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When a Marketing Consultant Under-Delivers, What’s a Business Owner to Do?

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KATIE JUST OPENED her first business, a dog café, before the holidays, and the reception was better than she expected. But marketing is not her area of expertise, nor has she found the time to do it while running the café. One of her new year’s goals was to hire someone to increase their social presence and email marketing.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

Before opening the café one morning, Katie was answering emails, and posting to her Facebook page about the specials at the café that day. An ad popped up for a marketing guru — exactly what she was looking for. She clicked on the ad, and it said they specialize in marketing, social media, email marketing and advertising.

“This is too good to be true,” she thought and she continued to look at their website. It seemed like they had a decent track record of clients. So, she filled out the “contact us” form.

About an hour later, she received a phone call from the founder of the company.

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“Hi Katie, this is Ronald Smith with Town B Marketing getting back to you about your email inquiry. Do you have a moment to chat?”

“Wow … um … thank you for getting back to me so quickly,” she said. “I actually don’t have time at the moment — do you want to come to the café to meet?”

Before she could finish Ronald said, “Yes. How is 2 p.m. today?”

She was kind of shocked at how quickly he wanted to meet, but she agreed, as that was a slower time at the café.

Katie really hit it off with Ronald, and she was impressed with his knowledge of marketing and his incredible claims of helping clients get a following on social. Ronald followed up quickly with a contract, for three months of work for $10,000, with a third up front. Katie thought it was high, and she consulted with a good friend Jacqueline, who had her own clothing boutique down the street.

“It looks like a good company based on their clients,” Jacqueline said. “We paid almost the same amount for an independent contractor to do similar work.”

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After four weeks of work, and already paying $3,300 up front, Ronald did provide some social posts for her platforms, created an email marketing campaign and was working on a series of Facebook ads. Katie thought the progress would be faster, especially with his supposed track record and how much money she already gave him that she agreed to in the contract.

Katie was frustrated, though, when she noticed that her social posts looked very similar to other posts for other pet care companies. She let out a sigh said to herself, “I told him I wanted to stand out, to be different — not lumped I with every other pet business! Ugh!” And while the café’s Facebook and Instagram pages had growing followings, it didn’t seem any faster than when she was trying to do them herself.

She sent Ronald an email, asking what the status of the Facebook campaign was, and she expressed her disappointment in the social posts and growth.

There was no response for four days from him, and it just seemed filled with excuses. Moreover, at the end, he had the audacity to remind her that the next payment was due on Friday for him to continue working. Flabbergasted, she called Jacqueline for advice, “I am stunned ….

What … how … I signed a binding contract with him. Now I don’t know what to do!”

The Big Questions

  • How would you handle a company that you hired to do a project but was not delivering on what it agreed to in the contract?
  • What would you say to someone who is a new business owner in reference to hiring outside companies?
  • If you have no budget for a lawyer, how would you dispute this situation?
Angela P.
Stratford, CT

Contracts are broken all the time. It could be scary at first for a new business owner to think about defaulting on a contract, but if there’s dissatisfaction with the service and not an acceptable response, then there’s no reason that payments should be made. As owners we cannot do it all, but trusting our gut leads us in the right direction. Katie should remember what made her take the leap into becoming a business owner anyway: guts, bravery and nervousness … not fright! The marketing guy should be afraid of her!
Katie should take the lead and suggest how this could be worked out reasonably without outside interference from legal. She can intelligently negotiate to get what she wants, and she can be unwavering. The marketing guy should want to keep a good reputation and, in doing so, work to please the customer, not his own pocket. I trust that this scenario would in the end work out just fine.

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John C.
Bronx, NY

As a leading marketing and sales consultancy, I would offer the following advice for hiring a marketing agency:

1. Sometimes expectations are subjective. Outline expectations and objectives upfront and in writing. Try to negotiate with the company to recoup some of the money paid. No agency wants an unhappy client. Try to negotiate with the agency for future work without pay until expectations are met. Most people are reasonable and don’t want negative feedback.

2. Check references and see examples of work before getting started. It’s always good to get a perspective from an agency’s past and present clients to see how they feel about their work.

3. You can usually find a law student or firm willing to do some small business work pro bono. Sometimes a letter from a lawyer is enough to get a dialogue started.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

To handle a company that you hired to do a project but was not delivering on what was agreed to in the contract, it depends on the wording in the contract. If she specifically stated in the contract that she wanted to “stand out and not be similar to other pet businesses,” she would be able to do something such as hold the next payment until he changes the ads to stand out. Of course, she needs to save the examples of hers and the other ads for proof and reference. I would say to someone who is a new business owner: Ask for references, call those references, do research on the company, verify the sources, and in this case check out his other marketing sites, and she would have seen the similarities. Having no budget for a lawyer, I would dispute this situation by requesting a meeting with Ronald before next payment is paid and try to discuss the situation.

Liz Barnes M.
Lawrenceburg, KY

I would never sign a contract of this nature with out a 90-day money-back guarantee. Pay for 90 days. If things improve by 20 to 30 percent, go with them. If not, time to resume your search.

Jim A.
South Jordan, UT

I am one of those marketing consultants, and this kind of thing embarrasses me, but I see it far too often. To avoid such frustration, you must realize that you are your company’s chief marketing officer, and while you can delegate, you cannot abdicate that responsibility. You must educate yourself on marketing as the primary function of your business — to bring in buyers. You’re going to have to remain involved pretty constantly, especially in the beginning, if for no other reason than to bring your vendors up to speed about your business. If you hire help, you must be both realistic and clear on expectations and particularly on frequency of communication. (I insist on at least weekly meetings with my clients.) There should be a performance “out” in your agreement. If you’re not happy, you should be able to terminate the arrangement, for reasonable cause.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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