Wellness Businesses: How To Choose A Marketing Consultant or Marketing Agency

Radial’s 23 insider tips for picking the best outside marketing help for your fitness, nutrition or wellness business, inspired by conversations with Kim Moon of the Caribbean Yoga Conference. Kim, founder of the conference, shared some “lessons learned” from her experiences in hiring marketing firms to promote the conference.

Her biggest takeaway was the importance of hiring a marketing company that actually has experience in doing what you want done.

The first company she tried knew events, but not yoga; the second company knew yoga, but couldn’t handle detailed projects. Only the third company could handle both dimensions.

And as Kim said, that meant “they were able to be ten steps ahead of me, and spot-on with their messaging and approach.”

I’ve heard variations on this theme quite a few times from clients. Here’s a list of criteria that can help you get it right the first time when you decide to hire outside marketing help:

Wellness Businesses: How To Choose Marketing Consultants

Decision Criteria
Do they have specific experience in health and wellness?Look for experience in fitness, nutrition, weight loss, healthy lifestyles, living with chronic diseases, yoga and mind/body, plus healthcare.
Have they worked with your specific type of wellness business before?It's especially helpful if they've worked with multiple clients in your area of emphasis - weight loss, sports conditioning, healthy aging, etc. If you're selling corporate and employee wellness programs, look for that specific experience.
What is the minimum budget they typically work with? Ask them to tell you which specific deliverables you can expect for your investment.
Can they give you a list of clients in the health and wellness sector?Some clients have good reasons for not wanting to be named publicly, but they should be able to give you some actual names.
How long have they been in business?Ideally, you're looking for a business that's been around at least five years. That gives you assurance that they've produced consistently good work for clients.
Do they specialize in one channel (email vs website vs social vs print vs mobile) or are they comfortable working across multiple channels?Most health clubs, nutrition businesses and wellness centers need a mix of expertise. Planning to rely 100% on free social media usually fails. Look for these four core skills: email marketing, website content, print marketing and event/seminar marketing. Social media's ROI is surprisingly low (that's why it's free, folks!), so that goes last on the list.
Is the size of their business roughly the same as yours?It's OK if they're somewhat bigger than your health coaching or other wellness business, but it's not a good sign if they're huge and you aren't.
Do they specialize in only certain marketing tasks (public relations vs advertising vs SEO vs branding, etc.) or do they address all major marketing aspects?Small to medium wellness businesses are usually better off with an integrated marketing firm that helps you create a strategic plan and then implement the details. Hiring a specialist in each area is usually more expensive and requires you to to come up with the strategic plan and then coordinate everyone's contribution. It's like being your own general contractor.
Did they ask you about your budget and goals?Ask them to give you examples of what they would add or delete if your budget increased or decreased. Do they have clear ideas about how you can make your investment go farther?
Ask them if they get commissions or revenue-share with any of their vendors. It's OK if the answer is "yes" AS LONG AS they disclose this information up front including the approximate dollar amount. You should keep in mind that they may have a vested financial interest in recommending certain marketing initiatives. Most common examples: print marketing commissions, web-hosting commissions, and email marketing affiliate commissions.
When you look at their creative samples, do you like what you see?Many agencies say they adapt their style to their clients; but in reality, most tend to have a "design personality" that always comes through. Do you like theirs?
Do you feel respected when you meet with them, and comfortable that they take you and your business seriously?It baffles me, but I hear from health and wellness clients over and over that they've talked to marketing businesses that don't take them seriously because they're 1) smaller or 2) in the health and wellness field.
If your main contact is a wellness enthusiast, do they understand that they are not a stand-in for your customer?Sometimes people think that THEIR situation is representative of EVERYONE's situation. Then they don't do their homework on how your customers really feel. For example, they overcame emotional eating issues, so they assume everyone who's overweight has emotional eating issues. They shouldn't let their own personal experience shape how they see YOUR business.
Is it immediately obvious that they're familiar with the specific issues that your type of wellness business faces?You don't want to have to educate them on the basics of fitness, nutrition, healthy lifestyles, weight loss or all of the obstacles that stand between people and healthy lives. Plus, part of what a good agency brings is an already-mature understanding of special considerations for your type of business. You should have a clear sense of "Yes, they get it" after just a single conversation.
Do they spend more time talking AT you, talking WITH you, or listening without asking questions?The goal is to have a real conversation, with give-and-take. It's reasonable to expect a few initial ideas or suggestions in that first conversation. And you should expect them to ask some fairly specific questions about revenues, profits, # of customers, your financial goals, etc.
Are they qualified to be a strategic advisor and not just a graphic designer or web developer?Advice on how to make your business successful should come from people who have actually done it. Back away anytime someone justifies their recommendations by saying "XYZ is really big right now, everyone's doing it." You want someone strong and experienced who'll say "Lots of people are doing X, but here's why Z would make more sense for you."
Is their starting point the products and services that they suggest you buy from them, or do they mainly focus on your goals and key messages?You know that saying "When you have a hammer, every problem's a nail?" If you're in the video marketing business, every marketing problem is solved on YouTube!
Do they have demonstrable, real-world experience in writing content for health and wellness businesses like yours?This is critical. Without this kind of experience, you'll get the generic one-size-fits-all ineffective wellness content that mediocre businesses have.
Are they realistic about your timelines, budget and other resource constraints?If you expect a soup-to-nuts print and email campaign plus a website overhaul for a thousand bucks, it ain't happening. Not in a good way, anyway.
Are they honest?If they hint at getting you on the first page of Google search results, run. If they say they can get you lots of Yelp reviews or Facebook likes or Twitter followers, run.
Do they eat their own dogfood? In other words, do they market their own business effectively?If their marketing connected effectively with you, and clearly explained what they do, that's a good indication that they can help you communicate effectively to potential clients.
Does their team have a mix of skills - graphic design, copywriting, web development and print, plus big-picture creative ideas and approaches?You need the big picture, plus the ability to actually implement it. You wouldn't hire a carpenter to build a house without a plan. Hiring a designer without a strategic vision for your business (not just your logo!) is the same thing.

What did I miss? Add your suggestions in the Comments below (your email always stays private).

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Leslie Nolen, Radial's president, is the nationally-known expert on the art and science of selling health and wellness.

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