We’ve all seen shows like “Kitchen Nightmares”, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” or even movies like the 90’s classic “Little Giants.” That’s because everybody loves a good fixer-upper story. That said, most of us don’t love being on the end that needs the mending, especially when it comes to an important agency relationship.
It’s costly to have your project and client relationship go off the rails, and building and developing complex websites and web applications can make that especially expensive. Situations where you’re trying to rescue a client from a pricey project collapse happen in many of our careers.
While it might feel good to show up and help clients in need, a number of challenges show up, too. Trust-building with a client who has recently been burned can be tough, and only more so if they’ve gone through a good chunk of the budget to finish the project already. The project timeline has almost always also suffered. In fact, being on “rescue teams” for clients has happened so often in all of our careers that we recently wrote a blog on that specific topic called “How To Help Clients Who’ve Been Beat Up.”
So, the question arose – how can we help clients out before they get to the point of needing rescue? We decided to write about what clients can do to identify these potential issues in the moment, so they can be addressed before a detrimental domino effect.
Identify Why a Project or Agency Relationship Is Off
One of the major themes we’ve found in our shared experiences with “client rescues” is a client not being able to express that they’re unhappy or simply waiting for things to get better. Similar to the blog we wrote about over apologizing, the time for being passive has passed. So, what are some clear signs that your project is starting to go off the rails?
Logistical Issues To Watch Out For
Do You Feel Threatened?
Do you feel almost threatened by their pitch or when they tell you about a necessary update? If you get a proposal that says you have to do everything all at once for one giant lump sum or it’s not even worth doing the project, ask why. This might be a sign you’re being oversold. In our opinion, a good agency will help you prioritize what you need to do first in the best interest of your business goals, budget, and project timeline.
Do They Meet Deadlines?
If the agency you’re working with is consistently doing any of the following, you’ve got a red flag.
- Missing deadlines without talking to you
- Missing deadlines and offering the same recycled/generic reasons as to why
- Providing unclear work change orders
They might have found a way for your company to pay for their mistakes. If you, as the client, have held up your end of the bargain by delivering all of your assets, and are communicating needs and feedback on time, they should, too.
Are They Trustworthy?
We believe transparency around budget and deadlines is healthy, but if you’re not feeling trust in your agency, be cautious about revealing your full budget. For instance, if/when your company has a marketing budget that needs to be used before the end of the quarter, don’t let the agencies pitching to you know that. An opportunistic agency could hand your company a mediocre product. They could also lock you into something that frequently needs (paid) maintenance. Some amount of paid maintenance is expected, but frequently fixing things that should be functioning autonomously is another red flag. For example, some of the maintenance we prepare our clients for includes security and core updates as well as plug-ins and module upkeep. The amount of maintenance services we provide are based on the needs of the client and will be established together once a project moves passed launch and into the maintenance phase.
Get a Second Opinion
Once you’ve been with an agency for a while, get a second opinion on the services being provided to you. This is particularly true if you auto-pay them on a regular schedule, but aren’t receiving reports or feedback routinely. In other words: make them show their work.
This could read like a list of ways to find distrust in an agency, but that’s not the intention. Everyone makes mistakes, things happen, we just wish to help people find proactive ways to identify helpful warning signs. It’s far easier to address issues in the moment than it is retroactively.
How To Ensure You’re With the Right Agency
Shop around to multiple agencies.
For just about all things in life, big and little decisions, most of us get at least a second opinion. The same applies to technology. It’s important to get a sense of the overall impact by looking at the cost and timeline. Understanding what it will take to accomplish the business goal at hand from different perspectives goes a long way.
- Point blank, exploring other options will help you find a better client-to-agency relationship as a whole. Much like taking several cars on test drives, the same is true for choosing a development agency. It’s important to thoroughly vet an agency before contracts are signed.
- It’s a nice way to dip your toe in the water with the agency you might work with. You will see how they operate as a company, communicate as a team, and whether it’s compatible with your company.
- Often, opening up an RFP is great because it helps you dig deeper into the product you’re aiming to develop and gain a greater understanding of the scope that needs to be addressed. Equally, you’ll dive into deeper details around the product lifespan that will require more research and discovery.
Check your billing often
Again, ask the agency to justify billing and request line items. Having someone in billing that is savvy about what the spend should be is crucial. That said, all teams involved should have an understanding of what you’re spending/charging throughout the process. This will ensure hours are allocated appropriately and the budget is maintained. Nobody likes a “money surprise” unless it’s winning the lottery, or finding $20 in an old pair of pants.
Evaluate Your ROI (Return On Investment)
Are you making money on the product? Make sure there are solid metrics set in place for tracking how the product is meeting intended goals. Is this an issue you can address internally, or is this something to do with the technology built? If you’re unable to address issues internally, it’s time to evaluate the product relevancy and your relationship with the agency.
Find An Agency The Works For You
If this article even helps just one client from ending up in a tough and costly agency relationship or with a product that does not serve their needs – we’ll be so happy.