How to be a Good Client when Hiring an Agency

| October 3rd, 2013 | , , , ,

How to be a good client when working with an agency

In our formative years, Pelago was a web design and development agency that completed over 300 web projects for over 100 clients. We worked with just about every type of client you can imagine. We could tell story after story about the good clients and bad clients — how to hold onto the good ones, and how to fire the bad ones.

Fast forward a few years. Our agency transitioned into a software business with our flagship online project management software, Intervals. Being a SaaS company has required us to work with several creative and marketing agencies . We had to put on the client hat.

Seeing the client-agency relationship through the client’s eyes gave us a new perspective on what it’s like to be the client. It’s not easy. It requires a decent amount of effort. Here are some tips on how to be the good client when hiring an agency.

#1: Trust and patience are prerequisites

When you are paying an agency thousands of dollars a month you might expect a certain level of hand-holding. But keep in mind why you hired the agency in the first place — so you don’t have to do the work, and because they are the experts.  You have to trust the agency is going to operate in your best interest. If you can’t, that’s on you, not the agency.

And be patient. The agency has other clients besides you. Don’t expect immediate turnaround on every request. Do have a conversation to set reasonable expectations, and agree upon turnaround times and delivery dates.

Trust and patience are the cornerstones of the agency relationship and need to be established before any work begins.

#2: Communicate as clearly as possible

This may sound straight-forward, but communication is difficult. It is really hard to convey your vision.  Email can be hard to interpret, so use every tool at your disposal. Pick up the phone, draw a picture, hop on Skype, paste together a few screenshots, sketch out wireframes.

Take the time to communicate clearly, to make sure you and the agency are on the same page. Otherwise, your instructions are subject to interpretation, and can easily be misunderstood.

#3: Meet your deadlines

Your participation is going to be required throughout the agency relationship. You will be expected to provide feedback and other materials. Don’t wait until the last minute to get back to the agency. Be proactive in getting them what they need to do their job efficiently.

Make the agency and your project a priority. And when you are unable to respond to a request in time, let the agency know. And don’t be surprised if your tardiness delays the overall project deadline. The agency is depending on you as much as you are on them.

#4: Don’t micromanage

This goes back to the first tip on trust and patience. When you meddle you come across as a puppeteer, trying to control the agency by pulling on their strings. Remember, you hired this agency for their expertise. Let them show you what they are capable of producing before you get too involved.

Meanwhile, let them do their work. They might do things differently than you would, but they get them done.

#5: Pay promptly

Getting paid on time is one of the biggest challenges facing agencies. In fact, an agency is well within their rights to put your project on hold if they haven’t been paid. Your ability to pay on time is the best way to maintain your reputation as a good client. If you can’t pay on time, let the agency know.

#6: Stay on target

Stay within the original scope and respect the limits placed on the project. If you want something that isn’t covered in the scope, or was not previously discussed, don’t expect it to happen without paying for it. If you do agree to pay more for more work, understand that it may push back the deadline.

#7: Don’t haggle

Respect the agency’s pricing model. If they offer you a discounted rate, take it. But don’t go back and forth over pricing on the small stuff. Haggling over the details to try and reduce the price by a few dollars here and there is disrespectful and demoralizing. Just don’t do it.

The golden rule

When in doubt, imagine yourself in the agency’s shoes. How would you want to be treated by your clients? And if you are still not sure, just ask. Honesty and transparency go a long way in maintaining a positive working relationship between client and agency.

Photo credit: Ingrid Taylar

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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