5 ways to get the best out of your digital agency

Nov. 14, 2016

When employing a digital agency on a project, you can save time and money with a little pre-project preparation

Having been a project manager on both the agency and client side of big website builds, I've found that the smoothest projects and best agency client relationships are a result of good preparation on the client side. Here are five simple ways to get your relationship with your agency off to the best possible start.

1 - Establish clear lines of communications

Of any of these suggestions, turning around agency queries quickly, with clear decisions, can have the most direct, and positive impact on the overall cost of your project.

There should be one main point of contact in your organisation who will liaise directly with the project manager at your digital agency. That person should have the power to make at least reasonably important decisions. For example, that person should be able to make a call on a design query for a website, or on the detailed functionality of a feature of an app. Usually this person will be the project manager on the business side. If this is you, make sure the limits of your authority are clearly defined with senior stakeholder in your business.

When it comes to big decisions that need wider consultation within your business, you should have a clearly defined route for getting these decisions made. Perhaps you have a weekly meeting with a project board, where agency queries could be a standing agenda item.

For big, complicated projects, you might need multiple points of contacts, each responsible for a specific feature or area of the project. Each of these people should have decision making powers over their area. They will also need to communicate with each other very regularly, to make sure that they aren't sending mixed messages back to the agency. This should be avoided at all costs, as confusion on the agency side will lead to higher costs. Stick to one point of contact if at all possible.

2 - Got brand guidelines? Hand'em over!

If your project involves design of any kind, make sure your agency has your branding guidelines as soon as possible. If you don't have a company endorsed, branding guidelines document, don't worry, your agency should help you to define what you expect from the design element of your project, and this can be based on your existing corporate identity as necessary.

Branding guidelines are often very expensive documents to but together. If your company has one, then you'll almost certainly be expected to at least pay it lip-service. I've seen projects spend thousands of pounds on design work only to find, once the branding guidelines were finally delivered, that almost of all of the work had to be redone. Avoid this at all costs! Find the guidelines and hand them over.

3 - Come prepared with buy-in from the top

Getting buy-in from the senior execs in a business from the outset can only help smooth the communication process as the project progresses. Hold one-to-one meetings with the top-stakeholders at the beginning of the process to make them feel like their ideas and concerns are being taken into consideration. Try to get them excited about the results your project could deliver, and discuss what they think should be the priority goals for the project. Don't over-promise though. This is also a good time to discuss business objectives.

4 - What are your business objectives for the project?

Your agency should help you through the process of discovering who your users are, and what exactly they need, but before they can do that, they'll need to know the concrete results that you want to see from your project. Business objectives are the start of that. You can save quite a bit of time and discussion with your agency by being able to provide these business objectives for the project up-front. Discussing these internally will also generate buy-in for your project.

A good agency will subject these initial objectives to scrutiny, and you should be willing to accept change if strong arguments are made. However, the act of compiling these objectives will allow you to focus on the most important desired benefits that you want to get out of a project.

Sometimes, projects can seem large and abstract, making it hard to focus down your objectives to a manageable list. For example, with a website design, it can often feel like just finishing the project is success enough in itself. I mean, you've got a whole brand new website, right? But this mentality can lead to loosing track of the things that really matter for your business and your site visitors, like usability, search engine and speed optimisation, and conversion rates.

A great tool to help you develop your business objectives and related key performance indicators (KPIs) is the Digital Marketing and Measurement Model, created by digital marketing and analytics guru, Avinash Kaushik. Read this, follow his instructions, and you'll end up with objectives and KPIs ready to hand straight over to your agency.

5 - Start capturing data as soon as possible

Tracking the performance of a new website or app against existing solutions will be very difficult if you have no data on how your existing solutions are performing. Collecting this data should be a top priority.

Historical data will allow your agency to see how much course correction is required to meet your business objectives. For a website redesign or build, make sure you have analytics installed on your current site, and start tracking performance (new users, session times, goal conversion rates etc) against your KPIs in a spreadsheet.Your agency project manager's eyes will light up when you hand this over to them at the beginning of the project.