Long distance client-agency relationships – what’s the best way to keep working productively despite being on opposite sides of the world? Finding a reliable digital agency to work with seems difficult enough for most businesses, but managing to hold the relationship together, in the long run, is an even harder task. How to build trust in long distance client-agency relationships? In this article, we look at some of the best practices to adopt to keep operations running smoothly, even when the team you are collaborating with is not in your city.
Many companies today rely on an external digital agency to optimize their marketing, design, and web development. A team of specialized professionals taking care of your digital assets and strategies can help you achieve your objectives faster while allowing you to focus on your product. However, building and maintaining client relationships can be challenging when you are working remotely, as it is not always possible to control closely how each task is accomplished. Building trust is a matter of empathy, clear communication, and using the right tool to stay on top of the projects.
Let’s see in detail how to overcome trust issues in long distance client-agency relationships.
First of all: why should you hire a remote digital agency?
Times are changing and more and more businesses are becoming location independent. For those who spend most of their days online this has become the norm, but for companies used to meeting around a table and discussing strategies in a physical office, making the switch can be a challenge.
Still, working with a remote digital agency comes with many advantages. Firstly, by hiring someone with international experience you’ll obtain a new perspective on your business. An agency that is in constant contacts with a diverse range of ideas and strategies will be able to offer creative solutions to your requests.
Secondly, working with a remote company doesn’t have to mean not interacting at all. Unless they are based on the opposite side of the world, agencies and freelancers are usually willing to set up a physical meeting when necessary. Knowing each other in person can increase empathy and help you get a better feel for the people you are working with, but it doesn’t have to happen every day for it to be effective. Alternatively, software to meet virtually now abound, as we will see in the next section, and discussing the details of a project face to face can be done even when geographical distances don’t allow it.
Lasty, let the data speak. We live in a data-driven world, and when it comes to hiring a remote agency, numbers can tell you a lot more about their skills than a personal meeting. Ask to be shown previous results, successful projects, and examples of how ideas could be implemented to get an understanding of the possibilities. Be aware of how an agency presents itself in its emails, website, and portfolio: these are all good indicators of the quality of the work they will provide.
How to use the right tools to manage a client-agency relationship
As mentioned, tools that allow you to communicate and organize tasks remotely abound these days. If you are new to the world of location independent business, check out our complete guide on smart working best practices. When it comes to dealing with an external agency there are two key aspects that should be kept under check: communication and project management.
Communication tools vary in function and scope and most companies prefer to use different software depending on the type of who they want to interact with, how quickly the expect to get a response, and how many people are involved in the discussion. While e-mail and phone calls will not go away any time soon, there are additional tools that you should be ready to use to communicate well with your agency.
Videoconferencing programs such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype allow you to see the team face to face and exchange ideas in real time. It is possible to set up conferences for large groups of people, do presentations with a shared screen, and receive immediate feedback.
Chat software like Slack are great for quick messages, the exchange of files and documents, and for creating separate communication channels according to specific roles. Slack allows you to do phone calls and create chat rooms for individual teams. For example, you can open up rooms for the people working on the design, for the email marketing strategy, and for the general news everyone might be interested in.
When it comes to project management tools we recommend Trello or Asana. Trello and Asana work in a similar way: they let you create boards dedicated to the different tasks of a project and assign them to a team with instructions and deadlines. You can move the boards forward to update their status and show the progression of each task.
Miro and Notion can also come in handy, especially when dealing when more creative projects. They are designed to organize notes, divide tasks into groups, make lists, and create moodboards or brainstorming sessions.
Communication etiquette: plan ahead to build a long distance client-agency relationship
With so many tools as your disposal, communication can become overwhelming and if keeping up with your inbox seemed to be enough of a challenge now you find yourself dealing with multiple notifications and requests for a meeting. This is true for both sides, and that is why to build a solid, long distance client-agency relationship it is essential to know your communication etiquette and be respectful of people’s time.
Briefings are an important aspect of building a long distance client-agency relationship and should occur cyclically throughout the year. Depending on the type of projects you are working on they should be planned weekly or monthly and should address what has been achieved until then, what are the next objectives, and how goals will be reached in practice. Briefings are useful in making clear in advance what the expectations are and whether a change in strategy is needed. They should involve most members of both teams, so that everyone working on a project has a clear overview of what is happening globally and which direction needs to be taken by both client and agency.
Plan meetings ahead
Plan all your meetings ahead and be respectful of people’s time. Screen fatigue is an issue many of us have come to know only in recent months and overdoing it with the meetings can often be counterproductive. Schedule video conferencing sessions on a regular basis and stick to the agreed timing. Meetings don’t have to be too formal or functional: include some time for personal interaction as well and be aware of your agency’s needs.
Building trust and maintaining client-agency relationship doesn’t only mean giving clear instructions and assigning tasks correctly. It also means listening. Be open to feedback on your decision making, project management, and external advice, and be ready to offer your opinion when a problem presents itself. Discussion can spark creativity and by listening to what your agency has to say you may find innovative ways to develop your business. Include a feedback session in your weekly briefings and be open to criticism.
Make your priorities clear and set expectations you can meet
Not everyone communicates in the same way and it’s important to state what you expect from an operational point of view. While video conferences can be set up in advance and allow for immediate responses, emails and chat messages do not necessarily have to be answered immediately. If you need constant support during office hours, for example, it should be made clear before you begin a new project with an agency. Immediate responses can be a challenge when working in different time zones, that is why it is important to agree on terms in advance in order to avoid stressful situations. By setting up a communication channel exclusive tor urgent matters and allowing a 24 hour response time for the rest of the messaging, you create a pressure-free environment which will impact your long distance client-agency relationship.
Building trust: it’s all about empathy
As a remote digital agency, we’ve been working with companies across all continents for over five years. Let’s be honest, it hasn’t always been easy and fixed strategies don’t always work when it comes with dealing with people. This goes both ways and through experience, we’ve found out that only through empathy it has been possible do build long-lasting client-agency relationships and keep doing business with entrepreneurs that come to use with a variety of needs and expectations. But what does this mean?
Work shouldn’t just be a task-based activity. Take the time to celebrate achievements and show your agency that you are happy with their work. By looking back at how obstacles have been overcome and goals met you’ll be able to strengthen long distance client-agency relationships through gratitude.
Take into account possible delays, mistakes, and difficulties an agency may find when dealing with your company, especially when you first start working together. Sometimes it can be difficult to have a full view of all the details that compose a business and over time it’s likely that an unexpected challenge will arise. Be mindful of potential difficulties and check regularly on the status of each task to address difficulties in a timely way.
A simple piece of advice that doesn’t always get the space it deserves: be open-minded and look for a collaborative approach rather than a top-down structure. Be ready to listen, discuss, and help your agency when it’s needed and point out valuable exchanges when they occur. Share information as much as possible and always keep in mind time when working on task-based projects. This, of course, does not mean avoiding confrontation: every agency should be judged on the results it delivers, but remember that improvement and innovation always start from an empowering working environment, whether that is digital or physical.
Still not sure how to overcome trust issues in a long distance client-agency relationship?
Mowgli is here for you! Working on digital projects we care about despite the distance is our daily bread. We get inspired by innovative ideas and are always keen to listen to entrepreneurs’ stories. Get in touch today for a chat about how to develop your business online.