If you lack an in-house marketing department and plan to hire an independent advertising pro, take time to compose a list of questions for the prospective candidates. There are plenty of excellent practitioners out there, but your goal is to find the one that is most suitable for the project at hand. In addition to inquiring about specialties, gather information about educational background, pricing structure, and other pertinent factors. Review the following suggestions to help get your list off to a promising start.


What is Your Specialty?

There’s no perfect set of questions to ask a prospective consultant, but one of the first things you should inquire about is their area of specialty. The answer reveals a lot. Depending on what your project entails, a person’s specialty could quickly eliminate them from consideration or put them on a short list of candidates. Today’s top business schools offer majors in digital marketing, and the field is extremely popular among students. However, not every project calls for a digital specialist, so you might have to keep searching if the answer to the question is, “My specialty is digital marketing.” 

Likewise, be open to candidates who inform you that they are generalists. As in the medical field, a sizable number of independent advertising professionals prefer to work the entire spectrum of the sector and call themselves general practitioners. If that’s the case, let them know a few details about your project. Then, ask for a portfolio of work they’ve done in that area. Generalists bring plenty to the table, including a broad understanding of how the marketplace works and what kinds of tools are needed for specific jobs.


Do You Have an MBA Degree?

There are plenty of questions that come to mind when shopping for an independent advertising consultant, but the first one usually involves educational background. For providers who do not post their resumes online, don’t forget to be specific when inquiring about their education and training. Aim to hire those who have an advanced degree in business, preferably an MBA, or Master of Business Administration, which is the gold standard in the industry. If you plan to work in the marketing field as a professional advisor, consider earning an MBA online at your own pace. For those who currently work full-time, there are weekend and evening options for getting grad degrees.

If you are hiring an indie ad expert, don’t omit the education questions. However, for those who wish to enter the field, find out how to apply for student loans that can cover all or a portion of the related expenses. Keep in mind that most graduate students have already worked for a year or more before heading back to school. Mid-career adults often choose to boost their long-term earning potential by tackling a master’s degree program. When they do, student loans are the most common option to pay for education. When working as a consultant, be ready to show your educational credentials to potential clients who inquire. A master’s diploma sets you apart from most other indies in the advertising field.


Do You Outsource Any Tasks?

Be on the lookout for brokers. These savvy businesspeople don’t really do any of the marketing work themselves. Instead, they find out all the details of your project and then outsource the tasks to various third parties. The biggest problem with brokers is that they can inadvertently reveal proprietary information to people who might misuse it. The other problem is that brokers don’t really have your best interest at heart; they’re simply collecting a finder’s fee from the people and companies they hire to complete your project. Always ask for references to make sure you’re not dealing with a shady operator.


Do You Charge Per Project or Per Hour?

One of the best financial planning tips for entrepreneurs is to learn to review the costs of decisions you are making in advance of making things official. Read contracts and web pages carefully. In too many cases, indies use complicated pricing structures that include BOTH a per-hour charge as well as a per-project fee. The confusing plans are a throwback to how private investigators used to bill clients, so be sure to understand all the possible costs before signing a contract. If the consultant needs more than a minute to explain pricing, consider finding a provider who has a transparent service menu.

If possible, get a reference from another business professional or a local chamber of commerce. Currently, the plan that customers tend to like the best is what’s called an either-or structure. The billing uses both an hourly and per-project rate but charges you the lower amount of the two after work is complete. That way, if your campaign takes 20 billed hours at $50 per hour, the final invoice would be $1,000. But if the provider’s per-project fee is $900, you’d only pay the lesser of the two amounts. It’s important to be aware that there are dozens of different pricing schemes because the indie advertising niche is growing rapidly and in a state of transformation.

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