Real business story

External agencies can deliver immediate expertise and fast results

Any good external partner can deliver quick results in an area of your business that lacks expertise. The wrong partner, however, can be a costly waste of time.

William Forshaw used an external agency to improve Maxwell Scott's digital presence

While having internal skills is always preferable, it typically involves a time-consuming process of hiring and training.

To bring in knowledge fast, an external agency is often the best option.

Collaborating with digital agencies

Maxwell Scott was finding it challenging to transition its leather retail business from a door-to-door operation to a digital success. But after bringing in external help to develop ecommerce and social media, the company doubled its revenue in two years.

While Maxwell Scott had a website, it was underutilised and wasn’t generating much business. To turn things around, CEO William Forshaw brought in external help.

The first stage was recruiting a pay-per-click advertising manager for Google and Bing adverts, and paid social media. The manager took Maxwell Scott to the next level. But, as the business grew, it became obvious more than one person was needed to do the job.

The company started collaborating with an agency in Leeds, which had a wealth of experience and a broad range of digital departments. It gave Maxwell Scott access to new software and put it in the hands of experts when faced with challenging Google updates.

While the agency was expensive, it delivered results. Maxwell Scott’s website now accounts for 99 per cent of its revenue. External partners have helped the business to increase its revenue from £1m to £2.5m in two years, added William.

“It’s very tricky to find the right people when you start working with agencies. It’s trial and error really. Don’t invest too much in one person or one company, and don’t rely on an agency to do all the work. With online marketing, the key is to get everything working in tandem,” he said.

“Don’t invest too much in one person or one company, and don’t rely on an agency to do all the work.”

William Forshaw, CEO, Maxwell Scott

Know where knowledge gaps are

For software development specialists, Softwire, it is essential to know exactly where knowledge gaps are in the business and to establish strong links with experts so that these can be filled.

“We currently outsource a few things that are not in our key area of competence, such as ISO 9000 accreditation, accountancy and pension provision. In each case we work with a company that specialises in that area – we look for businesses that enjoy delivering a great result and getting clients what they need,” said Zoe Cunningham, MD at Softwire.

Deciding to outsource is often a valuable way for a business to pause and think about what success looks like for a particular task. For Softwire, this has improved how projects are briefed.

“Too often internal projects are not clearly briefed because everyone is expected to be on the same page. Working with an external agency means that success criteria and ways of working need to be discussed, and often documented,” Zoe said.

Be careful who you trust

While bringing in an external expert has its benefits, it’s not a situation that leaders should rush into.

You’re trusting a third party with an aspect of your business, so do your due diligence. Read testimonials and reviews of their work and look at the impact. Set a test task and wait for the company to prove it can deliver results before you put all your faith in its strategies.

Watch out for red flags when you’re scoping out partners too, like poor communication and an overreliance on buzzwords or fluffy numbers. If a marketing agency starts promising millions of page impressions for example, don’t be afraid to dig into the details and find out where they’re getting their numbers from.

Another common red flag is a potential partner saying “yes” to everything. As Zoe points out, not all projects are viable, so it’s best to work with partners who aren’t afraid to tell you that from the get-go.

“Outsource providers will often say ‘yes’ to everything in the brief in order to win the work. But organisations should try to be wary of any professional services partner that offers a blanket yes response. Not all projects are viable and not all requests make sense. Companies that say ‘yes’ to whatever the customer demands could be doing more harm than good,” she said.

Zoe recommends having a clear idea of what you want to achieve before you reach out to an external partner, but not to get too caught up in how you’ll get there.

“If you’re calling in the experts, let them help lead you in the right direction and deliver the results you’re looking for. Be clear on what your end goal is and let them do the heavy lifting for you of working out how to get there.”

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Top takeaways

Look at where the knowledge gaps are within your business and establish strong links with experts so that these can be filled.

Before agreeing to work with an external partner, be sure to set clear criteria for success.

Don’t put too much faith in external partners until they have demonstrated results against clear success criteria.