A paid initial consultation in web marketing prioritizes what you should even consider, projects ROI that you can later track, and thus produces a proposal honed to your precise needs.
In theory, an initial free consultation can do the same as a paid consultation, but in reality the proposing firm’s incentives often undermine the value of a free consultation because:
- The good search marketing firm is likely to enjoy plenty of demand, so unless your business is exceptionally large or otherwise desirable, the firm won’t spend much time on a free initial consultation — at least not by the principles of the firm who know the most.
- The not so good firm or one that aims to expand rapidly by selling a lot and using a factory model of lower-wage, lower-skilled people has the incentive to make the consultation little more than a proposal that prioritizes by what they sell, not by what you need.
A good paid initial consultation will give you plenty of value that stands alone, regardless of whether you do further work with the firm that did the consultation. That is, the resulting report will prioritize by projected ROI the several search or web marketing channels you should consider, and then you can ask several firms for proposals that address the priorities.
How much should you spend on an initial consultation? Obviously that depends on how many web marketing channels you want to prioritize and on the amount of time devoted to gathering and calculating data by which accurately to project ROI. At DISC, for example, our minimum initial consultation in search marketing is $750, averages about $1400, and sometimes exceeds $2500. Our minimum initial consultation in social media is $525, and our social media marketing plans average $2450. Other factors influencing the cost of an adequate initial consultation are the keyword diversity of your offerings, the extent of your past data on traffic, conversions, and profit, and how many in-house employees and weekly hours per employee must be considered in the cost inputs within the ROI projections.
If you know exactly what you want from the firm, then the initial consultation, free or paid, is probably a waste of everyone’s time.
You can always invest more in SEO copywriting, SEO recoding of your CMS, pay-per-click, shopping comparison site marketing, social media marketing, conversion rate optimization, email marketing, and refinement of analytics and reporting, but if you’re sure that you need only one of these things (that it would deliver the highest return on investment), and if, even better, you know exactly what you want to do within one of those channels, than any good firm should be able to provide a well-suited proposal without the need for much if any initial consulting.
Unlike the earlier days of search marketing when now antiquated conventions of proposals and initial consultations formed, now the complex array of options and their varying applicability to each business and website creates a more nuanced dynamic — perhaps a game theory dynamic — during your first contact with prospective web marketing firms. That complexity and those dynamics place a premium value on the experience and trustworthiness of the people who will guide you to your proposal.