As your business grows, you might find yourself being able to hire outside agencies to help you soar to new heights. These can be copywriting, search engine optimization, advertising, design, and other services.
Hiring an agency to work with can be exciting but also expensive, and results can vary if you find the wrong partner or won’t analyze what you’re doing together.
We’ve worked with four agencies (SEO, paid acquisition, conversion copywriting, design) and made some costly mistakes. Mistakes worth $120,000. To save your business from similar pitfalls, we will share the lessons we learned.
Top 4 mistakes to avoid when partnering up with agencies
Here are the four most common expensive mistakes business owners make with agencies. Don’t let them stress you out and slow down the growth of your business.
1. Not understanding onboarding costs
As a rule, it takes from two to four weeks to onboard a full-time employee, and it takes even longer for them to start producing at their maximum capacity. Just like your new employees, agencies need to be completely prepared and settled in due to effective onboarding.
The copywriting agency we hired has spent as much as 60 hours for the research, discovery calls, and customer interviews. We were frustrated about this at the beginning, as this time cost us $12.5K, and we haven’t seen results yet. We didn’t understand that this effort was crucial for the high-level copy for our landing pages.
Another good example is our work with a design agency. Before we hired them, we spent four months developing a detailed description of our target audience and brand persona. Every minute of our work paid off in the end result, the ease of collaboration, and the speed of delivered work.
But there was a completely different story with the SEO agency. They started from one discovery call and keyword research. Although we already knew what was working, the agency convinced us to go another route. Consequently, we’ve lost 1 year of potential growth, $25k of agency fees, and ended up with minor traffic to the generic article with $0 in revenue.
What we learned
When hiring an agency, it is crucial to make sure they have enough insight before starting a project. Also, be prepared to spend money on proper onboarding.
2. Not taking into account the importance of the iterations’ speed
Any marketing activity requires continuous improvement, feedback checks, and keeping track of events. For example, when you work on an email campaign, you create a series and send out the first batch. After a while, you analyze the results, improve, and repeat.
Here is what happened with the copywriting agency. They have developed a sequence of cold emails, but they didn’t work. So we analyzed everything and sent feedback to the project manager, who passed it to the copywriter, who scheduled a call to get more insights. That was taking too long.
The story repeated itself with a paid acquisition consultant. When we reported that we were unhappy with the result, it took him a week to make changes to the campaign. As a result, we were unable to create an intensive feedback loop. The mistake cost us over $14K.
What we learned
It’s better to outsource only those projects where success doesn’t rely on the speed of iteration.
3. Not investing sufficient time to make agency’s work easier
Hypothesis: if you hire an agency, they will do all the hard work for you. You can sit and relax. Wrong!
From your side, you need to do the following things:
- Provide explicit specifications on what you expect to be done.
- Constantly monitor if the agency has no blockers that bother them to work on the project efficiently.
- Always test their work.
- Give timely feedback.
If you aren’t investing enough time and effort in these processes, there is a high chance of the project not getting to the place you want it to.
What we learned
When you hire an agency, it is essential to find the time to be available for their needs as much as you are available for your internal team and clients.
4. Not letting the team handle certain tasks in-house
As your workload begins to increase, looking for help outside the company can free up valuable time and resources. However, not every task can and should be done by agencies. Be careful considering which work you want to pass off to external contractors.
These are the tasks we won’t outsource again and will rather keep them in-house:
- Cold email copy. Failed because of the slow feedback loop.
- Product Hunt launch. Because Product Hunt is a community-driven platform, you have to spend a lot of time giving value and personal touch to the audience. Not a single agency will be so good and fast as you and your team.
- Technical or niche-specific articles. In our case, the SEO agency wasn’t the right option. Yes, they did all the keyword research and knew the proper structure for better rankings. But our content didn’t convert as it had no real value.
What we learned
Outsourcing can make things easier for a business, but not everything is good for outsourcing. It makes sense to handle some areas in-house (e.g., your core competencies, tasks that require timely iteration).
Carefully consider what and how your outsourcing
As your company starts to grow, you might want to outsource some part of your work. Of course, partnering up with agencies or paid consultants to take over certain areas of your business can indeed be less expensive and quicker than training your staff or employing new people.
But as discussed in this article, it makes sense to handle some tasks in-house. For example, we decided to take care of technical or niche-specific articles and cold email copy ourselves. We also understood that we couldn’t avoid onboarding costs when hiring agencies. Otherwise, efficient work isn’t possible.
And finally, we want to emphasize that hiring agencies doesn’t mean you can relax and watch from the sidelines. Be prepared for testing and analyzing their work. Provide constant and timely feedback and ensure there are no blockers that hinder them from performing at their full capacity.