by Lori Prosio 

Hiring a public relations or marketing consultant for your business can be a difficult decision, especially if you are a small business or have never treaded those waters before. But having someone who can look at your business objectively and offer strategic recommendations can ultimately aid in the ongoing success of your business.

However, don’t just hire on a whim — be mindful of these things when you’re ready to hire:

Why do you need a marketing consultant?

To maintain efficiency and best protect your budget, make a list of the tasks you need outside assistance with. Do you have the staff to handle day-to-day postings but are missing a strong social media strategy? Do you react and respond to media inquiries but want someone to aggressively and protectively pursue earned media opportunities? Do you need to know what your marketing materials should say but need someone to actually design them? Not having clear direction and an outlined list of needs can frustrate both you and the potential consultant and waste valuable resources.

Does relatable experience matter?

In short: heck yes! I’ve seen a lot of businesses make the mistake of hiring a marketing consultant who talks a good game but doesn’t have any relatable experience. Just because their materials are solid and their client list is long, doesn’t mean they are the right fit for you. Marketing efforts should be well-thought, strategic and individualized.

Don’t be afraid to ask potential consultants for examples of their work, specifically as it relates to your needs. While you’re at it, ask them for client references to make sure they can give you what you want and need.

Are your expectations reasonable?

Consider if you’re expecting too much or settling for too little. Do you need an extra set of hands, a strategic partner or someone to completely overhaul your company marketing efforts? While there are certainly experts that can assist you in any or all three, it’s important to be clear up front what your desired outcome is.

If you’re hiring someone to write creative posts for your company Facebook page, you can’t assume that they’re going to increase your follower base by thousands of partners. Similarly, don’t settle for posts with cute cat photos if the firm you hired promised you a completely overhauled social media program.

If you’re considering hiring a consultant, I strongly encourage you to interview a few and ask them for a detailed proposal for services. Further, once you’ve selected that consultant, make sure they’re providing you with a comprehensive scope of work and associated timeline. If you’re on the same page from the beginning, it will be a lot easier to ensure they always meet your mark.

How will success be measured?

If you’ve hired a good consultant, with your input, they’ll easily be able to identify goals and measure outcomes based on those goals. Some of those goals can be intrinsic — to be more organized, to have an overall plan that’s easy to follow, to have more structured team roles. More likely, they’re quantitative. For example, if you’ve recently launched an app and you hired a consultant to market its availability and increase downloads, how many new downloads did you get?

Effective consultants will even source their efforts and test out different digital download ads on social media and measure which was most successful — you want a consultant that goes above and beyond.

Take your time and do your due diligence when hiring a marketing consultant. Be realistic and hire someone who will do what’s in your best interest, not theirs; a little extra time up front can save you the headache later.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May 27, 2016 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.