It can be a bit of a minefield when you start researching a suitable agency for your next digital project – just where do you even start?
The digital industry is unregulated, and as such you can find a wide-ranging choice from bedroom bandits and one-man-bands through to the larger agencies with eye-watering budgetary requirements. And the service levels to match.
In our 17 years we’ve seen and heard it all. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for, and that’s never more appropriate when you are talking about creative services. If you pay £800 for your website, don’t be surprised when your new website looks like you spent £800 on it.
You really do need to buy into both the value of design, and your website being the fulcrum of your marketing plan. Not just digital, but your entire marketing strategy.
You need a brief of course, and if you followed along so far, you have a brilliant one. So to whom do you send it?
You can start by searching for an agency online. You might want someone local to you, so you could start there. You could look for recommendations from your inner circle or networking contacts. Finding someone who has been recommended is always a good start.
You might have seen a website for one of your competitors where the agency is listed, and you could contact them.
One option to consider is choosing an agency that specialises in your industry. Over the years we have worked across pretty much every sector under the sun, however in recent times we have become a specialist in recruitment website design and online marketing. If you’d like to approach an agency that knows your industry inside and out, that could be one approach. Or you may feel you’d rather have a fresh perspective.
If your project is a complex one involving third-party integrations or complex booking systems for example, you might want to consider researching an agency that has recent experience of what you are looking for. It could even save you a small fortune.
Another very good starting point is to approach an authority body that can recommend pre-approved agencies that they have a track record of working with. There’s the UKWDA for example who are the UK Web Design Association. They can recommend three or four partners who would be suitable for your project.
There’s also the IWDRO, the Internet and Website Development Regulatory Office, who have an accreditation service for agencies and can recommend a partner to speak to you to provide a quote.
In our opinion, you should be looking to speak to a small number agencies. Do your research and select no more than three or four that closely match your requirements. Any more than that and you are making more work for everyone involved.
Some of the key selection parameters will of course be the budget, experience, and quality of work, recent testimonials and possibly even recommendations. However, do make a note of your experience of each agency from initial contact.
For us, it’s really important to find the right fit with a client. If we’re not the right agency we’ll point that out early on. Not only do you have to tick the boxes for selection, you have to feel you can work with them on a personal level for the coming months and years.
In our experience, the best results come out of successful ongoing partnerships. These are built on honest and open relationships that have a platform of trust. You need to feel you trust the agency to be the experts you are seeking, and then continue to trust their insight and advice. And in return the agency will deliver the absolute best quality and standard of work they can.
You will find they often go over and above the call of duty when this relationship is in place and you are a good fit for each other. Agency-client relationships that start off on the wrong foot of mistrust or bad business practice, whatever that might be, are only going to go one way. Once you have got the selection down to two or three, go with your gut.
You do also need to look at a little due diligence. You are about to invest a considerable amount of time and money with one company, and you may not have had any experience of working with them before now.
Do look at their experience, how long they have been around and who they have worked with in the past. Do check through their portfolio to measure the quality of their work. And of course check any available testimonials.
Going beyond the obvious, best practice would be to ask to talk to one or two of their current clients. We do this all the time and positively encourage it. Our clients are often our best sales people, and if the agency produces quality work, their clients should be more than happy to have a quick word.
A lot of the smaller, entry-level outfits will outsource their work. That’s fine but they should be upfront about it. Ask the question – is your design done in-house? Does any part of the development go out? Is it just the markup or the entire build process?
If you have the means or know-how, you might want to do a little code-audit on some of their recent work. For example, check a mobile responsive site of theirs on your desktop, laptop, tablet and phone and check the user experience on each device. Run a page speed test using Google’s free online tool.
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