Beware of the Fake Marketing Experts


Who do you hire when you’re looking to grow your business and want to hire a marketing person? Do you partner with an agency, hire a freelancer or hire an employee or virtual assistant to handle your marketing?


Do you hire the cheapest person out there because they’re cheap? Do you invest in someone with a lot of experience but who is more expensive? How do you figure out who to hire when you need someone to do something you don’t know how to do in the first place? The last thing you want to do is regret your decision because you find out you hired a fake marketing expert, not a true professional. Let me help you protect yourself and your business. 


Who should I hire?  

Your answer will depend on some factors, including your goals, how established your business is, your background or experience in marketing, and what budget you have to invest in your business today.


Who you want to partner with will change as your business grows. The marketer you hire to help launch your business may not be the same one you need when you’re ready to expand or want to create a marketing plan to share with investors in hopes of taking your business to the next level. 


How do you decide who to hire? 

There are lots of options when it comes to hiring someone to help with your marketing program. First, determine what you need help with, understand what skill set that requires, and try to understand what those skills might pay for a full-time job because that will help you determine what a fair consulting rate would be.


How do you figure out if they’re charging fair rates? 

If you need someone to set your marketing strategy, help identify your audience, establish your marketing messaging, determine if pricing is right, or create a launch plan for a new business or product, those are critical marketing strategy tasks, and they require someone with a lot of experience to do them right.


This will most likely be someone at a Marketing Director level or higher. This person will probably have 10+ years of experience and a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree, according to In 2022, the median salary for a Marketing Director is $174,685, up from $136,645 when I originally wrote this post in 2017. 


If you’re trying to hire someone to fulfill the Marketing Director level as a consultant, you should expect to pay $200-$250 or more per hour. A consultant’s rate should be 2-3x the salary they could earn working full-time for another company. The reason the cost is higher is to cover their taxes and health insurance, and other benefits they’re responsible for as independent contractors. 


If you’re looking to hire someone and pay $30 or $50 an hour, it’s very unlikely you’ll get someone with this type of experience. If someone is willing to work with you for significantly less than the estimated hourly consultant rate for the type of work you need, they’re probably not a professional with much experience in the field. The bottom 10% of Marketing Directors make $66 per hour; you're not going to get someone with their experience for $40 an hour. 


Why does hiring a professional matter? 

If you’re looking to build a new website or optimize the one you have for SEO, you want someone with a strong background in that area because your website is one of your biggest assets for a company. 


If you need a marketing strategy, you want someone who’s set and executed one before. You want to know the person recommending your company’s marketing plan knows what works and how to adjust when things don’t go as expected (because this happens). 


If you want to brand your company, hire a professional with branding experience. Your website and your branding are the first introductions most potential customers will have to your business, and you want to make sure it sets a good impression from the start. 


Your SEO needs to be right, or you won’t be found on Google. It’s that simple. These are areas where it pays to hire someone with expertise because you’ll save yourself money in the long run.


I often see people hire a cheap SEO, graphic designer, or web developer and regret the decision. They have to hire someone else to clean up the mess, thus spending more money than they would have to hire a professional in the first place.


Or, worse yet, they hire someone and never get the promised product because the person they hired doesn't know what they're doing. They got scammed by a marketing hack. How does that happen? Because of things like this. 


seo agency no experience


or even this-

SEO on upwork

Many of these tasks are things you can learn to do for yourself if you find the right teacher, someone who has professional experience and background in a subject matter. Taking a course and learning how to do the work yourself is often the most cost-effective way to accomplish many business-related tasks. The upside is that you save money. The downside is that you have to invest time to both take the course and do the work. 


And, it’s important to make sure you find the right class – one from someone who has enough experience in the subject to teach you what’s important. If you take a course from someone who doesn’t know much about the subject, you’re likely to be frustrated and feel like you wasted your money, or you’re going to follow their method but not see results because they’re not teaching you what you need to know. 


If you hire someone who just took a class and hasn't actually done the work yet, they don't even know what they don't know yet. Do you want to pay money to be their test subject while they try to learn as they go? Maybe they're doing it for free in exchange for exposure but not if they're charging you. Find a professional with some experience for the best results. 


Finding the right person to hire or learn from can be tricky

It shouldn’t be that hard to find a marketing professional, but sadly, it is difficult today. The reason it’s difficult is that many people see online marketing as a great way to make easy money with unlimited potential reach. Because of that, they’re trying to jump in, and sometimes, they jump in way before they are ready.


Take a look at the two images above; these are real images that I pulled from Facebook within the last 60 days (in 2017). These are real, and that scares me, for your sake. Why do I say this? Because it’s something I see every day, and as a marketing professional and small business owner, it’s incredibly frustrating. 


There is an opportunity for online marketing, but I think people need to have a considerable amount of experience before charging other people for their work. Right? Would you want to hire a plumber who had only watched a YouTube video?  Maybe they read a blog post or two about plumbing.


If you had an extensive water leak in your home, would you rather hire a plumber who had been in business for years, had lots of customer experience, and had solved your type of issue many times before, or someone with almost no experience?


I’m going to guess you’d prefer to hire a professional plumber. Your marketing or marketing training should be viewed the same.


Yes, you’ll pay more to work with a professional than someone just starting out, but they’ll get your job done correctly. 


Why do you need to worry about the experience someone has? 

As I mentioned earlier, many people without much experience are trying to position themselves as experts to make money. Even worse is there are people selling courses to help people with no experience start agencies and "make loads of money."  The worst part – is right in the ads, they say, “start your SEO agency even if you’re not sure how to rank someone.” 


Or how about starting a Facebook Ads Agency even if you suck at Facebook Ads? Yes, this is a real email promoting a real program. A friend of mine who is a Facebook Ads Expert received this email. It's so wrong. 

facebook ads agency with no experience

Or here's an example of someone who wants to know how to start a Facebook Ads agency even though admit they know maybe 20% of what there is to know about FB Ads.


And in the responses, they’re not being told to learn more; they’re being told to go ahead and set up their websites!


No one is saying, hey, maybe get some more experience, run a few ads for yourself, learn what works, follow this podcast, read these posts no… they’re saying go for it, start charging for your “expertise.” It’s wrong. 

facebook ad agency


Or worse yet, how would you like to be the client referenced in this post?


Here’s someone who won the project because they were the cheapest, but they don’t know what to do to help the client and are asking strangers in a Facebook group to tell them what to do.


The saddest part is that someone is paying for this help, and the ideas from the group may or may not be right too. Because the person asking for help doesn't know what to do, they won't know if the advice is good or bad.  


Why does it matter who you hire? 

Your business’s success is largely dependent upon the strategy your marketing person creates and your (or their) execution of that strategy. If the person setting your strategy only understands 20% of what they need to do, how do you think your results will look?


What if they don’t know what to do and take bad advice, which you, in turn, implement because you trust their expertise? The results can be disastrous for your business. 


what do I do for my client


How do you determine if they’re professional or a poser? 

Here are eight things you can do to determine if the person you’re considering hiring is a true professional marketer who can help your business. You have to protect yourself and watch out for the fake gurus because they’re everywhere, and they’re trying to take your money. They don’t care if they help you. 


Check them out on LinkedIn 

If they’ve been a professional in almost any career, they’ll likely have a LinkedIn profile that will give you a lot of information about their professional experience.


You’ll be able to find out if they’ve held positions that align with what they’re selling now. There will be a timeline of the projects they’ve worked on or companies they’ve worked for; they’ll have recommendations and endorsements.


This information will help you find out if someone has only ever had a year’s worth of professional experience or taught music lessons at home for years before declaring themselves a marketing expert and charging people for their advice. Both are real examples of people who are selling themselves as online marketing experts right now. 


Ask for references

If you’re considering hiring someone, ask for references and then ask specific questions to those references to see if the person you’re considering hiring can deliver the type of work you need. Ask how the project went, was work delivered on time, were there any issues, did they renew and worked with them more than once, and whether they would hire them again.


Ask for information about the project; what did they hire them to do? What results did they get? Sometimes if people have very limited experience, they will struggle to find references. That could be a red flag.


If they’ve been in a corporate career for years and recently started a consulting business, they may not have many references yet, but you can check their LinkedIn profile for testimonials and then go to section 3, and ask for past examples. 


Ask for past examples of their work

They may tell you they can’t share the names of clients, and that’s OK, ask them to tell you the industry the client was in, what the problem was, and how they solved the issue for them. If someone has extensive experience in a field, they’ll be able to share examples quickly and easily. If they don’t have much background, you should be able to tell after a few minutes. 


Do a little research yourself to understand what you’re trying to hire someone to do. You want to see examples from 3-4 companies or clients. If someone has been in-house (they worked for a company for years), they’ll have lots of experience in one industry, while if they’ve been at an agency, they’ll likely have experience in different industries.


The agency folks may not be able to tell you the names of the clients they worked on, but they can probably tell you where they worked, and you can check out that website to get an idea of what type of clients. You can research them on LinkedIn too – and you should – how long were they at the agency? How much work did they do? 


Ask about their experience

How many years have they been doing this type of work? How many clients do they work with at a time? What training or certifications do they have that help show they’re qualified to do this work?


Have they ever had a professional job in this field, or are they completely self-taught? Being self-taught isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it often means the person has less experience or understanding of everything because they’ve not been challenged with the hard questions you face when doing something professionally. Their experience is often a bit less. 


Ask who does the work

Who does the actual work for them? Some of these scams I’m seeing are set up on the premise that you can start the agency and make money but not do any work – you hire someone off another freelancer site and send everything to them for $5.00 an hour (someone in another country).


This type of situation is challenging because the person hiring the other freelancer doesn’t know enough about the industry to know if the work they’re having someone else do is good or not. And if you’re trusting them to do it for you, you’re in trouble.


Sometimes agencies will work with freelancers or have a small team. This isn’t automatically a bad thing. You’ll want to learn about the other people they work with, how well do they know them, how long they have worked together, has the other person had a professional job in the industry, etc.? 


Ask what education they have and how it ties to the industry 

It’s up to you whether or not you want someone to have a college degree, but I think they need formal education or training in the field.


If you’re hiring a marketer, most traditional ones will have gone through a college marketing program or something closely related (communications, business, and journalism are all considered closely related when hiring within the marketing industry).


If they’re a Digital Marketing specialist, they may not have a degree in Digital Marketing or their specific areas, such as SEO, Social Media Marketing, Paid Search, or Content Marketing; however, they should have a college degree in a similar area or specialized training.


There are some training programs available through professional digital marketing groups or in some large agencies or companies; people are trained from within by the more experienced team members.


Digital Marketing is a new enough field that you will not likely find someone with much experience and a digital-specific degree.


For example, I have almost 20 years of experience in the field, and my bachelor’s degree is in journalism. I have an MBA in Marketing that I earned in 2014, and even that didn’t have a Digital Marketing designation option. 


Ask them how they stay up to date in their industry

If you’re looking for a marketing expert and a professional, they’ll be able to tell you which websites or blogs they read regularly.


Ask them a little about their industry. You’ll find the imposters pretty quick if they really can’t tell you, anyone; they follow.


If you’re looking for an SEO person, they should mention sites like Search Engine Land or Moz. If it’s a content person, then most likely they’ll mention the Content Marketing Institute; paid Search folks might mention Social Media Examiner (specific to Facebook Ads) or Search Engine Land or Search Engine Journal, and Social Media folks should be following Social Media Examiner.


There are other publications, but these are some of the ones the professionals follow because they have the most up-to-date information. 


Ask them about the latest algorithm update for the channel you need help with 

You don’t have to fully understand the algorithm or how it changes but your professional must. Do yourself a favor and run a quick Google Search on the Latest (Channel) Algorithm Update and read the top post or two to find out what’s happening on that channel and when it happened.


If you’re not sure which site to trust, go back up to the last bullet point and look for a post from one of those sites. You can trust the sites I listed above to have the correct information. 


Pay attention to what they say, write their answers down so you can review them, and ensure everything lines up. Do some research before deciding who to hire or which class to buy.


This is your business, and if you want it to succeed, you need to hire someone who knows how to help achieve your goals, and so many of the people targeting small business owners are fakers who only want your money. Don’t get taken. 


How to figure out if you're dealing with a fake guru or a real professional 


If you’re not sure how to determine if someone is a pro or a hack, walk through the steps again and look at the information above and make your determination. For example, I’ve told you I’m a marketing professional with nearly 20 years of experience in the industry, but I haven't proven anything. Now it’s up to you to determine if that’s real or fake. 


Start with LinkedIn

Look at my LinkedIn profile. You’ll immediately see that I have an MBA, which tells you I have a Bachelor’s degree, too, because I can’t have an MBA without an undergrad degree. So you immediately know I have six years of college education. 


Then look at my work experience, and you’ll see that I’m the CEO of Etched Marketing. You’ll also see that I write for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land, both of which are industry publications.


From there, you’ll see that I was Senior Director of Content Marketing for an agency for almost five years (it only shows one title, but I was promoted four times in four years – SEO Manager, SEO Director, Senior Director SEO, Senior Director Content Marketing).


You’ll see my Marketing experience goes back to 2000, and I’ve held various jobs with different Marketing/Public Relations/Sales titles at different levels. 


Then look at the Education section, and you’ll see undergrad (Cronkite School at Arizona State University) and grad school (Grand Canyon University MBA). You’ll also find the years of attendance which gives you an indication of the age/amount of experience someone has. Let’s not talk about my age. I’m still in my 20’s right? ;) 


From there, review the Skills & Endorsements section and look to see how many people have endorsed the person for each skill that’s relevant to your needs and whether or not LinkedIn shows that they’re highly skilled themselves. Also, look to see how many co-workers endorse them. 


Finally, check out the Recommendations section on the LinkedIn profile. How many people have recommended them? When were the recommendations given? What does it tell you about the person who made the recommendation? Was this person a boss, a colleague, or a client? What type of positions do the people who’ve given recommendations hold? In my case, you’ll see that I have recommendations from former bosses and co-workers who are management and senior management-level individuals. 


A review of someone’s LinkedIn profile can tell a lot about their professional background. Most professionals have taken the time to complete their LinkedIn profiles and included this information. 


Check out their website

If you want to check further, go to their website. Does it look professional? Is there a client testimonial page? Are there client logos? Does it look like they work with a mix of clients? If you’re unsure what to look for, check out the Work with Rachel page on my website. Is there information like this available on their site? 


If you’re considering hiring someone, it may be easier to find some of this information than if you’re considering taking a class. 


If you’re looking to take a course from someone, you’ll want to look at their LinkedIn profile and website, not just the sales page you get when you click on an ad. 


What to watch out for

Beware of the great sales page without a website or LinkedIn profile to back it up. 


Watch out for high-pressure sales tactics – things like “you have to buy now, or you’ll miss out,” “you can only learn this from me,” and “you have to do this ONE thing, and your whole business will change” and my favorite, the unrealistic promises “Rank #1 on Google for any keyword” no one can promise you rankings on Google, they don’t control the algorithm. It’s that simple. 


It’s the same way when someone says you’ll get X increase in X days. Keyword rank position can't be promised because it's decided by Google, not us. Don’t fall victim to the shiny headlines. 


It’s OK for them to say, “my client got X result working with me,” if they can back it up.


For example, I recently reviewed a client’s Google Adwords account. After auditing and adjusting the strategy, I reduced the cost-per-click by 50%, increased the number of clicks by 30%, and delivered more qualified leads for the customer.


Curious about what to look for to substantiate this type of claim? Look for testimonials and case studies. Ask who the client was or what industry it was. Ask them when this happened and why they think it worked. Ask to speak with that client as a reference. If they’re cagey about it at all, it’s probably made up. 


How to decide

When you’re looking for someone to either teach you what to do or create the marketing plan for your business, you want to make sure they know what they’re doing. Ask questions, do a bit of research, and dig deep. There are a lot of people who aren’t qualified who are posing as marketing experts, agency owners, etc. Be wary of the fake marketing expert if you want real results. 


Be careful out there, guys; there are so many posers right now that it's scary. This is one of the main reasons I founded Etched Marketing Academy and started offering marketing training programs. I'd rather teach you how to do it yourself than see you pay someone who doesn't know what they're doing. 


If you want to learn more about SEO and Content Marketing from a professional with lots of experience, then get started with my free SEO Quick Start Guide and take my free class and learn how to get traffic to your website without ads