10 Tips to Reduce Risk When Hiring an Agency

Does the thought of handing over control of your business to an outside firm worry you? If so, you're not alone: You've worked hard to build your company, and it's only natural that you want to protect your investment.

When it comes to hiring an agency, the unknowns may make you nervous. Will they share your vision? Will they match your passion? Can they be trusted to do what’s best for your company?

Even if it seems scary at first, hiring an agency may be the catalyst that bolsters your business’s growth. Here are ten things you can do to ease the transition and curtail disappointment.


1. Don't hire an agency for what they CAN do. Hire them for what they're MADE to do.

Some agencies promise to be an all-in-one package that meets your every marketing need. While many agencies are multifaceted, they can't be experts at everything. It’s important to hire an agency that specializes in the area where you'll need the most focus.

An agency may have unparalleled results with their email marketing efforts, or they may crush the competition when it comes to a certain industry. Find out their area of expertise. If it fills your brand’s needs, they may be a great fit. Otherwise, it’s best to keep looking.

2. Hire an agency with values that complement your own.

When considering an agency, ask yourself: What are their beliefs? What is their attitude? Their character? Their implementation process? The goal is to find an agency where you feel good about the answers to these questions.

From the start, be clear with the agency about your business’s goals and priorities. Evaluate their response to see if they're on the same page.

Do your homework and save yourself some time: Research companies. Look at their track record, their history, and their strengths. Seek out recommendations. Ask references about any challenges they've had with the agency and how those challenges were handled.

And then...

3. Ask references if their projects were delivered on time, on budget, and with the quality promised.

Agencies want your business; when dealing with you, they'll put their best face forward—which is good. But it also means that for a realistic portrayal, you should check with past and present clients to see what they have to say.

As you get feedback from references, ask yourself: Does the agency have case studies that back up their words? Have they learned lessons from their successes and failures that might benefit my company? Do their clients complain of lingering problems?

Hiring an agency that is true to their word will save you headache down the road.

4. Find out who your primary and secondary points of contact at the agency will be.

Is it easy to connect with them? Will they be pleasant to work with on a long-term basis?

If you wouldn’t hire these people for positions at your company, don't hire them as an agency. Look for the same traits in an agency that you would in a potential employee: resourcefulness, resilience, versatility, motivation, and shared principles.

5. Ensure that your project has a strict not-to-exceed (NTE) price ceiling.

It's probably safe to assume you want to minimize your costs. Most agencies charge based on how many hours it will take to complete a project, plus the project’s cost to them, plus a reasonable profit margin. This ends in a fixed-price proposal.

Change orders—additions or deletions from what’s outlined in the original scope of your contract—can affect fixed-price proposals, which may in turn affect your bank account. To protect your budget, secure an NTE price ceiling.

6. Include specifics in the contract for what happens if a project starts to fall behind schedule.

Your contract with an agency will detail any compensation you’ll receive if a task lags behind schedule.

Ask for an x% rate cut if the launch is three days late, y% if it’s ten days late, and z% if it’s twenty-one days late. Make the numbers sting. This will keep the agency accountable and motivated to stay on track, and it'll save you money if things don't go according to plan.

7. Test out an agency before beginning a partnership with them.

Don't hire an agency that you have no history with for a long-term or multi-month project. Split your project into one-month phases that have a clear deliverable so that at the end of the month you can evaluate whether or not your expectations were met.

Take a one- to two-week break before jumping into the next phase. This will give you an exit point if things aren't going well. It will also communicate to the agency that you're prepared to take the deliverable of that phase and hire someone else if a project goes poorly.

8. Be available. 

Be available for the firm you hire or are considering hiring. Make weekly team huddles a priority. Commit to answering emails within one business day. Make sure the agency has your phone number, email address, and permission to text you if they need anything.

Being present builds trust. It sets the precedent for good communication, an asset that is invaluable to your team, your agency relationship, and your project as a whole.

Few things are more frustrating than having questions and being unable to reach the person who can answer them. Your availability will help strengthen your partnership with the agency and keep your company’s goals on track.

9. Be coachable.

Coachable businesses think long-term. They measure progress in months and years instead of nitpicking over the day-to-day. They're willing to try new things, and they don't get hung up on doing something the way it’s always been done.

Coachable companies acknowledge they don’t know it all. They're willing to take risks when need be, and they don't view mistakes as the end-all, but as an opportunity to grow.

Be the company that is open to tweaks along the way, especially when they can shorten the path to your target result. You hired an agency because they're the experts; let them do their job.

10. Treat the agency like a member of your team.

Because that’s what they are—or should be.

An agency isn't a servant to cater to your needs. An agency is a partner on a team that’s working toward a common goal of success.

As you would any good team member, praise the agency when they do well. Offer immediate and respectful correction when they're off track. Practice tact and professionalism, and be generous with smiles. Show gratitude for the agency's best efforts, even when you have to ask them to do better.

To get the most out of your agency-client relationship, treat them with the respect and appreciation you yourself expect to receive.


If you're tired of wearing multiple hats and watching your personnel being stretched thin, know that an outside firm can help. Hiring an agency can be the catalyst that propels your brand toward success.

Recognize that there is risk in hiring an agency, but don't let that deter you from getting the help you need. When it comes to outside help, a smart choice can supercharge your company’s growth.

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