Why You Should Hire A Marketing Consultant: A Rebuttal To Neil Patel’s Post

Why you should hire a marketing consultant

A recent post on Neil Patel’s blog suggests you shouldn’t hire a marketing consultant. The gist of the article is that, despite having been a lauded, successful marketing consultant himself, Patel argues against hiring marketing consultants.

Before launching into my rebuttal, I feel it necessary to point out that Neil Patel offers paid online marketing courses for entrepreneurs to teach themselves how to do marketing. It’s in Patel’s best financial interest to convince entrepreneurs not to hire marketing consultants and instead pay him money for his products and e-courses. It’s likely he wrote this just to get people to click the controversial headline and convert (aka buy his instructional products).

So, knowing this article is likely just click bait to sell his own products, as a professional digital marketing consultant, I feel it necessary to respond. I respectfully disagree with Patel’s sweeping claim that hiring marketing consultants is never a good idea. I think he’s doing a disservice to his audience of entrepreneurs in a lot of his misguided, if well-intentioned, advice.

We’re going to go through Patel’s post line-by line, reader, to point out where his words are false. I’ve used Patel’s original article subheadings to organize my critique.

Consultants aren’t miracle workers

Patel starts out his troubling post by letting us know how in-demand he was and is as a marketing consultant. It’s not empty bragging; we all know Patel is skillful businessperson, which is why we all read Quick Sprout. Patel even says he still gets a thousand inquiries or more per month, despite no longer running his marketing consultancy. Patel tells readers that he received rave reviews and got great results for his clients while running a multi-million dollar marketing consultancy. He then goes on to say that hiring all marketing consultants is a bad idea. If you’re having trouble following the logic, you’re not alone.

“I’m telling you that you shouldn’t hire me, or any consultant for that matter, to help you with your marketing.” – Neil Patel.

Patel’s first reason you shouldn’t hire a marketing consultant is that consultants aren’t “miracle workers.”

He says: “If you have a bad product, a low converting site, or an offer that just doesn’t make sense, driving thousands of visitors to your website won’t fix your business.”

I absolutely agree with Patel on this one. No marketing consultant should take on a client  they think has a bad product or broken business model. But for every entrepreneur who hires a marketing consultant thinking it’ll be a panacea for their broken business, there are those who do have viable products and just need to figure out how to tell the right stories about them to the right audiences, aka marketing. Marketing consultants are not doing their jobs correctly if they don’t manage expectations from the outset.

I’m not sure what Neil claimed to be for his clients, but I personally care about a lot more than clicks and site traffic. There may be marketing experts who are just focused on bringing in visitors, but I urge against categorizing all marketers as single-minded in their approach. Perhaps his article should have been called, “Why You Shouldn’t Hire Someone Just To Drive Traffic To Your Site If Your Site Is Terrible And Your Product Needs Work.”

You can’t build a skyscraper without laying the foundation

The next point Patel makes is that entrepreneurs should “build their foundation” instead of hiring a digital marketing consultant. “Even the best marketers can’t turn around a shitty business, which is why you need to focus on creating a great product or service before you talk to a marketing consultant.”

At this point, Patel is saying you should consider hiring a digital marketing consultant, just after building the foundation of your business. We’ve already touched on the hypocrisy of this claim, but it warrants further exploration. It isn’t clear why Patel doesn’t just stake the claim that you should wait until hiring a marketing consultant until you’ve built a business foundation. Why throw all marketing consultants under the bus, per the title? Part of my job as a marketing consultant is to not take on any clients who I think lack the foundational elements of their business. This includes: solid value propositions and at least awareness and plans for ameliorating things like lackluster websites and social media presences.

You need to walk before you run

In the next point, Patel seems to be firmly changing his position that you shouldn’t hire a marketing consultant. He says he recommends trying to market your business by yourself before hiring a consultant. Again, that sounds rational–much more so than the title and thesis claim that you should never hire a marketing consultant. Just as many advise doing sales, customer success, and other business aspects before hiring, I think advising CEOs to do their own marketing first is a great idea. A CEO especially needs to have a strong grasp on the market positioning of his or her product. Patel recommends things like optimizing SEO, speeding up your site, starting a blog, interacting on social networks, etc. as things leaders should do before hiring. Again, Patel and I couldn’t agree more.

But then Patel loses me yet again. He says, “If you aren’t able to do all of the things above, you can always hire an intern or a college kid to help you out. Again, don’t look for a consultant.”

This part is especially troubling to me, and I believe is the worst advice given throughout the piece. I am all for lean startup business models, but hiring inexperienced help early on can seriously sabotage your startup and sap your energy. It’s a shame that Patel advises this, because hiring an amateur always leads to wasting time and money, undoing mistakes instead of reaping the benefits of a seasoned professional who has helped numerous other startups solve similar problems. Imagine if Patel had advised hiring a designer who is still in school learning Adobe, or a developer who just finished reading a book on Rails.

There’s nothing wrong with startups hiring interns to help with marketing, but that should be no substitute for expert marketing strategy and implementation. At the least, a marketing consultant can hire and manage a less experienced team to ensure all efforts are aligned and goals are being met. Patel laments that marketing consultants are “expensive,” which is another worrisome claim. What’s expensive is your business never getting off the ground because you’ve hired someone who has never done startup marketing before. Do you really want to hire someone who has little experience in your market and have them spend your time and money doing trial and error? Imagine your product never taking off because you’ve become burnt out trying to redo your website copy without the help of a professional content marketing expert. Do you really want to go the “cheap” route?

When to hire consultants

In the penultimate paragraph, Patel finally admits that hiring a marketing consultant is actually a good idea.

“Once you test the waters and try to grow your business on your own, you can consider hiring a consultant. Make sure you hire him or her for specific tasks instead of all your marketing needs.”

This is great to see, but I wish Patel had been more upfront about his perspective that someone should hire a marketing consultant after they’ve done the necessary work instead of not at all. He suggests the cases in which hiring consultants who meet specific needs has really helped his business, and advises not to look for “one-size-fits-all marketing consultants.”

I absolutely agree with Patel on this. I am sometimes asked to do things outside of my core competences, and I am always upfront about where my strengths and weaknesses lie. For example, I will not run and/or optimize clients’ PPC campaigns. It’s just not what I do.

Final thoughts

I completely agree that a lot needs to happen before you can bring on a marketing consultant or team (just as a lot needs to happen before you can hire a sales team). An excellent consultant can and will work with you to identify and build out assets you need, and/or advise when you need to improve other aspects of marketing than those they specialize in.

In my experience, startups and marketing consultants are often perfect matches. Many great startups can’t afford to hire full-time marketing experts, but they can afford to pay for an expert marketing consultant who can work as an “in-house asset” to strategize and deliver on measurable goals. A great marketing consultant can be agile and meet the unique needs of a company. S/he can work directly with CEOs and other consultants, and act as if they were an employee. Delivering measurable value should be their primary concern. Like any field, there are top performers and those who under-deliver and underwhelm. A great marketing consultant would never charge clients for what Patel calls “thumb twiddling”.

The right marketing consultant—one who works with you as if they were an employee, who has already worked with dozens of other startups and helped them accomplish their goals across various market segments—is a fantastic choice. They can also help you build out the foundation elements that Patel mentions in the post. Hiring an “intern” or “kid” can waste a lot of time and money. It’s far better to find a marketing consultant with reasonable rates who will get it right the first time.

In sum, I’m grateful for Patel’s dialogue, and would love to continue the discussion here. Have you ever hired a marketing consultant? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Boulder Startup Week 2014 Recap: Hacking Diversity And Growth

This year, I was fortunate to attend Boulder Startup Week (May 12-16, 2014), an annual celebration of all things startup-related in this beautiful Colorado mountain town. I’ve lived and worked in other startup-filled metro areas including NYC, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and after living here for almost a year, I’ve discovered that Boulder has some pretty unique tech culture that isn’t typically found elsewhere (as far as I know).

Why is Boulder’s startup scene so unique? I think it’s because “giving before you receive, without having the expectation to receive” is exemplified here (for more on this check out Brad Feld’s Boulder thesis). So many companies and individuals in the community are committed to this, which I believe is why magical things happen within our startup community.

I’ll touch more on this idea of giving back to the community later in the post, but first, here’s a recap of the events I went to. I should note that I tackled a full client workload this week while fitting in events, and so I chose to prioritize attending diversity events and events on startup growth.

The first event I attended was the Startup Crawl, in which ten offices in Boulder opened up their spaces to meet and give out booze and refreshments to entrepreneurs and community members. The offices that participated: Simple EnergyShipCompliantPivotal LabsGalvanizeSendGridPivot DeskMobileDay/ JumpcloudKapostMocavo and Slice of Lime. I didn’t get a chance to visit every office, but the ones I went to, Mobile Day/Jumpcloud, SendGrid, and Galvanize, were a blast. I loved meeting awesome new people, and walking into noisy, sometimes raucous, rooms filled with great people laughing, talking, and toasting to our work and our community.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

It was snowy when Boulder Startup Week 2014 began.

SendGrid's beautiful view. I got to see their awesome new office during the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s beautiful new office view. Photo taken during the Startup Crawl.

Amazing vegan lemon gelato served at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder. Enjoyed during the Startup Crawl.

Lemon gelato enjoyed at new coworking space Galvanize in Boulder.

SendGrid's brand new swinger lounge was a star of the Startup Crawl.

SendGrid’s brand new swinger lounge.

The next event I went to was a discussion of a new book soon to be released by Foundry Press, Jane Miller’s Sleep Your Way To The Top* And Other Myths About Business Success. After holding leadership positions at food industry giants like Heinz London, PepsiCo, and more, Miller stepped in to helm Boulder’s Charter Baking Company, bakers of Rudy’s Organic and Rudy’s Gluten Free. Miller’s book, and the lively discussion, focused on the lessons she learned during her career. Miller also discussed how she became involved with Unreasonable Institute, leveraging her vast corporate management experience to help make a difference in the world. Peppered with advice and anecdotes, the talk was definitely entertaining and informative.

Sleep Your Way To The Top: * and other myths about business success

Brad Feld and Jane Miller discuss her new book on being a successful female CEO.

The next morning, I attended coffee hour/ talk on “Controversy of Diversity,” which focused on strategies for increasing diversity in technology startups. This was probably my favorite event of all of startup week. While enjoying Ozo Coffee and BronutsTara Calihman and Julie Penner kicked things off, followed by Ingrid Alongi, CEO of Quick Left, who talked about the big data behind the issues and Dr. Wendy DuBow, a NCWIT research scientist, shared tips on becoming a male advocate. I learned some startling statistics about how gender inequality around technology starts super young, as girls are often conditioned to think computer science is more for boys. Over time, the numbers of women angel investors have increased, and there are more women in tech, however startup management positions are still 96% male, according to Alongi in her fantastic, statistic-filled presentation. I was inspired by Alongi’s mission and company, as well as her passion for increasing diversity in the startup tech world.  

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder's QuickLeft

CEO Ingrid Alongi of Boulder’s QuickLeft spoke at the Controversy of Diversity panel.

The NCWIT presentation was another highlight; DuBow said in addition to adopting gender neutral hiring language, there are specific strategies companies can do once women are on board to help them succeed alongside their male peers. This includes mentorship across gender, which I found to be a very important point and something I’ve personally benefitted from. There was also a Q&A session that included more discussion about the subtle ways startups can either encourage or discourage diversity, including creating during-work social events to avoid penalizing parents who aren’t interested in building company community at a bar, and trying to call on women during meetings, as men are still statistically more likely to speak out.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

The Controversy of Diversity talk held at Techstars during Boulder Startup Week 2014.

Startup growth panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

“Early Stories At Big Companies “panel at eTown during Boulder Startup Week.

The final event I attended was “Early Stories At Big Companies,” on the final day of Boulder Startup Week. It was amazing to listen in to founders and early employees of big startups like Github, Twitter, SendGrid, and more share some lesser known stories of how they grew, challenges they faced, and how they overcame adversities. Some of the takeaways: “if you aren’t unhappy with your product when you launch, you’ve waited too long to go to market,” “take initiative and ownership of what’s important to you and the company,” “focus on what you really care about and what you’re spending your time on, and correct any misalignment on an ongoing basis,” and “don’t have an air gun fight in a parking lot outside your startup unless you want local police involvement” (you had to be there).

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I’ve been really inspired by our community’s “give before you get” mentality. Startup Week diversity events solidified my interest in helping to build community and support around a community I personally care about and am aligned with, which is why, with ally Brad Feld and other startup community members’ blessing, I’ve started Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Startup Meetup. Our group already has its first event scheduled, and is open to all. We’re also looking for a business sponsor of the meetup.com dues and possibly some events, so please drop me a line if you are or your company is interested in getting involved.

Thanks for reading my recap of Boulder Startup Week 2014! I’d love to hear in the comments if others attended these or other events and/or what your impressions were of the week.