There are tons of choices for marketers looking for a boutique agency. And almost all of them deliver great work. So what sets the great boutique agencies apart from the rest? Accountability. Choosing a small agency shouldn’t come with a small-time agency experience. Small, is no excuse for sloppy communication, or making process up as you go. Instead, insist on great work AND accountability. It’s time we raise our expectations of small agencies.

Here are three ways we ask our clients to raise their expectations:

Demand unfettered access to expertise

Proclaiming ourselves as experts sets the bar high. Higher than most agencies, especially small agencies, dare go. Small and professional are not mutually exclusive. So the agency veterans, savvy thinkers and founders need to go beyond cameo appearances, and show up on your businesses day-in and day-out. If you pay for access to expertise, then get it, you’ll be constantly reminded of why you hired us in the first place.

Have the tough conversations early, not late

Openness — early and often — establishes trust. As a marketer you don’t want your firm to be losing money, but you don’t want to feel exploited either. So beware of the agency attempting to win on price. Instead, establish simple, fair, all-in pricing that doesn’t rely on a “nickel and dime” change order approach we see far too often. Establish clear expectations for communications. Talk about about what we will do if something goes wrong — which it sometimes does. When these discussions happen early they build trust. When they happen late in the project it means the relationship is at risk.

Raise your expectations

Presumably you are hiring a small agency because you seek high performance at a reasonable price tag. When we proclaim expertise we set the bar high, higher than most small agencies dare go. So insist that your higher expectations are met and exceeded. Look for a well-established, repeatable process. Then ask that the agency lead the team through it.

Small agencies can be a powerful business partner, if they are willing to step up and be one.