Hiring an agency to design and/or develop a web project for you can be an arduous task. If you’re currently in the midst of such a process, I don’t envy you. There are many attributes to compare and contrast between agencies before you make a final decision. You are assessing the risk of hiring one over another and trying to predict how things will turn out with each. It’s more akin to the early stages of getting to know someone before you start dating them than it is like buying a new car or stereo.
There are the obvious questions to ask: Who have they worked with? What have they delivered? How big is their team? How long have they been around? Where are they located? What is their process? How much will it cost to work with them? What technology platform(s) do they use?
These all help inform what you will get when you hire Agency A, but I would encourage you to think more about why you are hiring them. This is where there are subjective aspects that you should take into consideration: Will I enjoy working with them? Can they deliver MY project? Do I trust them? Will I feel foolish for hiring them later? ..and so forth. We both know that you’ll make a calculated decision, but your gut is going to have a lot of influence.
We have won (and lost) several projects because we (or a competitor) felt like a better fit.
What I’d like to do is share a few questions that I believe you should consider asking when speaking to an agency to help weed out the good from the bad.
1. Why do you exist?
If they respond, “what do you mean?” ask them, “there are a ton of other agencies that offer the services that you do. Why did your agency set out to do this as well? What makes you different?”
They might stumble and/or bullshit their way through this question, but look for a few things: Do they see themselves as offering something unique? The key takeaway for you here is to get a picture of how different it might feel when working with them versus the other agencies you’re talking with. If they all look, price, smell, and approach projects in the same manner, how are you ever going to make a decision?
- If you’re bored with their response, it might indicate a lack of imagination on their end.
- If your bullshit detector goes off, you might keep on looking.
- If you find yourself inspired, keep talking.
- Prepare for the scenario when a good team answers it and turns the question back in your direction. They should be interviewing you as well!
2. Who does your team look up to and how have they influenced you?
Everyone has mentors and people that they admire. An agency should be confident enough in themselves to be able to mention others that they looked to for inspiration. If they have no one to point out, then they’re probably living in a bubble.
3. How do you measure and present progress during a project? Can you show me a sample?
As a client, you’re going to have varying degrees of visibility into the process throughout your project. It shouldn’t be difficult for an agency to explain and provide a sample of what a regular progress update might look like in the middle of a project.
You don’t want to find yourself a few months into a project and wondering, “where are we?” and have them respond, “you can look at the backlog to see what is left.” How do they track budgets, scope, and schedule? Will you be able to make informed decisions based on the information that they provide?
4. What tools will I need to learn in order to work with you?
Unless they’re relying on just email to communicate (a huge indicator that you should quickly run away!) and/or you have already used their tools, you’re going to have to make an investment in learning some of their process and tools. Ask them to introduce you to them. Do they have any educational material to make on-boarding easier for you?
5. Can you describe your approach to testing?
If their first response is, “sure, we test in Internet Explorer” then it’s unlikely that they have a cohesive testing process in place. What sort of things do they test for? Are you building an application? Do they write automated tests? Can they provide you with regular access to see if those tests are passing? Do they test across browsers and operating systems? How much testing will you as a client be required to perform?
6. Could you introduce me to a few of your former clients?
Testimonials on their website are great and all, but if you’re about to start investing a bunch of money into a project you’re going to want to have as much reassurance as possible. Ask an agency to introduce you to someone who they no longer work with. Businesses have a number of reasons to discontinue working with an agency. When you speak to their former clients, let them know that you’re really interested in working with them but want to get some reassurance. Ask them about the previous questions.
Does the way that they describe their experience align with how the agency currently pitches itself? If there are discrepancies, go back to the agency and ask about them. It’s possible that they have since changed their approach for the better. “Right, we used to do X and Y like so… but realized it had some pain points so we evolved our process.”
As you continue your search, ensure that you’re providing yourself with enough information to feel good about the decision you’re about to make. Open ended questions like these can work wonders to help narrow your shortlist.
Do you have other questions to suggest to our readers? Leave them in the comments.