When it’s finally time for your small business to start hiring, it can feel a little bittersweet. Hiring means you’re starting to take off – so much so that you can no longer handle everything on your own.

You’re growing – it’s exciting.

But crafting a job listing, finding and interviewing potential candidates? It’s a lot of work. Whether a marketer is your very first hire or your tenth, finding a qualified marketing expert poses its own unique challenges – especially when you aren’t a marketing pro yourself.

How can you evaluate your business’s needs and vet applicants without your own marketing know-how? Hiring for a role you’re unfamiliar with is never easy, but lucky for you, you’ve already found our guide. Settle in and we’ll give you the grand tour of making your first marketing hire.

Determining Your Needs

The first step to making a new hire of any kind is to figure out what you’re actually looking for. What gaps exist within your current team that need to be filled? You can get some insight around your needs by reminding yourself of what originally made you think: Huh, it’s probably time to hire a marketer.

Whether you’re working alone or with a small team right now, audit the skills and experience that are already at your disposal, and play spot the weak spots. Maybe you’re a creative genius, but missing the numbers-orientation to measure and judge the performance of your ideas. If you’re not tech-savvy, maybe your online marketing could use some improvement.

When you’re not a marketing pro yourself, it can be difficult to see some of the more nuanced weak spots. To remedy this, take a look at what competitors and major players in the industry are doing. If you’re missing specific marketing initiatives that seem to work well for your competitors, keep that in mind when you write out the job description.

Consider, also, where your business is in its lifecycle. Your new hire’s approach to marketing will depend on whether you’re just launching, aggressively growing, or have been around for a while. For example, when you’re just getting started, your business needs to get people’s attention. Your marketing is all about customer acquisition – getting your name out there, building a brand, and convincing prospects to give you a try.

Action Items:

Skills and Experience to Look For

An everyday role encompasses a lot more than just a list of tasks. When you’re not a marketer yourself, it can be hard to imagine the skills and experience that you should be looking for.

Like any role, you want candidates with relevant work experience – but what does that actually mean? You aren’t just looking for anyone who’s ever worked in marketing. You’re searching for someone who has experience with:

  1. Similar products,

  2. Your industry, and/or

  3. Your current stage of the business lifecycle.

Another powerful experience? Working within a limited budget. There’s a lot you can do in marketing with a small business’s budget – but a marketer from a Fortune 500 company may not bring as much to the table as someone who has experience working on a shoestring.


Along that line of thought, you want someone with a strong focus on ROI. Since your budget is limited, every penny you spend has to prove itself. Understanding how much you’ll gain from investing money and time into each marketing tactic will help you stay on top of marketing, even after the hand-off, and makes it easier for both of you to make quick, informed decisions about the value of potential marketing campaigns.

Well-Rounded Marketing Know-How

Specialists are a luxury for businesses with more than one employee in the marketing department. Unless you’re planning to fill out the rest of the team right away, you likely need someone with a broad, well-rounded knowledge of marketing – from strategy all the way to execution of individual and varied campaigns. Your new hire should be able to handle email, search, social, PR, offline marketing... anything that can help your business reach more of your target audience.


Adaptability is the number one quality you’re looking for. The marketing world changes every day. Whether it’s the next big social network, an algorithm update from Google, huge growth in your business, or something we can’t even foresee yet, you need someone who can evolve with the changes and help your business keep pace with the big guys. Your ideal marketer isn’t just up on today’s trends – they can anticipate and quickly master tomorrow’s, too.

How to Vet Marketing Candidates

All of this is great, but how can you tell if a candidate is a well-rounded marketer when you’re not? How can you overcome your lack of knowledge to figure out who’s qualified and who isn’t?

Ask For a Portfolio – Not a Cover Letter

The standard job listing asks for a resume and cover letter, but when it comes to hiring a marketer, they don’t tell the whole story. You want to see their work – what they’ve done and how it’s performed. A portfolio of work gives you a clearer picture of their strengths and knowledge in action, not just in the abstract.

You can also ask for specific information around the results their work has produced – these provide an objective indication of what they’re capable of.

Give a Test Project

It’s becoming increasingly common in today’s job market to ask candidates to complete a small project as part of the application process. A project allows you to see not only what they can produce, but how they approach challenges. It can tell you a lot more about a candidate than just looking at past work.

In addition to seeing their process in action, projects help you gauge how an applicant’s skills and experience will translate to your business. Can they adapt to the unique needs of your business and be as effective as they’ve been?

Work With a Marketing Recruiter

At the end of the day, it’s always more difficult to hire for positions in which you aren’t the expert. Sometimes, your best option is to bring in someone with more experience hiring for marketing: a marketing recruiter.

Working with a recruiter does involve an upfront investment, but when it comes to hiring, it’s best to get it right the first time. Once you’ve determined your needs and the skills & experience you’re looking for, leave it up to a more experienced hirer to find and vet the best candidates. Not only are professional recruiters adept at vetting applicants, they’re a well-oiled hiring machine. That means you spend less time away from the business and get an even better applicant pool for your troubles.

By the time they get to the interview, you’ll be looking at an elite and qualified group of candidates to choose from.

A Note on Competing for Talent:

So you’ve gone through the whole, arduous process.

You’ve scoured dozens of portfolios, interviewed several applicants, and finally... the perfect candidate appears.

What next?

The thing about top talent? You probably aren’t the only one after them. That means the pressure’s on to craft a killer job offer that ensures they choose you. From a salary perspective, you may not be able to outcompete the big guys, but salary is only one component of a job offer. As a small business, you still have plenty of aces to play.

So how do you attract the best of the best to your business? You can start with our post on convincing a rockstar candidate to come work for you.

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