Have you made this one business development mistake?


I love grads. Some of my best friends are grads. They have good banter. They’re usually quite eager. They know how to use Wordpress, and they’re not frightened of Twitter. I’ve worked with amazing grads that have learned quickly and climbed the ranks at TopLine and at our clients.

Grads are, on the whole, great. So are bunnies. But I’m sorry to tell you that just because your grads are good at a lot of stuff doesn't mean they’re equipped to design and implement a business development strategy.

I’ve seen this scenario a few times: maybe you’ve noticed that your company’s name isn’t on everybody’s lips, or that prospects who you could really help (if only they knew about you!) are heading straight to your competitor. You know, the one with the amazing blog and sky-high marketing budget.

You decide it’s time to knuckle down and do something about this. You meet with your team to talk about how to get noticed by your target audience. You all know that you need marketing help, but then someone mentions the word “cheap”, and you get very, very excited. You decide to bring in a fresh-faced graduate who understands how the internet works, and knows what Snapchat is. The grad’s arrival will herald a sea change in your company’s marketing, all at a bargain basement price. You can have your cake and eat it too!

Sadly, this often turns out to be more ‘urinal cake’ than ‘Victoria sponge’ – and it’s not the grad’s fault. Think about it: how can a 21 year-old, even with a glittering CV full of A*s, Firsts, awards and references, really shoulder your company’s entire marketing and lead gen burden? Ultimately, this approach is a false economy; you’ll end up spending far more money getting your bright young thing up to scratch than you will outsourcing your marketing function to experienced professionals, or hiring someone who’s already made all the mistakes in the book on someone else’s payroll.

Let’s drill down and compare the true costs – based on my own experience of hiring and training up grads to become digital marketing experts.

Salary: £21,150 per year

If you’re going to hire a graduate and you expect that person to 1) be really smart, and 2) be fully committed to your company, you will need to pay a decent entry level salary. Don’t listen to those in your team who are trying to persuade you that an unpaid internship is the way forward. No matter what people say, the pyramids weren’t built by slaves. Are you honestly going to be surprised when your marketing strategy fails to deliver the growth you want after handing it to the care of someone you’re not even paying? Nip such ideas in the bud quickly.

If you get a brilliant candidate and offer a fair starting salary of £18,000, you’ll need to add Employers’ National Insurance of 12.5 percent and an extra 5 percent for the overheads associated with having another staff member. The result is £21,150 a year,.

Basic marketing training: £3,000 per year

Even if your new grad specialised in marketing, he or she will need training to get up to scratch with the realities of a digital marketing job – particularly if they’re in sole charge of your marketing function. I should know: I’ve hired 18 grads in my time, and they have all needed training to help them learn the ropes.

You might strike lucky and get someone who devours marketing guides in his or her spare time, but that’s unlikely for an entry-level position. This means the burden of training falls to you, and there’s no quickie boot camp for this sort of thing: you’ll need to invest in workshops on SEO, email marketing, PR, social media, analytics and writing, at a minimum.

That adds up – not just in financial terms, but in days away from your business. Each day at a training workshop is likely to cost you £500, which brings your annual training budget to around £3,000.

Management time: £12,000 per year

If you take on a grad to form a marketing department of one, it goes without saying that there will need to be a senior person to guide them and teach them about the business. It’s likely that they’ll have lots of questions, which is great – in fact, it’d be bad if they didn’t – but they’re pretty time-consuming to answer, and after a while, it all kind of sounds like an irritating child chanting “Are we there yet?” on a cross-country car journey. Let’s say a senior manager takes half an hour a day to guide your grad – at £100 per hour, that’s another £1,000 a month that you could have spent on expert help.

Software: £3,000 per year

These days, no great digital marketing campaign can be rolled out without software to help. If your grad is put in charge of all marketing and PR, there are a few vital pieces of tech that you’ll need to get, such as a journalist database, a Moz subscription for SEO, an email marketing tool, a social publishing tool.  

Add to these the extra costs of adding a new staff member to any cloud software subscriptions you already have, such as your CRM or task management system – these aren’t always available on a per user basis, so you may end up shelling out for five or ten new licenses when you only need one

Total cost of your graduate hire: £39,150 per year

£40k is still a pretty good price if the result is a targeted and intelligent lead generation strategy that results in more qualified leads and better business development and growth. But it would be quite rare who can find a grad who can deliver at this level (and if they can they will not do it for £18k a year for very long). I’ve been working in this industry for over a decade and I’ve only recently reached the point where I can confidently sell lead gen services to companies.

Now, I know it’s in my best interests to say this, but before you hire that grad, I urge you to consider outsourcing to a good lead-gen agency. An agency will come with skill levels and lots experience learned from real life situations, and it will be able to work throughout the year, unaffected by any holiday or sick days an employee may take (one of the big issues with giving your entire marketing function to a single person is that you’ve got no backup plan, and weird/inconvenient things happen all the time – one guy got killed by a falling tortoise). And most importantly for your marketing function, if the agency doesn’t perform, you can terminate their contract without risking an employment tribunal.

Leadgen is too important to your business development to leave in inexperienced hands – you don’t want to have to buy twice because you bought cheap. Get in touch with me to learn more about TopLine’s experience, and how we can help your business grow.