Reading David Berkowitz’s article “Why Startups Don’t Like Working With Agencies” made me think about many of the experiences I’ve had working with entrepreneurs launching their products and services.  While I agree with much of what David says, I think that one of his points in particular would benefit from a little elaboration: the concept of giving start-ups something of value.  While it’s a simple idea, its importance is amplified when working with a start-up operating on a limited budget.  Providing value should be the number one goal for any campaign, but sometimes proving value is equally important.

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There are a number of ways an agency demonstrates its value to a start-up, but I’d like to highlight three that I believe are very important: providing strategic insight and advice, offering a fresh perspective backed by proven successes, and surpassing the goals established at the outset of the relationship.  I’ll start with the third exhibition of value because it’s the most concrete and easy to quantify.

Be Results Driven

By establishing and agreeing upon goals from the beginning of the working partnership, all parties know the parameters by which success will be measured.  Meeting, and hopefully, outperforming expectations is the easiest way to clearly demonstrate value.  That’s why being results driven is so vital: accomplishing something beyond what was previously agreed upon signals value loud and clear.  Entrepreneurs love that type of performance.

Offer a Fresh Perspective

Proving value becomes a little trickier when moving beyond numbers and metrics.  Entrepreneurs can be headstrong and have a one-track mind when it comes to their start-up.  An agency has a fresh, unbiased perspective that no one else in the start-up has.  Own this point of view and use the creativity it provides to prove value.  Innovative ideas demonstrate a thorough understanding of the marketplace and showcase the serious thought given to seeing where the client fits within it.  Having previous successes with other start-ups bring legitimacy to the original viewpoint and inspires confidence within the entrepreneur that the company is getting great value from the relationship.

Provide Strategic Insight

Great strategic advice originates from the ability to remove subjectivity and instead rely on statistics, evidence, and data to guide suggestions.  For example, if the client has an idea for a promotion that is a terrible idea, add value by offering a different, more strategic option backed by quantifiable research.  Giving the client the same advice as everyone else or being overly agreeable doesn’t really add anything of value.  Putting “Talked CEO out of doing something stupid” is not really a line item often seen on status reports, but realize that agencies are hired for strategic counsel, in addition to producing awesome results, especially for start-ups that don’t have internal marketing resources.  Even if it is contrary, don’t be afraid to make a stand when it comes to important decisions.  I find that often times differences in strategic vision lead to compromises that lead to new ideas that pay off in the long run, proving value to the start-up.

It may seem like anyone with a Mac can design the best logo or packaging ever.  And if start-ups want to go that route, that is their choice.  On a dollar basis, it’s impossible for an agency to compete with an individual in a home office.  But, the truth is that not everyone is an expert when it comes to marketing, or branding, or advertising.  That’s why agencies exist in the first place: to provide a team of experts to service and counsel the client.  If they weren’t capable of providing value for their clients, start-ups included, then the agency model would have died out decades ago.  The key then is to prove value as an agency, demonstrating to the entrepreneur that their company is in very capable hands.  For example, at silver creative group, we act as an outsourced marketing department for our clients.  The companies we work with know that they are getting more value from us than they would with a freelancer because we have a team of brand strategy and design experts that provide exceptional results, a fresh perspective, and strategic insight.  In the case of providing and proving value, most often more heads are better than one.