Entering into any relationship, in life or in business, can be nerve wracking.  There’s a lot of pressure to pick “the one” wisely because relationships have the power to build you up or break you down.

Since business and ministry is done by and for people, it makes perfect sense that some personal relationship best practices would apply to the workplace. So without getting overly touchy feely, we offer these tips for finding and holding onto a good one (agency, that is).

1) They Get To Know You

You can’t really know someone without investing in learning through listening.  Good agencies ask a lot of questions, from a lot of people (you, your staff, your donors, your customers, etc.).  This takes time.  Though it’s tempting to want to quickly get to the fun stuff like the new logo or the pretty website, don’t overlook research.  It is the foundation from which all work should stand.  Informed work is vastly better, lasts longer, and is ultimately cheaper – saving you from having to redo or undo flimsy communications.

If an agency has a fix for you before having really gotten to know you, chances are they are reheating leftover work for some other client.  In life and in work, don’t gloss over this process; it will pay off in the long run.

2) They Put Your Needs First

You can usually tell when someone is selfish.  Conversations focus inward.  They’re tough to get a hold of, and when you do have their attention, you feel like a bother.  This is never good, from either the person across the dinner table or the conference table.

Does your agency have a servant mindset?  Does it feel like they report to you, or vice versa?  You should feel empowered when calling them.  Count on their respect, timely attention, prompt response, and the occasional favor.  That’s true partnership.  

Another selfish giveaway is being self-congratulatory.  Trophies in the lobby make clients feel like they’re getting better work.  But don’t forget that it is commercial art you paid for…art meant to drive commerce.  Heralded design that didn’t produce sales, drive donations, or encourage memberships, etc. is for a gallery, not a magazine.  Whose accomplishments does your agency cherish, yours or its own?

3) They Stretch You

Allowing someone to speak into your life or your organization can be uncomfortable.  An outside opinion has different experiences informing the advice. You don’t know the outcome, and that makes it a vulnerable place to be.  No one likes to be corrected or told they have room for improvement, but it’s a necessary part of growth. 

A good agency will ask you basic who, what, where, how, and (most importantly) why questions.  Seemingly easy, but tough questions nonetheless.  They’ll pick apart these answers, and it might hurt.  However, this often forgotten process is what sharpens the team and the organization. This push and pull is will stretch you, but in the end, when done in partnership, you emerge stronger and encouraged to make improvements.  

4) They Make it Work

That whole “for better or worse” part of wedding vows is often foreshadowing.  The journey that is any relationship ebbs and flows, requiring commitment on both parties to make it ultimately rewarding.

Does your agency walk with you?  Not on beaches during sunset, but are they with you as time passes?  Do they help you benchmark goals?  And live with the successes and failures of developed campaigns?  Do they dissect outcomes alongside you to understand what worked, what didn’t and why?  That’s something you won’t get from a project-by-project scenario with freelancers or other vendors.  They come, deliver, then go, and are not invested in the outcome. 

Good relationships figure out how to make it work.

5) They Talk About The Future

The “where are we going?” relationship question usually comes up.  Whether you’re the one speaking or hearing it, it inspires anxiety.  But that’s a good thing, really.  It immediately calls attention to where you are, what path you’re on, and if that path needs correction.

Does your agency ask that question of you? Not about a contract, but from a desire to keep you best prepared for meet future challenges. A forward-thinking agency will hear your immediate requests of today and answer them through the lens of tomorrow. Does your agency proactively help you tackle shifts in technology? The latest SEO algorithms? Trends in media consumption? It’s one thing for your agency to put out a fire or meet a deadline. But it’s quite another to have foresight instilled into every deadline that is met.

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