This article is the third part in my series about navigating the chaotic waters of relationships with partner agencies and freelancers. If you've made it this far, you understand what goes into finding and bringing on the right partner, as well as how to assess when it isn't providing the ROI you need and letting them down without rocking the boat. The process takes a significant amount of time and energy — you don't want to stop here.
In the third and final installment, we'll look at the importance of maximizing the impact of these relationships.
Leveraging Relationships During Times of Uncertainty
While the world around us is currently in the throes of chaos, the timing of this piece couldn't be better. Here's why:
Pick any point in history — having a great working relationship with your agency and freelancers has always been a critical part of owning or operating an ad agency or eCommerce business. At OMG Commerce, we've always been committed to a world-class level of service and assistance to our clients, but "world-class" has taken on an entirely new meaning in the last few months. There's no doubt that COVID-19 has been an opportunity to gauge the strength of our client relationships.
During a global crisis, you can either panic and cut ties or double down on the trust you've fostered with your partners. The first few months of COVID-19 have been a significant adjustment for everyone, but I'm so proud of our team and our clients who have dug into the foundation of trust we have built to rely on one another fully.
I don't know what the next few months will bring, but one thing I do know is that for our partners who have benefitted from our "all hands on deck" mentality to steer them through these tough times, we've demonstrated why that trust is so important.
Here's a tip: Build your agency and freelancer relationships to weather a pandemic, and you'll thrive as a team and benefit mutually.
It's About TIME
When it comes to getting the most out of your professional relationships, the way you set the tone will carry through the entirety of your working relationship. Setting expectations and building that trust necessary to depend on an agency or a freelancer starts on day one. I like to use the acronym TIME:
T - Transparency
Honesty and integrity are essential in a new partnership. I think Kim Scott's book, Radical Candor, is worth reading, and there's a reason why it's made the rounds at some of the most successful Fortune 500s. It's all about directing successful collaboration without losing humanity and the respect of both sides of a relationship.
One of the most important things to realize is that when you hire a freelancer or an agency, you're hiring people. If you're putting on a front or trying to be manipulative in pursuit of productive collaboration, they're going to see right through, and the relationship will be irreparably damaged.
I - Implementation
Transparency goes hand-in-hand with the ability to implement instructions proactively and, when necessary, course corrections. If you feel that your agency/freelancer is going down the wrong path or that adjustments are needed, don't just let it happen and try to fix it when the work isn't what you wanted. Offer feedback and ask questions to make sure the strategy and expectations for what you're working on are clear.
The collaborative process is fluid, and the right partner will receive feedback in a productive way. The alternative is wasting time because you weren't able to lead effectively and keep the team on track.
M - Meeting Face-to-Face
Always try to form real relationships with your agency or freelancer. Have a meal, or host them at your office. Organizations and agencies are cohesive groups, but at the core, they consist of people who have goals, families, and lives outside of work. When you understand someone else's work environment, the members of their team and their world, it's a crucial step to developing the critical empathy needed to have a high-functioning collaborative relationship.
E - Expectations
Relationships are agile, and they should be continuously evaluated. What's working for you now may not be the same as what you need in three months, but at the same time, you need to make sure your agency/freelancer understands what you expect from them. If one side of a partnership is unclear on expectations or KPIs, then it can produce a volatile, uncomfortable workflow.
I recommend getting everything down in writing — meet with your agency partners and make sure everyone is clear, not just when it comes to expectations, but also what's feasible at a given time or on a specific budget.
Following these guidelines will help you form stable working relationships and increase the satisfaction you get from working with an agency or freelancers to move your business forward.