Blog

Is it a good idea to hire an apprentice marketer or an intern?

Jul 26, 2019

Is it a good idea to hire an apprentice marketer or an intern?One of the best things you can do in your accounting firm is hire a marketing person (on either a temporary or permanent basis).

However. 

It’s also got the potential to be one of the most frustrating and difficult things you do, with the worst results – if it’s not done well. 

At PF, we’ve seen, time after time after time, firms who are filled with enthusiasm when they hire a marketing person…and then later, usually a few months later, they’re a little disappointed. Then frustrated. Then annoyed. Then the person leaves, and the process starts all over again. 

The worst thing that can happen is deciding that “having a marketing person doesn’t work”, and giving up on it altogether. 

That is not true. Hiring a marketing person – whether an apprentice or an intern or a full time marketing manager – is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make for your firm. 

But you have to do it right. 

You can’t delegate your marketing to someone else: you’re the leader. The buck stops with you. The ideas, the focus, the tracking, the review – all of that comes down to you. All you’re doing is bringing in someone who can take what you want to deliver in terms of marketing, and having them focus on the day to day details, while you work together with them to get the results you want. 

Anything less than that will fail. Or worse, it will work “sort of okay”, and you’ll reduce your expectations about what marketing is supposed to deliver for your firm. 

The question we get asked the most often is, “Is it a good idea to hire a marketing assistant or intern?” Is now the time, they want to know? When is the best time? 

In a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s an intern, an apprentice, a part time marketing support, a virtual assistant who does some marketing for you, a full time marketing  manager, or a marketing team. 

The principles of hiring someone to do marketing for and with you apply regardless of the level of role. 

Take this position very seriously: this person will represent your firm to the world.

Be very specific about the results you want to get from this role

  • What do you actually want from this person/this role? 
  • What are you expecting this or this person to do for you?
  • What results do you expect them to get? And in what time frame?
  • How long would this person work with you (PT, FT, intern, etc)?

If you simply want “more marketing to get done”, you’ll probably achieve that. But that’s not really what you want. You want good, high quality marketing based on a solid agreed-upon brand, style, tone of voice. You want more leads, and better qualified leads than the ones you’re getting now. You want a better conversion rate. You want increased sales. 

When you’re considering hiring someone, be very specific – in your mind, and in discussions with potential employees – about what this role will deliver. Be clear about who’s going to track numbers, and where you want those numbers to go. Set budgets, set goals. Look at time frames and deliverables. Do all of that before you even consider interviewing someone. 

Within the past year, we instituted a new required element to our monthly retainer packages. It’s called Co-pilot & Tracking, and it represents our commitment to ensuring you are actually getting quantifiable, trackable results from the marketing we do with you. More than that, it gives you (and your marketing person, if you have one) clarity on the numbers. The tracking. The goals. 

That way, when you review your marketing results, you know what to change based on the numbers. Just like you would encourage your clients to make better business decisions based on their financial data, so we encourage you to make better decisions based on your marketing data. 

If you’re considering hiring a marketing person, spend the first few months identifying all the marketing numbers you need to be tracking. Review the actuals. Set budgets and goals. Get expert advice and help as to what these numbers mean and how you can reasonably expect to improve them (and in what time period).

Once you’ve done that for at least 3-6 months, you’ll have the quantifiable information to help you decide when it’s time to bring a marketing person in. 

Treat the hiring of this role as seriously as you would a qualified accountant

  • How seriously are you taking the hiring of this marketing person?
  • Do you have a tried and tested hiring process?
  • Do you understand how this new person would be representing your firm to the world?

Just because you’re considering an ‘intern’, or an ‘assistant’, doesn’t mean you can slack off in your hiring process. 

Your marketing is your voice to the world. It represents everything about who you are as a firm. What you stand for, how you do things, what you charge and why. How could you possibly put that in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand you and the firm? 

If you’ve never hired a marketing person before, you might feel a little at sea about what your hiring process looks like in relation to them. You know how to evaluate an accountant; you might not be sure about a marketer. 

But, actually, the principles are the same: 

  • Hire based on your firm’s values (not only on skills). The old phrase “hire for attitude train for skill” has never been more true. I actually prefer the phrase “hire for character, train for skill”. When someone believes what you believe, and holds true to it in their life, a lot of the smaller details will sort themselves out.
  • Give them a tester project to be sure they can do what they say they can. It amazes me how many people hold interviews and simply believe what people say. This is especially true in marketing. It doesn’t matter if they have a degree or took a course or worked as a marketer for a year. Test them: give them a website page to design or an email to write or a social media image to create. 
  • Hang out with them, spend time with them and the team: Are they a fit? Does the rest of the team like them? Can you have a beer, a coffee, a gin with them? Is there good banter and conversation? 

Whatever else you normally do in an interview process to ensure this person fits with the team, do it for this marketing person. Do at least those things, and maybe even a few more.

Test their skills (don’t fall for a marketing degree or even experience)

  • How much training will they have had already?
  • What kind of training did they have? Who gave the training? What kind of results did that person/organisation have?
  • What kind of training & guidance are you willing to invest in this person once they join?

When an accountant tells me, “I’ve found the perfect marketing person! They have a degree in Generic Marketing Terminology!” (or whatever random marketing phrase was used by their college or university or online course) … I think, “Okay…so what?”

When we hire people at PF, I don’t really care if someone has a degree or not. As a matter of fact, I tend to prefer they don’t have a degree. Marketing is changing so fast, the schools and universities cannot keep up. (Look at how long it’s taken to get even hints of Xero into the education system. How many accountants have you hired who only know SAGE, because that’s all they were taught?) 

It can be hard for accountants to hire a marketing person because you may have insecurities about marketing yourself. You think “I don’t know all there is to know about marketing – I’m not a creative or a designer and I sort of know what the letters SEO mean and that’s about it.” So how can you hire someone? 

But what you do know is your company. 

You know your accounting firm. Your people. Your clients, your services, your pricing. You know how hard it was to get to where you are now, and you know the effort you put into every single proposal that goes out. You know how much everything costs, and your sales, and the number of clients, and the personal goals of almost every client with the firm. 

That’s how you can hire someone in marketing. By using your hiring process (as we talked about earlier) to evaluate whether this person can use the skills they have to make sure all of THAT is shared in the right way with prospects. 

Don’t be deceived by thinking “this person talks a pretty good game about marketing. And it won’t even cost me that much!” It could cost you a whole lot more to bring in the wrong person – not just in salary or a monthly retainer, but in lost potential business, in more time and effort required from you than expected, in a sort of “ehhhh” viewpoint of your firm given to the world. That’s a much bigger cost than a few hundred or thousand quid per month.

When you hire a marketing person, be ready to invest MORE time in marketing, not less.

  • Who’s going to be directing and leading them and how will you be directing them? 
  • Who is responsible for strategy, budgeting, results, critical review of their content?
  • How involved will you be day to day? How much involvement do you want to have and how much can you afford to have?

This is the most important point of all. You will be tempted to think that a marketing person will save you time. And they will, if they’re the right person, a fit with your firm and values, well trained in what marketing really is, able to manage and delegate and track and advise. 

But getting them to that point takes time, and training, and support. 

Before you hire the marketing person, be ready to:

  • Share your business strategy with them 
  • Track your marketing numbers (not just your leads and sales) in detail – to know which ones to be tracking, and what your business & marketing goals are
  • Invest actual cash in training for their marketing skills (and your own)
  • Take time every single day to communicate with them
  • Understand how to review the content they create (or have an expert agency on hand who is able to help you do this, *ahem PF*) 

Be careful when considering hiring someone as a replacement for the marketing spend you have now.

When we act as an outsourced marketing team for accountancy firms, there is always a point at which they think, “Hey, for the amount we’re spending per month, we could just hire someone! We’d have them full time, and get LOADS of marketing done!” 

The problem is, there’s a big difference between one marketing person, and an entire creative agency, made up of content writers and graphic designers and website builders and SEO experts and Heads of Branding and any other marketing skill you may possibly need. 

So, we tell them, it’s not like for like. 

Absolutely plan to bring on a marketing person: but don’t simply compare “we’re spending x on marketing in this way and we could just hire someone”. That’s not a correct comparison, and the damage to your firm and its marketing results will be significant. 

We absolutely love it when firms want to hire a full time, in-house marketing manager. But before they do that, we work together with them through every single point we’ve covered here. We set up the co-pilot & tracking. We ask questions. We help build hiring and careers pages. We set goals and targets. We even help with the interviewing & recruiting process. 

And it doesn’t stop there. They send their marketing person on our marketing courses – free ones and paid ones. They keep the co-pilot & tracking going so the marketing person isn’t left stranded, wondering what the results are and how to share them with the partners. 

When their marketing person is ready, we’ve got high level, world-class content marketing training we can work through together with them (and the leaders and those from the team who want to be involved). 

When it’s done that way, the transition goes well, the new marketing person settles in well, the whole team fits together….and best of all, the marketing results are far better than you ever could have imagined. 

So take it very seriously: and we’re here to help no matter what stage of the process you’re in.