Part 1: Are You Ready to Hire a Creative Agency?

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April 3, 2016

After you have a solid grasp on the direction of your business, reaching out to a skilled trusted partner could absolutely help with the technical and traction-based aspects of bringing your product to life.

Part 1 of this series will address the common theme of having an idea that’s not ready to be built.

Each year we talk with a variety of potential clients about new and exciting work. We’re speaking with entrepreneurs about a unique idea they want to build, and larger established organizations about various initiatives they’re looking to launch

Over the course of these conversations, we’re performing due diligence to find out how we could make an impact on their vision. On many occasions, it becomes clear they’re at a place where hiring a digital agency isn’t in their best interest. In one way or another, they’re at a place where continuing to work on the idea internally would yield better results, at least in the short term.

In this series of articles, I’m going out outline several situations we’ve run into where we realize, for the client’s sake, that hiring a digital agency is not in their best interest. I’m going to outline the common themes we’ve seen from these prospective clients, and describe the steps you can take to make progress without an agency. Additionally, when progress has been made, when it does make sense to bring on another team to assist in your efforts.

The Situation: Early-stage Startups

In this situation, most commonly seen with early-stage startups, we’re contacted by a single or group of entrepreneurs excited about their idea and eager to get to work building the product.

Usually, the email hints at the industry they’re targeting and gives us a brief rundown of the idea at hand. In many cases we’re being asked to sign NDAs, sometimes an early red flag into potential partnership.

From here, we usually have a series of conversations with the potential client, forming an idea of what they want to build, and the resources (team, timelines, financing, marketing, etc.) available to bring it to fruition.

It’s at this point where things start to get dicey. In some cases, the potential client has their ducks in a row. They have a solid idea backed by industry-specific research, are taking steps to create real intellectual property with their product, and have team members actively promoting the idea online. They’re already building a community of people eager to solve the problem their product addresses.

On the flip side, many potential startups are overwhelmingly unprepared. They have an idea, but no real sense of the process or effort needed to bring the idea to life. Furthermore, how to build a business that can build momentum beyond the product’s launch.

As a business owner or startup founder, you need to be careful. If you’re reaching out to an agency to assist with the build of your product, make sure you have a plan for the entire business. Having a good idea is one thing, but turning it into a feasible revenue generating business is a completely different ballgame.

With this specific situation outlined, let me address more specifically the problems we’re seeing, and the issues you’re likely to run into.

Issue 1: You haven’t defined what the problem is you’re attempting to solve.

Everyone, throughout their normal day, has a plethora of inconveniences which, if fixed, would make their daily routine significantly easier to manage. These "game changing" ideas are many times a great place to find inspiration for solvable problems. However, often the problem is so niche that it’s not something you can build a business around.

When we’re evaluating the problem a potential client is trying to solve, we’re looking for a few answers right off the bat:

  1. In 150 words, describe the problem you’re solving.
  2. How many other people experience this problem?
  3. What is the simplest way this problem could be remedied? Not 100% solved, but at least made easier.

If you’re unable to describe your problem in 150 words, you haven’t thought hard enough on what you’re actually solving.

Sure, it could be an idea so specific it takes more than 150 words to describe, but then the question becomes, how much is it going to cost to solve this extremely niche problem? Let alone find enough people who also face it, and are willing to pay for a solution to fix it.

Knowing how many people experience this problem starts to help define the market you’re targeting. Both in terms of it’s size and value, but also starts to point into the direction of who your marketing efforts need to be focused on.

Are we talking about a very broad consumer market, or is it niche B2B industry-specific market? Who are those people? What solutions do they currently use to solve this problem? Do they align with the vision you are creating for your business?

Lastly, "What’s the simplest way this problem could be remedied?," begins to dive into the vision for the product roadmap. Many entrepreneurs we talk to have a grandiose idea they want to build, but no idea about minimum viable product or an iterative build process.

Issue 2: You don’t have a viable roadmap for your business.

I wish building a successful business was as easy as coming up with the idea and writing the code necessary to bring it to life. Unfortunately, most ideas are complex, and there aren’t enough resources available to build the entire concept in one fell swoop (nor is that the best approach).

The approach then shifts to determining what’s the simplest solution we can build, release, and collect feedback on, to further develop the solution. We want to get it closer to being a commercially viable product.

This "roadmap" planning does a few things:

  • It helps break the problem into a series of easier to build "micro-solutions."
  • It allows marketing to focus their efforts, targeting a more specific set of users.
  • It helps conserve resources by focusing on smaller chunks of work.
  • It helps plan for future resources, giving the finance arm of the business a more defined series of efforts the business is working on, which they need to raise money for.

Issue 3: You haven’t thought about traction or growing your user base.

"If you build it, they will come" is a cute phrase that works in Robert Redford baseball movies, but I’ve never seen it actually ring true in real life.

The reality is, you can build the most clever solution possible, but if no one knows about it, you’re going to have a hard time growing a user base.

Along with building your product you also need to be focused on building traction, ideally planning for and spending 50% of your time and resources on each.

A huge mistake we see early-stage entrepreneurs making is they don’t spend any time defining and honing their business’ vision, or spreading it to the people who it’s likely to align with.

You want people to understand you truly care about the problem they are facing, and how it’s your mission to solve it. You want them to align with the unique perspective you have on the problem at hand, and why your solution is better than all the rest. These people turn into followers, and from there users, and then on into paying customers.

Traction is something that typically falls by the wayside when the excitement of the idea takes hold, and the priority becomes building the solution as quickly as possible. However, before one line of code gets written, or a design starts to take shape, the business needs to build a vision behind the solution they are creating, and spreading that vision to those who it would resonate with. In the process, collecting feedback on the work they are doing, and building a community around their idea.

As the product is being built, the company needs to continue spreading its message. Guest blogging, PR, and speaking events are all great ways to project your vision. Without these efforts, you’ll invest time, money, and effort into a solution no one is aware of. One that’s doomed into obscurity before it even launches.

Instead of hiring an agency

Before you entertain hiring an agency to help build your product, there’s plenty of work on your end to build your business. Here are a list of steps we recommend with clients we’ve worked with in the past, and based on the issues outlined above.

Define your idea.

What’s the concept/value proposition of your business? How many people currently experience this problem? Are there any current competitors in your space? How is your solution different from the status-quo? Take the time to answer these questions thoroughly but concisely. Hone in on the idea and what makes it unique.

Build your vision.

Beyond just making someone's day easier, what’s the larger problem you’re trying to solve? Uber wasn’t just about replacing taxi’s, it was about reshaping the way people utilize transportation. Create a vision that will inspire the roadmap for the product.

Plan for incremental steps.

What is the smallest idea you can build to test and gain feedback on your solution? What functionality does a "full product" provide? How does functionality line up with funding and resources? If things are going well, more resources will be needed before the business is sustaining itself, where is that coming from?

Grow your community.

How can you find and target people who align with your vision? What messages will resonate with them, and what would it take to convert them into paid customers. Who will be responsible for creating and promoting this content?

Wrapping Up

With all this said, hopefully you can see there is quite a bit of work involved between the "idea moment" and getting started on building a product.

All of these items are things you could (and should) start working on before you reach out to an agency. However, after you have a solid grasp on the direction of your business, reaching out to a skilled trusted partner could absolutely help with the technical and traction-based aspects of bringing your product to life.

In the next article, I’ll be talking about potential clients who don’t require bespoke design and development. Those who can launch a great website, using affordable tools, and gaining the same benefits of working with an agency.

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