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Carrie Hill

Small Business Growing? Know When to Let Go

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If you hired 20 new people and JUST realized that scaling your business means scaling your search marketing efforts – it might be time to outsource.

If you only have time to check search engine rankings, but don't have time to do anything about them – it might be time to outsource.

If your night light is a glowing computer screen and you read search marketing blogs at 2 a.m. – it might be time to outsource.

How Do I Know If It's Time?

As a small business owner, I make critical decisions every day, often two or three times a day. They all come down to the question, "Is this in the best interest of my business?" Sometimes that question is applied to buying new equipment. Sometimes it means hiring more staff, or advertising in the local paper instead of relying on word of mouth to bring business in the door. My business isn't dependent upon search engine marketing – so how and where I choose to advertise online is a bit more flexible.

A small to medium-sized business owner that relies on search will have to make the same decisions – sometimes only a few times a year, sometimes on a daily basis. If you depend upon search to grow your business, and you don't have time to monitor, test, learn and implement search marketing practices, giving up some control to achieve your big-picture goal may be a viable option.

You have to ask yourself, "Should I do this myself, or hire someone else?" Only you can answer that question for your business, but there are some things to think of when you do consider outsourcing some or all of your internet marketing functions.

Are You Passionate About Search?

You didn't grow your business to what it is today by not being passionate about what you're doing. The same applies to being passionate about search. If you don't have enthusiasm for search marketing, and enjoy the time spent diverting you from other parts of your business, you may be better off hiring someone who does.

There's no rule that says "It's all or nothing." If building optimized content is something you like, but managing your paid search campaigns is akin to torture, by all means outsource the paid search campaigns and continue building content. That being said, some agencies may ask you to do "all or nothing" with them – and maybe that isn't the right company for a small business owner to partner with, at least at first.

Test the waters and see if outsourcing is right for you. You'll have to give up some control – you can't micromanage your campaigns when they're outsourced. You'll need to look less at details like individual keywords and costs, and more at the overall ROI of the campaign. You need to know if are you making more money, and if it is being made more efficiently.

Time vs. Return

How much time do you have to devote to furthering your online marketing interests? There is no standard amount of time needed. What you do need to measure is how much business is coming through the Web site vs. how much revenue you NEED to have to support your business and help it grow (if growth is your goal).

If your time is maxed out and Internet marketing is taking a back seat to running your business, bringing in an outside company to free you up might be a great solution. If your time is better spent servicing your customers and empowering your employees – that's what you need to do. Pay someone else to huddle in front of the computer and worry about your rankings. By outsourcing the work, someone else is responsible for worrying about algorithms and cost per click.

Planning for Growth

A businessperson knows, if you're growing your business, you have to grow your advertising to support that business. If your market reach has doubled in the last year and you're hiring and expanding, your advertising model needs to be doubled, and expanded to support the growth in your company. That means more time – time you probably don't have. There comes a break point in the growth of the company where you need to move from a do-it-yourself mentality to the hire-an-expert-to-do-it-for-me mentality.

Employee or Agency?

Once you decide that you need to find someone else to do the work, the next question is what that relationship will look like. It could mean contracting with a search marketing agency, or hiring someone in-house. There are some important things to keep in mind as you make this decision. Hiring an in-house employee means keeping someone busy full or part time – providing workspace, equipment and benefits – along with paying taxes and other overhead considerations. Oversight is another problem. Do you trust this person to be moving your strategy in the correct direction? Do you have time to make sure they're doing things in the best interest of your business model?

It's a big investment, and overhead spent on an in-house employee could be put into an agency marketing budget. More budget often means more results – higher PPC rankings, better analytics, a better company. I'm not against having search marketers on staff, but your business model needs to support that decision, and small businesses need every penny to provide a return.

It's a big decision to grow your company. My husband and I struggle with it every day. But the payoff can be amazing if you do it right. Investing in search marketing is the same as investing in equipment. Are you going to build it yourself, or buy it from an expert that knows what he's doing and turns out a quality product?

Who knows, if you plan your business' growth right, someday you may be in a position to stop reading "Little Biz" and start reading "Big Biz" at Search Engine Watch!

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York, March 17-20, 2008, and for SEM training classes on March 21.


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