I’d like to let everyone in on a little secret: when you’re nice to people and treat them with respect, you’ll often receive the same in return. A shocking revelation, surely, but it’s just as true when dealing with agencies as it is any other service provider. In the same way the barista at your regular coffee shop will occasionally upgrade your drink or a waiter will give more attention to the pleasant tables, the people behind your marketing efforts are much more likely to exceed expectations, negotiate on price, or drop everything to help you when an issue arises if you’re a well-liked client.
How do you build this kind of relationship with your agency, freelancer, or vendors? Here are five things you can do to become your agency’s favorite client in the new year:
1. Give us a single point of contact.
Most agencies you work with will give you a single point of contact on a project, be it an account executive or project manager. Other members of the team may get face time with you (developers, designers, business analysts, etc.) but ultimately decisions about the project are the responsibility of the project lead. Your team should take a similar approach to the project. Regardless of how many stakeholders are on the project, there should be one person to filter out the noise of internal politics and be the main contact for the agency team. This person should also be authorized to make decisions. The more decisions that have to be put in front of a committee of stakeholders, the longer it will take to get an answer and the more a project will be delayed.
2. Plan ahead, even if your plan is to admit you don’t have a plan.
Nothing is more frustrating on a project than last-minute requirements. All too often designers and developers are told at the 11th hour about a new feature that fundamentally changes the way the site, design, or application should be constructed. While there’s something to be said for an agency being able to roll with the punches, the earlier we can figure out the core requirements and functionality of the application, the smoother the process can be.
“Planning ahead” also means being prepared for meetings. Our agency makes a point of reviewing necessary materials before hopping on a call and it’s unfortunate that so few people we talk to are willing to do the same. The less time spent in meetings, the faster we can get back to work.
Don’t know what you’re looking for with your project? Don’t worry, that’s actually okay as long as you’re willing to admit it. After all, you’re hiring the agency for its expertise and experience. While nobody (dentists aside) enjoys pulling teeth, a client who has several fuzzy, conflicting ideas can be more frustrating than a client who is a blank canvas. It’s not unheard of for a client to say, “I’m not sure how best to solve my problem.” Let the professional problem solvers work through it and make suggestions for you. It’s much easier to work with a client who has a problem and no solutions in mind than vague,”I need a mobile app, but I don’t know what it should do” type clients.
3. Set reasonable (and flexible) expectations.
After doing all the research, laying out a plan, and setting milestones for deliverables, there’s still always a chance that something will go wrong. More often than not someone involved with the project will quit, misinterpret the requirements, miss a deadline, or otherwise drop the ball. The bigger the project and/or team, the higher the chances of this happening. Regardless of whether the issue comes from the client or agency side, some part of the project, usually one that is required before another part can be started, will be delayed. Nobody’s a fan of these transgressions but the reality is they’re a very real part of client projects.
If someone on the client team misses a deadline preparing content, that will most likely delay the launch of the site. The same goes for rescheduling kick-offs, missing deadlines on design feedback, or adding last-minute requirements to the project. Where great clients stand out is how they handle these issues when they arise. A *good* client will own up to these delays and adjust expectations to compensate, whether it’s pushing the launch date, or if the launch date is firm, reducing the complexity or number of requirements. Conversely, a *bad* client will demand that the original milestones are met – with the original functionality and budget – refusing to be held accountable for delays caused on their end.
Concerns regarding scope often arise when a project isn’t thoroughly researched before a proposal is prepared. Project managers like to reduce the amount of time spent on proposals (sales time is typically not billable nor are proposals much fun to write) and clients usually prefer to get something to sign off on as quickly as possible. The fewer details an agency has about a project before writing a proposal, the bigger the grain of salt everything should be taken with. Help your agency provide more detailed estimates and scope by providing detailed requirements in writing. Assume that anything mentioned in passing during a meeting, if not explicitly written into the scope, will be a point of friction at some point during the project.
4. A paying client is an awesome client.
This should go without saying, but a client who pays invoices in a timely fashion is much more likely to be in the good graces of the agency team. Last-minute or delayed payments can certainly impact project timelines, but they can also negatively effect the people who are working on your account. It’s not uncommon for bonuses, commissions, or staffing decisions to be held off until final payment is made on the project. While the client is within their rights to wait until the invoice’s due date, a reputation for quick payments is worth its weight in gold the next time you need a rush job from your agency.
Making timely payments is a sign of respect and professionalism between a client and agency. Think back to the last time you loaned money to a friend. Did he or she pay you back quickly? If not, did it get irritating? Did you start thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t loan this person money again?” In the agency world, the loan is our work, which has a certain value, and the client is the friend who will either, 1). drag his feet, try to reduce the repayment amount, or claim you never loaned him the money at all, or 2). promptly repay the loan. Like in most Goofus and Gallant stories, it’s in your best interest to be the latter.
5. Realize that web projects are ongoing.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that major web projects are rarely a “launch it and forget it” task. When budgets get tight and features get bumped to “version 2,” that doesn’t mean they’ll never see the light of day. There are few web projects that couldn’t benefit from a few more hours spent refactoring (rewriting for the sake of performance, readability, or maintainability), optimizing content, or squeezing more performance out of the web server.
Upgrades are important too. A good agency will have a dedicated test server available to make sure that new plugin version won’t break the site. Setting up a maintenance agreement or retainer with your agency may reduce your costs (versus straight hourly pricing) and keep your site from going into shock when someone gets brave enough two years after launch to attempt untested upgrades on production without a disaster recovery plan (not that that’s ever happened to anyone, right?).