We do / You do / They do?

Background:

When Homeflow build brand new bespoke websites, as opposed to theme designs, we always work with a design partner in the mix.  That’s because we believe the best quality design, and creative UX thinking, happens in creative design agencies.  Nine times out of ten it will still be Homeflow selling the site, and managing the project for the client (typically helping choose the most suitable design partner too), but that doesn’t need to be the case. We’re very happy for designers to lead the relationship with any given estate agency client, and some prefer to do so.  Indeed our long term aim is that the designer sells the site and leads the service to the customer, though we’re not there yet.

Further, our explicit aim with our design partners is to help them sell more services to those clients. This may be design work, marketing services, rebranding type projects, SEO work or social media support.  The more our design partners can lead the process and relationship with those clients, the better for them.  We also believe that if an estate agent can have their design and marketing support local to them, that’s an advantage.

However, we have had a couple of cases where the overlap between who does what has caused confusion.  This has happened where the build project has been led (mostly or exclusively) by the design partner, and that’s understandable.  The relationship the estate agency builds up is with both the design partner and Homeflow, and sometimes this can lead to confusion for who does what and who they should turn to for support.  The issue has become important to clarify, as we now have several hundred agency websites in circulation, and as the world moves online, they are asking more and more ongoing development or marketing questions.

Homeflow have services we offer to our mutual clients and we also need our design partners to understand what is included in our base licence to clients.  We offer ongoing marketing support to those clients, and in places inevitably we work in areas that overlap with services that the design partners offer.  That’s no bad thing.  It’s good to offer the client choice, and there is plenty to go around (indeed we often help existing clients by introducing them to our design partners for bits of ad hoc support, design and marketing help).  But it does need clarity to avoid awkward situations.

The picture is made more complex by the fact that not all of our design partners offer the full range of ongoing support services.  Many only design and build websites, and don’t offer SEO or PPC.  Indeed we work with some marketing agencies who don’t design websites at all, but only offer PPC or copywriting services.  You get the idea.

In short, we need to clarify who should be helping the client and where.  Hence this article…

As a guiding principle, our preference is to support our designers in building and selling additional support services to clients.  But clearly we always do that in a way which puts the estate agent client’s needs first, and gets them the best solution for their particular problem.  If we look after them, we will all prosper.

The key to all of this is nice clear communication.

  • We need to be clear with our designers what our base service includes, and where we have additional services we can offer the client.  Some services have always been included in our licence – and they are important, as they are services we don’t want the client to be charged for twice.  So before you dig into reading the rest of this article, it would be worth recapping our 5 minute video on Why Homeflow Charge a Monthly Licence, and what services are included in that licence.  This service hasn’t changed in as long as we have been selling agency sites.
  • And our design partners also need to take responsibility for talking to us about what they are wanting to (and in the process of) selling to the clients.  Don’t expect us to be clairvoyant!  If we don’t know, then the scope to get tangled increases.  We’re keen to avoid competition, and if you are selling a service, then so long as it is NOT something that is included for free in our core licence, we are more than happy to try and support your sale and service to that client.  It relies on a degree of trust, but if we don’t communicate on what is happening, there will be more overlap.
  • We’re also happy to work in different ways, with different designers, as each of them offers different services, and has different styles of how to manage the client.  We’re happy to take more of a back seat role, in cases where that’s what we have agreed.  But we’re not happy to be completely invisible, as we have extra products and services we need to talk to our mutual clients about, not to mention we need to be proactive in offering the value and elements of the base support our service offers them.

With all that in mind, here’s a table summarising the services:

 

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Turning to each area in detail:

(1)  Rebranding

We don’t have any designers on staff.  So the situation on branding identity / visual design work is completely clear… it is the domain of our design partners only.  Better yet, we often have clients coming to us, asking us if we do branding work and can help them.  We can’t.  If you do this kind of work as a design agency, make sure we know, and we can pass you introductions.

(2)  Offline design (brochures, marketing materials etc.)

Ditto for all offline design work.  We like to know when big projects are happening, and out of courtesy, we ask designers to try not to tangle upsells into the build phase of working with a client, as this has scope to cause problems, with visibility, conflict, etc.  At a minimum we ask our designers to keep us appraised when they want to plan work in this area with an existing client in build phase.

(3)  Website Design

Again, we don’t have a single Photoshop / Adobe CS licence in the business, nor anyone who can drive it in the building!  So if a client wants a new design, we always work with a design firm.  Period.

We like to get involved in the wireframes, the UX, the user flows etc.  And we’re always on hand to help with project management.  But if a client wants a new site, or if an existing client wants a new design on top of their old site, then we’ll be calling a designer in to help.

(4)  New CMS Pages

Here is the first area of potential confusion.  Our platform has a powerful and wide ranging CMS.  The estate agency client can add staff, branches, change navigation, any content chunk or promo box on their site.  And of course they can add as many new content pages to their website as they like.  We even have a flexible form-building tool to build landing pages and what not.  Many of them do it themselves, and some of them lean on us for support.

Our licence includes all-you-can-eat support requests to help our clients with CMS editing tasks.  We don’t write the articles.  Nor do we just add them on the site for them, preferring instead to train them to be self sufficient on the CMS.  That said, we are there, every time, to help them log in and add pages or change bits of their site.  And where it is possible to fulfill their need, via the CMS system, and a client asks us, we will work alongside them to get new web pages live.  We don’t charge for that, and you it isn’t reasonable to expect us to force a paid for option for them from their design partner, as that sells our service value short and doesn’t help the client.  This is where it is a key responsibility for the designer to understand what our base service already includes and not sell over that without at least discussing it with us so we can co-ordinate.

Now then, none of that is to say that some clients don’t want extra help with stocking their CMS.  And indeed, some have design requirements for article pages that go beyond what they want to learn in the WYSIWYG editing too, on into HTML.  Some want to make infographics.  Some want copywriting help (see below).  And those are all services that a designer might well be able to sell the client.  But if the client rings us and asks if we can help add a page, or a section of site, etc. then we will help them, and we won’t charge.  We may recommend they get extra help and introduce them back to their designer (or a new designer if they use a theme site and don’t have a design relationship already).  But we don’t like it if a designer tries to charge them for adding pages, that really should be provided free, as that’s not fair on the client.

(5)  New HTML (template) pages

This is a different story.  If there is a new functional page in the system, that requires interfacing with our liquid platform API, or Homeflow has introduced some new functional capability to the platform (that is always included in their licence), and the estate agent wants some HTML front end pages built to take advantage of that functionality, then this is open season.  We can help (clearly), and sometimes we do, but it’s a chargeable extra, and our very strong preference is that new pages are built by the client’s designer.  Further, our preference is that they use their original designer, though there is no hard and fast rule here, and there are situations, for whatever reason, where the estate agent wants another designer to help them out, in which case we can introduce them.

(6-7-8)  Base system development / new bespoke functionality in the engine / operational support

When we drop down “below” the API level, and the client starts wanting new functionality in the core engine, this becomes Homeflow’s sole responsibility.  So again, it becomes nice and clear.  None of our designers (yet) code in the core engine.  So the acid test is whether the project requires changes to the way the API functions.  If so, then Homeflow will need to get involved in building bespoke development projects…  If no changes are needed below the API, then the designer will be the first port of call.  Obviously some projects end up being a joint effort too.

(9)  Copywriting

Copywriting is an area where we look to our design partners to help out the clients.  Indeed it is also an area where we have relationships with some dedicated copywriting agencies and freelancers, and we have in the past sent out copy requirements to them.  So again this is nice and clear.

(We do technically have people on staff who can help clients with copywriting, however we do this very rarely.  We only have the capability because, sometimes, getting a few articles created is the blocker for a client getting their theme site live, so we have to step in to help).

In short, if your design agency can help with the written content on an agent’s website, then please do let us know.  We can then introduce you to opportunities.  We also ask that you keep us informed when you upsell to our existing clients (to keep us abreast of where the client is heading) – we’re absolutely here to support you in selling these services into our mutual clients.

(10)  Photography

Exactly as per copywriting above.

(11)  Video

Exactly as per copywriting above.  Though we do have relationships with some specialist estate agency video producers, as it is often seen as a bit of a separate discipline.  So, do let us know if this is something you want to supply.  Increasingly we are getting designs which call for video backgrounds, and we are seeing an increasing use of video generally.  It’s also an area where many of our larger clients have in house videographers, which is an interesting trend.

(12)  Social Media support

Exactly as per copywriting support.  The only differences being we have some ideas and views on how social media can be integrated more intelligently within agents’ websites, and it often has functional implications, which we can advise on.  And we do have relationships with specialist social media support agencies too, if clients need them.

If your design agency can help with social media support services, then suffice to say we are here to support you and introduce you wherever we can.

(13)  SEM / PPC

Many estate agents in the UK are now entering into PPC activity, across Google and Facebook.

We have had a relationship with dedicated SEM agencies for some time and have introduced lots of business to them.  Indeed we continue to do so.  A few of our design partners also offer this service, so if that’s you, do let us know, as we can introduce you to opportunities too.

That said, this is an area of direct overlap, as we have a service that helps agencies purchase PPC traffic.  There’s far more work going around than we can currently cope with, so don’t feel that means we won’t introduce you clients, as it’s not a big area for us, and it is an area we get asked about a lot.  We’re also quite specific in the way we work, and the type of clients we will work for (we only work on fixed fees, not on commission on spend for example, and that often doesn’t suit clients; we also have a minimum scale of client that we will handle, which might also mean we can’t satisfy some clients’ needs).

(14-15-16)  SEO

This is a whole subject in itself.  So best we refer you to our article for clients on what SEO work is included and what is not.  If you offer SEO support services for you clients, then you are going to want to read and be familiar with our view on SEO.  We write extensively on the topic, and fancy ourselves as being very well placed to help our clients, not to mention having a platform that way outperforms (when used correctly) our platform competitors.

In summary:

  • We do help on SEO advisory, though on some of our very biggest of clients, will advise or bring in some very specialist SEO agencies.
  • We think on site SEO is largely dealt with, and welcome SEO questions and thoughts from SEO agencies employed by our estate agent clients, but tend to think it is normally a misplaced investment, as the game has moved off site, and we hit all the basic on site hygiene factors out of the park.
  • We DON’T do offsite SEO.  We do believe it is something that an agency should really internalise the capabilities for, though often their situation will warrant specific help, and in that case we can introduce specialist agencies (or design partners if you feel you have a really strong offering in this arena) to the estate agents when we are asked.

Other reading:

In addition to the points above, we think it is worth:

Wrapping up:

  • We are here to support your design agency selling more services into clients
  • Where there is overlap, and especially if that has resulted in confusion, we apologise.  We aren’t seeking to compete, we’re just responding to demand and trying to offer the best service and advice to our mutual estate agent clients
  • The key is being very open, clear and transparent: hence this article
  • It’s also a two way street, you also need to be clear with us:
    • when you are trying to sell services into a client (so we can clarify / avoid any tangles)
    • with what services you do want to offer, so we can introduce you to clients when they are looking for support
    • and with how you would like to run the relationships with (y)our clients.  In some cases, we can take a more active back seat.  So long as the client clearly understands what they can and should expect, and so long as we have a clear route to keep them informed about our services, we’re more than happy for you to front as much of the relationship as possible.  We don’t want to be hidden, but we’re happy to work with you to stay out of the way

We hope this helps clarify things.  Please do get in touch if you’d like to discuss these policies, or provide any further clarification.

 

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