Should you work with an agency? 3 key questions to ask yourself first
Working with an agency gives businesses access to premium talent, the flexibility of a parachute team, and fresh ideas to help clients reach their goals. It can also be a badge of honour for growing businesses; signalling the success to now be able to partner with an agency.
But before you get excited about drafting agency briefs or inviting agencies to pitch, take a beat and ask yourself if an agency partnership is the right form of resource you need right now.
For scrappy startups entering sophisticated scale-up mode, the chances are you've relied on freelancers or even small agencies as you gradually build your in-house team to get to where you are now. There's also a chance you've been "burnt" by an agency experience before. Or, as the sole marketer in the business, you know you need extra support but you need to be mindful of the best fit to help take the business to the next level.
So, here are the 3 key questions to ask yourself to assess if working with an agency is the best solution for your high-growth tech business right now:
What can an agency offer you that alternatives like hiring or freelancers cannot?
Do you have the internal resources for working with an agency? In terms of both bandwidth for managing your partners, as well as funds to pay them.
Do you have the tools or systems in place to empower an agency partner?
1. What can an agency offer you that alternatives like hiring or freelancers cannot?
Hiring people to form part of your in-house team is a big commitment, from both sides of the table. With a clear vision in place and an ideal org chart for your business, take the time to properly vet or headhunt the right people that are coming along for the ride with you (ideally for the long haul).
Chances are you already have 1-2 marketers in your organisation now, or you're starting to think about filling that first, pure marketing role - whatever the specifics of the job description may look like. An alternative resource (like freelancers or an agency partner) provide speed of action if you don't have someone in place just yet, or the much-needed resource to flex up your lean team in the here and now.
If you've already worked with a collection of freelancers, then you'll also be familiar with the demands on your time to manage each of them. Depending on how many contractors you co-ordinate, they ultimately report directly to you - each with their own management systems, ways of working, accounting software, and varying availability - lacking the cohesion of a team and straining internal management time.
Furthermore, individual professionals spread across different clients and projects may lack the buy-in or commitment preferred for the ambitious business. This includes both emotionally and practically, as their fluctuating availability makes it hard to guarantee they'll always be there for you.
Therefore, the key benefits to consider with an agency may be:
High speed of action;
Huge time-saving by immediately tapping into an entire, pre-vetted team;
Guaranteed availability and commitment to your business (if on a monthly retainer), and;
The flexibility of both scaling up and dialling down as when needed. (Especially if there's a clear seasonality to your business with obvious peaks and troughs, or when you need all hands on deck for a specific campaign).
If working with an agency is the right thing for you, the next step is to then identify and agree the desired criteria for that special agency with whom to collaborate. Coming up next on the blog.
2. Do you have the internal resources for working with an agency?
If only there were a magic wand you could wave to make your new agency swoop in, immediately know everything, take the work off your desk, and return with incredible results.
Sadly, until the arrival of next-level AI or supreme robotics, this will remain a fantasy for overworked teams.
(And even then, can the creativity, freshness, proactivity, and decision-making of humans ever fully be outsourced to bots... ? Maybe that's a blog for another day).
Instead, the reality of working with an agency requires exactly that; work.
There needs to exist some form of internal resource to be available for proper briefing, checking, direction, and approval of agency work as part of the management process. Not to mention the relationship building required for a successful partnership!
Of course a great agency needs to be empowered enough to take as much off your plate for you as possible, so by no means do we want to insinuate that agency management is an arduous task, but the best relationships come from work put in from both sides.
Bandwidth to manage your partners is one type of resource required for working with an agency. Let's not overlook having the actual funds available to pay them as the other resource required.
A basic requirement of a business contract entails the exchange of goods or services in exchange for payment. (Unless the agreement is pro-bono). The budget allocation needs to be clearly communicated upfront, including the agreed agency service fee, before any bills are raised or nasty surprises are encountered.
Whether the business is funded via profits from revenue generation, external investors like VCs, or a government grant - don't rush in to signing agreements until the money is in your account and you know you can keep your word. Payment for services provided is non-negotiable.
3. Do you have the tools or systems in place to empower an agency partner?
The overall operations of your business should run like a well-oiled machine. (We say "should" as of course we are very familiar with the realities of fast-paced, high-growth businesses!) But certain systems - be they operational guidance docs or tech programmes - are ideally in place so that when a new agency partner onboards, they seamlessly and nicely slot straight in.
Your new agency partner will require some level of onboarding or immersion at the very beginning - to understand who's who in the team, familiarise with ways of working, and of course to better understand the business (including the core value proposition, the mission/vision of the company, the brand, and what's worked/what hasn't before).
From then on, you and your agency partner should fall into a nice rhythm - provided clear briefing from the get-go, and certain tools or systems to help you both fully align, communicate effectively, build solid relationships, and ultimately deliver great work.
So before considering working with an agency, ask yourself: can your business provide all of the clarity, resource, and systems to successfully collaborate with an agency, and maximise the value of that relationship?
Bloom is an award-winning brand marketing agency for high-growth tech scale-ups. Our work has been featured in the likes of The Independent, Sifted, and Startups Magazine, with clients listed in the UK's Top 5 Startups of the country. Book a call or get in touch here to find out what makes Bloom the tech industry's favourite agency.
The key benefits of working with an agency:
An agency is full of skilled marketers, strategists, creatives... all with years' of varied experience. Within an agency, there are people with different marketing skills and depths of knowledge, depending on the specialism. Each person can bring something to the table, greatly enhancing your existing marketing.
With a retained agency, you have your pre-made team acting almost like your outsourced marketing department. Their buy-in to your business and vision, plus the availability is something you may not be able to guarantee with freelancers or otherwise.
One of the selling points of working with an agency is the creativity they bring to your tech scale-up. With a fresh perspective, they will have different ways of viewing the same challenge, bringing new ideas to the table. They are also immersed in their own creative industry, taking cues from other brands to help add further value to your organisation.
External marketing agencies are not influenced by biases or assumed knowledge so can get a clearer message across to your customers. They can offer a new perspective that your existing team may have not considered before.