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I spent the last few years selling mobile app design/development to clients, from early stage startups you haven’t heard of, to larger ones like Birchbox, and even to corporations like Google and Regal Cinemas. While we worked with dozens of companies over those years, we actually met with hundreds. It helped me to develop a sense of what makes for successful client/agency relationships.
I often get asked for advice either for how to think about working with an outside partner or for specific recommendations on who to go with. Here are some thoughts…
Tip 1: Choose Your Cost Model Carefully
Clients typically care most about budget, timeline and quality. For obvious reasons, budget is a particularly sensitive topic. You’ll probably want visibility and predictability into what you’ll spend but your prospective partners may be unable to provide this.
Tip 2: Set Up Transparency
One of the things we prided ourselves on at Two Toasters was the degree of transparency we gave to clients. While we didn’t get it all right, we did our best to make sure that it was abundantly obvious what was going on in the project. If I were working with an agency partner, I’d want at least the same treatment, assuming you’re buying from a premium, high-touch partner.
With daily checkins it should be very difficult for the project to go wildly off track from a production perspective. You should try and compliment this with regular cost check ins so you don’t get any nasty surprises. This should all be explained to your during the sales process. Ideally it’s written down contractually somewhere – either in a master service agreement or statement of work.
Tip 3: Get A Technical Advisor
If you are doing work that has a technical component, it’s very important to have a technical stakeholder on your side. Some companies – particularly earlier stage startups that haven’t been able to find a technical co-founder – end up without any technical input on their side. Outside of cost and timeline, I noticed this being one of the greatest causes of tension when things went wrong. Non-technical co-founders and stakeholders have very little ability to evaluate the work that they’re being given. Additionally, sometimes the non-technical client finds it hard to understand why something is taking longer, is more difficult to execute, or why a particular decision has been made by the agency. Clients who had technical representation on their side were better equipped to push back in the right places and relax in others.
Tip 4: Choose an empowered point-person on your side
The work your agency partner produces will inevitably need feedback from your team. Unless you are working solo, this will involve some collaboration. Products like InVisioncan make this easier on the design side, but ultimately you need to have one person who is responsible for shepherding feedback on your side and making decisions about product direction. This should be someone who understands the product roadmap, has a direct line to whoever is the highest stakeholder in your company, is dependable and detail oriented. Sometimes we saw companies fail to appoint a counterpart. Or other times, they did appoint someone but this person was ineffective or not empowered to make decisions, meaning that much money was wasted in the back and forth.
Tip 5: We are not all created equal
While your agency will tell you that their company is filled with equally amazingly talented individuals on either the design or development side, in actuality their team likely has a range of talent. To the extent that they are willing, you should try and get a sense of who will actually be working on the project.