partner with local agencies

How To Partner With Local Agencies and Share Clients

Learn how to partner with local agencies. Use these processes to discover, interview, and test agencies, so you can offer more services to potential clients.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Sometimes it isn't right for your business.

If you're a web design agency, sometimes it doesn't make sense to offer local search marketing services to your clients directly.

Your clients still need it though.

Your local and regional clients will still need your help to optimize and promote their business locally. If you don't offer complimentary marketing services, it could be a deal breaker for many clients. Some clients prefer to work with firms that can do it all.

But, if offering this isn't right for your business, what do you do?

Step #1: Find the right partners first

It's a common mistake that many web design agencies make. They promote their business and draw clients in. Right before they're ready to close the deal, clients ask the dreaded question.

"I need to promote my business in Google. Is that something you can handle?"

If this question is a deal breaker and you're caught you off guard, you're now in a state of panic. You want to win this client, so you'll need to find someone fast, and you need to find them yesterday.

Is it too late?

No, not necessarily. However, you're going to have to scramble to find an agency partner that can help you produce the work. If you're a go-getter, you respond with false bravado and confidence.

"Of course! We can definitely take care of that for you!"

This isn't the time to bend on your decision to outsource or refer the local search work to clients yourself. If you attempted to do the work yourself, it would be an incredible disservice to your clients for an obvious reason.

You don't know what you're doing.

The solution?

Find your local search partners first, well before you need them.


Answer these six questions below. These questions are important for two reasons:

(1.) They help you to find/partner with the right local search agency (obviously) but, more importantly, (2.) they help you to disqualify the wrong candidates.

Here's why this matters.

Many of the agency partners you approach will seem like a good fit. If you don't have the answers to these questions, many of your potential partners will look like viable options.

Most of them aren't.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the questions you'll need to answer to find the right local search partner.

1. Who are you looking for?

Are you looking to work with agencies that are smaller, similar in size, or larger?

Working with agencies that are larger than yours is wonderful. If they're reliable, you know your agency partner has the ability to scale with your web design agency as it grows. It comes with drawbacks though. You have little to no recourse if something goes wrong.

What about a smaller agency?

These local search agencies are excellent, because they're hungry. They're eager to grow, to establish themselves. The drawback? They may not be able to keep up with the workload if your firm grows quickly. You'll need to determine who you're looking for, so you can disqualify the unqualified candidates you come across.

2. How do you want to work with them?

Are you looking to simply refer clients to these agency partners and be done with it?

Are you looking to white label their service?

If you're white labeling their services, are they allowed to contact/work with clients on your behalf? Or will your agency be the exclusive point of contact?

Are you taking a percentage of their monthly fee in exchange for helping your clients or do you simply refer and move on?

3. What are their specific local search requirements for you?

Are there specific conventions and norms they'd like you to follow when building sites for clients (e.g. creating a separate and distinct page for every product, service and location vs. single page, infinite scrolling websites)?

4. Do they produce high-quality work?

This seems obvious, as if it's common sense, but it really isn't. Think about it.

Are most web designer specialists experts at local search marketing?

Nope. Most specialists aren't even aware of the basic ins and outs of local search. This means they're not at all prepared to evaluate the work of a sophisticated local search marketer. This means you'll need a set of metrics to evaluate their work competently.

5. What's their process?

Is there anything in their process that conflicts with yours?

Do they prefer to receive content on an as-needed basis?

What if you prefer to receive all data and content from clients ahead of time?

How will you handle that?

You'll want to ensure there are no conflicts or barriers to completing this project successfully.

6. What (should) happen when your work is done?

Development projects have a shorter half-life than marketing projects. Marketing campaigns, if they're run exceptionally well, can produce an infinite return. Development projects have a beginning, middle and end.

What happens if your clients want to continue paying for local search marketing once the project is complete?

Do you continue to manage the project (for a fee), turn things over to the agency fully, or continue white-labeling?

Use these six primary questions to identify the local search partners that meet the requirements you've laid out. You'll want to create a list of five to ten candidates. Then narrow that list down to an appropriate number.

You're looking for:

  • 1 – 2 local search partners if you have a small to medium number of clients/projects that need support.
  • 3 – 4 local search partners if you have a high volume of work, or you’re dealing with an influx of work.

Keep looking if you aren't satisfied with the agencies you find. At this point, you're ready for...

Step #2: Interview your partners

The next step is the interview. You'll want to interview potential partners to verify that they are indeed the agency partners you're looking for.

1. A face-to-face meeting is preferred

2. Video chat via Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc. is the next best thing

3. Phone conference via UberConference

4. An email conversation

You're able to collect a significant amount of implicit and explicit details. A face-to-face conversation provides you with the subtle nuances and important cues you need to vet prospective candidates. Here's why face-to-face, video and phone conversations are so crucial.

They take away time.

They're dynamic. They give you the chance to spring unexpected questions onto your candidates. You're able to get a significant amount of data in a very short period of time. Agency candidates have zero time to prepare for any objections or concerns you may have.

This is good.

It puts the odds in your favor and increases your chances of getting an honest answer. Email gives candidates time to manufacture a response which may/may not be true.

Here's a list of interview questions you can use. I'd recommend that you bolster this list with your own set of questions and requirements.

1. What's your wheelhouse? Where is your agency strongest/weakest? (generic responses, weasel words and humble brags are red flags)

2. You've just missed an important deadline. How would [agency] handle that with us? With the client?

3. How many [white label partners] do you have now? (use the partnership type you selected in step #1, question 2)

4. How do you end relationships? Let's say you choose to walk away from a project. What's your process for ending the relationship? What if you need to end the relationship prematurely (in the middle of a project) how would you handle that?

5. What do you provide to your web design partners? [e.g. assurances, deliverables, materials, timeframes, etc.]

6. I don't want my local search partners to [e.g. contact clients directly, do work without being asked, etc.], is this a deal breaker for you?

7. Who's liable for losses? If you miss a deadline by two weeks, who absorbs the cost of that?

8. Why do you want to partner with web design agencies? What are you getting out of it?

9. Would I be able to speak with a web design client who currently [white labels] your services?

10. Are you willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement?

As I've said before, you'll want to supplement this list of questions with your own. If you've done that, you're ready for the next step.

Step #3: Testing your partners

You'll want to start slow most of the time.

It's not a great idea to hand your biggest clients/projects over to an unvetted local search agency. If they fail to deliver results it means you have failed to deliver results. Even if you explicitly refer clients to a third party agency you're somewhat responsible, in their mind, for their inability to generate the results they want.

Not a great place to be.

There are several ways you can test or validate your agency partners. The method you choose will vary depending on your circumstances, preparation and familiarity with local search.

You hire [white label] a local search agency...

  • And you provide them with a small (low risk) project to work on.
  • You have them work on your web design agency’s website. This gives you an in-depth understanding of their work and it shows you whether they can produce results or not. This gives you confidence when selling local search services to future prospects and clients.
  • To work on a side project for your agency. This could be a small app, a microsite, side venture or another local/contextually relevant project.
  • And you pay them to work for on the site for a local non-profit or socially oriented organization. Ask local search providers for a reduced rate, but be sure to mention that this is part of your vetting process to find ideal agency partners. It’s helpful to be transparent with them, letting them know why you’re doing this and what you hope to achieve.

You'll want to watch every stage of the project. Taking note of who does the work, how the work is done, the promptness of the work and the results achieved.

Use these questions to get started. Add your own as needed.

  • Assessment and strategy. Did the agency spend time learning about the client, business or organization they were serving?
  • Did they identify the metrics and KPIs you need to track results? Did they provide their own to supplement yours?
  • Did they accept all materials from the client (you) up front?
  • Was the client given a set of to-dos over the course of the project?
  • Did they assess the current performance of your website and portfolio? Did they create benchmarks for you to use to gauge improvements?
  • Did they analyze your competitors? If so, how? What was measured?
  • How did they perform keyword research? Was it a comprehensive analysis? Was it prudent (e.g. start slow and scale) or aggressive (e.g. target as many keywords as quickly as possible)?
  • Did they help you create a content strategy/development plan for your local business?
  • Have they provided you with actionable recommendations to improve your site’s architecture, design, performance, structure and usability?
  • Have they evaluated your site for SEO (e.g. local, organic, video, image, etc.)?
  • Which on-page/off-page factors did they optimize for?
  • Have they provided you with analytics, measurement or tracking tools needed to measure performance?
  • Did they provide you with the appropriate technical deliverables (e.g. robot.txt, sitemaps, review schema, etc.)
  • What were their quality assurance procedures? Were these effective/efficient?

As I said, this list isn't comprehensive.

You'll probably have a list of your own questions to ask. Feel free to adapt, edit, change or improve this list as needed. Remember, you're evaluating these agencies on behalf of future clients. You'll want to make sure that the agency you choose is a good fit for your firm.

What if you need a partner right now?

What if you didn't take the time to find the one or two agencies you need? Does this mean you're simply out of luck?

Not at all.

Just follow the same process we've discussed here. If you've taken the time to go through steps one and two, you should have the details you need.

What about step three?

If your new client needs help with their local search campaign, they'll have to be your test project. This means it's even more important to choose carefully. You'll need to go through this process quickly and you'll need stringent, high-quality results. Skimp on steps one and two and you may run into trouble down the road.

Want to maximize results?

  • Reach out to professionals in your contact list (privately)
  • Ask for recommendations and introductions. The more the merrier
  • Put candidates through steps one and two of the evaluation process I’ve mentioned above
  • Pay special attention to candidates who can provide case studies or live calls with other web design clients like yourself
  • Reach out to agencies on your own
  • Put interested candidates through your evaluation process (steps one, two and three) as time allows
  • Repeat as needed until you have a wide circle of potential agency partners

It's an intense process when you're short on time, but it's still completely doable. Here's the wonderful part of this process. This strategy works with most agencies and complementary sources. Use this to work with print services, direct mail/response firms, app providers and more.

Use complementary services to grow your agency

You may not want to offer local search services to your clients directly, but your clients still need it. Local, regional and national clients need your help to optimize and promote their business locally. They're looking for agencies that can maximize value and deliver results.

Is that you?

It could be. , It may not make sense to offer local search marketing services to your clients directly. But there's nothing stopping you from serving these clients indirectly.

The method is up to you.

Find and interview the right partners. Test them using low-risk projects enabling you to verify their character and expertise. Use complimentary local search agencies to grow your business.

It doesn't have to be a deal breaker.

With a little bit of upfront planning and a generous amount of preparation, your clients will have the local search marketing service.

About the Author

Andrew McDermott

Andrew McDermott is the co-founder of HooktoWin. He shows entrepreneurs how to attract and win new customers.