4 mistakes to avoid when working with agencies (from our $120k worth of experience)

• 3 min read

An agency might be a good add-on to your team but can’t replace it. They provide access to an accumulative experience from hundreds of other companies but still require a massive investment of time and effort from the client’s side.

We’ve spent $120k working with 4 different agencies: SEO, paid acquisition, conversion copywriting, and design.

Here are 4 costly mistakes we made when working with them (and how you can avoid them).

1. Underestimating Onboarding Costs

If it takes you 2-4 weeks to onboard a full-time employee when you have their full attention, just imagine what it takes for an agency to get to know your business, market, and clients.

Our conversion copywriting agency has spent at least 60 hours out of 240 hours of total work for the research, discovery calls, customer interviews, etc. I was frustrated about this at the beginning, as it’s $12.5k worth of work without deliverables. But this was reflected in the highest level of the copy for the landing pages.

Before we hired a design agency, we spent 4 months developing a brand platform - a very detailed description of our brand persona and our target audience. Here is the description of our brand platform, made up interviews with Matt (target audience) and Brian (Lemon.io brand persona), and even a DIY brand pocket book. It paid off not only in the end result but also in the easy of collaboration and the speed of delivered work.

The SEO agency has started from one discovery call and keyword research. We were very clear about what is already working and what route we want to go, but they convinced us to go another way.

As a result, we’ve wasted 1 year of potential growth, $25k in agency fees, links, and ended up with modest traffic to the generic article with $0 in revenue.

Next time I hire an agency, I will make sure they have enough insight before starting a project and will budget for that time.

2. Ignoring the importance of the speed of iterations

Copywriting agency has developed a sequence of cold emails. But they didn’t work. Reason — we were not able to create an intensive feedback loop.

When I work on an email copy myself, I create a sequence, send out the first batch, look at the results, make hypotheses to improve and repeat.

When working with an agency, after analyzing data, I have to send feedback to the project manager, they pass it to the copywriter, who schedules a call to get more insights, and then an internal call, etc.

The same happened with a paid acquisition consultant. When we reported the lack of results, it took him a week to make changes in the campaign.

Over $14k in ad spend brought us $500 of revenue. Pretty painful, considering our average monthly revenue was about $10k at that time.

Next time I hire an agency, we will outsource projects where success does not rely on the speed of iteration.

3. Not investing enough time to make agency’s work easier

I could flood you with examples but will get to the point. Your job as a client not to sit back and relax, but

  • provide explicit specifications on what needs to be done
  • make sure the agency doesn’t have any blockers to work on the project
  • be available to test their work
  • constantly provide feedback

And if you are not investing enough effort, there is a high risk that the project will not get to the place you want it to.

Next time I hire an agency, I’ll be available for their needs as much as I’m available for our team and clients.

4. Outsourcing things we should have done in-house.

It’s hard to define a rule of thumb here, but I’ll provide a few examples:

  • Cold email copy.  Didn’t work for us because of the slow feedback loop.
  • Product Hunt launch. PH is a community-driven platform. You should become a part of that community and try to bring value to the group and you’ll be 2x better (and faster) than any agency.
  • Technical or niche-specific articles. An SEO agency can do all the keyword research and know the right structure for better rankings. But if the article has no value users won’t convert.

Next time I outsource a project to an agency, I’ll spend extra time analyzing if they are right for it.

To wrap up, I want to thank you for following me.

This is my 4th update and I already have 174 subscribers. The last article has a 50% open rate and was viewed 249 times.

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