not just a one-time project but a regular arrangement, spend some time on training the outsourced team, just like you would if they were in your staff. She might be an expert copywriter, but you are the expert on your brand. So tell her all about your brand (#s 1 and 2 above) and then start with small assignments, so you can discuss in detail what she got right and what she didn’t. Give her time to learn the brand before you rewrite your entire website.
6. Set the rules.
What is your new social media manager allowed to do without your approval and what is she not? Set those rules in advance. You can start with a high level of control for the first few weeks (“don’t reply to a comment without me seeing it first” might be too controlling, but figure out the level of control that works for your business). As you trust her to make the right decisions, give her more leeway. And remember, you have to be around to answer questions and approve things: social media works in real-time, so replying after 20 hours won’t cut it.
7. Review and monitor.
You can’t just set marketing and forget about it. You have to be involved and make sure that everything is going well. If you hire a social media manager, review all the likes, comments and follows you are getting; pay particular attention to comments from your clients and make sure they seem engaged and happy. If there was an unpleasant accident, make sure it’s dealt with appropriately (that is, the issue is addressed and not shoved under the carpet and the person raising the issue is talked to politely but fairly). If you outsource PR, measure for yourself that you are getting the increased visibility you need. If it’s copywriting, results should show themselves in terms of better search engine visibility and more conversions.
Outsourcing certain marketing activities doesn’t have to mean you’re losing your voice: with effective planning and management, it can be just like having people expert in marketing (whether it be design, copywriting, SEO or something else) on your team.
Unmana is the co-founder of Markitty, a tool that recommends actions to improve your online marketing. She writes about marketing for startups and small businesses on the Markitty blog and can be found on Twitter @Unmana.