Is your firm’s website overdue for a redesign? Or perhaps there’s an even bigger effort like a complete rebranding on the table? Odds are that you’re planning to do a bit of detective work before presenting your case to your leadership team.
Of course you can ask your network, but you’ll likely be searching online for potential firms. The professional services industry is a big, wide world and the marketing and branding firms that serve it run the gamut.
The choices may seem limitless, unless you’re attempting to keep your search for a partner close to home. But geographic location may not necessarily be the best determinant of fit for your organization or its particular needs.
Depending on a variety of factors—prior experiences, location, or preference of senior management, among others—the idea of working with a professional services marketing partner outside of your geographic area may not seem viable.
You may find that a firm across the country has clients similar to your organization. They will probably have case studies featuring projects similar to the ones you have in mind. And they seem to be a great cultural/values match too! Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to include them in the batch when you initiate the discussion…
Until they pop up. Those nagging doubts:
“How are we going to be able to tell if they have a good team and the right experience if we don’t meet them?”
“You know there’s nothing like shaking hands with someone and then realizing they’re not who you thought they were from their website.”
“We need them to respond in a timely fashion and be able to be held accountable. What if something goes wrong and we can’t reach them?”
“How can I trust someone I’ve never met in person?”
Well, dear reader, today is your lucky day! While I can’t promise that this post will provide the means to stave off doubts or magically sway a long-held position, it will give you a balanced plan on how to approach working with a remote partner.
From collaboration methods to potential benefits (and cautions), you’ll have the information you need to make an informed decision or to share with your team about partnering over vast distances.
Benefits and Cautions of Remote Partnerships
Each situation and organization is unique, so not all benefits or cautions will apply (or be covered here). Below are a few considerations for engaging with a remote partner:
- From feedback/deliverables to gathering internal resources to attend meetings, on either side there are generally fewer delays because of travel or preparation for the team’s visit
- Meetings can start and end on time. You simply hang up the phone or end the video call and get back to work or internal discussions.
- Need to reschedule a meeting at the last minute? While not ideal, it’s possible since there isn’t a carload of folks en route to your office.
Increased Productivity (from the engaged firm)
- No snow days/projects stay on schedule*.
- *This also depends upon the partner having a remote work policy for its employees.
Enlarged Talent Pool (when looking beyond immediate travel area)
- You have the ability to find a firm with specific experience to fit your needs.
- There’s no need to settle with what’s available nearby if they’re not appropriate for your organizatiom.
Increased Value for Investment*
- Admittedly, this can be relative. However, a partner with your interests in mind has all the resources in place to address your needs, relative flexibility with payment terms, and will know that they are likely being scrutinized more intensely (potentially working that much harder to prove those pesky doubts wrong).
Different Time Zones
- Working with a partner three hours ahead? Consider yourself a time traveler! They’ll be hard at work before you’ve arrived at the office and likely still checking email as you’re winding down your day.
- The reverse situation could be a bit more challenging, but your partner will find ways to overcome any potential lapses.
Little-to-No In-Person Contact
- This isn’t an issue for everyone. Video calls may suffice and an overlapping conference trip where you can grab coffee in person is a bonus.
- In other situations, an in-person meeting here and there (depending upon the nature of the engagement) may be necessary. Discuss this with your partner in advance to determine costs and schedule.
- These are inevitable, even when your selected firm is down the road. A reliable partner should have one or two alternatives in place.
- Travel delays can be a daily occurrence as well—so local engagements aren’t immune.
Now that those are out of the way, let’s assume that you’re still game and dig in a bit deeper.
Before You Take That Leap
There is an additional inherent level of trust required when it comes to hiring outside of your geographic region.
Follow this quick checklist to increase familiarity and comfort:
- Check Them Out Online…Everywhere. Website, blog, social media—it’s all fair game. Even if the potential partner was nearby, you’d still want to complete this step to get as thorough as possible an understanding of their culture, they way they work, who they serve, and the value they stand to bring your organization.Do they respond to blog and social media comments? Anything stand out (good or bad)? Is their messaging consistent? Do they have any guides or helpful content available?
- Request an Intro Call or Video Chat. See if you can speak to members of the team with which you may potentially be working. Get to know each other (as much as possible) in thirty minutes or less.Cover the basics: your respective organizations, how you operate, pain points (to be solved, or in need of solving). Keep in mind that more than one call is usually necessary to get to a proposal. Consider including [other] decision-makers as you see fit to gain early buy-in.
- Obtain a Proposal and a Walk-Through to Understand the Rationale. You’ve discussed your needs and have received the proposal. It’s one thing to read it through, but even better when you have the chance to ask questions to the proposing firm.Remember, the proposal process is not an exact science. Even when you issue an RFP, it may not include exactly what you need or hit the right notes. Taking the time to discuss the proposal with the potential partner increases understanding for all those involved.
- Check References. It is up to you to complete a thorough vetting process before sealing the deal. Be sure to ask for client references that may have had hesitations similar to yours.In this case, having the same industry and similar firm size will not be as critical as the situation type. You want to be assured that the potential partner has overcome potential obstacles that remote work naturally poses
Getting Down to Business
Long gone are the days when working with a remote partner meant that you’d never see the firm face-to-face or be able to work together in real time. There are many collaboration tools like Basecamp, Teamwork, and Trello that ease workflows and afford greater project management capabilities (even for in-person teams). And of course, Skype, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangouts all provide voice, chat, and video options to address every need.
Your partner will likely have existing capabilities in-house that they use on a regular basis that can be integrated into your project. Sometimes your organization’s particular needs (or restrictions) may warrant investigation of a new technology. Your partner should be willing to explore and discuss options with you that will make the engagement flow as smoothly as possible.
The Choice Is Yours—Make it a Smart One!
You manage a great deal on a daily basis at your organization. Finding the right fit in a professional services marketing partner shouldn’t be a painful process. In the end, the potential partner’s location should not bear as much weight as the cultural fit and the delivery of value to your organization. Perform your due diligence and weigh the pros and cons. There are a lot of firms out there willing to help.
So, have you worked with a marketing partner not quite next door? Were you as prepared as necessary for the experience? Let us know in the comments!