In my 16+ years as a partner of a creative agency, I’ve worked with many small business owners and entrepreneurs. A few commonalities that stand out among them—they’re hard-working, they don’t think of themselves as just one job title, and nine out of 10 times, they’re surprised to discover just how much goes into creative work.
I’ll give you one example. A while back I worked with a dating-app developer who’d also ‘developed’ his own brand—any time he came across a new need for the brand to show up in market, through social copy, or site UX or even in the logo, he took it upon himself to create and deploy the assets. To him, doing the work himself made sense—it was his vision, after all, so who better than him to shape the message?
It worked at first, but after a while, he started running into trouble. Like many business owners pursuing growth, he followed his instinct to launch a fresh message to go after new audiences. But as he piled more and more messages and assets upon one another, the weight of the brand began to dilute, and a lack of consistency in what the app did and what it stood for began to emerge. Before long, he himself had trouble succinctly describing the vision for the company, and found that by trying to say too much, he ended up saying nothing at all.
How creative agencies can help
On the surface, creative agencies are often thought of for logo design or website copy. But more than that, we have the expertise and experience to help create the most persuasive and holistic marketing and branding solutions. Just as the small business owner or entrepreneur is an expert in his or her field, be it fashion, bookkeeping services, or a restaurant, creative agencies are experts in theirs. And even within the agency, there are experts upon experts: strategists, copywriters, art directors, planners, designers, artists, customer experience mappers, analysts, creative technologists, editors, and so on. Clients may only see the finished product, but all those experts see the product from start to finish – ensuring the journey does indeed end up at the right destination.
In saying that, the applied creative process isn’t in all small business owners’ wheelhouse (unlike larger clients with established marketing departments.) It’s often not an experience they can draw upon, which makes the learning curve a steep one. And just like any steep hill you have to climb, there are going to be a few bumps along the way, and maybe even a few surprises.
Being a small business owner is arduously hard work, and so too is being persuasively creative.
So, as you seek out a creative agency to help you design a logo, or launch your next big campaign, or simply help write your website copy, remember these five truths about the process and the relationship. They’ll help manage your expectations, minimize the surprises, and you’ll enjoy the journey as much as the final destination - they might even smooth out some of those bumps along the way.
1. At times, you’re going to think you could have done it yourself.
Not unlike my wife, kids, and most of my friends, you’re going think you can come up with the ad or tagline yourself. Now in your case, you come by it honestly, as you’ve worn many hats as a small business owner (remember the dating app developer?) But beyond that tip-of-the-iceberg everyone sees, reads, or hears, are the weeks of research, hundreds of ‘killed’ ideas, and years of experience beneath the agency surface. Being a small business owner is arduously hard work, and so too is being persuasively creative. So input, collaborate, and share ideas – and then leave the creative to the experts.
2. It’s likely going to cost more than you expect.
Yes. Unfortunately, that’s usually the case. And for small business owners where cash flow is critical, any outlay of cash is rightly scrutinized. And we agencies understand that. So in many cases, agencies will offer a reduced rate or an MVP version of the final deliverable. But even those rates and a minimal viable product can seem expensive. So be prepared. Be prepared to pay more than you might have expected but also, educate yourself on costs, processes, and the value equation agencies offer, because when it comes to creative, like anything else in life, you get what you pay for.
3. The process might take longer than you thought.
You’re probably used to just getting things done. Making decisions with your gut and acting on them. So it’s important to know that a great campaign, a beautiful new logo, or a go-to-market strategy takes time. It just does. And not because of bureaucracy or layers, but simply to dot those i’s, cross those t’s, and to measure twice and cut once. It’s most likely going to take longer than you expect, and longer than you want, but remember, good great things come to those who wait.
4. And there’s likely going to be more process than you’re used to.
Process; might as well be a four-letter word to many entrepreneurs. Strategic process. Creative process. Production process. Yup, a lot of process. But it’s a necessary evil(s). It charts the course. It keeps you (the client) informed and us (the agency) accountable. It also produces the all-important Creative Brief; the project’s bible (or blueprint if theological references aren’t your thing). And all processes flow into and out of that Brief. It’s the ultimate gut check for everyone involved. And as stated earlier, you’ve always trusted your gut, so trust the process.
5. More often than not, you’re going to want presentations to cut to the chase.
Agencies love their presentations. Clients? Especially small business owners with little time? Not so much. But all those slides that set up the big reveal are just as important as the big reveal itself. They set up the strategy, the considerations, the approach, background and thinking. They refer back to the Brief to align and remind. And they give context to the big reveal, and context is everything. So while you may wonder what it’s all for, I promise you, there is method in the madness.
The creative agency’s role is to help you bring your product, service, or even your dating app, to the market in the most creatively compelling way. And while working with a Creative agency may be new, it doesn’t have to mean taking on the unpredictable. You can flatten the learning curve from the start by knowing what to expect when working with an agency. So, remember:
- When it comes to creative, trust the experts.
- The old value adage is true—you get what you pay for.
- Great things come to those who wait—have patience.
- Trust the process, even if there's lots of it.
- Believe it or not, there's a method to the madness.