How to Identify Agency Partners That Align With Your Business Goals Jonathan Herrick As entrepreneurs, we learn to be resourceful — but no business owner can do it all alone. Whether big or small, at some point you’ll probably need help from partners who have expertise you lack — or who can help you offload work that’s piling up on your desk. Sometimes, you may need help from a team. In that case, you may need to turn to an agency that has a specific expertise, like social media, advertising or buying Facebook advertising. Here’s how to find the right agency partners. Look for similar values. If you’re looking for a marketing firm or other creative services, an agency partnership will be most productive if you’re both on the same page, in terms of the types of messaging you think is appropriate. A marketing agency known for edgy, in-your-face campaigns may be great for you if you’re a B2C brand or run an L.A. fashion line for example, but it may not be a good fit for you if you’re an enterprise B2B software company trying to fill the sales funnel. Sometimes, it’s not obvious what type of work an agency specializes in from its website, especially in the case of smaller agencies that don’t work for famous brands. Before you meet with any agency, follow it on social media, look at the advertising it does for its own company and ask to see the campaigns of some of the other customers it serves. The better you know the agency’s “voice,” the easier it will be to determine if the agency is a good fit. Stuck trying to find your agency match? Try a resource such as Clutch that can match your business to the right agency. You can check out their expertise and reviews and increase the likelihood you can find the right partner. Seek out niche expertise. There’s an ongoing conversation in every field about the key issues that matter and how to reach the right audience. An agency that knows what’s being talked about and where will be able to help you add to the conversation, too. If you’re running a fitness or health & wellness business and want to build your presence online, an agency that does general digital marketing might be able to do a solid job. But you’ll likely be even better off with one that specializes in digital marketing for the health and wellness industry and understands your business inside and out. Know your ideal price point. Most small businesses don’t have a “sky’s the limit” budget for hiring agency partners. Make sure you speak to several agencies to find out their pricing, so you know the going rates for the services you need at various tiers of agencies. Often, there’s wide variation, depending on the types of services offered and the level of TLC customers get. Lower-priced agencies don’t necessarily provide better value. Sometimes, agencies charge lower prices because they are relying on very inexperienced team members or outsourcing the majority of their work. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, a great agency can keep rates down because they have a strong internal project management team that can deliver results and get the most out of using lower-cost freelancers. Another factor in the cost might just be where the agency is located. A firm on the coasts may be a bit higher than one in the midwest due to the higher employee payroll, rent and cost of living. If you love an agency but can’t afford a full, retainer engagement, ask if there are other options that would be a win-win for both of you. For instance, if a thought-leadership agency normally produces four blogs a month for clients on its retainer plan, perhaps it offers a scaled down version of one blog a month. Quality is often more important than quantity when it comes to building your brand. Make sure you like working with the agency’s team. Every agency has its own culture. Make sure your partner’s culture meshes with your own so projects go smoothly. If, for instance, your team is made up of metric-driven perfectionists and you hire a more creative-focused agency, there’s bound to be conflict in your future. Sometimes even regional differences in the way business is conducted can come into play. If your team is all about down-home friendliness and you hire an agency where everyone is moving at 100 miles per hour and doesn’t take time for chit-chat, there are bound to be bruised feelings. How do you know if there’s a good culture fit? See if an agency will allow you to do a small project together first as a trial run. Nothing will tell you more about whether the relationship will be successful than how you — and your team members who interface with the agency — feel about that project afterward. A great agency partner will be vetting your company carefully during that period, too. It’s in an agency’s best interest to make sure it can serve you well. Many agencies have gotten burned by clients who cancel important meetings, don’t deliver necessary information on time or treat their teams poorly. In the end, an agency worth its salt won’t want to take on a client that isn’t committed to making the relationship successful. Ideally, your agency partnership will last for the long haul, which means it has to work for both parties.