Creative LeadershipCreativity

The 5 Keys To A Successful Relationship with a Creative Consultant or Vendor

I am often a “vendor.” That means our company, Cooke Media Group is hired by churches, ministry organizations, and nonprofits to consult with them on issues related to creativity, media, and engaging their communities. We advise them on a wide range of issues, from video and short film production, social media, book publishing, the Internet and more. Essentially we help organizations engage today’s digital culture more effectively. But as a vendor, we sometimes encounter organizations who don’t know how to maximize our relationship. Whenever you hire a consultant or other type of vendor, it’s important to remember that it’s a two-way street. So to make the relationship work as well as possible, here’s four things you should know before you hire anyone from the outside:

1) Come with an idea.  Obviously you have a challenge, and that’s why you’re hiring an outside vendor or consultant. But share with them any ideas you already have on solving the problem. No matter how inexperienced you may be, your ideas matter and will help the vendor. Plus, hearing your ideas will help the vendor understand what’s been tried before and the boundaries he or she will have to work with. Think like a partnership, not a solo act.

2) Prepare to be challenged.  Expect the unexpected. You’re hiring outside advice, so don’t assume they’ll give you what you’ve already thought about. In fact, come ready to put up a fight – not in a nasty way of course, but know that creative disagreement is often the formula for the most brilliant ideas.

3) Give him or her some leeway.  Give the vendor some creative freedom and encourage them to bring unusual ideas to the table. Besides, if you’re only interested in conventional ideas, did you really need to hire them? Especially if the vendor has a strong track record for delivering, let them show you what they can do before you start limiting their options.

4) Understand the areas where success can’t be guaranteed.  A consultant or vendor can do the best job possible, but can’t guarantee you’ll publish a best selling book, sell out your conference, or hit a fundraising target. Know the difference between areas where performance can be assured and where it can’t – event with the best advice and counsel.

5) Finally, do hold them accountable.  I’m amazed at the terrible work some vendors do and are never held accountable. In most cases, it’s because the person doing the hiring doesn’t hold them to their agreement. In fairness, make sure your team has given the consultant the cooperation and resources to be successful.  But work out performance standards ahead of time so your expectations are realistic. I’m not suggesting legal action (except perhaps in a case of gross or criminal misconduct), but you should expect vendors to accomplish what they promise. If they don’t, cut them loose, simple as that.

A good contractor / vendor relationship should be a win for both parties. For a variety of reasons, some relationships don’t work out, but if you follow these five principles, you could have a long term and highly successful relationship.

Any other mistakes you’ve seen in a contractor / vendor relationship?

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  1. Your line: “Think like a partnership, not a solo act,” could also describe the people in history who have been the most effective in ministry — people who empowered and released multitudes of other people into anointed ministry and didn’t try to keep everybody sitting under them (William Booth, for instance).

  2. We’ve made this mistake only a couple times, but have learned to pay greater attention to it: chemistry matters…a lot! The fit, the vibe, the ease with which both partners can communicate and share ideas is as important as any other aspect of the potential collaboration. I like to say, “If things don’t feel right in the beginning, they will not likely get better later.”

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