Becoming a consultant is so easy. All one has to do is hang up a sign that says “Joe Shmoe, Consultant” and they’re in business. No degree required, no certifications needed—just their word that they know what they’re doing and that every dollar you’re spending on their services will be money well spent.

Sadly, this means the world is full of so-called consultants who are under-qualified and (dare I say?) overly delusional.

Fortunately, in our industry, I think the false consultant is rare. I meet plenty of smart people who are experts in email and who serve their clients wisely and well. That doesn’t mean, however, that just any ol’ consultant is going to be a good fit for you. Just as I can’t possibly know everything nor can you, a consultant is going to have some areas of expertise and some areas of naïveté. A good consultant not only knows the difference but makes sure you know their strengths and weaknesses too, right from the very start.

However, despite this need for transparency at the very beginning of the relationship, the onus is still on you as the potential client to do a little homework upfront in order the find the consultant who will perform well for you.

As a follow up to our post on preventing headaches and hassle when buying marketing technology, one in which I suggested a consultant might be the answer, I offer up a little advice on just how to choose that consultant…

Experience is critical
The number one criteria you should be considering is experience. You want someone who has done this multiple times, whatever “this” might be. For example, perhaps you need help choosing a new ESP. Or perhaps you’re ready to invest in a marketing automation solution. Maybe you need some customization to make your current ESP work more effectively for you, or you want to start using cart abandonment software. Or perhaps you desperately need some strategy expertise, to help you maximize your email marketing program.

Whatever it is that you’re trying to do, you want—no, need—a consultant who has done this multiple times, whatever “this” is.

How important is experience? So important that we stress it over and over again in advice to clients and even non-clients (see our ESP selection guide, for example).

Would you ask your car mechanic to perform your surgery?
Here’s my favorite analogy to use when people ask me about consultants, one that illustrates the importance of experience: Would you ask your car mechanic to take out your gallbladder? I wouldn’t!

Keep in mind that I know some really good mechanics. I collect vintage Italian sports cars and I won’t trust any old grease monkey with the care of these precious automobiles. The mechanics I turn to are as smart and experienced as can be, and they know all of the nuances, quirks, ins and outs of older Ferrari and Fiat engines.

But I still wouldn’t ask any of them to operate on me, for any reason! Why? Because they might know everything there is to know about car engines, but they have a total lack of knowledge, lack of experience, and lack of expertise when it comes to surgery on the human body.

In fact, it’s their knowledge, experience and expertise that makes them so good at what I do trust them to do: work on old Italian cars.

But hand them a scalpel and trust that all will turn out all right for me and my gallbladder? No way. That would not be good for my health—at all.

All of that said, nor would I trust a precious Ferrari to a surgeon. That surgeon might have years of medical school to refer me to, and he or she might have performed thousands of operations on humans, but let him or her rebuild the engine of my favorite car? No way.

You can’t trust just anyone with your email program
Your email marketing plays a critical role in the health of your organization’s revenue and ROI. Would you hand just anyone a figurative scalpel (or wrench) and let them have at that vital part of your business? I hope not.

Just as I value my life enough not to ask a mechanic to operate on me, and just as I value my sports car enough not to ask a surgeon to work on it, so do we value our email marketing programs enough to seek out an expert to help us make things better, not potentially worse. Find the consultant with the experience in the area that you’re trying to improve. Period. Don’t settle for generic, and don’t settle for a can-do attitude. Seek out the consultant with a prove track record and established reputation.

A “consultant” can be a team…
Although we often use it this way, the word “consultant” doesn’t necessarily mean one person. ClickMail is a consultancy, meaning we have a whole team of experts in different fields (including customization, deliverability, strategy, migration and more). When you’re talking to consulting organizations such as ours that are made up of teams, make sure to ask about the different areas they specialize in—and make sure to ask for proof of experience in those different areas, in particular references from other clients for whom they did similar work.

…and a team might be what you need
If you anticipate that you’ll have more than one need in the near future, you might want to seek out an organization more like ours, one with a team of experts rather than only one consultant (with one area of expertise). This kind of multi-faceted expertise can also be helpful in another way: exposing weak areas in your program you were unaware of. You might only be thinking about improving segmentation, for example, when it turns out your email program would benefit from ESP customization.

That’s another benefit to working with a proven, experienced consultant (or consultants): You’ll gain insights into your email marketing program that you probably hadn’t considered before, because the consultant’s experience will be far-reaching beyond the walls of your office and the framework of your organization’s way of doing things.

Just make sure you trust that consultant with the scalpel before you hire them…

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

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