The true cost of "free" marketing audits

David Turnbull
September 19, 2023

"Get your free marketing audit"

You've probably seen similar offers as you search for tips on marketing your boutique professional services firm.

Before you fill out that form, let me explain why a free marketing audit is not the generous offer it claims to be.

Why do marketing agencies offer free audits?

Free audits are lead-generation tools for agencies. You hand over valuable contact details and they provide information (the results of an audit) in return.

Trading your details for information isn’t an inherently bad deal, provided the information you receive has value. 

But therein lies the problem: the information in the audit isn’t valuable.

Missing requirements

A marketing audit helps you discover the holes that exist in your marketing strategy, systems, tools, tactics and processes. You can then use the information to create a plan to fix them.

But a thorough marketing audit, one that can genuinely help your firm, requires two critical components that are missing in free audits:

  • Access
  • Time

Why access matters

For the results of an audit to be meaningful, the auditor needs access to your team, your data, reports, marketing software and so on. 

Are you prepared to hand your company’s confidential data over to someone you’ve never even spoken to? Probably not, which means the auditor won’t have the access they need to do the job properly.

So yes, you’ll receive your free “detailed report” – but the information isn’t useful.

It’s like an electrician walking around the outside of your house and then claiming to know what's wrong with your wiring – would you trust their assessment?

Good things take time

A marketing audit isn't supposed to be a quick look-over. It’s a diagnostic process that requires thorough investigation and strategic understanding to provide useful findings. 

The process takes time – much more than agencies can afford to assign to senior strategists who are already busy with paid client work.

So what do they do? 

They automate the process or delegate it to a less-experienced team member. 

Either way, it’s a shortcut that sacrifices quality for speed – at your expense.

Exceptions that prove the rule

Some agencies may say that specialised audits, like an SEO audit, can be partially automated, and that’s why they can offer them for free. 

And yes, that’s true. 

But if an agency is simply going to run an automated audit then so can you, using one of the many free tools that are available.

Driven by incentives

Finally, you need to take the bias of the auditor into account. 

Let’s say you take up an offer for a free audit from a content marketing agency. Should you really be surprised when they tell you that you need to boost your content marketing efforts?

Their analysis isn’t necessarily wrong, but it's one-sided. A comprehensive audit should help you prioritise your overall marketing strategy, not favour one component of it.

Audits are important

When a client hires us to implement our tech-fuelled growth system, we start the engagement with an audit-like period of research and discovery that ensures we can diagnose before we prescribe.

But we would never claim that it can be done for free, or within 24 hours. Our process digs deep into a firm, interviewing the team and analysing strategies, tactics, tools, systems and processes across marketing, sales, operations and client experience.

This research takes time, but it allows us to devise holistic strategies tailored to the requirements of each firm, not one-size-fits-all reports generated in minutes.

The real cost of a free audit 

If a “free” audit provides zero actionable insights, then it wasn’t free – you simply paid with your time

So don't shortchange your firm with surface-level insights from a “free” audit. 

The future of your business is worth the time and attention to detail that only comprehensive, in-depth analysis can provide.

David Turnbull
David is the Founder of Metamorphous, and a strategic growth advisor to boutique professional services firms.

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