Hiring a web design studio can be an overwhelming task, particularly if you’ve never had to do it before and have been sort of thrust into the research of it by your manager or boss. There are a lot of web design agencies. And if we’re brutally honest, most of them are similar in nature which can make it difficult to decide who to talk to, let alone who to bring on as a partner.
So how do you tell them apart? What information should you gather to tell your boss and help her or him make a decision? Keep reading – the next seven things should help.
1. Are they local?
For better or worse, this still matters to some people. Whether or not it’s really that important given modern technology is up for debate and really just boils down to personal opinion. If it does matter to your boss (or your company’s ethos), make sure to stick with local agencies. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to expand your search and speak to web design companies outside of your city or state. Email, phone, and video conferencing has made it super easy to work with your preferred web design studio.
2. How much do they cost?
What your boss really wants to know is whether or not the web agency you’re talking to can do the project within budget. The key here isn’t just price though – it’s value. Not every agency will give you the same value. While it may seem easy to just simply compare based on price, the reality is that price is not a great indicator of what a web agency can do for you. Instead, look at their body of work, how they've interacted with you (maybe even how often), their process, and if you can, talk to some of their clients. Look for more than just whether it was or can be done for a fair price – your company (and its success) is far too important to simply choose a partner based on price alone.
3. When can they start?
Most projects have a deadline and meeting that deadline often depends on how soon a studio can start on your website project. Here’s a tip though – a design studio that isn’t available within a couple weeks or a month shouldn’t be disqualified. They’re busy for a reason. :) An agency that is in demand is likely a pretty good agency.
The reality is that price is not a great indicator of what a web agency can do for you.
4. When will the project be done?
As mentioned above, most projects have a deadline. And even for those that don’t, your boss simply wants to know how long the project will take. Every project is different and every agency has a different process to get to the end product. Be sure to take everything into account. But beware - if your deadline is short and inflexible and someone agrees to it, you're either going to pay for the rush or it'll be done sloppily without much thought beyond hitting your arbitrary deadline. If you do have a tight deadline, be open to compromise. Perhaps the project can be broken up into phases, or you and your design agency can agree on the bare minimum for the deadline (a minimum viable product) with other features implemented later.
Don’t forget another important piece: the project's timeline is not 100% dependent on the agency. How efficiently you and your team can give feedback, schedule meetings, and get whatever it is your design studio needs from you directly impacts the schedule of any web design project.
5. What are their payment terms?
Most web design studios and agencies require a deposit - that's par for the course. But that's about where the similarities end. Some will bill every month, every two weeks, or every week. Some will bill hourly. And some will split the entire project's costs based on the project's timeline. Some will require invoices be paid prior to moving on to the next phase. Others have net 30 or net 15. Because there's no real standard, it's important to know what the payment terms are for the agency you're thinking of hiring. And if it doesn't quite fit with your accounting schedule, talk to them - there's a good chance they'll work with you on that. Just communicate with them!
6. What’s their experience?
The proof is in the pudding. In other words, your boss doesn’t want to (and shouldn’t) risk your company’s reputation and brand image on someone with little to no experience. Or worse – someone that doesn’t even do web design for a living. Be sure to check out their portfolio and if you can, talk to their clients.
One thing to keep in mind: just because a design studio hasn’t worked with a company in your industry doesn’t mean they won’t work out. While knowledge about an industry is important, that’s not the primary job of your web designer. As designers and developers, our job is to take a business problem and create a solution via the web. That includes research on your business and your industry.
An agency that is in demand (i.e. busy) is likely a pretty good agency.
7. What’s their process?
This kind of goes along with how long the project will take. Every agency will have a slightly different methodology. The key here is that there is a process in place and that you’re involved every step of the way. The alternative is a less than satisfactory end result. No one wants that.
The seven points you’ve just read through are just a starting point. They’re very important, but once you start to communicate with a design studio, you’ll start to see - even through just email - whether or not rapport is being built. That chemistry in simple communications is important too. But these seven tips will help you when narrowing down options for your boss or manager.