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3 Web Design Agency Relationship Killers (& How to Fix Them)

Updated April 12, 2016
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Three Agency Relationship Killers and How to Fix Them

Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

There are 3 ways an agency can water down its effectiveness that I’m currently thinking about and working to find solutions towards. 2 involve the technicians and production side, and one involves the marketing and sales side – all of them affect the effectiveness and the relationships an agency has and thus it’s important to find and implement solutions for each of these.

Three Agency Relationship Killers and How to Fix Them

I feel that systems, templates, and formulaic checks and balances are the best way to mitigate the negative effects of these relationship killers and create a systematic approach to keeping on a solid path to more successes, particularly for those within agencies, and thus for people working with them – though how you benefit from this list might just be having good questions for working with an agency about these types of issues.

1. When the scope of the project changes – there’s no change order created (scope creep):

Problem: When enough projects have a situation where new information comes up regarding the nature of the work at hand than was previously discussed, and no change order has been issued… something is broken with the system.

Proposed solution: To fix this problem – there needs to be a very specific person responsible for issues related to scope creep for every project. Perhaps that person is a project manager – but in the end it can’t be a situation where everyone looks around and says “How did we just spend 150 more hours on this project than projected?” Because that hurts relationships with clients badly – particularly if on they weren’t alerted as soon as the discrepancy between what was expected and what was sold isn’t ironed out RIGHT AS SOON AS it’s discovered.

A very specific person responsible – and a very specific protocol has to be expected to run these things up the flag pole or there will be pain. Thy sky will rain pain.

– Pre-requisite – Very specific functionality, revision terms, and timeframe parameters should be included on every work order or proposal.

Protocol for addressing scope creep before it hurts a client relationship: 

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  • An e-mail is sent to the client asking for a phone call regarding evolving expectations for the project.
  • A document is created or added to document what is considered out of scope.
  • The client either agrees to a specific number and a specific # of revision changes, time frame difference, functionality requirements, etc.. or they decide that they’d rather not do it because of their budget. (This is respected and the project continues.)

If you’re on the client side? Be careful to make it clear the types of functionality and timeline you are looking for from the beginning. Don’t try to trick an agency into doing more work than you originally implied, and make sure that there is a functional requirements document or equivalent before work is started to also cover your ass.

2. Right people aren’t getting put where they need to be when they need to be (people allocation):

Problem: When the resources that are getting assigned to certain projects and tasks aren’t enough – people are pulled off of other projects for emergency help, schedules are demolished, children cry, the sky rains small bits of fire for some reason.

Proposed Solution: A technical minded person who is communicative can stave off the advances of impending doom with a few choice conversations early on in a project as long as it’s clear that’s their very specific responsibilities on a particular project. One local large development shop calls individuals who are intermediaries between the sales dept, and the developers a ‘solutions engineer’, and this type of individual can help translate chunks of functionality into hours and numbers of people, can be the associate coach so to speak and recognize when it’s time to put in another player. Could it also be the jurisdiction of a savvy PM? Yes. But someone has to be held responsible, and unfortunately, issues can’t be nobody’s fault – or nothing will ever get fixed.

  • So the real solution here is one specific person held responsible for making sure the right amount of time is allocated to the right amount of people and is rewarded for making sure this is the case, and is held responsible when it’s not.

If you’re on the client side? Do your best to talk to the specific people that are going to be responsible for the work being done, not just the sales person and the project managers. Yes, agencies contract and outsource when appropriate, but make sure that there is someone on the hook for the creative or technical work being done and that they are capable of handling the design of functional needs you are look for. Otherwise you are inviting disaster – a project where some things aren’t getting done, and “no one is to blame.”


3. The agency has a super open market, and no very specific specialty (no targeting):

Problem: When everything and anything is coming through the doors, you get a very watered down expertise. I’m so jealous of companies who are into sports-related e-mail marketing or some other ridiculously specific niche. And although most of us aren’t so lucky to be so picky about who we work with – we can be somewhat picky, and in that pickiness we make a niche.

Proposed solution: So you turned down the client with less than $1000 dollars a month who wants to sell used electric tooth brushes? You’re on your way to creating a niche. So you realize you’re unable to land companies with over $100,000 to spend a month because of logistical and just the pure personnel issues that would cause at your current size? Your niche is companies greater 1k and under 100k  a month, and if you won’t take on a client whose business model directly goes against your ethics, you can add ‘who we believe in to some degree‘, to the end of that.

As an exercise, an agency can choose a couple other industries that doing work for has been profitable, and at least to some degree fun or interesting and work those into the mix – targeting them specifically and showing off work they’ve done before for. In this way you could start to see at least a working niche of companies with 1-100k monthly digital marketing budget in aerospace or engineering who we believe in, as a working niche.

Congratulations, you’re no longer a generalist but a real marketer!

On the client side: Don’t buy into the idea that one agency should be able to handle everything from brochures to branding to a intranet – this kind of thinking will land you with a giant bloated agency who will simply be managing a bunch of other littler companies doing all the work for them. Buy into the new paradigm of specialists who can handle specific things well, and hire the best of the best for your particular need. Example, I work at an agency that does Search Engine Optimization well, in a world of people selling SEO who are quacks. We aren’t pushing 10 services, but can spend a more concentrated time selling (and implementing!) 3 core services that we do very well. 

Clear responsibilities and expectations as a cure-all

All of these issues can negatively affect relationships but are not uncommon. To work through any significant issue in an agency requires new templates and documented processes if it’s going to succeed. So don’t expect positive change to occur just because you tell a couple people – there has to be accountability and typed out evidence, and ideally signed statements of responsibility regarding who is responsible for what.

This way, there is no doubt – who is responsible when these issues crop up. Not to shame or demean anyone, but just so that there can be evolution, and help administered where it should be if needed. 

Obviously there are no easy answers for these issues, but I hope my attempts to help provide solutions to these issues have helped you in some way. Thanks for reading.

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Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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