Most agencies, businesses and freelancers have been in this situation. I would go as far as to say everyone has been in this situation. Customers approach you with a problem and their own solution, that they need your skills in delivering. On the surface this is great, and most of the time not an issue. They know the solution to the problem and it’s the right one. We deliver, the work is great and everyone high fives and moves onto the next project.
But what if what they are asking for, isn’t actually what they need?
This is an awkward situation. No business in their right mind wants to turn customers away, the whole ethos of business is to attract customers and it becomes instilled in our nature to solve problems with creative solutions, it’s why most of us are in business. From the point of view of the client, they are not being awkward, they have simply had a great idea they are confident in and of course, you should be confident in your own ideas. It may just be that on this occasion, they are in danger of commissioning the wrong solution. It may be for example that a business wants to target specific ad words on Google. But they may not realise that the words are extremely competitive and their budget won’t make the slightest impact on their results. They need a different solution. They need guidance.
One of the biggest mistakes made by agencies and customers is spending time and money on solving a problem or need with the wrong solution. In the early days for a lot of startup agencies, there is a philosophy of ‘let’s bring in as much work as we can’ which is understandable, it’s new, exciting but also a little daunting for business owners who are responsible for keeping the doors open and people in work. This, as a result, can lead to these agencies being led by customers and the results of this will always be poor for both parties involved.
At a certain point in a business’ timeline, there is a significant transition in outlook and behaviour. We stop becoming ‘yes’ people and become ‘consultants’. There is a confidence that starts to evolve, a different type of confidence to the start-up-plate-spinning-sometimes-plate-dropping-maverick. The important word here is the consultant. When someone is buying your skills, they are paying for exactly that and it is essential that we use our expertise to advise them on the best way forward. We’re not just the delivery driver in a transaction, we’re the designers, the producers, we package it up and we do all of this with customer service at the heart of the assembly line.
As a business, you have a responsibility to give your customers the best possible service and a remarkable solution. But this doesn’t just mean writing a fantastic piece of copy, creating a PPC campaign or producing an excellent piece of content. As a business, we need to view ourselves as a consultancy service at the heart of everything we do. If I was going to hire an agency to produce a website, I’d have a very clear vision of what I wanted the website to do, how I wanted it to look and what functionality it needed. The successful agency I end up commissioning the work with however would take the brief, use their recommendations and provide a final expert proposal. Why? Because I’m not a website developer. If I turn around and tell the web developer they are wrong, I deserve to be tied to a lamp post and forced to watch reruns of Made in Chelsea. Nobody is an expert in everything, that’s why servicing agencies exist.
There’s an evident risk here that the prospect won’t agree with what you’ve proposed but at worse, they’ll respect your confidence and professionalism to have the foresight to make the recommendation and respectfully decline your proposal. At best they’ll be won over by your knowledge and approach, and this will set you aside from all of the other agencies who ran with the initial brief and made the wrong recommendation. Nobody wants to lose business but sometimes a no is better than a yes if it avoids jumping on the wrong gravy train and finishing up with a reputation that leads to nowhere fast.
If you are a customer approaching an agency, you need to be confident you are paying for the right solution to your problem. You may not want to delegate completely and this is understandable, nobody knows your brand and its values better than you. To be 100% sure of this, you may want to speak to a few agencies, listen to the different suggestions and then input your own ideas. Do some of your own research online, read blogs, listen to what other businesses have done. There are so many pages of useful advice and tips available and you can soon go from knowing very little about a subject to being able to make an informed decision. Having the belief in your own ideas is great but listen to other people as well before you commission a project and make sure what you want is what your business needs.