Social Media Strategies for Small Business

How to pick the best digital agency

Internal sales and marketing teams have a tough job figuring out when and what to outsource and to whom. And, with good reason. Outsourced project work can be the difference between your business exceeding its targets and a manager getting the boot from their job. But with so many agencies popping up seemingly faster than a new Joe & The Juice bar how can you figure out which agency is right for your business?

The truth is, not all agencies are right for you. I’m not here to tell you that my company, LEP Digital, is your guiding light either we could be a shoo-in or a complete misfit. It depends entirely on your business and what you’re looking for. Here are a few factors to consider:


Pick through websites

When you’re starting your search, pay close attention how the agency presents itself online. It may sound obvious but you can expect that a digital agency website is going to be top-notch. Obvious red flags include unresponsive or poor design, no social links, and out-of-date or broken page content. Also, remember that ‘digital marketing’ is a broad term. It means lots of things to lots of people. For example, are you looking for content marketing, writing, video production, advertising, influencer marketing, direct marketing, paid search, design or something else entirely? The website should clearly state the agency’s core competencies. In most cases, if the agency doesn’t specify a service or brushes over it, they may be weak in that area. So, do your research and make sure that the agency specializes in the core services that you need.


Consider local vs offshore outsourcing

Many agencies outsource projects or key service areas to freelancers or other agencies both locally and overseas. While there are cost benefits to outsourcing to talent overseas, it’s also rife with hidden costs and risk. Unless you’ve got a good working relationship with an overseas freelancer, built on years of trust, you may run into problems with quality, communication, and copyright infringements. So, it’s important to ask the digital agencies that you’ve shortlisted if they outsource work or do everything in the house. Good operators will be transparent with their business structure and alleviate your concerns. Outsourcing isn’t necessarily a no-no if they are prepared to pass down the cost savings to you and there’s clear track record of past performance.


Be clear about your expectations

It’s important to be clear about exactly what you expect of the agency as soon as you pick up the phone. Providing vague briefs or not knowing what you hope to achieve can set both parties up for failure. On the flip side, be aware that agencies are keen to please. Many entrepreneurs are taught to say ‘yes’ to opportunities, sometimes at their peril. We’re all guilty of taking on more than we can chew in pursuit of a paycheck. Let the agency director or account manager know that it’s OK if they don’t feel that they can deliver to your expectations and that you appreciate their honesty.

Look for aligned values image“Working with a digital agency should be a long-term relationship built on trust and shared values”– Laura Prael. Photo: SJW Photography


Look for aligned values

Working with a digital agency should be a long-term relationship built on trust and shared values. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this team, so you need to like them and feel confident that they work with the same ethics, values, and mission that you do. It’s like dating: not everyone will be a good match. You can find evidence of their values in the way that they communicate on their website and in subsequent communications. Ask yourself: Are they open? Do they talk about their values? Have they explained how they work? Do they seem invested in my success? Trust your gut.


Read reviews

What’s the first thing most of us do when searching for a restaurant to go to for a special occasion? Read reviews. And that’s when we’re making a relatively small and transactional decision. So, when you’re making business decisions, it’s important to ask around to make sure that everything lines up. Reviews can be found in lots of places: Google My Business or other review platforms are a good place to start, but also search for the company’s name in search engines and in social profiles. Try to find patterns in the reviews and match it with the attitude and aptitude that you’re looking for. Be wary as there is a black market business that makes money from populating fake reviews for a small reward. One bad review amongst a stream of good reviews shouldn’t be enough to sway your opinion. But if you’re worried, ask the agency about why they received the bad review.


Do reference checks

Just like you would when you hire internally, it’s important to carry out reference checks when you contract externally. Ask the agency to nominate a few clients that would be happy to provide a reference over the phone. You can expect them to give you names and numbers of people that they have really good relationships with. And that’s fine, but you’ll need to probe a little more when you talk to them. Ask them if there are any challenges that they encountered. Explain that you want to be as prepared as possible and appreciate their openness.

Now that you’ve done your homework, you should be in a better place to start your relationship with the digital agency that suits you best. Of course, there are no promises but at least you can feel confident in the fact that you were thorough.


About the author

Laura Prael is a published author and professional copywriter and owner of boutique digital agency LEP Digital. Laura has more than a decade of experience in the digital communications industry and has worked for big brands including Google Australia, Westpac, Sanitarium, Weet-Bix, Avon and Elle Macpherson Intimates. Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Newcastle, and a Master of Public Relations & Advertising from the University of New South Wales.

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