How to select a digital agency for your online project: a short guide

Selecting the web agency that’s right for your particular needs depends on what you want to accomplish. Selecting the right company can also be very confusing and the price of the mistake can be high.
beauty_contest photo by Joseph M Maurer

There are a number of things to consider when selecting a web agency to work with your business. This article contains a short guide that can help you in the process.

Recommended steps

  1. You need to consider exactly what services you need and establish the criteria that you will use to select your service provider. List them and maybe mark the importance of each parameter (for example 1 as the least important and 10 as the most important).
  2. Make an initial search and prepare a short list of the agencies that suit your requirements at first glance. There should be no more than 10-15 companies in that list, otherwise you’re investing too many time in analysis of the information you collect.
  3. Prepare a questionnaire for the companies from your list that allows you to weed out the agencies that don’t fit your needs. It should be a polite, concise letter that briefly introduces yourself and the project that you plan to develop. Then address the issues you need to know about the agency. Include your phone number and address. Many established agencies may ignore a request from some John or Mary who has only a mailbox at Yahoo or Gmail as a way of communication.
  4. After the completion of the previous steps, you should have a short list of 3-6 companies that you can use to distribute your RFP (Request For Proposal). It is very tempting to send an RFP to as many companies as possible, but again, think about the time you need to spend for analysis of these responses. If you collect dozens of proposals, the only real parameter you can use in the selection process is the price, but the cheapest offer is rarely the best one.
  5. Distribute your RFP and collect the proposals. The RFP should be as detailed as possible to allow agencies to correctly evaluate the complexity of your project and make an adequate estimation, especially if you are looking for a fixed price deal. Both under and over estimation is bad for your project. If you have some sensitive information, a good idea is to sign a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with the companies that will get your RFP. It’s a fairly standard practice and most agencies have no problem signing the NDA.
  6. Analyze the proposals you received against the criteria you established and select the winner and runner-up. Meet with them again (if applicable) and make a final choice.

Issues to consider during the process and criteria for the selection

  1. Understand your budget limitations. You should have at least a ballpark idea of your budget and consider agencies working in the corresponding market segment. Negotiations with a company that is clearly too expensive will be a waste of time as will analyzing low-quality proposals from cheaper companies. Remember, the old saying “You get what you pay for” is still true.
  2. Before hiring any agency, it’s always a good idea to ask for references from previous customers. Many companies have no objection to providing you with references. Try to speak not only with customers that the company specifically recommends, but also obtain several names and contact information so you speak candidly and form your own opinions.
  3. The web agency’s location might also be a consideration. If the work with your company requires an on-site visit, you’ll want to engage a firm with a local presence. Companies based offshore often offer services at a greatly reduced rate. Be suspicious of any company offering a deal that seems too good to be true.
  4. Good customer service consists of more than making amends if something goes awry. It also means agency personnel are available to take your phone calls and discuss your concerns. Do they talk with you in terms you can understand? If staff members try demonstrating their knowledge by speaking in technical jargon you don’t understand, find a company who can tell you in easy to understand language exactly what they’re doing and why. A firm that keeps you advised of the progress of your project is desirable, as is a respectable level of creativity.
  5. Companies often quote fixed prices for specific services. While that may appear to be reasonable, as you learn more about your available options, your requirements may change. Additional services may be needed or the job may prove to be more involved than first anticipated. Professional tech services are expensive, but if something goes wrong, it may cost far more to fix than the original fee, so ask about hourly rates as well.
  6. Agency size. In reality, size does matter, but the biggest is not always the best. A small project may be handled better by a smaller agency, but the massive web site may be beyond the capabilities of a two-man operation.
  7. The warranties. What will happen if errors start to appear after your web site is launched? Some companies will charge you for those fixes, while some provide a warranty and fix problems free of charge.
  8. The source code. It sounds too technical, but may affect your business heavily. Ask if you will receive a source code, what your rights will be and what programming language is used. If the code is not open-source (for example encrypted in some way) or you get only executable files rather than sources or you have no legal rights to modify the code, you will be at odds with the provider and have big problems trying to change it. Also, take into account that different programming languages have different popularity that affect the cost of the development; if your project is done on a rare platform, you may find that it is very difficult and expensive to find a replacement for your agency if something goes wrong.
  9. Project management methodology. Web design and development can be technical, but a good agency should have a clear methodology, that allows you to control the process and understand what’s going on with your project during the development circle.
  10. If you are not very comfortable everything mentioned above, but have the budget, you may hire a web strategy consultant that can help you with the process. It will cost you more money, but save you time and reduce the probability of a mistake.

In conclusion, undoubtedly, there’s no substitute for retaining an experienced, professional web agency. Custom web solutions call for creativity, client communication and good customer service. Your website is your brand and the face you show to millions of potential customers. To present your business appropriately, you need the services of a professional web agency. It’s a smart investment in your business and the future.

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