6 Steps to a Successful Client–Agency Relationship

Written by Wholegrain Team - September 4, 2014

Working with a third party, like a web design agency, can be extremely rewarding for a brand or business. When a true partnership is established, creative ideas will flow freely as both parties strive to produce their best work.

But like any relationship, a digital partnership between client and agency is a two-way street that needs constant attention to ensure success. Sustaining harmony can be a balancing act with so many different personalities involved, each with their own ideas and opinions.

When a relationship goes wrong, a client can be left frustrated that they’re not making the most of the agency’s talents, while an agency can be confused by the seemingly conflicting demands of their client.

To help you out, we’ve put together six vital steps to help you achieve a successful, fruitful client–agency relationship.

1. Agree Clear Expectations

As with any relationship, establishing long-term goals is essential. If your partner is after a casual fling and you want marriage and babies, both sides will end up bitter and resentful. It’s the same between a client and an agency.

Before you begin the project, take the time to sit down together and discuss what success looks like for both of you. Describe your long-term aims and set smart goals (goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). It’s likely that you will have some small hiccups along the way, but by working to the same agenda you will have a much greater chance of overcoming these hiccups and achieving success.

Remember to also share details on how you like to work – whether there are particular times and ways you like to be contacted, ensuring that invoices are paid on time, and establishing if there is anything you especially like or dislike that could affect the project.

2. Establish Strong Lines of Communication

Relationships are nurtured through communication, and this is no different when it comes to a client–agency partnership. Make sure you remain in regular communication to ensure the project stays on track, along with your working relationship.

Bear in mind that the subtleties of language can be lost over email or text. Sometimes it’s easy for those little details to be misunderstood or lost in translation – something that could potentially disrupt your project. Schedule time to talk frequently, and where possible make time for face-to-face contact. Meeting in person will strengthen your relationship, and will spark a level of creativity and energy that can be difficult to replicate over phone or email.

Don’t forget that listening to what your partner is saying is equally as important as communicating your own thoughts and opinions.

3. Be Transparent

When in a new relationship each partner can be reluctant to show their true self, afraid it will put the other off if they display their insecurities or uncertainties. In a client–agency partnership, this can lead to each side holding back from sharing an element of the project until it’s completely finished.

Fight this madness! Share your ideas and half-finished sketches, videos, webpages, etc. For a start, being transparent about your process will lead to a deeper respect about the skills each of you brings to the table, and it can help your partner to understand that what you do is far from magic, but instead down to hard work and dedication. By showing people what happens behind the scenes, they will feel a deeper bond with you and see you as fellow humans, rather than a faceless company or brand.

It also gives you the perfect opportunity to spot any potential problems, issues or things you don’t like so you can amend them as you go along, rather than having to completely redo something at a later stage.

4. Show Respect, Trust & Honesty

The best relationships are based upon mutual respect, creative trust and complete honesty. In client–agency terms, this translates as dispelling with an uneven superior–subordinate relationship and nurturing a true partnership based on a mutual respect and understanding of each other’s expertise.

This is closely linked to creative trust. As a client, remember that you hired an agency based upon their expertise, so be prepared to listen to their ideas and recommendations. You don’t have to accept all of them, and the agency should always respect your wishes, but be open to hearing what they have to say and be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk on trying something new and different.

In the same vein, strive to be completely open and honest with each other. If there’s something that you don’t like about the project or each other’s style of work, discuss it rather than let it fester. Likewise, celebrate each other’s successes and give praise when it’s due.

5. Agree on a Budget

Discussing money can be awkward in any relationship, so it’s important to start as you mean to go on. Before you begin a project, both sides should sign a contract stating a specified fee, and understand the risks and commitments for both parties.

From a client’s point of view, the agency has to be seen as giving value for money, i.e. not just going through the motions but doing the best possible work for the available money. The client, however, needs to appreciate the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes at an agency for it to run smoothly.

It’s also worth noting that for much of the time a client’s needs will evolve throughout the duration of a project, and that will undoubtedly affect the budget. This is one area where respect, trust and honesty are essential. An agency should always seek approval before adding in lots of expensive extras, rather than surprising their client with an additional bill. Likewise, a client should never expect the agency to add in little freebies because they are already paying £X for the project at hand. Time and talent are valuable, and that should always be respected.

6. Stay in Touch

Finally, the fact that the collaborative project has been completed doesn’t have to mean an end to the working relationship. Maintaining contact after a project ensures that your relationship continues, which is great for any future collaborations.

It’s easy to lose contact in this busy world, but technology does make this easier. Send your client the occasional email with valuable advice and content, pick up the phone every now and then  to see how they are getting on with their product and whether they need any more help, and send the occasional tweet just to touch base.

By staying fresh in each other’s minds, you will encourage return business and be first on the list if either of you has a business contact who is looking for a recommendation.

A successful relationship between client and agency can lead to a creative nirvana and will result in a hugely successful collaboration with both parties working efficiently and delivering on schedule. The overall theme to each step we’ve outlined above is clear and consistent communication. Commit to that and your project will have the best possible chance of success.

Do you agree with our steps to a successful client–agency relationship? Is there anything you’d like to add? Tell us below – we’d love to hear your thoughts.