Working with an Agency for the First Time

Most companies hit a point in which they realize they can’t do everything themselves. If you’ve been a business owner for a while you have learned the key to success is to employ those that are better at doing different areas of the business then you are. Every business needs to align themselves with key people and partners that help them reach their goals. Working with an agency that knows what they are doing in both the digital and traditional marketing world is becoming an essential piece to growing any business.

When should I look at employing an agency?

Most companies in start up mode don’t have the budget to hire a full-serviced agency. That is understandable but the tricky part is most business don’t really understand at the beginning how to get their service offering out into the market. It feels like a catch twenty-two. Then there are businesses that have been doing OK for a while but have reached a dangerous plateau in their growth. This means they aren’t getting new customers in the door to take their business to the next growth level where they can hire more people which will then allow them to service more customers. These business are the ones where those working it are run off their feet, can’t physically do more but need more business to justify hiring more people to better service those customers. Then there are the businesses that have good brand authority, have met their goals in the past but are seeing a decline in growth due to changes in the market like; how customers are seeking out their services, they are having difficulty keeping customer loyalty and retaining their existing customer base, or new competition has come into their market and are basically out marketing them.

Regardless of which stage your business is in, it takes a leap of faith to spend the capital and hire a marketing agency. A couple of things to consider. Often it’s cheaper to start with hiring a company to take care of some of the outreach and lead generation tactics that you would otherwise have to hire a full-time employee to do. You also need to look at what a lead is worth to you. Depending on the business will determine what that will be. Some leads are worth under $100 which means you need to have some pretty high traffic to justify the work you’ve hired out, or some leads are worth $1,000’s to a company. Determine what a lead is worth to you and what you’re willing to spend to get that lead. Also, you may have to determine how many leads you need and how attainable that goal is to get your proper return on investment (ROI). But remember, when hiring an employee or a vendor to do something you either don’t have the time or the knowledge to do it properly, it really is an investment. It needs to pay for itself and show value to your company within a reasonable time frame.

When looking for a marketing agency to work with, they should take the time with you to help you answer this question and show you what kind of value there is. Of course, it helps to know what you want first. That would be our strongest advice we can give you. HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WANT. You know how hard it is to service and please a customer when they don’t even know what they really want from you. Like if they place an order for food, but really don’t know if they even want to eat a hamburger today. Well chances are they are not going to be satisfied with ANY hamburger. Same goes with you and the success of working with any agency.

So to answer the question above, you as a business should consider working with an agency if you are not sure where to begin to find new customers, hit a point where business is good and you have some money to invest and need to cross the next growth threshold. This is a prime-time as your business has the money to invest and actually stimulate more growth before you hit the business decline that occurs by not investing. It becomes even harder to invest when you no longer have the profits to do so. The last reason to work with an agency is that if you’re feeling you really aren’t reaching your potential and you don’t know what to do next. Most companies know they need a website, but don’t understand why the site they have isn’t being found or converting traffic to leads with those that do land on the site.

How do I know if I found the right agency for my business?

Ok, you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge and find an agency to work with. So how do you know if you have the right one for you and your business? I am the first to enforce that you have to be the right fit for an agency and the agency needs to be the right fit for you. In the end if the relationship is compatible,  you really should be developing a partnership. The agency needs to be willing to dive in and learn as much about your business as possible. They need to be willing to listen to you and help you discover what your objectives should be if you don’t already know them. They should also challenge some of your assumptions and often if they are doing their job will not be order takers, but will present you with perspectives you may not have thought of yet. They should have the ability to look at all areas of your business and help you determine different paths of improvement. And of course, we believe agencies should offer everything. It doesn’t make sense from a business or marketing stand point to have to hire multiple vendors to complete a full marketing strategy. The person developing your strategy must understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fits together. They need to know ‘when’ it makes sense to do ‘what’ to get ‘which’ result. Vendors that just offer one component of service will not have that understanding. You need to think of your marketing plan as a machine with many working parts. That is what really gives a business the growth it needs. Investing in just one gear will not start the engine.

Above all else, what the agency says to you should ultimately make sense to you as a business. You may not understand how it all works, but the reason ‘why’ you’re doing and ‘what’ the results will be and ‘how’ the user will be engaged should make sense to you. If it doesn’t, then you need to reassess and figure out why. Honestly, there is a lot of knowledge that goes into creating a fully integrated marketing plan that works but the basic concepts and the reason why you do something should be common sense. If you don’t understand what the agency is telling you and why, that is a red flag. If they can’t break it down into terms that you understand, they will not be able to do that for your customers or prospective customers either.

The agency you hire needs to take the time to hear you out. We’ve said and will continue to beat this home; you know your business better then anyone. Anyone you work with needs to take the time to get as much information from you on what you’ve found that works, what you offer and who you are talking to. In the end, you are the one in control of your business’s destiny and you should have the final say. A good agency will warn you when they feel you’re making a wrong decision and you’re responsible for standing behind that decision if it’s successful or not. But you should feel you have that control to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

How do I integrate the agency into my workflow and decisions making?

Now every agency has a process that has proven to work with them. If they don’t.. that is another red flag. Be flexible and work with what they suggest or offer as a way to manage the account. They should be somewhat flexible on how they work with you. But don’t expect them to let you handle everything they way you always do. We have found most companies are not doing a good job of managing their marketing and internal deadlines as it doesn’t get the priority it should since it doesn’t feel to the business like it’s being related to a direct sale – such as picking up a phone does. But it is important and you should have obligations that need to be met to the agency as they to you. Don’t drop the ball on those tasks, often they are vital to the success of your program. But let the agency manage you on those tasks, it’s easier to be successful when you also share the accountability. Too often we have seen projects and campaigns go sideways just because we can’t seem to get the information we need from the company or the proper approvals. Those types of problems jeopardize your whole plan and the ability for any vendor to deliver.

Stand by your approvals. Do not be afraid to say “yes, I approve”. Nothing will hurt you more or prevent progress then being parallelized in making a decision because you over analyze every detail. Understand that this will be a learning experience for both you and the agency as each business and it’s market is unique. The key is, the agency and the infrastructure that will execute your plan should be flexible enough so tactics can be tweaked and adjusted if the assumed results are not generated. That is extremely important and why when working with an agency you should look at it as a long term relationship. If so, your results should just get better with time as both sides learn through the process and are willing to try new things.

Last thing, don’t be afraid to be edgy and let your agency stretch it’s creative legs. Push the envelope on your messaging, be willing to leave an impression, and don’t feel you have to please absolutely everyone. Look at who you really want as a customer and target your creative to resonate with them. If you have a fun concept that might cause offense to a few of the elderly people in your community that you aren’t really targeting anyways, let it go and give it a try. You will create a buzz that you never thought possible and leave a lasting impression. It’s OK to not fit into the corporate mold. It’s OK to get people talking about your business.. even if it’s to stay “Can you believe they said that? I think it all the time and it was freaking funny.” The point is to stand out from your competition, you can’t do that if you are all saying the same thing in the same way.

Ultimately making a decision to work with an agency should positively impact your bottom line. You should like the people on the other end you are working with and if so, great things will come from it.

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