Working With Agencies

Brandon Eley

At our interactive agency, we often have work that is either outside our core area of expertise or that we simply don’t have the resources to complete in the time required. We often look to outsource these projects to a few trusted contractors we have worked with often. Several times per month, we send a contract project to a copywriter, photographer, programmer or designer. We are always looking for good people to add to our list of resources for future projects.

We love having reliable contractors with various skill sets that we know do good work. Unfortunately many times just doesn’t work out. In fact, most contractors are never asked to do a second project. Dave Hecker, author of the SitePoint book Outsourcing Web Projects: 6 Steps to a Smarter Business once told me to find good, reliable contractors I’d have to try 5 or more that didn’t work out. Those aren’t very good odds! Even though we check portfolios, review sample code, and call references, the majority of contractors still don’t meet up to our standards.

What’s involved in working with an agency? Why do most projects end in failure? What can contractors and small companies do to successfully pitch an agency? And how can you make sure your project is a huge success so you’re hired again (and again)? Read on.

Benefits of Working with an Agency

The right agency is a perfect client. Think of all the things that frustrate you about working with clients; they don’t understand how websites work, or they expect an for $500, or they want to be able to change text on a page one hundred times without having to pay any extra. These are non-issues when working with an agency.

Most agencies (especially interactive agencies) know how the industry works. They are willing to pay respectable rates for work, and understand that time is billed hourly and changes cost money.

The right agency will provide detailed information about each project, including budget, timeframe, technical specifications, and deliverables. They will happily answer any questions you have, and should be able to answer them easily.

Another, and perhaps the biggest benefit of working with agencies, is that they can send you a steady stream of work. We often have several projects at a time that we could outsource to programmers and developers, and we have no shortage of work in the pipeline.

What Agencies Look For in Contractors

Okay, so you’re interested in doing work for agencies… how can you make yourself stand out? We find contractors all sorts of places, but regardless of where we find them, we always look for the following at a minimum:

  • Website with basic profile/biography and contact information
  • Resume or comprehensive LinkedIn profile
  • Creative portfolio or live examples of websites built
  • Code samples for programmers

This is a bare minimum. We need to be able to check out a contractor to make sure they have the basics before moving on to the RFP stage. If we feel a contractor meets the minimum requirements, we will send them a request for proposal, with detailed information such as a technical specification, creative brief, or even a working mockup and ask for an estimate.

If everything looks good, we’ll often schedule a phone or Skype interview to discuss the particulars of the project, answer any questions, and see when we could get started.

How to Exceed Expectations

This is where things often fall apart. Contractors always seem to do a great job during the courting phase, but once the project gets underway you really find out about their work ethic and skills. If you want repeat business, this is where you really need to shine.

The biggest issue we have during a project is lack of communication. We even have had contractors promise to give us daily updates, only to not hear from them for a week or two at a time. The key here is to be clear about when and how you will communicate, and follow through.

The second biggest issue we have is missed deadlines. Agencies have clients we are accountable to, so when we don’t hear from a contractor for weeks or deadlines get pushed back, we have to push back deadlines with our client, which makes us look bad. Putting me in a bad position with one of my clients is a sure-fire way to never get any more work from me. I understand emergencies happen, but communication is essential. If something comes up and you will not be able to make a deadline or milestone, let them know as soon as possible.

The last major issue we have is failure to meet the requirements we have provided. We provide detailed information on what we are looking for in a design, script, or copy. So often what we receive back from a contractor is missing a major requirement, such as a graphic in the wrong format or a script that doesn’t do one of the functions we requested. If you have a question about /any/ of the requirements, ask for clarification. It’s a good idea to setup a phone or Skype call to go over the requirements or brief before beginning. Ask a lot of questions, and make sure youfully understand exactly what is being asked.

In short, over-communicate, meet deadlines, and be absolutely sure you meet the requirements, and you will set yourself up to receive a lot of repeat business!

To be continued…

In my next issue, we’ll continue this discussion with tips on how to find agencies who are looking for contractors.