5 Steps to Select the Right Agency

by: | June 18, 2011

Selecting an agency to work with either to build or redesign your website is not a decision to take lightly. The relationship with your digital agency can be like a love affair, torrid and fleeting, or similar to a marriage, long and involved, all depending on the agency, the nature of the project, or you as a client. Either way, it is a commitment that involves a lot of work on both sides, and hopefully, in the end, it serves to better promote the business and enhance your bottom line.

In an effort to help you make the best match possible, here are 5 tips to help you select an agency that is right for you:

1. Begin with a broad search using the Web.

Use your favorite search engine to find a digital and interactive agency. Most websites will discuss the agencies’ philosophies, methods, and past work. Pay close attention to their process or the steps they take to make your website. Does it start with a comprehensive strategy or discovery phase? Some upper-level firms may not have a page dedicated to process, but these are things you can find out on the phone or in person.

Investigate more than the first page in the search engine rankings. The digital development world is large, and many good agencies will be found with various search terms. Just because they show up on the first page does not mean they are the best.

If you and your team are very “hands-on,” then you may want an agency in your area. There are so many components of the development of a site from layout and design to content strategy and functionality that some people don’t do well evaluating them on their own. A good agency has experience working with clients across distances and will be able to manage the details and your needs from any location, but if you’re going this alone, you may want to use someone local.

2. Take a look at your competitors.

Get a good idea of what your competitors are doing right and definitely take note of what they are doing wrong. Most agencies get noted in the footer or bottom of the website with links like “Website design ABC Company.” This is a good way to find an agency you like and sort them into the yes, no, or maybe pile. Having a good understanding of what your competitors are doing will send you into the project with strong ideas for how your website should be performing in its space.

3. Review the agency’s portfolio

Review the company’s portfolio and past work. Do you like what you see? Have they worked with companies like yours? Use the portfolio to then visit the sites listed. Walk through them, use them, and determine if the site looks solid and high quality. Make notes of things you like and don’t like, as this will prepare you to think about your potential site in terms of look and feel and functionality.

4. Meet the agency

This is a crucial step. The agency can do great work (from what you see), have a nifty website, and even be in the neighborhood, but sometimes nothing beats your instincts, and the best way to determine this is to meet the agency in person or by conference call.

The interaction begins at the first phone call or contact form. If you fill out their form, how long does it take for them to get back to you? A quick response is indicative of good client service and the sharpness of their overall operation. A good agency will never give you a price over the phone – only a ballpark figure, because each project is unique and requires its own evaluation to determine its scope, exactly what the project will encompass to deliver a successful website.

Moving forward: when they call back are they easy to speak to? Do they care about getting to know your business and project first, before they can get a good idea of how to approach your solution and proposal? Do they throw around confusing geek terms or do they first try to understand your level of knowledge on the subject and speak to you so you understand exactly what they mean? If they immediately begin telling you what you need in terms you don’t understand, you can probably count on a long and confounding process.

Next, meet the owner or director to establish a relationship with him or her. Get to know the lead creative, because his discerning eye ultimately judges the look and feel of every project. Is he open-minded and understanding or is he a prima donna? Self-righteous designers can be a nightmare, but a good agency usually has checks and balances to mitigate the designer’s ego.

Take some time to get to know the team and their core disciplines. A tight agency will have a team of four or more, each with a highly specialized skill set. If you need a customized WordPress site, what is their experience with that? Do you need a custom administration section for managing employees or customer information? If so, what is their experience with that? Always ask to see examples.

Most importantly, get to know the project manager. The PM is your lifeline and constant contact. The PM is often the interpreter between the technical team and the real world. You must enjoy working with this person, as the rigors of developing a website will make him or her a constant presence in your life. A good PM will mitigate risk, time, and cost while keeping you in the loop with regular communication. They will also be earnest in helping you make decisions about the project and how to triage wants vs. needs.

5. Vet out testimonials

A lot of agencies will provide testimonials, but many were supplied to the agency during the good times, so it’s your job to investigate. Ask the agency for references and examples. Furthermore, use their portfolio as a reference and contact the companies listed to ask about their experiences with the prospective agency. How were the team’s personalities and process? How did the agency perform with timelines, and did they respect your budget? Did they charge by the hour and therefore run up hours in phone calls and emails, nickel and diming the project to oblivion? Was the final cost nowhere near the original estimate they provided and was no insight given into that exploding budget early in the process? Also, was the agency forthright with the feasibility of the company’s ideas and desires? A competent studio will be honest if they think a piece of functionality you desire is superfluous or serves no end. They will also think of ways to leverage existing technology to stay on budget. For instance, using YouTube to serve to embed video versus building a custom video player.

The web development process is highly involved and requires a great deal of work, participation, and dedication by all parties involved. Taking time to select the right agency can help make this process smoother and possibly lay the cornerstone for a long and fruitful relationship. Finding the right agency is sort of like finding the right mechanic. They work for your best interest, and they keep your site running smoothly, always aware of the latest innovations in technology and helping to diagnose what goes wrong along with the best way to fix it. Like your mechanic, you may not always know what the heck they are talking about, but if you trust them and have a strong relationship, they can be an indispensable business asset.Marketing Zeus

Still not sure if using an agency is the best idea for your business? Check out John Prinzo’s series Why Use an Agency for a complete picture of how an agency can benefit your business.

Posted in: Branding, Content, Optimization, Professional Services, Usability

About the Writer:

John Prinzo is a Rollins College graduate and has an MS degree from Full Sail University in Internet Marketing. He began his digital career as a Project Manager for Lightmaker in Orlando, FL – a renowned digital agency. He is currently the Digital Marketing & PR Specialist for Orlando Health. John is an avid music fan and writes and photographs as a freelance music journalist. He collects his music coverage on his Orlando music blog, Kisses & Noise. His focus is on project management, digital strategy, copywriting, SEO, social media, blogging, and rocking out.

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