The Problem With Agencies

What you’re about to read may step on a few toes. But before you proceed with hastened intent of scoffing, “well that’s not us”, we’re not saying it is.

We’ve been on both sides of the looking glass: working within agencies and working with disgruntled clients of agencies to get their project back on track. We’re not saying all agencies are bad, to the contrary, some are very good, but there are some overarching characteristics of the agency model that continue to cause problems for some clients.

As an organisation you have identified an opportunity. You don’t have the capabilities in-house to capitalise and recruiting, particularly in the current market, is unfeasible. You have a budget, a time frame and the search begins to find the right solution provider you drastically need to propel your business to where it needs to be.

Deciding to engage an agency is simple, but finding the right one is hard, right? Well, there’s certainly an element of truth to that but is an agency really what you need at all? From a business standpoint, you need to consider the type of engagement you want and the expectations you have around delivery of your product.

Here are some things to consider before handing over the reins to ensure you don’t end up out of pocket and no closer to finding a solution to your problem.

What capabilities do you actually need?

Specialisation by all conventional measures is a good thing. It allows businesses to carve out a niche in a crowded market and position themselves as true experts in a field. Particularly in technology, the trend of hyperspecialisation is set to continue due to the emergence of new and complex technologies.

Agencies will typically rely on a few core talents; they may offer other capabilities but understandably prefer projects that fall under their remit. As a client, you need a certain level of clarity on the capabilities you need. Approaching the ‘wrong’ agency may lead to solutions being based on their speciality rather than your needs as a client.

It’s not necessarily the fault of an agency as you’ve presented them with a problem and they will suggest a solution based on the capabilities they possess. It becomes more dubious when an attitude of ‘we’ll build you what we know rather than what you need…’ rears its ugly head.

Can you scale (at speed)?

The specialisation and frenetic nature of the agency model can make scaling tricky. In the digital-driven age, clients’ needs are evolving as quickly as technology itself. In order to rapidly test, design and build new ideas as you scale may require engaging multiple agencies so you have all the additional capabilities you need when you need them.

Aside from the specialisation issue, agencies are renowned as faced-paced machines, constantly running at the rev-limiter and often in danger of blowing a head gasket. Trust us, we’ve all participated in these high octane races. Plates are constantly spinning and finite time is allocated between seemingly infinite accounts.

Adding additional fire power to your project when it’s needed most can be a resource management nightmare, so you have to be tactical about what your project will need and when.

What’s actually going on?

Now this is the big one we hear time and time again from agency-scorned clients. Once a scope has been agreed the product rapidly falls into a vacuous chasm from which nothing can escape. The curtain falls, the agency elves take the product and build it their way.

Clients can often be left scratching their heads wondering, “where is my money actually going?”, “who is actually working on my product?”. “Have I been charged top agency rates just for my product to be handed off to a developer with mothers’ milk still on their face?” Unfortunately the lack of transparency means you won’t know until the grand reveal.

Weeks or months may pass with limited contact, all leading to the moment when the curtain drops. Drum roll please… Tah dah. Far too often our clients have been handed a product that isn’t quite what they wanted. And worst of all, who’s fault is it? The product was built on the agreed scope.

Perhaps the question you need to ask is…

Do you need a technology provider or a partner?

And this is really the crux of the matter.

In the most simplistic terms, you may have approached a provider asking, “can you build an app?”


But perhaps the question you should have asked is, “do we need an app?”

It’s not necessarily the agency’s “fault”. You agreed on a scope and you’ll most likely get what you asked for (whether it’s what you needed or not). It ultimately comes down to whether you need a provider of a solution, and that’s fine, or a technology partner that will  be more invested in your business and help define and implement the most beneficial technology choices as you go.

Digital Village was ultimately born through a dissatisfaction with the agency model. As a network of specialists, we are technologically agnostic and build teams of people around what your business specifically needs, which on some occasions may not be what you thought you needed.

It also comes down to the level of involvement you as a business or individual want in the process. We have a firm belief in adopting a customer-centric approach to building technology solutions – bringing both the client and end-users into our 20DAYS build process to ensure the product being built creates real value.

Our metrics for success are deeply rooted in our client’s success, but that’s just us.

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