My Perspective on Working With a Digital Partner.

dave coffee digital partner

Working with an agency is less about buying a service and more about finding a digital partner. When you think of services, you think of your car, or a plumber. Those are services. And generally you don’t tell your service provider what to do. A partner is more like your stylist. You work together. Sometimes your stylist is all wrong for you. Id your stylist is great, you trust them to do their job, whilst still having creative input. It’s team work.

What got me thinking on the whole digital partner thing.

Last weekend I went to a WordCamp in Manchester. Now before anyone asks, that’s nothing to do with Microsoft Word. It’s all about WordPress. Whilst there I was asked to give a lightning talk. That means ten minutes on any topic of choice, in the realms of WordPress and Business. I chose to give my talk on the difficulties we run into as web developers. Specifically when it comes to aligning our services with the needs of clients.

I appreciate that at some point, someone I work with may stumble across this. As agencies, we try hard to make our clients happy. Over the years as a designer, and developer, most people have been thrilled with what I do. because we work together. that’s a partnership.

Agency relationships are like any other. They go sour very quickly if one side is dishonest. So, here are my top tips for a good relationship with your digital partner, from the perspective of an agency owner.

Tip 1: Value their expertise.

If you want to hire an agency to work with, or even an expert in their field who is a freelancer, then above all you need to value their expertise. If you don’t, it will be for one of only two reasons.

  1. They have no expertise. In this instance move along. It’s doubtful they have made a living with zero expertise, but it happens occasionally. Style over susbtance.
  2. The more likely scenario. They have plenty, but you want to tell them exactly what they need to do. You are hiring them after all, right?

Wrong. So wrong. Creatives, marketers and designers above all else are brimming with knowledge and ideas. If you simply want someone to execute your idea, your way you should probably go to Fiverr, or 99 Designs. An Agency fee generally comes from years of learning, experience, training and listening to expert strategy. If you are paying someone, you really want to utilise that. Don’t stifle your creative partner!

Tip 2: Don’t be a nervous nelly.

What do I mean by that? This type of client will express extreme worry and nerves about working with you. They are very nervous about their business and probably other things too. This can be a red flag for an agency. They don’t want to spend countless hours justifying how they do something. If you want to sit over someone’s shoulder, it may cost you double. Alternatively it may mean you could have trouble delegating. This does not make for a good agency relationship.

Tip 3: Be honest. Don’t blame an agency if your ship is sinking.

All too often, people approach digital marketers like me, because they have never invested in any kind of advertising strategy and suddenly, they are being overtaken. Be honest. Now we are all invested in our business. It pays the bills, but if things aren’t as great as you say they are, it is not the best idea to go to an agency and blag. I had a conversation with a person who told me their advert account was making them 40k a month in online sales.  They said if i could get it up to 50k, they would pay me on value. I said no.

They were only spending a grand a month by the way and most of that was being haemorrhaged through badly constructed campaigns. They had always managed their own accounts. What they wanted to do was project all those badly constructed campaigns on to me, and then blame me when they weren’t working.

This happened a second time with a small retailer who had a much healthier spend of around £30k a month. and they sold about £80k of goods That sounds great right? On inspection, i was handed a monstrous account. the Ads were losing him money and success was coming from affiliate marketing. The ads were losing the client around 10k a month. A month into managing that account, it became my fault. I promptly handed it back. At least when i handed it back it was wasting less money.

Tip 4. Commit, then honour your commitments.

If you don’t want to piss off your digital partner, pay them on time. from my perspective, there is nothing worse than someone trying to make you do a merry dance and use the next invoice as collateral. It’s just not cool. All good agencies should have agreed a proposal and outline of work, which you should have signed off. Firstly if they don’t have that, perhaps you should ask why.

If you prefer to work with people who don’t ask for a signature, then maybe you are shady. but it will backfire. Once, I spent hours in multiple calls with this ‘lead’ who REALLY wanted my services. After a proposal, Google’s Stats and multiple phone calls I thought we were getting a sign off. He said ‘The less I have to sign, the better’. I told him there would be nothing without a signed acceptance. I never heard from him again. Ask for Terms and conditions. Any good agency will have paid a lawyer. I have.

Tip 5: Try not to teach your digital partner how to suck eggs.

When you start on a new project, It’s exciting. I get it. But maybe emailing your agency the 101 guide to SEO from Moz is not the best way to start the relationship. This is tantamount to buying your wife a vacuum cleaner for her birthday. If you have engaged a digital partner to do your SEO, you better be sure they know how to do it. In which case, they will have read Moz’ 101 guide to SEO. If they are a decent digital partner, the chances are they will send you the bits from the guide that could be useful to you.

Tip 6: Make sure you know what they actually do.

I once had a call, where someone complained to me that their Outlook didn’t work. (They already hired IT Support, I am just guessing they wanted to save some cash). I willingly checked the server was running. That is our job. everything was running fine. He asked could we troubleshoot his Outlook. I said normally, I would answer your question, but we are moving our office round today. I pointed him back to his IT Support company. He shouted at me and said we were a bad IT Support company. I’m not even going to carry on with this story.

Tip 7. Don’t Micro Manage

Seriously don’t do it. We know how to do our jobs. We would hope that’s why you hired us. If you place now value in the expertise of your agency, then let them do their job. Communicate openly and base your relationship on mutual trust. Then everyone will be happy.

When I’m not on a high horse, I work as a digital marketer and web developer at Made By Factory. You can get in touch with me at

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