The Contradictions of Choosing an Agency

Time to Read: 5 minutes

Written by Asa Goldstein, Founder

When you’ve made the decision to upgrade your startup’s branding and online presence to prepare for rapid growth, you encounter a new obstacle: choosing the right agency for the job.

As an individual entrepreneur or startup team, you’ve made it this far by working with partners that share your vision and your unique approach to innovation. Hopefully, you’ve had nothing but positive experiences with outside providers thus far.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common to have been burned once or twice by creative or marketing agencies along the way––a frustrating setback that occurs at a disappointingly frequent rate in a space as popular as branding, design, and web development for startups.

Whether it’s a website fraught with bugs, or a brand book that left much to be desired, you’re not alone if you’ve worked with an agency or freelancer that just wasn’t the right fit.

Oftentimes, when building a startup, branding is close to the last thing on your mind, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the territory and aren’t quite sure how to best vet potential providers. Plus, let’s face it: like many things in life, choosing the right agency can be a counterintuitive process that leads to unexpected results.

To clear up any confusion and point you in the right direction, we’ve written this list of contradictions to consider when selecting an agency so that you and your team can find the perfect partner to power your next phase as a company.

Fast is slow.

Any branding or web agency that promises a turnaround between a couple of days and a few weeks is guaranteed to produce middling work that does not befit a growing startup’s needs.

Even if the work is of decent quality, the work necessary to meaningfully differentiate your branding and online presence or reach your lofty expectations simply can’t be completed in such a short time-frame. To accommodate this disparity, these agencies may cut corners, re-use templates, and skim over crucial steps––resulting in a final product that disappoints, or at worst, is completely dysfunctional.

As a result, you’ll tug back and forth with this kind of partner, requesting endless revisions that lead to never-ending invoices and a budget that far exceeds the original proposal. Or worse yet, you’ll move from one speed-focused provider to the next without ever quite reaching your goals––leaving you with a disorganized, convoluted brand that you’re forced to accept as you can no longer focus on branding as a priority.

Cheap is expensive.

Many of the same downsides that arise with ultra-speedy agencies apply to those that promise sweeping results on a tight budget.

Consider the following: any agency that is a profitable, sustainable business must make a reasonable margin on the work done by their contractors. So, if their final price is already well below the industry average, you are likely receiving the work of contractors who are willing to provide creative services for almost no pay at all.

Are those the sort of contractors you’d trust with the rebrand of your startup?

When you work with budget providers, you greatly increase the likelihood of needing to rebrand again and again, rebuild your website yearly, and spend more budget on making incremental improvements to mediocre (or even poor) work than you would have spent in the first place with a more reputable and respectable agency.

As with any other professional, years of experience, genuine creative talent, and earned skill of execution is always worth the investment.

Industry specialists produce generalized work.

You might think that hiring an agency that specializes in your particular niche or industry is the smartest path forward––after all, they're deeply familiar with your space and your audience already. But, this leads to caveats that you may not anticipate.

Agencies pick niches for good reason. Specializing makes their lead generation easier, and it allows them to template their process and deliverables to reduce the amount of personalized work they do for each client. They may work for your direct competitors that operate in the same field, or perhaps even in the same city.

However, there’s a core misstep in the positioning of these agencies: not all companies in the same industry share the same problems.

Your growing startup is handling far different obstacles than the more established players in your field or the businesses that are just starting out. The roadblocks you’re facing in upgrading your branding and online presence are far more closely related to your stage of growth than they are to your specific industry.

Even agencies that focus on working specifically with startups are still not focused enough––the deliverables that befit a company that is pre-investment or already reaching their Series E funding would not meet the unique needs and constraints of a growth-stage startup.

At BrandShine, we work exclusively with startups that are not only an ideal fit for our process and deliverables at their current stage of development, but also an ideological fit in sharing our vision for a brighter world and their interest in building an impactful and sustainable brand.

Rather than positioning our agency on working with a certain field and none other, we pride ourselves on bringing fresh eyes and new perspectives to any given market. This way, we can offer unique insights that simply can’t be perceived from within the walls of one given industry, thereby creating true differentiation for your startup’s brand.

The most established agencies can be the least effective.

If your recent round of funding has opened up the possibility of working with major ad agencies, kudos to you––you’re working with a hefty budget!

Big agencies often do outstanding work––after all, there’s a reason they’ve grown to their current size and have been at work for so many years. However, there are some undeniable drawbacks to working with the most established agencies.

Of course, there’s the primary issue that arises when working with any large company: customer service and personalized care fall short. It can be difficult to reach the creative team handling your project, and your urgent requests or unique needs can get lost in the shuffle of big-agency workflow.

Plus, when one or two Creative Directors are spread thin between dozens of projects, your work will often be delegated to beginner designers, copywriters, and developers who are honing their craft through your project.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with working with motivated and youthful contractors––but you shouldn’t be charged for their services as though you’re working with bona fide experts at each step of the way.

Ironically, it’s the smaller boutique agencies that actually have senior creatives working on your project from start to finish.

Due to the excessive overhead and bureaucracy involved in running a corporate-level agency, rebrands and website builds can be ultra-expensive (think in the multiple hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars), and their overwhelming workload can mean that they budget years to complete your project rather than a few months.

Like with any large company, big agencies can be slow to adopt new technology and ways of doing business, working with outdated platforms and offering deliverables that haven’t changed since the early 2000s.

Another remaining consideration is that when it comes to corporatized agencies, your startup will always play second fiddle to their most impressive clients. Learning that an agency services a massive fast food corporation or a clothing conglomerate seems like an indication of expertise and reliability––but these bread-and-butter clients will typically take priority over the work they offer to growing startups.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, these insider insights have clarified your understanding of the agency playing field and will help to lessen the stress of choosing the right agency. Choosing any partner to help grow your startup can feel daunting and confusing––there are always numerous factors to consider alongside pros and cons to each opportunity. In the end, the best you can do is make an educated decision that results in a partnership that meets your needs as closely as possible.

If you’re looking for an agency that specializes in solving the problems faced by growth-stage startups, equipped with the low overhead, agile team, cutting-edge tech solutions, and next-gen deliverables to produce stellar work at a rate and timeframe designed to fit scale-ready startups, consider booking a consultation call. We’d be happy to learn more about your current roadblocks and offer customized solutions.

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