1. Decide what it is that you need
Before you decide who it is you need, you need to know what it is you need. There are so many agencies out there who do all kinds of things – but if they don’t do what you need for your business, they simply won’t be a good fit. Just answering some quick questions should help get you pointed in the right direction:
- What is my business problem?/Why am I thinking about an agency?
- What area does it fall into?
- Do I want to work on this problem as well or do I want someone else to deal with all of it?
- Will this be a short fix or something that will be ongoing/take a long time?
- What is my budget for employing an agency for it?
Straight away this should give you a good idea about what it is you need. From there, things are a little more clear. Do you need a creative agency? Do you need an agency that specialises in lead-generation websites? Or maybe you just need some overall marketing consultancy. Either way, you can focus more on the missing piece that an agency can provide your business.
2. Think about what is most important for you – name over substance? Local? Track record?
While you might be a little more clear now about what your business needs, there may be some factors you need to think about to narrow the list even further. For example, do you want an agency close by so its easy to visit them for meetings, or for them to visit you at short notice? Do you want to work with a bigger agency or a smaller one? All of these things have pros and cons, and a lot of it will depend on other issues like budget and requirements. Others will be as basic as personal preference for you.
3. Do your homework – check out their work, previous successes, people, etc. …
This one sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people skip this step, only to get surprised further down the line. Unless an agency has literally just opened, they should have plenty of examples of work and case studies of successes from working with other businesses. These are a great way to
a) see what kind of businesses already trust that agency and
b) find out more about what they can offer your business in a realistic sense – not just what they say through a flashy website.
A little bit of research might also give you useful information like how long the company has been running (established), how many clients they have overall (will you be one of many or a key account for them), what their culture is like (do they work hard and play hard, care for their customers, only want money, etc.). All of these seemingly little things can give you a great overall picture about whether an agency is the right one for you.
4. If in doubt, ask – request examples, references, ask about specific areas relevant to your needs, etc. …
If you want to know something more, ask. Nearly all agencies will be very keen to get a new customer, and so should be happy to answer any questions you might have. This extends to sharing examples of work that might fit what you need, or references from other clients of theirs who can provide a testimonial so you have an unbiased opinion. Even if you want to know more about a specific area that you feel isn’t obvious, just ask. For example, you need a social media strategy and content plan, but the agency you have your eye on only has one example of that exact thing in their portfolio. Chances are they have lots more examples which might even be more specific, but they only had space for one project like that in their portfolio. And even if they do only have that one example, you can talk to them about your needs and see if its something they can handle.
5. Meet with them – see how it works to your needs, etc. …
If you can ask these questions in person, even better. At some point you will need to meet with an agency or a small shortlist of agencies to be introduced to who you will be working with, how they work, and what they can do for you. This is a great time to ask lots of questions and drill into whether they are the right fit. Sure, they might have an office to rival google or facebook, but if they can’t or don’t do the one thing you need then they aren’t the agency for you. The best thing to look out for at this point is an agency that is keen to understand your business and your needs, rather than just trying to sell. If you have a an agency that asks you more questions than you ask them, that’s usually a good thing.
6. If it feels good, do it
OK, so you’ve done your research, asked around, and you’ve met with an agency that’s a good fit and has a great track record with what you need. So what are you waiting for? Let them know you want to work with them and take it from there. Lots of businesses get to this point in the process and then hesitate, re-think, only to find out a few months later that the agency they wanted to work with is now busy with other work and doesn’t have time for your project or problem. All the while, the problem you had the in first place is now bigger than ever and you have to start all over again knowing you missed out on your number 1 choice.
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