As small businesses grow, most eventually find themselves in the position of being able to hire an outside agency to help them develop creative content, whether it's a comprehensive email program, a new professional website, or content that can improve their online search position. These can be expensive projects, but results can vary if you don't work well with the agency you've hired.

While you and the team you're working with don't always need to see eye-to-eye on everything, it's important that you avoid these three common mistakes if you want a successful partnership and a project that sees positive results.

I've managed ecosystems of third-party developers providing creative and design services to small businesses, and while the vast majority of the projects have been positive and ultimately profitable for the clients, there have been some stellar exceptions. Each of these bungled projects was unique, but their failures all seem to stem from one of three issues. Avoiding these three pitfalls won't guarantee a successful project, but it's likely to help you avoid the major issues that can doom even the best-planned initiative.

1. Not having a detailed project plan in place before kicking things off.

It's fairly typical for a creative agency to start a project after little more than a couple of phone calls and the completion of a contract. The contract will typically spell out what deliverables are being purchased, expected timelines and other quantifiable elements of the project. But what they rarely address are things like the style of writing you're looking for, whether you want your new website to be edgy and modern or you're going for more simple or professional. These are the most important parts of a project.

To avoid this mistake, take the time to create a very detailed project brief that describes high level goals of the project, the desired tone and style, samples of similar desirable projects, as well as any issues or items to avoid. This kind of clear direction will prevent any issues down the line before it's too late to make changes to the project.

2. Refraining from providing honest feedback at each creative stage.

Most creative projects are planned and priced for a certain number of rounds or review stages. Where I've seen the wheels fall off a project is when an agency presents their first draft of work that isn't really in line with what the business was looking for,  but both parties agree that they will get everything aligned on the next round. That almost never works out. By the time the second round comes around, everyone has so much invested that they don't want to start over, at least not without being paid for the extra work.

A better approach is to insist that each phase is acceptable before moving to the next. That doesn't mean that everything needs to be perfect. If the direction is wrong,  or if the creative feel or approach isn't what you want, insist that it be addressed in the current phase. These earlier phases are often the hardest, but once you get the creative foundation right, the rest will flow much more quickly and there's less chance of the project melting down.

3.Overlooking your project will add to your own workload.

Hiring an outside agency requires an investment of not only money, but also time. Too often, small businesses that start these projects aren't prepared for how much extra work will be required on their part. Along the way, you'll need to provide regular and thorough feedback, as well as content for projects including logos, customer testimonials, staff and facility photos, your company history, etc.

You do yourself a huge disservice by rushing through this step or by providing incomplete feedback. Unless you do creative development for a living (and even then it should be the exception) you should never provide feedback in the same meeting as you first see a particular creative stage. Instead, thank everyone for their work and tell them you'll provide feedback in 24-48 hours. Then get off the call, take a breath or maybe a walk, and spend some quality time thinking about the work and whether it's aligned with your creative brief and goals for the project.

Plan accordingly, and before kicking off a project make sure you make the time to be involved in the development process. It will take a lot of effort, but unless your creative agent also employs a mind-reader, it's the only way to get the results you really want.

Published on: Nov 6, 2017