Often, companies find themselves faced with the challenge of establishing a more effective strategy for their marketing, branding, and advertising initiatives. This could be developing a brand identity, a brand strategy, or developing the concept or strategy for a marketing campaign. More than likely, you also need a skilled team to complete the creative work, such as website development, writing copy, and designing branded materials as well. Perhaps you are in this very situation and wondering how to budget for these services. My first recommendation is to separate the work into two categories: strategy and execution.
Skilled labor (the execution phase), such as copywriting or design, may be relatively affordable, but developing (and sometimes managing) the strategy associated with that work requires more expertise and is, therefore, more costly. In most cases, the strategy and the execution are conducted by different individuals or teams. Often, the execution of marketing or branding tasks might roll into the consultant’s deliverables, but generally, a marketing consultant is an outside advisor developing and directing the strategy for all the deliverables. This means that, while a consultant or their teams may work on execution, they typically only focus on the high-level strategy and hand off the heavy lifting on executing these tasks.
So how much is marketing worth? Full disclosure, the writer of this blog is a marketing consulting firm, so of course, we believe that you should pay as much as possible.
OK that is partially a joke, but it is worth mentioning that you do get what you pay for. The best marketing consultants provide value that can last for years, and often their fees often reflect that. While hourly rates are often still in consideration, this is merely one way to measure the effort put toward the project at hand.
Common Pricing Models for Marketing Consultants
The typical marketing consultant charges are based on one of two models. First, and maybe most common, is by an hourly consulting rate. The second is a fixed bid on a project-by-project basis. Often this is based on a predetermined number of hours that are allocated to the project. This is simply the anticipated number of hours for a project multiplied by the hourly rates of the consultant. What those rates are will generally depend on the experience of the consultant, the demand, the geographical market, and other economic factors. Ultimately, you are paying for the time of the consultant with some kind of margin to cover expenses and profit.
As a benchmark, in our experience, these fees tend to be between $65-$300 per hour. This varies greatly depending on one’s resume, overhead, and demand. For your average marketing consultant, fees are most commonly in the $100-$175 per hour range. This can cause sticker shock to those that are comparing it to the salary of an employee that might be closer to $30 an hour ($60,000 per year). What you must do is consider all the things that go into a project.
For simplicity, let’s consider a 10-hour project that is preparing a simple marketing strategy for a short-term marketing campaign. At the common rate of $150 per hour, your investment is $1,500. This might only cost $300 of in-house talent time to work for 10 hours. So why would anyone ever hire a consultant? Why not just hire an in-house marketer to do it instead? The real reasoning boils down to the true cost of a project.
The Cost of Ownership
In general, a “marketing strategist” is worth more than a “marketing coordinator.” I’m generalizing based on the common uses of these titles. Strategy is often a small percentage of the work while executing that strategy might require a lot more time. A marketing coordinator could perhaps demand a salary of $40k to $60k per year, while a strategist can demand a salary of $100k to $150K per year. Those starting numbers put you at $20-$30 per hour versus $50-$75 per hour, respectively. Additionally, they will need to have equipment, office space, lunch hours, vacation time, benefits, and employment taxes, and there is often lost time at the water cooler that cannot be tracked or recouped.
This increases the cost substantially per hour but is still probably less than a consultant’s hourly fee. The kicker is that a quality employee expects a full-time living. That means that the six-figure employee’s 10 hours turn into 40 per week. It’s generally cost-prohibitive for most companies to keep the more strategic person on staff on a full-time basis. Not only that, it’s rarely necessary.
This is where the consultant comes in. A good consultant is worth a larger per-hour investment for a fraction of their time because of their expertise. Furthermore, they are absorbing all the costs associated with their employment instead of you.
How Much Should I Pay a Marketing Consultant? A Rule of Thumb
As a rule of thumb, most consulting fee rates should double or, in most cases, triple ‚the actual wage of the position being covered. That means that the $ 50-per-hour strategists should charge $100-$150 per hour for their services. Generally, a freelancer is in the double category, and a consultant that is part of a broader company that includes physical overhead falls in the triple category. Of course, this all varies based on many factors. You might pay them a little more for their time, but you have them only when you need them, for the amount that you need them.
Let’s get more specific, though. To take a closer look at value. What if one consultant is able to provide you with a 10-hour ($1,500) strategy that yields new sales and a profit increase of $10,000? Would that be worth the expense? Absolutely. As I alluded to before, the best position to be in is to pay based on value - not just time and materials. Imagine that a more strategic consultant is able to offer you similar services but asks for a flat fee of $100,000, anticipating 5 hours spent on the project. Would you pay for that? The “value,” in this case, is what the results of their work is worth to your business.
If you are paying $1,000 for a week of brainstorming and advice with no return, it might be a total waste of time and money. On the other hand, if you spend five hours' time at $100,000 to put in place a strategic change that turns into an increase of $1 million to your company’s bottom line, that would be $100,000 well spent! In this case, most businesses would be far less concerned with how much billable time it took. My guess is you would take the deal as well.
“The best position to be in is to pay based on value - not just time and materials.”
I hope this equips you to better evaluate a marketing consultant. My advice is to sit down, crunch the numbers, and determine from there if hiring a marketing consultant is right for you.
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