Marketing services – what to look for and avoid

- December 1, 2020 6 MIN READ

As we come to the end of the most challenging year in our living memory, there is, however, great hope and opportunity to look forward to in 2021.  The world has forever changed with entire sectors and individual businesses having either grown, collapsed, barely survived or significantly evolved. And it will be even more competitive in 2021 as new entrants emerge in the gig economy and in response to innumerable variants to meet additional and increasing business demands, writes  Sue Parker founder of DARE Group.

How to identify great marketing services

Marketing is the backbone of business success and market capitalisation. The essential nature of marketing services gives rise to a plethora of good, average, bad, dodgy and brilliant operators to wade through.   

Small businesses cannot afford to make mistakes as the wrong choices can result in appreciable wastage of money and time. Reputational damage is also a risk as are shattered hopes and goals. Conversely, top operators will deliver excellent outcomes as assured, operate ethically and have their client’s success front and centre. 

But it can be challenging to identify the gold from the tin as seductive hyperbole, and seeming popularity can be misjudged for genuine social proof and quality.

Trusting the wrong people 

Before I dive into marketing services, it’s essential to understand why so many have unwittingly fallen prey to dodgy or ineffective services.

Firstly, it’s about demand and an itch needing scratching. High market demand engenders a deluge of services all trying to grab a slice of that itch relief revenue. 

Secondly, the populist rhetoric that we deal with people we know, like and trust’ is fundamentally flawed. Psychology shows we like to trust people that mirror us. If we like someone (their personality), we want to trust them (their character). 

Cathy Caprino, international author and executive coach shares in Forbes the core reasons why we place trust in the wrong people:

  1. We desperately want to believe them even though we know what they’re offering is too good to be true.
  2. They validate what we need to believe about ourselves
  3. They appear as if they’re “winners” – they’re charismatic, persuasive and impressive (narcissists and manipulators)
  4. They make us feel as if somebody finally recognises our talents
  5. We hand over our power and skip the due diligence we need to do, to ensure this is a good move

Being mindful of the above is key to risk minimisation. Being desperate for results is never a good reason to ignore point 5.

Visibility, Impact, Influence

 The objective of marketing is to raise visibility, make an impact and influence the target market. Outcomes mostly are measured by client acquisition and profitable business growth. Pretty simple, but not so in reality, as there are many moving parts to effective marketing with time and financial resources often a challenge.

LinkedIn, personal branding, SEO, websites, public relations, content and copywriting are essential pillars for every business in varying degrees.   

Let’s look at each of these pillars with tips to guide informed decisions. I will kick off from my specialisms of LinkedIn and personal branding, followed by three other expert contributors.


 With 675 Million global and 11.3 Million Australian LinkedIn members, any business not taking advantage of the platforms marketing opportunities is leaving money on the table. And LinkedIn profiles are an essential asset being indexed on the first page of Google.

A good operator will: 

  • Have at least three years platform and training experience
  • Focus on quality vs quantity strategy
  • Employ a tailored creative marketing approach to every client
  • Embrace research and best practice
  • Write original and educational content
  • Have strong technical knowledge

Avoid those who:

  • Disregard the LinkedIn User Agreement.
  • Use prohibited automation and connection tools
  • Sells and uses paid and unpaid engagement pods and buys engagement
  • Outsources overseas and integrates plagiarised content systems
  • Purely focuses on lead generation with promises of metric outcomes

Personal Branding

The mere mention of this has many running for the hills. I get it, as it appears that every Tom, Dick and Mary has jumped on the bandwagon. But the tenets of personal branding are fundamental to differentiate value, strengthen and drive all other marketing activities. In the age of social media saturation, it’s not the what, but the how: as ‘your vibe attracts our tribe’.

Look for services that: 

  • Walk their talk with an inspiring unique profile, solid portfolio and digital footprint
  • Have a communications, media or marketing background
  • Share examples of client transformations and communications
  • Understand the connection between personal and business brand positioning
  • Have integrated marketing offerings to leverage visibility

Be wary if they: 

  • Encourage exaggeration and bluster
  • Have limited experience with diverse professions and industries
  • Have MLM type processes and lock in systems

Websites & SEO

I asked leading website and SEO specialist Doreen Brown of Let’s Get Visible to contribute her tips. Both services should ideally be in tandem as a website without SEO is like being at a party without any guests – what’s the point as no one will see you dance! 

Look for SEO services that: 

  • Commit to ethical and evidence-based strategies. SEO is a long-term game, not an overnight proposition. Services must focus on a plan that includes building an online presence over time.


  • Anyone that promises page 1 or position one on Google. No one can make those guarantees, as Google ultimately has the final say. This is also the reason why users will get different results based on their location, personalisation and algorithm variations.
  • Providers selling SEO packages based on the number of keywords ranked. If an agency or consultant sells packages based on ranking for a certain number of keywords on the first page of Google, head for the hills. This is an old school, out of date tactic. 

Tips for website services

  • Your brand is not just your logo. Ensure the web designer can demonstrate a clear insight into your business to integrate your brand and messaging throughout the site and navigation streams.
  • Don’t be swayed by pure aesthetics. It’s not enough to have a designer create a pretty looking website without the infrastructure that enables search engines and users to find you.
  • If you are replacing an existing website, ensure the designer understands the technical connection of SEO and online visibility. If they don’t, you could lose all current Google visibility for quite some time.
  • Know who is working on your project. The vast majority of providers outsource overseas, which can create significant issues.
  • Beware of services that lock you into a website build (due to custom coding) that mean you have to request every single change. You need to be able to self-manage minor changes and updates after the website is launched and not be held hostage.

Public Relations

Jo Stone from the acclaimed (without the fluff) agency Sticks & Stones PR believes that public relations is multifaceted and not just about media exposure. I couldn’t agree more. An effective PR campaign crosses national TV, glossy magazines, radio interviews, content and social posts. Below are a few behind the scene tips:

Finding a good practitioner:

  • Ask around and check out the market and word on the street. And if you spot a business or thought leader with a lot of great media coverage find out who is doing their PR.
  • Look for journalist led services. Practitioners who are former working journalists bring enormous depth, knowledge and invaluable industry contacts.

Before you engage:

  • Be very clear on what success means for you and how you will measure it.
  • Evaluate your needs as often only a small part of the PR journey is required. Big agencies are essential to execute integrated mainstream campaigns that need many hands and diverse skills. But often a specialist solo operator is the solution for part of your PR needs.
  • Work out who is the best spokesperson (it may not be the owner or CEO). And then get media training as it is an essential part of the PR process to deliver with confidence.
  • Are you ready? Do you have an excellent website and customer experience processes to cope with exposure? Can you upscale services or manufacturing supply if necessary?
  • Be realistic as the current media climate turns on a dime. A story which may have hit the front page in mainstream media a year ago may now be pushed to page 10. Are your story and business one that has media potential, no matter how clever the spin?


Content is designed to engage, inform and inspire. With the explosion of social media, websites and online rankings, content that influences and converts are essential. Sophia Auld of Words Mean Business shares tips on how to choose the right copywriter

What to look for and red flags to avoid

  • A copywriter that can explain their services to you in simple terms. If they cannot do that, what hope do you hold in them being able to communicate your story in your voice?
  • Have an idea of what you can afford as writers rates vary widely based on experience and diverse skills. Do you want an average or highly skilled craftsperson as you can’t buy Moet on a Passion Pop budget?
  • Niche or general expertise. Do you need a great all-rounder (they can quickly adapt to most projects) or a very skilled writer with a specific professional background?
  • Ask for examples of work. But those examples don’t need to be an exact match but ask for similarities of skills.
  • Personality fit and flexibility is key to ensuring you will enjoy working together. An initial phone or zoom conversation is essential. Be aware many writers are introverts and would sooner gouge their eyes out than talk about themselves. Some love a good chat, and their information gathering style and communication preferences must align with yours. 
  • If a writer takes several days to respond or doesn’t communicate agreed time frames, it’s a big red flag.
  • Check testimonials. Many clients won’t publicly admit they use ghost-writers and copywriters, so ask for some of those along with ones of the writer’s website.

Final thoughts

There are as many other essential services which support business objectives as the marketing wheel has many spokes (i.e. design, video, research, advertising, digital retargeting). Getting the above in order is foundational and intertwines with the whole wheel. 

Making wise marketing choices requires courage, self-awareness and an unbiased analytical perspective. May your 2021 be filled with brave decisions, growth and fulfilment.

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