Hiring and working with a digital agency comes with a lot of considerations.
Not only will you need to think about how to appropriately vet a digital agency, but also what the working relationship will look like.
In order to ensure that you are getting the most out of your digital agency – and that you aren’t driving them crazy – consider these factors.
1) Proposal and Strategy
When you are initially engaging with a digital agency, you should expect to receive some form of value upfront before you invest in their services.
This can take different forms such as:
- Proposals – The agency you are speaking with should at the very least prepare a presentation in regard to strategy and execution.
- Test project – In some cases, it may be worth hiring the agency for a test project initially. This works better with some services such as content, but not so much with something like SEO, which takes longer.
- Audit – Agencies may provide you with a free audit, such as things to optimize with your technical SEO or how to improve your design.
Getting value upfront will help you evaluate the expertise of the agency and demonstrates that they are serious about helping you.
2) Niche Speciality
Any agency you engage with should ideally have experience working with other clients who are similar to you in terms of both your specific needs and the market you operate in.
- Market – Not all markets are the same and need different strategies. A B2B company selling machinery parts will need a completely different approach to ethical fashion brands in terms of marketing channels, messaging, and sales cycles.
- Marketing channel – Your digital agency should also have real experience with whichever marketing channel is best suited to you. Remember that you are competing for customers in each channel, so you need somebody who knows the nuances that will allow your message to stand out.
Understanding the legal side of your relationship with your agency will ensure that you don’t have any nasty surprises.
When you sign a contract with an agency, here are some things you should expect:
- No guarantees – Naturally, an agency will likely do their best to ensure that you get results. However, you will never find an agency that will guarantee a set of results in the contract. Although they may be competent, there is no way they can know for certain they’ll get you results.
- Fixed period of time – Most contracts are agreed on for a fixed period of time, e.g 3 months. This means that you won’t be able to simply cancel the agreement once you get started, unless there is a clause allowing you to do so.
- No responsibility – An agency doesn’t hold the responsibility for any damages your brand may incur through their marketing activity. This is one of the reasons why you need to be prudent when evaluating different agencies.
4) Cost Expectations
When you are hiring an agency, you are engaging in a form of outsourcing.
But despite the connotations, outsourcing doesn’t necessarily mean cost savings. If you work with the best agencies, you will have to pay adequately for their expertise.
Some agencies may promise to do the same work for less, but there is always a logical reason why one agency charges more than the other. Chances are, they have more experience and expertise.
It’s important to also keep in mind the cost difference between hiring an agency and building an in-house team. Consider how much it would cost you to hire the top talent in a particular field, versus hiring an agency who already has them.
5) Project Scope
Oftentimes, business owners engage with an agency without a clear understanding of exactly what they want.
Although this is understandable, you should speak with your agency and get a crystal clear idea of what the scope of the project is.
You will need to consider:
- Timeline – How long do you see your working relationship with your agency lasting? Is it a short contractual project to complete a content series? Or do you need an ongoing partner to work with indefinitely?
- Evolving needs – You may hire an agency to take care of your SEO, but soon realize that you actually need help producing great content. You will need to map out all the ways you will need help and account for that in your project scope.
- Budget – Longer and more complex projects cost more, so you will need to have a realistic grasp of how far your budget will stretch.
6) Results Expectations
Getting results for your business is the ultimate goal when hiring an agency, but it’s important to have a realistic perspective on what success looks like.
- Testing phase – At the start of any relationship with a new agency, there will be a period of adjustment and testing before both of you find the right cadence. This could be a matter of months, depending on what the focus is.
- Failure management – Even the best digital agencies don’t have any magic powers. Although they may do their best, there are sometimes factors outside their control. For instance, the competition in your market may be very tough. You should accept that there is always a risk of failure when engaging with an agency.
- Quantified results – With product services like design or programming, the end result is easier to agree on. With marketing, however, there are a lot more variables that can be hard to predict upfront. For instance, a PPC agency can’t tell you exactly how many leads they can get you without running the appropriate tests.
7) Hiring Multiple Agencies
Something you may be thinking about is whether you should hire multiple agencies or just one that can handle everything.
Working with different agencies has perks including:
- In theory, you will be able to find super-specialized agencies for each of your marketing needs. This should provide better results
- You can leverage and gain insights from different perspectives
- You diversify the risk of relying on one team
But there are some limitations too.
- It can create a lot more work having to manage multiple agencies. If managed badly, performance can suffer
- Not all the agencies may be as good as each other
- It may be difficult to get agencies to collaborate together on a holistic marketing strategy
Hiring multiple agencies can be useful if there is something very specific that you need to solve. For instance, if you are in a niche market and need content creators who have deep knowledge of your market.
8) Personal Workload
When you engage with a digital agency, you are leveraging an external team that can help you achieve your goals.
However, this doesn’t mean that they are going to take over your business and do all the work for you. Particularly when engaging with a digital marketing agency, you will still have some responsibilities:
- You will need to ensure that your landing pages are well optimized so that you can convert the increased traffic into customers
- There will be tasks that you have to do at the onset of the relationship such as providing access to software, creating customer profiles and so on
- Depending on the type of work you have hired for, you may need to complete specific tasks such as taking high quality product photos or interviewing your team for content ideas
Micromanagement is typically never a good thing, but you are more likely to pull it off successfully if you are working with a small in-house team.
Working with a digital agency is another story.
Your digital agency will have their own set of processes and ways of working which you won’t easily be able to oversee and become involved in.
Remember that an agency operates in a different manner to your employees and they aren’t simply there to do as you tell them.
There are also logistical barriers even if you wanted to micromanage an agency. You may only have direct communication with an account manager and not the other members of the team, for instance.
And not only will the agency not be in the same location as you, but there is a chance that they could be in a completely different timezone.
10) Business Fundamentals
Here’s the deal.
If you have a bad business, it wouldn’t matter if you hire the best digital marketing agency in the world. They would simply be sending traffic into a blackhole.
You need to deeply understand whether your current challenges are a result of your marketing strategy or a weak business in itself. Before talking to a digital marketing agency, think deeply about the following:
Have you validated your product?
If you barely have any customers, hiring a digital agency probably isn’t the best idea. Find out if there is a strong demand for your product first.
Is there a large addressable market?
Digital agencies will help you build out scalable marketing channels. And to see the best results, you need to have a product and a market that can scale. Selling personalized homemade cookies in your local area probably isn’t the right fit for a digital agency.
Do you have any proof of marketing potential?
In addition to proving that you have a product that sells, you need some inclination that digital marketing channels will work for you. For instance, are their competitors in your space that are doing well online?
11) Agencies Have Multiple Clients
Digital agencies structure their business so that they can work with multiple clients. And like any other business, they are usually trying to grow, which means taking on new clients.
What you need to keep in mind here is that any given digital agency will never put 100% of their resources and focus onto your particular goals.
You will be assigned an account manager, and depending on the work involved you may have direct contact with the team members who are executing on the marketing strategy.
But you will likely not have access to the senior team, unless you are one of their biggest and most important clients.
It’s also important to keep in mind that even the account manager and marketing people you work with will likely be working on other projects too. It is unlikely you will work with agency members who are 100% focused on your project.
12) Agencies Have Their Own Processes
When you start engaging with a digital agency, you will quickly come to find out that you are essentially integrating with another company.
This means that there has to be a good symbiosis between the different parts of your company and theirs.
- Team – As agencies are mostly about human relationships and not software, you will need to see if your team actually gets on well with their team. Even if it’s a right fit in terms of skills and track record, sometimes different personalities don’t see eye to eye.
- Culture – You will need to examine the culture and values that your agency partner embodies and see if it meshes well with yours. You may for instance prioritize a more slow and steady approach, but they may focus on results by any means.
- Processes – You may expect an agency partner that is always on stand by and ready to engage, whereas they may structure themselves more around long periods of deep work. They may be more methodical in how they work, where you may focus more on fundamental execution. You will need to ensure that your processes and styles of working sync up too.
Having the appropriate expectations will set you up for success and a more harmonious relationship with any digital agency you work with.
The main takeaway here is to understand what an agency can and can’t do for your business.
As talented and experienced as they may be, they can only work with what you give them.
You will need to ensure that your own house is in order first so that when you do work with an agency they can help you scale up what’s already working.