Ways to Lead Agencies and Outside Firms Like They're Part of Your Team

Here's how to build a healthy relationship with outside agencies.

learn more about Michelle Van Slyke

By Michelle Van Slyke

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Small-business owners are some of the busiest people in the industry. In fact, one study found that 72 percent of surveyed owners felt consistently overwhelmed by their responsibilities. The precarious balancing act of managing a small business while focusing on growth means responsibilities like public relations and marketing can slip through the cracks when time and money come up short.

A small-business marketing trend report found that the majority of the surveyed small-business owners were dissatisfied with the marketing tactics they themselves implemented.

Outsourcing work like marketing allows someone else to be the expert for you, while you focus on what makes you an expert in your business. Even at the large scale in which the The UPS Store operates, we have recognized that we can't do it all ourselves. Externally, we work with multiple agency partners to assist us in those areas. In my current and previous roles at different companies, I like the agencies to meet, communicate and collaborate.

This is not usual for large companies; however, I have seen the benefits and rewards of working together. The mutual goal is always serving the client and growing their business.

Working with an outside firm will only be as effective as you lead them to be. Managing a dynamic workforce that consists of both internal and external employees requires organization and clear communication of expectations. Here are some tips to help make that happen.

1. Start with benchmarks

When building an agency relationship from the ground up, it's imperative to create benchmarks from the beginning. Setting boundaries and communicating clearly is not just for strengthening personal relationships, but business connections, too. Communicating with outside firms about your priorities and guidelines helps the firm understand what kind of freedom and restrictions they have with their work.

Unclear communication could lead to paying high prices for a service that didn't meet your needs and boundaries help to ensure you are getting what you pay for.

2. Be firm but fair

It's easy to view agencies like accounting services. We sometimes forget that agencies are made up of people who have feelings, motivations and flaws. Understanding the human side of an agency can help small-business owners leverage the full power and potential of outside experts. There is nothing harder than having to find motivation for a project that feels unappreciated or useless.

3. Have a plan

The worst thing you can do is walk into an agency empty-handed and directionless. Before meeting with agency partners, ask yourself these two questions: Where do we want to go? How are we going to get there together? Your answers will lead to a plan that your agency partners can contribute to and work against. If there is no plan from the beginning, there will be no plan at all.

4. Evaluate for growth

Providing feedback on a regular basis can better equip an agency to serve your greatest needs. Scheduling regular phone calls and office visits adds a human aspect that helps your counselors become invested in your account. Yearly evaluations can provide agency partners with an understanding of your expectations and outline areas for growth.

Assuming an agency will get it right the first time is a mindset doomed for failure. Be understanding and push to get everyone on the same page -- it will make for a more rewarding relationship.

5. Change is good

If your business has been working with an agency for some time, don't be afraid to see players on your account change. New faces, teams and ideas bring a fresh perspective to your business and could lead to added growth.

Remember this: As much as you rely on your agency counselors for profitable growth, they are relying on you for professional growth. Challenging your agency team and motivating them to rise to the occasion allows for a win-win.

Finding smart people in specialized areas is key, which is why I highly value the work of agency partners. For the past 25 years, when I have been working with an agency, I always try to collaborate on ideas and products that the world sees every day. As author Ken Blanchard once said, "None of us is as smart as all of us."

Michelle Van Slyke

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales, The UPS Store

Michelle Van Slyke is the senior vice president of marketing and sales for The UPS Store, Inc., which provides print and small business solutions to entrepreneurs and small-business owners at 5,000 franchise locations across the U.S.

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