It is very tempting to call up a few firms and ask for basic info hoping that one might say or do something that gives you the sense they are the right fit. It is so very tempting if you add pressure to the search. That sense of relief when you find out they have the right bonafides – it can almost make you feel that your work is done.

But, is it?

Not if you want to get the most out of that investment. Do you really know what you need this agency to do with the budget you’ve given them? Or, are you hoping they’ll know and just figure it out because “they’re the agency?” Or, they’re listed as the “Best at …?” Or, wherever has made them stand out to you as a good choice.

Here’s another, maybe more compelling way to look at it — are you getting the most from your spend, or are you just accepting that they know what they’re doing and, therefore, how much it costs?

I believe many client-agency relationships either fail or produce lackluster results because they didn’t ask the right questions at the very beginning.

Being myself on the clientside, large agency side, and, now, the boutique agency side of this commitment, I can assure you most clients do not come to the table knowing exactly what they want and how to get it. There are many assumptions made. That’s why a lot of clients walk away disappointed and just move on.

To avoid the awkward conversations and what we all know happens when assumptions are made, please consider asking yourself a few key questions. Then, write them down and hand them to the agency, or any vendor partner, from which you’d like to get the best work.

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Question #1 – What are my top three goals?

This is not a time for guessing or cut-and-pasting from your predecessor’s plan. This relationship will be deemed wildly successful in three months because **fill in the blank** happened. It is okay to say a goal is to increase sales. It’s okay to say your goal is to improve your reputation.

This part of the planning needs to come from the business. It is fundamental to establishing a successful relationship with a partner. If you don’t make it to questions 2 and 3, don’t skip this one, and don’t do it by half.

For example, it is not okay to say you want more media hits without saying why (ultimately, one of your goals).

If you can’t define why, then it is not an achieveable goal it is a wish.

Question #2 – How do you measure success?

There’s often a lot of miscommunication around this because this is where the agency gets to be most collaborative and add its professional opinion into the mix. However, I’d submit that if you already have a sense of how you’re going to measure success, you can more easily pair it with the agency’s reporting.

Again, you do need to work with the agency to figure out what data will work best within what they can report with their technology, but if you don’t know why you need a certain result, the how doesn’t make much difference and not being aligned could lead to very serious miscommunication.

It’s worth saying again: if you don’t know why you need a certain result, how the agency measures its own success doesn’t make much difference.

Questions #3 – What resources am I willing to commit?

First, if the agency’s fees are going to top off your budget, you need to reassess. Don’t get talked into maxing out your entire budget. There will be expenses, even for a straightforward service.

Usually, service fees incur extraneous expenses like shipping, travel, media distribution, fees for reporting, etc. You should have a minimum of 20% of your fees set aside for out-of-pocket expenses. This percentage needs to go up much higher if you’re a consumer brand. Product samples, influencer fees, and sponsored content can get expensive quickly. Know what you can handle before getting involved.

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Also, don’t forget about other valuable resources like your time, the schedules of others in the company that must be involved, and downtime. Being upfront about your willingness to be collaborative, any expectations you have (ex: I do not work on the weekends or holidays, etc.) are best defined at the start.

After you’ve written these things down, the agency should come back to you with a strategy document that details exactly how they are going to achieve your goals and what it’s going to cost.

Knowing and understanding these few key areas before starting an agency relationship will avoid so much misunderstanding. So much.

You’ll be able to hold steady to what you need to do and why, and it will be harder for the partner to veer away from your original agreement. But way more importantly — it will net you the best outcome from the agency. All of the guessing and supposition will be gone, and you’re left with clear expectations that align with your goals.