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Hiring a Digital Consultant

Posted on 10.31.2013

There comes a moment in every small business owner’s virtual life, when he or she asks, is it time to hire a digital consultant? The answer, of course, is different for every enterprise, but there are some telltale signs it’s time to make the move and what to look for when one does.

Today’s Internet is complex; the sophisticated acquisition, retention and personalization tactics and tools alone can be challenging for even the savviest to wrap their heads around. Adding to this complexity (and cost, of course), are the countless digital touchpoints that are now necessary investments to help grow a business, such as search and social, email and mobile. It’s a fast-moving, multi-channel world — can a digital consultant help you navigate through it?


Growing a business online can be a significant investment of time, particularly for those small- and mid-size businesses not already versed in certain tech practices; this may be especially true with paid search, as it is deceptively simple to get started but can quickly become complex to manage.

“Most small businesses do not have the time to become digital experts, so they go through quite a bit of trial and error while they learn search,” said Kristina Cutura, AdWords consultant and former client education specialist and optimization specialist at Google. “Many spend their tight budgets on keywords that are ineffective while they experiment with different targets. These are valuable small business funds being wasted on strategies that will never work.”

For paid search (or any digital initiative really), it’s imperative business owners track the time and cost involved in learning and executing projects, and then compare the return on investment between doing it themselves and what it would cost for someone else to do it. A spa owner, for example, might spend an unknown amount of hours making small changes on his website with a website builder that charges a monthly fee, may find it beneficial to know if a designer can make the same adjustments faster and cheaper. The designer might spend just five minutes making the changes whereas the owner could invest hours only to get ultimately frustrated with formatting mistakes. This is where tracking time comes in. So how much time is this spa owner spending on website design that can be used more efficiently in other areas? Time tracking software like Toggl or Hubstaff can go a long way in identifying where it is actually best spent.


Hiring a digital consultant sounds like a nobrainer for many small business owners, but cost is typically where plans are stalled. Oftentimes, consultants work on monthly flat fees for all of their work — like social media, content, website management, etc. — and the consultant pays (either out of his monthly fee or on top of his monthly fee) for any help he needs on the site, like design assistance. Of course, this varies by consultant, but knowing price structures in advance will keep both parties happy and productive.

When it is time to make the move, no small business owner wants to be in the dark about any areas of his business, which is why many ownerconsultant relationships can go sour if there is not a high level of transparency and equal footing between the two. Even if a small business owner turns over some or all of their digital projects to a consultant, he will still want to commit to educating himself on what it takes to succeed in that specific niche and on the Web in general. Website Magazine is, obviously, a terrific free resource for keeping industry awareness high, but nearly every B2B platform or software provider also offers white papers, webinars and other educational material to consider. Website Magazine editors have compiled a dozen of the best of these free reports/ guides from 2013 at

Red Flags: Learn the warning signs that a digital consultant may not be who your business needs (or wants).

Aside from personal learning, small business owners also need to commit to establishing strong rapport with their consultants and that starts from the very beginning of the relationship.


When going into business with anyone, there have to be questions involved. This is why there are things like job interviews. To start a partnership between a business and a consultant off on the right foot, it’s important that both parties do their due diligence. Cutura suggests that small business owners ask consultants how long they’ve been doing this work.

“There are many ‘experts’ in the digital space who are just getting started and learning the platform themselves and may be experimenting on your account,” said Cutura.

Stakeholders will also want to ask prospective consultants what types of businesses they are currently working with or have consulted in the past. They’ll ideally want to hire based on experience with related business issues, whatever the general focus of the enterprise being served. LinkedIn is a fantastic resource for small businesses looking to fact check or just do a little more homework on consultants. Learn how to research potential consultants or partners using LinkedIn at Lastly, Cutura suggests asking, “How often will you make changes to my account and what types of reports do you provide?”


The best advisors can not only shift through the Web wasteland to identify and leverage truly best-of-breed solutions, but also serve as strategic advocates providing your company with opportunities you may never have been aware of, or had access to. This can level the playing field between your small business and the bigger guys, as well as free up time to grow your company in other ways.

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