How to find the right integrator for your agency
Integrators come in all different shapes, sizes, and skills -- which can make choosing the right kind of integrator a challenge.
If you’ve figured out that you need an integrator, here’s a guide to helping you pick the right one.
Different Kinds of Integrators
There are two basic ways to break out the types of integrators -- by the type or level of integration, and then by Zone of Genius.
Type of Integration
This type of integrator is an employee who works for you full-time. You’re their only job/priority. You pay them a salary, and they’re there all day, every day.
The main benefit to this type of integrator is they’re there, with no other priorities, and you control what they do all day, every day. The downside is they’re an employee - there all day, every day. Which means you need to pay their salary and benefits every day and have enough work for them to do.
An alternative to hiring a full-time employee is to hire an outsourced, full-time integrator. An outsourced integrator is a consultant who comes in and fills the integrator role, without being an employee -- more in a consultant-type role, and usually on a temporary or interim basis.
The benefit here is you can hire someone with lots of experience in your industry, someone who’s seen things work, seen them fail spectacularly and can lend you the benefit of that experience. As they’re an outside contractor, you don’t have to worry about handling them as an employee, paying salaries or benefits -- you can cut that expense when times get tough.
The downside is they aren’t an employee. You can only control so much of what they do - you can’t tell them when to work or how to work (because then they de-facto become an employee).
For lots of agencies and consultants, a full-time integrator, whether as an employee or an outsourced consultant, can be overkill. You don’t really need someone sitting there all day, every day. A fractional integrator can be the solution.
Fractional integrators, like ScaleSpark, are a type of outsourced integrator who don’t work full-time with one client. With a fractional integrator, your level of service can be flexible and tailored to only the hours or services you actually need.
With a fractional integrator, you get the benefits of having the outsourced integrator and the range of experience that comes with it. But you also get the benefit of having a very qualified, highly skilled team member, without that hefty price tag -- think hiring a corporate-level COO or CFO for a project manager salary.
The downside of this type of integrator is also that they’re only part-time. They won’t be there all day, every day. For most agencies, that’s perfect, but if you have enough work to really keep an integrator busy 100% of the time, you’re probably better off hiring a full-time role.
Zone of Genius
Once you’ve figured out whether you need a full-time, outsourced, or fractional integrator, it’s time to start diving into their skills.
We all have a Zone of Genius -- those things we’re really good at, we get into the flow with, where we shine. You have the things you’re great at, and whoever you choose as your integrator should have complementary skills. They should be good at the stuff you suck at.
Integrators are as varied as their experience, Zones of Genius, skill sets and interests. Integrators can focus on:
Financial & Accounting
Software & Systems
Social Media Management
And anything else you suck at but know is necessary to grow your business.
How to figure out what kind of integrator you need
When it comes time to actually figure out what kind of integrator is right for you, it’s time to make some lists, because you need to know what role you’re looking to fill in your business.
Your Integrator’s expertise MUST be a good match for what your business needs to grow. You don’t want to hire someone whose expertise is in marketing if your struggle is with project management, or day-to-day operations. Likewise, if you love handling the financials, but you struggle with figuring out your marketing, you might want an integrator who loves geeking out on Google Analytics or SEO.
So, make some lists.
Make a list of all the things that you are great at, that you love, that you would never want to give up because you really are the best person in your business to do those things.
Now, make a list of all the stuff you hate doing, know you’re not the best at or wish you didn’t have to deal with.
That list from #2 should become your list of core competencies your Integrator should have.
Also, take some time to make a list of all the responsibilities/tasks/areas of the business you think the Integrator should handle. This might be the same as #2, but there might be some additional pieces that didn’t make it on one of the two lists.
Looking at that list, think about whether you need or want someone in-house full-time, whether you’d rather have someone in as a consultant, or if a fractional integrator would work better.
There’s no right answer here -- only the answer that’s right for you and your business.
As an example, here at ScaleSpark, I work as a fractional integrator, with a zone of genius that’s part CFO, part COO, and part CTO. I’ve got a background in accounting and software implementation, so that’s where I tend to focus. I’m a great fit for founders who love marketing or run creative businesses because my strengths generally complement their weaknesses. But I’d be a bad fit for someone who’s looking for marketing strategy or someone who needs help focusing on marketing funnels.
Factors to consider when picking an integrator
Once you’ve figured out, generally, what kind of integrator you’re looking for, here are some other factors to consider when you’re trying to figure out if someone might be a good fit.
Does this Integrator have experience with your industry? If you’re a marketing agency, you don’t want to work with someone who normally works with brick-and-mortar retail businesses. You want someone who is regularly working either in your industry or with clients in your industry.
Your Business Model
Do they have experience with your business model? If you’re an online marketer with digital courses, is that something they have experience with? Or if you’re a remote agency -- has this Integrator worked with those kinds of clients or in that environment before?
Think about your budget for the position. When it comes to Integrators (as with anything else), you generally get what you pay for. If you don’t have the budget to hire a full-time role at the experience or skill level you’re looking for, have a look at fractional integrators - they might be a better fit.
Your integrator is going to be your right-hand. You’re going to talk to them A LOT, so it’s important that you can work together effectively. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do need to trust each other. You need your integrator to be able to give you the unvarnished truth about what’s going on -- or you need to be able to tell them straight up what’s working or not.
So, while you don’t have to be besties, you do need to consider how you’ll work together. You’ll never agree on everything or every direction -- that’s sort of the point -- but you need to be able to have an honest conversation.
This one is a little intangible, but your integrator needs to fit in with your team, your values and how you generally do business. If you focus on work-life balance, want to make sure that your team takes the time off they need, and aren’t in a hustle-guilt kind of mode, you want an integrator who fits in with that. Likewise, if you’re all about the hustle, an integrator who focuses on work-life balance might not be the best fit.
The Best Way to Hire an Integrator
Jumping into a relationship with a new Integrator can be a bit of a crapshoot. You can look at their resume, assess their skills, go through all the possibilities and think you’ve got a great match. But, there’s no way to really know before you actually work with them.
Since you don’t want to dump a bunch of time, money and effort into this, or get locked into an annual contract or a full-time hire on your best guess, I recommend test projects. (And that’s true for pretty much every role or consultant you hire, ever). Test projects are a great way to get to know someone and see if they’re a good fit. You can try it out for a bit, see in real life how they work -- if they have the skills and expertise they say they do and if they fit in with your team, culture and your work style.
At ScaleSpark, the way we do that is to start pretty much everyone off with either Straighten the Stack or a Master Plan (which is a more in-depth, less software focused version). Both are designed to get a bunch of information about our client’s business, how they work, what keeps them up at night and give them an actionable plan of attack. The client ends up with a roadmap for what to do, and we both get to give each other a shot at working together, in a pretty low-risk situation, before we decide to jump into a longer working relationship together. Everyone wins.
Test projects are the hiring wave of the future, and they’re a great, low-risk high-reward way to try out any new hiring relationship -- especially a role like an integrator, that will become a key piece of your business operations.