How to get better project results when working with an agency

How do you get high-quality project results that are on target when working with an agency on Upwork? Of course, choosing the right agency for your project will play a big part in how things pan out, but as a client there’s plenty you can do to make a project a success.

A lot of that is having the right mindset. When you think of agencies as partners, not just vendors, you’ll be better able to plan, communicate, delegate, and leverage an agency to get the best possible results.

Here are seven tips and insights from agencies and agency clients to help you make the most of your partnership.

1. Go beyond the brief and provide plenty of context

Give agencies what they need to be a real thought partner with your organization. To help them accurately translate your problem into a project, they’ll need context. A great brief can help you zero in on the right agency for the project, but for them to really meet (and exceed) your expectations, they’ll need more.

Use a kickoff meeting to explain the “why” behind your brief: your goals, strategy, and the unique challenges you face as an organization. MobiDev, a development agency on Upwork, says “Before the project even starts, we want to find out as much information as possible about a client’s goals. This is the time for us to consult on the staff, approach, stages, and other aspects of the process.”

Share previous campaigns and projects, and how those performed. The more you can convey your vision, the better.

2. Establish primary points of contact—but keep important people in the loop

Determine contacts on both sides of the table—something that’s crucial when working remotely with an agency. You want lines of communication open between both sides to share updates and relay feedback.

It’s how MobiDev manages development on a global scale: “Having one main contact for each of our clients helps us schedule communication for both parties. Even though we are in Ukraine, our points of contact are able to communicate regularly with clients in the U.S., Asia, Europe. It’s all customizable.”

Keep conversations open to the broader team, too. Aleksandr Z., President of Beluga Labs, a design and development agency on Upwork, says, “We have programmers involved in actual discovery meetings and conference calls, not just account managers or project managers. This way, the people doing the work can ask the clients questions on the spot.”

3. Let agencies take the helm with scoping and planning

This might feel foreign, but it’s why you engaged an agency—let them take the lead. “Often times, the client doesn’t know how to reach a goal, they just have a goal in mind. They rely on us for suggestions on how to get there,” says Nicholas Amarelle of CodigoDelSur, a development agency on Upwork. This is a customer service aspect many agencies offer.

Helen Khailova, Director of Sales and Business Development at MobiDev, says, “The wisest, best decision on both parties’ parts is to spend a decent amount of time on architecture planning, which we think is a vital step in the whole creation process.” They use a non-billable planning period as an opportunity to build trust with new clients who don’t know their processes yet.

The bigger your project, the more important this is. At Beluga Labs, they advise that “Accurate estimation is difficult at best. It takes years of experience to be able to accurately assess the time and cost of complex projects.” Instead, your priority should be doing what it takes to meet your goals. “Don’t expect a 100% accurate estimation of the time and cost—instead, focus on breaking a project into requirements and stages and tackling each of those.” And this is what agencies do best.

Also, while it’s good to be prepared, agencies warn clients not to try and do too much pre-planning. Lean on an agency; they know the skills and expertise of the team, so will know how to leverage their strengths at each phase.

4. Think broad—and beyond just your immediate project

When you think of your agency as a partner, you’re likely to maximize meetings and conversations to discuss more than just the project at hand. After all, you’re tapping a team of experts—you want to leverage their brain power.

Kevin Bechtel, Director of Brand Marketing at Upwork, suggests going off-script during check-ins. These types of conversations are critical to getting great results—and may reveal other opportunities to tap their expertise. “Don’t be afraid to talk about the rest of your business as a whole, and run thoughts by them that aren’t directly related to the project. Bounce ideas off them—you never know how else they might be able to help.”

5. Share recognition and praise—and results

Remember that agencies are teams of professionals just like your internal teams—and they want to know when you love the work, or a project has performed well. It’s encouraging, and provides direction for better results in future projects. “Positive results can be great motivators,” says Bechtel.

Show you care, recognize hard work, and make their team feel like a part of your team. “Try to add a personal touch where you can, and get to know everyone. When you’re invested in them, they’re invested in you, too.”

6. Don’t just hand over the low-value, overflow work

Be strategic with how you’re utilizing your agency. For repeat consulting, keep them engaged with the kind of exciting, high-value projects they want, and are equipped to take on. If the only projects you give your agency are your organization’s low-value projects, they’re likely to feel less challenged and valued, which can lead to less impactful results.

7. Anticipate changes to plans and deliverables—which will happen

Be open to change and trust your agency. Deviating from an original plan doesn’t mean it was off-base to begin with—it could just mean new information is helping guide a better plan. CodigoDelSur says, “Our core belief is that change is welcome. There a lot of things clients might think will be valuable that aren’t, and things not considered that will suddenly be very valuable. Account for this, and manage it with sprints.”

A flexible agency with good processes in place will be able to manage pivots or adjustments. Trust their advice and stay open to shifts—the results just might exceed your original expectations.

Remember: Agencies want nothing more than to deliver great results for your project. As a client, keeping these tips in mind will help you give them the context and the space to generate those results.