One of the hardest things about launching a new website is choosing the right agency. With so many agencies out there, all with good references, it can be a monumental task just trying to figure out which one is right for you.
To create the right website for your company you need to find a partner, a web agency, that could understand you, your business’ goals, your target audience and to deliver the perfect website on time and within budget.
If you’re a business owner, you definitely want the very best for your company. So settling for a mediocre website is not a good option. But to get a great website, you need to find the right web agency. So how exactly are you supposed to choose? Here are some tips and tricks on how to find a great web design company.
1. Know Your Budget
Before you even start looking at web design agencies, you need to set a budget for your web design project.
This budget can be anything from working on a shoestring to unlimited funding, but you should have a number on paper before you start pursuing agencies.
In addition to that, you should set the flexibility of your budget to make sure you can accommodate upsells.
Obviously, you’ll always be willing to pay less than your budget to get what you need, but it’s possible an agency will recommend that you buy other web design options to achieve more success. And while the agency has a financial incentive to do that, they’re also the experts in their field — they know what will work for you.
Last, you should have a number for your budget that you’ll tell your agency.
This number should be lower than your actual budget to give yourself some wiggle room when you’re ironing out what you want from an agency. When you give them a number slightly lower than average — anywhere between 75% to 90% of your actual budget — you can easily accommodate their suggestions without breaking the bank.
That means everybody wins, and that’s a great way to start a successful relationship with an agency.
2. Get their pricing
After you have your budget, you also need to research an agency’s pricing.
That can take a lot of time, especially for agencies that offer different packages or non-packaged services. Finding what you can afford and how it can improve your business is a critical portion of the partnership process, and if you don’t do your homework, you could wind up spending way more than you want for services that you don’t need.
Unfortunately, most agencies out there don’t publish their pricing.
Even the best agencies in the industry usually require you to contact them to get information on packages, and sometimes they won’t give you that information until you tell them you want to work out a web design strategy.
This is important because if you’re someone who wants all of the information up front, you have a much smaller pool of potential partners than someone who can go with the flow.
Generally, agencies that publish their pricing are more dedicated to transparency and working within your set budget than agencies that keep it a secret. However, it’s still uncommon to find pricing listed online, even for the best agencies out there.
3. Ask about fees and charges
Even after you’ve asked an agency about pricing, you have one last piece of financial business on your hands.
Sometimes, an agency has a list of fees and charges that they issue, and they don’t always tell you about them.
They might be in the fine print of your contract, or they might not list fees anywhere at all. But if you partner with an agency without asking about surprise fees, you could quickly find yourself over-budget with a website that you don’t like.
With that in mind, it’s essential that you talk to your agency about their policy on fees. Do they charge for making unscheduled updates to the site? Do they bill you for extra for hours that they spend working for your company every month? Can you wind up spending more for an unscheduled checkup about your site?
All of those questions are good to ask, especially since there’s no “standard” stance on fees for web design agencies. It’s up to you to get the details you need for success, especially if they’re not presented up front.
Once you have your finances in order, you can move onto the next important step of agency evaluation.
4. Great Agencies Ask “Why?” instead of “What?”
Great agencies don’t ask what type of website you want but what are you trying to achieve with it. The right agency knows that the website itself is not the goal, but just one of the many tools you need to build a successful business.
The website is a tool, not the goal.
“A great agency asks for your business goals and objectives, processes, methods, then performs market and competitive research, and proposes a functional and well-designed solution that fits your needs,”
“They would also ask you about your future business plans, to shape the new website into this vision and prepare it for future expansion and changes, saving you time, money and nerves.”
A high-quality website is something you should create only if you have a clear vision of the business goals you want to reach with it. And for this, you need a partner who asks the right questions and has the correct methodology.
5. What are their Skillsets?
You could wonder why hire a web design company if you can hire an individual freelancer? The answer is simple.
Website development is too complex to be a one-man job.
A great agency has an experienced team and the know-how to constantly improve their skills, creating an even more powerful group of experts. There are four major skill sets required to build websites: strategy, design, development and marketing.
I think you get the idea – it’s impossible for just one person to be successful in all these areas and deliver great results. And that’s what you require from a great agency. One-man-show agencies can produce average websites at best, without any insight into the position of the website within your business plans. Sure, they may create some interesting design, but beauty was not the reason for you to hire the first available web designer.
6. How are project requirements handled?
Project requirements and expectations should be clearly laid out in the beginning so that all parties involved have a clear idea of deliverables and timelines.
The way a company treats their clients is often a telling example of the way they run their business and develop their products. Make sure you find a company who will take your calls (or at least return messages) and makes updates to your website promptly. You can usually tell if the company works quickly by how fast they return your estimate request, but remember, an estimate request for a custom website may take some time to put together. This is a good sign as you know that the company is likely taking their time to look over the details of your project while planning a development strategy.
Of course, things will come up that were unanticipated at the start of the project, but this clear communication right off the bat will help both sides understand the scope of the project.
7. Great Agencies Have Procedures That Lead to Results
Great agencies always measure effectivity and improve established processes and procedures. From collecting information to developing the site’s features, everything has its place in the agency’s daily operations and is assigned to the appropriate team members.
A great agency has the knowledge and the experience needed to understand the needs of their clients. The complete process, from the “why” to delivery, needs to be led by experienced project managers who follow a standardized procedure. Otherwise, nobody can guarantee the quality of the result, especially if it’s a complicated project.
8. Look at their past clients
Every established web design agency will have previous clients. If you want to know what to expect from a certain agency, look at the work they’ve done for those companies.
That will show you what you can expect from an agency, and it’ll also give you a list of clients to contact to find out more.
While it’s important to see examples of an agency’s work, this step also gives you the information you need to contact an agency’s clients directly and ask about their experience.
If they speak highly of the agency, you can rest assured that you’re in good hands. If they say they can’t wait to get out of their contract, then it’s critical that you look somewhere else.
The basic idea is to learn from companies who came before you.
Was partnering with this agency the best choice they’ve ever made? Or are they struggling to keep up with payments? Either way, you’ll have a clear idea about whether or not you should contact that agency.
9. Get their client retention rate
Along with looking at an agency’s previous clients, you can also ask them about their client retention rate.
A lot of companies will hover around 60% or so, and anything below that indicates that there’s something sketchy going on with the agency itself. Similarly, retention rates of about 70% — especially those 90% or above — show exceptional client satisfaction.
The agencies that have the best client retention will typically be your best bets for partnerships. After all, a website isn’t just something that you throw together — it takes time, strategizing, and execution to make everything come together.
If an agency doesn’t have a decent client retention rate, then they’re missing one of those crucial elements, and that means they won’t give you the results that you want.
But when you find an agency with a high client retention rate — and when they publish it online for everyone to see — you can be sure you’ve found a quality agency.
10. Ask who will be personally responsible for your site
When you work with an agency, you don’t want them to say that they’re responsible as a whole for your success.
That mentality reflects an undefined, loose, and undisciplined culture that can let you down time and time again.
Instead, you want to get the name and contact information of a representative who is personally responsible for seeing that your site gets the attention it needs to succeed. You should have one point of contact who can answer your questions, update you regularly on your progress, and discuss alterations to your current strategy if needed.
Without that contact, the agency can pass blame among its employees and make excuse after excuse for why you’re not achieving your goals.
But when you have a single person who’s accountable for your satisfaction, there’s no doubt about who’s responsible — you have their name right in your phone.
11. Ask about other customer support
Even for agencies that give you a dedicated point of contact, that person may not always be available 100% of the time.
After all, they’re human, and sometimes they get sick, take vacations, or have to take care of their personal lives.
So if your point of contact isn’t available, you need a person or a team who can give you the support you need, especially if your representative is gone for an extended amount of time.
Whether that’s the department head, your contact’s coworker, or someone who looks after clients for people out of the office, you need to know so you can continually keep the agency accountable for your progress.
In addition, you also need information on an agency’s customer support policy.
If something goes wrong with your site, you need to be able to contact them to fix the error. Can you call whenever you want? Or do you have to wait for certain hours? Either way, you need to know.
12. Ask who can update the website
Sometimes, a web design agency will set you up with the tools you need to make direct changes to your website with a content management system (or CMS).
However, sometimes they keep everything in-house so they can better keep an eye on your updates.
Regardless of which policy your agency has, it’s important that you know about it so you can understand how you’ll work together.
If you can make changes to your site directly, that’s great! And if you don’t want to deal with the site at all, you can entrust the agency to do it all for you.
Ultimately, this depends on the kind of project manager you like to be. If you’re hands-on, ask for a way to make changes to the site yourself.
And if you have other things to do, ask the agency to take care of it for you. You win either way!
13. Find out if they’ll relocate your site
In some cases, a web design agency may not work with your existing hosting service.
Instead, they may host it themselves or switch services to another company that they’ve contracted as an exclusive provider.
In the event that they’re going to move your site to another host, you need to know.
You don’t want to try and check out your website one day only to find out that it’s hosted somewhere else under a different username and password. When you’re that out of the loop, an agency can do anything they want to your site without your supervision — and that can be a recipe for disaster.
And if so, where
On top of having free reign over your site, moving your hosting service can also affect your website’s loading speed and accessibility.
While this is an extreme example, it’s critical that you know where an agency will host your website.
If the servers are on the other side of the world from your primary demographic, then your demographic won’t be able to access your website as quickly as your competitors’ websites.
If your website moves, make sure you know where it’s going.
14. Set concrete, achievable criteria with deadlines
Last, after you’ve gone through all of the previous steps, you need to set concrete, achievable criteria with deadlines.
This kind of scheduling and outlining gives you a way to track the progress of your web design agency.
If your partner is ahead of schedule, then you know you chose a good partner. And if they’re lagging behind, you might want to consider talking to another agency.
Concrete criteria include qualities like defining whether or not your website will be accessible on mobile platforms, how many visitors you want to support at any time, when your site will launch, a regular maintenance schedule, and more.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll be more successful when you’re more specific about what you want to achieve. Setting general goals gives your agency wiggle room, which gives them the opportunity to miss the mark.
15. Finally, Great Agencies Love Their Work
The final element is without any doubt – love. If highly-skilled and experienced professionals within the agency really love what they do, the resulting web projects will be exceptional. And that’s what we’re all looking for.
Now choose the web design company that’s right for you
With all of this information at your disposal, you can now make a good choice for a web design partner for your business.
Go find the best fit for your needs, and make sure they’ll work with you through all of the questions and concerns you have.
And if you think of other questions you want to ask, always ask them — a good web design agency will never turn away your questions or give you vague answers.