How to work with a creative agency: 6 things you can do to prepare for success

“Contract signed. Now I can sit back, relax and watch the magic happen”. 

If only.

If you’re reading this now you’re probably a realist and maybe even a bit of a skeptic which can seem negative but in this case, it puts you in the best position possible. Working with an outside creative team can be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. It can also be overwhelming if you don’t go into it with the right mindset. 

Perhaps you’re embarking on a project with an agency soon or are considering working with one in the future. Having worked with many companies over the years from venture capital-backed startups to Fortune 100 companies, here are 5 things you can do to prepare yourself and set your project up for success. 

Know what you want (in some capacity)

Seems obvious, but do you know? As part of the contract phase, a biz dev person probably worked with you to outline a few high-level goals and expected outputs as the ‘scope of work’. When you look at those now can you say that those are clear? Meaning, if you left those with the agency and came back in X number of weeks do you think you’d see exactly what you expected? Well no and there’s no need to worry about this anyway since you’re not going to do this. You’re going to be part of the process every step of the way. And remember, it’s ok not to know exactly what you want or need, you should have an idea. 

(more important is to know your customers — maybe don’t get into that here)

Expect you’ll have to put in efforts / Expect to do the work

Like any relationship, the more you put in the more you’ll get out of it. Of course, when you engage someone, especially where’s there’s a contract involved, you’re going to get something out of it. But does that mean it will be the very best? Maybe, maybe not. Like with most things, the more you put the more you’ll get out of it.  

…and that if you’re new to the creative process that there’s going to be new things to learn. 

Involve the right people from the start

If it’s just you that makes things easy but there’s likely a few other people who should be involved from your side. Think about who these people are in include them from the start. They too will likely have other responsibilities besides this project it’s good to be upfront with them on your expectations of their involvement and priorities. There’s no magic number of people that improves outcomes but too many opinions from people with no skin in the game here will have the same effects. Choose to involve only the people who have a vested interest in the project becoming a success. Remember that the real work starts when you take over. 

Trust the Process

Almost all creative agencies will have some kind of design process they follow. Since every client’s needs are different, the process may vary somewhat the foundations of the approach will generally remain the same. If you’ve never been through the creative process before you probably know a bit more from the proposal phase but how that happens IRL will be a new experience. Trust but verify…. A good agency will walk you through their process at the beginning of a project in more detail and this should help to fill in the blanks on when you can expect to see work, how often you’ll see work and what types of decisions you’ll be expected to make when. And if you have questions, always ask, it’s their job to help you understand. 

Expect to make hard decisions

Go into your project with the understanding that there will be decisions to be made. These decisions could range from what should be included as a minimum viable product feature to what colour palette you think will resonate the most with your target user. The former is usually a business decision and the latter often more of a personal preference but both are decisions that need to be made. The good news is that the people you’re working with will be there to help you weigh the pros and cons and discuss the options and their implications so you can make the best decision. And again, always ask questions and what their recommendation would be for you given everything they know about what you’re trying to achieve with the project – a good agency will always have an opinion. 

Be Engaged and Enthusiastic

From experience, I can tell you that Clients who are the most excited about a project relationship get the best results from a team. Note that I did not say Clients who are most excited about their product. There are plenty of those. Your ability to ‘connect’ with the team working on your project in a more personal way is often the best way to get the best work. The team is likely small enough that you’ll learn all their names and maybe a little bit about them more personally. The effort is always noticed and remember, you are being watched! 

If you take anything away from this it’s that the effort you put in matters. If you keep this in mind and go into your project with an open mind the chances you’re going to walk away with some great work and even learn a thing or two is very high and you may even have a bit of fun along the way. 

If this was helpful I’d love to know.