From in-house to agency: how to adapt
Ready to make the leap from in-house to agency? Columnist Matt Clough discusses what you should expect and offers some tips on how to make it a smooth transition.
As a digital marketing professional, you may ask yourself at some point whether you’d prefer to work as an in-house marketer or within an agency environment.
Setting aside the questions of culture and salary, one of the biggest reasons many people resist the switch from in-house to agency is the fear of a shock to the working patterns they’ve developed. Having recently made the jump to an agency from previously working exclusively in-house, I want to draw on some of my experiences to try to help smooth the transition for anyone thinking of making a similar move.
Width, not depth
Perhaps the most obvious change when moving from in-house to agency is the huge increase in the diversity of your work, from effectively one client to many. For some, the loss of the ability to really zero in on one single project for days or weeks at a time can be frustrating. For others, the variety brings an excitement to their work and stops things from becoming monotonous.
No matter which view you subscribe to, when dealing with the increased number of stakeholders, it’s vital that you deal with them effectively by not only managing their expectations but also your expectations for what you can do for them. No matter which discipline you specialize in within digital marketing, there will always be rabbit holes that you’ll be tempted to spend hours investigating for each client.
Picking and choosing which opportunities you do investigate — and staying realistic about how much time you have to make the biggest impact possible for each client — is paramount.
Be prepared to work with less
The ability to simply walk over to someone’s desk to chase them for something is a luxury that few will appreciate until it’s gone. Whether it’s waiting for a set of login details or some copy to be signed off, it’s easy to underestimate how much time you can lose for things that took a matter of seconds in an in-house job.
There’s also the fact that in some cases, clients will have information they won’t feel comfortable sharing with you. It’s easy to forget how much that knowledge of a business’s inner workings from a financial, buying or merchandising point of view can inform and aid your working patterns. Often, a client’s brief and their website will be all you have to work with.
It’s key to prepare for the possibility that you might not get every piece of information you request, even if it’s somewhat detrimental to your ability to work effectively. Equally important is adapting your working methods to be more proactive.
For example, rather than twiddling your thumbs waiting to be granted access to a client’s blog, get your post written out somewhere else, collect the images you’ll be using, and even type out the metadata ready to copy in.
Track your time
At your in-house role, depending on how attentive your manager is, you may need to keep track of what you’re working on, and when, in highly specific detail. It’s a skill that you will absolutely need if you make the switch to working in an agency.
Remaining accountable and being able to provide a full and detailed breakdown of what you’ve done for a particular client, and how long it took you, is critical to maintaining a productive, transparent working relationship.
Don’t plan too far in advance
Just as it’s vital to keep track of what you’ve done, it’s also worth getting into the habit of not planning too far into the future. Keeping detailed notes of client meetings and a running to-do list are extremely important, but spending time trying to plan exactly when each of these tasks will be ticked off can often be a thankless exercise.
Dealing with multiple clients means there’s an increased number of stakeholders who could throw an additional task at you at any moment. Rather than trying to book your time into the future, it’s much more effective to assign every task a deadline in advance and work on the most pressing assignments first. This stops you from being thrown off-course if you are diverted from a particular piece of work during the time you had allocated for it.
Get your systems in place, and stick to them
Much of the secret of adapting from in-house life to agency work is about being strict with yourself and not getting sidetracked. It’s essential that whatever systems you need for this — whether it’s calendars, to-do lists or other tools — you’ve tested and put them in place before the volume of work starts to really build up.
It’s much easier to manage your time and complete your tasks if you’re not scrambling for ways to keep track of everything at the same time.