If you are a small business owner just starting out or even part of a medium or large organization, placing your trust in a design or marketing agency can be difficult. If you can find an agency that you are comfortable working with and are assured has the welfare of your business at heart, you will save yourself many a headache.
We often hear stories of fumbled relations between clients and agencies. Mis-communcation, mistakes, or charges of outright deceit. Lack of confidence. This usually ends with neither party happy with the outcome and the end of the relationship.
When you’re shopping for an agency to represent your product or company, it’s natural to have a certain level of trepidation. You are going to invest your own or your company’s valuable time and money, with the hope of achieving successful results. Having that faith and placing your trust in an agency can be a hair-pulling, nerve wracking experience full of indecision, tension and fear of the unknown.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Nine times out of ten, most agencies you will be considering will have a respectable portfolio and roster of clients to show you. Anyone you’re considering should be able to demonstrate their proficiency and record of success in the industry. Anyone who can’t should probably be thanked for their time and sent on their way.
What many people often forget or don’t understand is that the process is COLLABORATIVE. You will be working with this agency – and its people – entrusting them with the future of your brand, product or service. It is imperative that both of you feel comfortable with the lines of communication and the goals of the exercise. No one wants to jump from agency to agency with each project. Ideally, you will develop a long-term partnership with your agency that allows you to feel empowered, confident that they can handle whatever you choose to throw at them, and assured that they have your best interests at heart.
Here’s a few thoughts to keep in mind when you’re in the process of choosing an agency to work with:
Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat.
Bottom line, agencies need clients. They want your work. However, same as you, they are hoping to build long term, mutually beneficial relationships. When you start discussions with any agency, don’t feel pressured to speed things up or commit to anything right out of the gate. You are in control. Move things at a pace that feels comfortable to you. Set up an initial consultation. Meet who you’ll be working with. In this introductory phase, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Company history. Clients. Workflow and processes. These are all fair game. Ask them about their relationships with other clients. Ask for references. In this initial meeting, you may or may not even discuss the specific project you might have. While you are trying to determine if this agency can handle your project, you are also trying to determine if you can work with them. Follow your gut. Most times it’s usually right. You should not feel any pressure and feel free to ask for another meeting, or time to consider your options.
Ask questions. Ask questions. ASK QUESTIONS.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. At no time should you feel intimidated because you don’t understand something. One of the main reasons to hire an agency is to help you with things you are unfamilar with or don’t have the capability of doing yourself. This is hard sometimes. It’s hard to trust someone else with what is, in some cases, your bread and butter. Any agency should be willing to work with you and help you understand why they suggest certain things or how you can use them more effectively. Agencies shouldn’t presume to know more about your product or service than you. What they may know better than you is how to effectively target your audience, who your audience is or what medium to use to get that message across. That’s what you’re coming to them for, right? They should listen to your thoughts and ideas in earnest. You should also listen to theirs. Don’t be afraid to ask them why they think you should use one tactic versus another. Ask them how they arrived at those statistics.
Lay down the law.
Make sure that you make them aware what you expect of them and how involved you wish to be. Some clients are comfortable being very hands on and take part in all of the stages of their project. They provide their own copy, shoot their own photos, present their own advertising ideas. Others simply present a rough concept and expect the agency to produce ideas for review/approval, confident that the agency has the experience and skills to return the desired result. More often than not, this is the result of a history of collaboration between the company and the agency, and that level of trust has been established through demonstrated results in the past. If you’re not comfortable writing copy, let them know. If you want to be involved in photo shoots, let them know. Although it comes with time, ideally you can get to the point where your agency understands your business goals and company ideals to such an extent that you can comfortably entrust those tasks with them, freeing you up to focus your attention on other important areas like growth, customer relations, or day-to-day operations.
Hold them to your own standard.
Regardless of what ‘other agencies may be doing’ or other stories you have heard, hold any agency to the level of professionalism that you’d expect from any business or that you demonstrate in your own. Don’t let an agency pressure or bully you into commitment, tactics or direction that you’re not comfortable with. Never sign anything you don’t agree with or don’t understand in hopes that it will ‘get worked out later’. Ask questions. Ask them to revise the document to reflect whatever it is you’re concerned about. Deliverables. Timetable. Cost. You are well within your right to ask for clarification on anything before you commit to working with them. If they are not prepared explain something or revise a project outline beforehand, they are not worth your time.
It is sometimes difficult to place your trust (and money) in an agency, especially if you’ve never worked with them before. Make sure that you educate yourself about all your options, ask for clarification and be honest about your concerns and expectations. Any agency you are considering should address these matters with the respect they deserve. Remember, it is in the best interest of the agency to make sure you are well-informed and satisfied moving forward, in hopes that the two of you can build a sustainable business partnership.