Small businesses just don't have the same big marketing budgets as big companies do, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have access to advertising or branding professionals, or that they shouldn't spend money on marketing.
In fact, small businesses need to invest in their brands just as larger corporates do, and there are agencies out there that are willing to work within more modest budgets to assist smaller companies with leveraging their brands in the market.
"Admittedly, larger agencies do charge high fees that may seem too expensive for smaller businesses. But bigger isn't necessarily better. Smaller agencies generally charge lower rates and many of them offer as good a service as any large agency. It's all about selecting the right agency to partner with," says Deon Kruger, Managing Director at human.kind advertising, a leading South African branding and advertising company.
Kruger says that some agencies will consider reducing their rates to accommodate smaller businesses when they see real potential for success, and arrange for a performance-based bonus scheme that would enable them to recover some of these discounts. Agencies may also propose a gradual roll-out process where the client pays in installments for materials as the project rolls out over a period of time.
Before selecting an agency, small businesses must first establish what their advertising and branding budget will allow for. Then they need to set about finding a partner whose prices fit the budget and, even more importantly, whom they will feel comfortable entrusting their brand to.
"Ultimately, it is critical to find a team of people who will be committed to your business, and unfortunately you will come across people who are less than enthusiastic in both big and small agencies. So, look for a partner that will give you the level of service and respect you expect.
"I do not believe a small business cannot find an agency that will not support them with their advertising or branding needs. At the same time, however, a limited budget can only buy so many resources and smaller businesses need to be realistic in their expectations.
"Agencies, just like all businesses, work on profit ratios that need to be achieved in order to be sustainable and to stay in business. The risks need to be evaluated by both parties. Small agencies cannot afford non-paying clients and small businesses cannot afford for their agency not to deliver on their promises owing to a lack of infrastructure," explains Kruger.
He concludes by saying that human.kind is extremely careful when selecting new clients for the very reason that it values its clients and only seeks long-lasting partnerships.
"We pride ourselves on our ability to build lasting relationships and we always deliver on what we promise. That is why we place enormous emphasis on managing expectations. Smaller clients will get a very good understanding of what they can expect for their money before we enter the relationship and we deliver on those promises.
"Our clients know that they are important to our business. Big or small, they require the same respect and service levels.
"Besides finding creative solutions, which should be a given in our industry, human.kind focuses on three key aspects that we believe sets us apart from our competitors. These are: service, relationships and shared culture. They also form the basis of our commitment to our clients, and they work for us. We know this because our client relationships are mostly long lasting."
SMALL COMPANIES CAN AFFORD AD AGENCIES - THEY JUST NEED TO SELECT THE RIGHT PARTNER.
1. Investigate your options and do your homework
Do not be fooled by their razzle dazzle and fancy presentations
Check their credentials - what do they specialise in?
Test their service levels and insist on references
Is it a culture match?
Are they in your league or too big or too small?
2. Be clear on what you need
Do not assume the agency will know what your needs are
Is it just a logo or a complete CI roll-out branding, etc.?
How and where does it need to be applied?
Ongoing services and long-term work
Spend time on crafting a clear and concise brief, make sure everyone is on the same page and let everyone sign off on the brief
3. Know your budgets and limitations
The rule of thumb - the smaller the company, the smaller the agency
Know that your budget will be viewed as important to the agency
You must know that you will pay in some way - so don't assume your agency will cover the smallest cost
Make sure this cost is part of your business plan and factor it into your budget - it's important
4. Agree on the terms of the relationship before you get going
Do not assume they know what your needs are
How will payment happen? Various methods of payment may be negotiated
Deadlines and deliverables - short deadlines may cost you double - so plan ahead
Know who will work on your brief - meet them/often the person that sold the agency to you is not the person you will deal with
Agree on the hours that you are "buying" and insist on time sheets
5. Do not agency hop - it will cost you money
It's like employing a valuable member of your team
The agency as brand custodian has all your information - takes me back to point 1: choose your agency very carefully