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How to manage an outsourced marketing agency like a boss

Posted by Jessica Lawrence
Speed Reading Mode

No-one is good at everything. 'In order for a business to grow, there needs to be a healthy level of collaboration and delegation,’ says Richard Branson. Whether you’re talking about an individual employee or an outsourced agency, nobody likes working for a micromanager. Especially in fields that require a lot of creativity, like marketing, PR or design.

On a base level we all get this. We all know that we can’t make a business work on just our own merits. Even the greatest minds and wildest innovators like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs had teams behind them. But, not every business has the resources and funding to build those teams.

So, why not hire an outsourced marketing agency?

If you can’t afford to hire expertise to help you, outsourcing is the answer. In marketing, this is a common practice: more than half of UK businesses outsource their content creation.

It may well be the answer, but it isn’t always easy.

For outsourcing to work, there has to be a handover of control. The client has to let the company they choose do their job. Despite the high number of businesses that do outsource their content creation, not all are capable of letting go.

At Articulate, we’ve seen it all before. We’ve had clients who let us work unfettered and together we’ve produced great results.

We’ve also known clients who have identified that they lack internal marketing skills – hence why they come to us – but they’re reluctant to let us take charge. And we don’t blame them: even Matthew (our founder and CEO) readily admits that he finds it hard to delegate work. It has nothing to do with trust, it's just the struggle of letting go.

It’s instinctive for founders or CEOs to hold onto control of their business. But, the fastest growing organisations learn how to let go of those instincts, resist the urge to micromanage and take full advantage of their outsourcing partnerships.

Sucking eggs

You might be thinking; what’s so bad about micromanagers? They’re just making sure things are done the way they want, right?

Well, therein lies the problem. Their idea of how things should be done isn’t coming from years of industry experience. They haven’t honed and practised that skillset in the same way that a third-party company has. Doing things the way you want and doing them the way they should be done are often two different things.

If you’re the CEO of an IT company outsourcing your HR to an external agency, chances are your skillset lies in technology, not HR. Perhaps you still put in some research because it’s an important part of your business, but you’re not going to have the same level of knowledge as someone who does this job day in, day out – and that’s okay!

You don’t need to know the latest employee incentive scheme or how best to manage recruitment. If you outsource to the right agency, they’ll know all of that and they’ll have success stories to show for it.

The end result should be a combination of your initial brief and the agency's work. Their knowledge and expertise, however, can do nothing to support and grow your business unless you let the agency exercise some freedom and heed their advice. It can be tempting to step in and overrule their decisions based on your  instinct, but leaders who do this are teaching grandma to suck eggs. Worse, they’re defeating the very purpose of hiring someone to help out and, more importantly, they’re wasting their money.

So, you think you’re a micromanager?


'The smartest thing I ever did in the early days was to hire my weaknesses,’ says Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx.

Whether you’re feeling the pang of familiarity or you’re worried that you’re close to becoming a micromanager, fear not. There are steps you can take to suppress and control those instincts:

Acknowledge your limits

You won’t feel comfortable relinquishing control of any area of your business unless you first accept that it’s not your area of expertise. You have strengths – that’s why you started your business – but they’re not all encompassing. There will be some things you don’t know how to do as well as someone else.

Once you accept that this is not a personal downfall and just how things are, you should find it easier to let go.

Do your due diligence

For an outsourcing relationship to work you have to start with the right agency. This doesn’t always mean the company with a hundred case studies. You might find that an agency that specialises in a smaller niche is better for your business.

While proven results should be on your list of requirements, you’ll want to find a company that you get along with and feel you could trust.

Set goals or KPIs

While trying to control the actual work others do is a bad idea, outlining your expectations in the form of goals or KPIs is definitely okay. For instance, you might want to double the number of visitors to your website or expand your social following.

Build a relationship

Trust is founded on understanding how both parties work. Once you’ve chosen a company, get to know them and share with them your fears and goals. The right agency will work with you, not only to ease your concerns, but also to show how they will help you reach your targets.

Communicate effectively

By all means, have your say on work the agency produces for you – after all, it is your business and feedback or constructive criticism is necessary for creating great content.

Good communication, however, is not just about saying the right thing; it’s about saying it at the right time. If you’re going to give feedback on a project – and this should be encouraged – do it with enough time for the feedback to be addressed properly. Short deadlines lead to rushed work and disappointment.

Ask questions

You’re taking a step back but you don’t have to walk away completely. You are well within your rights to ask the agency for a timeline of work or if they have an established editorial process to help you see the bigger picture.

If you feel the need to change something because it isn’t how you imagined, don’t be afraid to ask the agency why they’ve done it this way. We can all stand to learn from those who know more than us.

Have faith

Eventually, you’re going to have to step back and loosen up the reins. Once you’ve built a stable relationship, have faith in their ability to provide what you’re asking for. It’s not going to be easy but it will open the door for big success in your business.

Let pros be pros

When outsourcing works, it can be transformational for your company.

How often  have you wanted to do something with your business but you haven’t had the time or the skillset? Now you’ve got that expertise on side to help, it’s your chance to do those things.

With your business knowledge and the right partnerships, there really is nothing stopping you from doing great things. The last thing you want to do is get in your own way.

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[Note, this post was originally written by Jess Lawrence in August 2016 and has been updated and reframed slightly by Maddy Leslie in January 2019]

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