How To Hire, Fire & Make The Most Of Your Agency Relationships - Part 1

Your brand is growing. Congratulations! 

Maybe you’re beginning to sense that hiring some outside help is the next move you need to make. Maybe you’ve hired outside experts in the past but haven’t had a great experience. However, you know you need to do something different.  Where is the best place to start when thinking about hiring an agency or freelancer?

There are over 13,000 digital marketing agencies in the United States; of course, not all of these specialize in eCommerce, and yet the landscape is full of great agencies doing great things for their clients, so this gives brands a dilemma. Hire in-house? Outsource to one of many potential agencies, End a current agency relationship for one that might be better?

How does a growing brand determine the best course of action?

Over the past 20+ years of my involvement in marketing, I’ve been on both the agency side and client/brand side.  I’ve been the marketing lead for a franchise brand and have coordinated both in-house teams and outsourced freelancers and agencies. I’ve personally experienced the benefits and challenges of working for clients and working with agencies.

In January 2019, I was on the rooftop of the hotel at the Blue Ribbon Mastermind event in Miami, doing Yoga. With a clear mind and a  somewhat limber body, the idea hit me.

Me doing Yoga in Miami, FL

We have books, blogs, articles, videos and courses on creating and building our businesses, selecting a product, building our site, developing our funnel, engaging customers, scaling our sales and more, but very little on how to hire, fire and make the most of your agency relationships.  That has resulted in the current status quo of limited engagements, unmet/unfulfilled potential, along with the excitement that ends up turning to disappointment, financial costs, even hurt feelings, and jaded perspectives with some bright spot exceptions.

In this three-part blog, it is my goal to give you the perspective, insider secrets, and tools to help you and your teams create the potential to have more meaningful trusted relationships. These insights will reduce costs, lower your blood pressure, increase productivity, and accelerate your mutual success.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this three-part blog:

  1. How To Hire: Why should you hire a third party, How to best investigate your options and how to best structure your agreements and more.
  2. How to Fire: When is firing the best option, What is the process and how to protect yourself as you exit?
  3. How to Make The Most: Considerable resources have been invested in getting to this point, what should you implement and regularly measure to make the most of the relationship?

How to Hire The Right Agency or Freelancer(s)

In this first point, I’ve broken it down with the acronym WIN.  Isn’t this ultimately why you’ve arrived at this decision to hire outside help? You want to grow; You want to WIN!

The critical first step to WIN when hiring is answering the WHY question. 

You can begin by asking yourself and your team these questions before researching potential agency/third-party fits.

  • What Is Your Outcome?
  • What is my/our budget and KPI’s?
  • What are we(your team) great at doing?
  • Where do we need help?
  • How much will it cost you/us to delay?
  • Who is telling you that you should?
  • Where are you hustling vs. where are you overextending yourself/your team?
  • What/Who is suffering as a result?
  • Should we decide to not engage with an agency/third-party to help us at this time, what will the actual and potential costs be?

These are all great questions that will give you striking clarity on your needs and what you should specifically be seeking.

The second step to WIN in hiring an agency or freelancer(s) is to Investigate and Interrogate.

Begin your investigation of potential fits by preparing your list of potential suitors. Ask yourself/your team, who are the influencers in the space.  Pay attention to your favorite business podcasts; many times the host will have guests that will fit with your needs. In some cases like Brett Curry with eCommerce Evolution, he’s a podcast host, but also is the CEO of a world-class Google & Amazon agency.

Think about your favorite content authors, event speakers, and thought leaders in your space. 

Of course, lean on referrals. Who comes highly recommended? In our agency OMG Commerce, a high percentage of our leads are from personal recommendations and referrals. Referrals from trusted brands are an honor and we don’t take those referrals lightly. When you receive a recommendation from a trusted friend, peer in business, or advisor, please don’t take it at first blush. Ask questions.  How was the entire relationship? Are you still working together? If not, what happened.

After you have developed your shortlist, follow these tips before you connect with them. First, review their website. Does their website mirror what your research revealed they do best?

Next, search for [“name of agency” reviews] and read both their Google, Yelp, Facebook, and other business reviews you find.  Be sure to review any Glassdoor reviews. These review sites will give you robust insights into what their employees think about the CEO and the company culture in general. If they don’t have any Glassdoor reviews, it could be they’re small or haven’t invited their employees to submit online feedback. Additionally, if they only have one review post and it’s not great, I recommend giving the company a pass on that one. We’ve all had the one bad apple in the bunch.

The second part of a WINNING strategy includes the interrogation phase. Avoid skipping this vital step and fly by the seat of their pants with the prospective agency or freelancer. Come prepared with a list of questions. Prepare like you would for hiring someone on your internal team or utilize the resources listed below to jump-start your list. 

Important Note: You don’t want the agency/freelancer to feel like they’re under the classic interrogation spotlight we’ve seen portrayed in movies. However, let them know why you’re asking the questions.  The top fits for your search will gladly take the time to answer openly

Here are my top 3 questions to ask in the interview process:

  1. Tell me about the last client that you ended.  Share what happened.
  2. Tell me about a client you recently ended services with. Share what happened. 
  3. Are there any reasons we should not work together?

These top three questions will shed an enormous amount of light on the company or individual you are interviewing.  Look for defensiveness or dodging the question and dig deeper.

I’ve included a few additional questions to add or consider based on your situation, and you can find those in the full guide “How to Hire, Fire & Make The Most of Your Agency Relationships.” 

After you’re satisfied with the answers to your questions, make sure to share with the potential agency or freelancer: “Here’s what success looks like” and be sure to define your short term (in the first 90-120 day goals) and your 2nd Quarter, 6-month, annual, and annual goals.

If you believe this agency/freelancer could be a fit, ask for an action plan based on your conversations.  Be reasonable. Give them at least 3-5 business days to complete and ask if that works for them.

Finally, how do you make the final call to engage?  Here’s my quick checklist:

  • Did you enjoy your assessment conversations?
  • Were questions answered thoroughly or vaguely?
  • Did you receive, or were you offered a strategic plan?

Before you get “hitched” be sure to assess with your team any red flags that you experienced along the hiring process. Give the agency a chance to respond to the red flags you noted. Sometimes a red flag can be removed. For instance, if you have a  red flag because you didn’t receive a written proposal, it could be that the proposal went into your spam folder two weeks ago. Be sure to communicate the concerns you have.

Here are a few of my favorite Red Flags:

  • Immediate Results Promised
  • Long Term, No Exit Contracts
  • No Written Plan or Proposal
  • Evasive/Defensive In Answering Questions
  • Can’t Meet Whom Will Be Working On Your Campaign(s)

If you follow this outline and tweak it to fit your situation, I can guarantee you’ll dramatically reduce the churn you have with third party providers and increase the overall results and satisfaction you receive from working with the best potential fits.

Feel free to share any insights or experiences with me!

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