Considerations when choosing an agency for your next project

In my last post I talked about some things you should think about if you’re planning to go with a SaaS platform over an agency-led implementation for your next project. This time round, I thought it’d be good to look at things from the other side!

So you’ve weighed up the pros and cons of “doing it yourself” and decided that actually, it’d be much better to get an agency involved.

How do you make sure you choose the right one to set your project up for success?

  • Scope – your agency project manager’s favourite word. Do you actually know what you want, in a reasonable amount of detail? Can you clearly define it? If not, you’re probably not yet ready to appoint an agency. Giving an agency a one-page brief to cost against is going to mean one of two things: you don’t get what you really need, or when you and the agency have worked out what it is you really need, you’re going to be hit with a revised scope and cost! This brings me nicely on to the second point..
  • Cost – this is where agencies and their clients can often disagree. Neither is necessarily in the wrong, but often expectations can be different. Agree up front with your agency how they will charge, what is included in any fixed price cost, and how you’ll agree on any additional work and associated costs, any reputable agency should have a solid process for managing change, rather than just hit you with a bill at the end for work you didn’t realise was extra!

  • Team – one of the reasons you’re likely choosing an agency is because you want to work with experts, and hopefully those experts are also nice fun people you’ll enjoy working with. Make sure that when agencies are pitching to you, you meet the team members who will actually be assigned to your project. The reality is that many agencies will send in the “A-Team” to pitch, made up of the Heads of XYZ, and then when you award the project, that team is never seen again. You’re never going to completely avoid this, but make it clear to the agencies that you expect to meet at least some of the team who will be working on the project before you award the job.
  • Agile – most agencies now will be operating some form of Agile methodology to deliver their projects. The general consensus is this is much better than the waterfall approach to projects, but it can often be hard for senior stakeholders to grasp what they are signing off. Work closely with your agency early on to help manage these expectations and avoid any last minute panics when your boss expected to see every page of the site designed up in Photoshop before he will sign off!
  • Responsibilities – it may seem obvious, but be clear up front on who is doing what. This is particularly important when you have multiple parties/agencies involved. Make sure everyone is clear on who is doing what, and who is expected to take the lead in managing the project. If your chosen agency is not managing your hosting, make sure you agree early on who has responsibility for things like deploying the project, making sure the hosting is suitable etc – this is one area things can very quickly go wrong if not dealt with early on!
  • Understanding your business – work with an agency that really understands your sector, and will understand the way your business works. Part of the reason you’re choosing an agency is likely for their specialist knowledge – don’t be swayed just by fancy creative ideas, your users won’t be! Pick the agency who really gets your business, or convinces you best that they will be able to work to do this – it’ll give you much better long term results.

  • KPIs – on a similar these to the point above, the success of your project shouldn’t be measured on things like “my boss loves the new design”, “the site is much quicker now” etc. Choose an agency who will work with you to define clear KPIs that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). Also make sure that you are setting KPIs that are actually within the scope of the project – it’s no good agreeing you’ll increase visitors by 50% in the next six months if you’re not giving the agency any scope or budget for marketing to attract new traffic!
  • Support – be clear at the start what your expectations are once the site has launched. Do you expect to be able to pick up the phone to your agency and have changes done within 4 hours? Do you expect to be able to call them at 8pm if the site went down? The reality is project fees rarely include these kind of things, so make sure you agree before any launch what support will be available, and if necessary agree a support retainer so you have the coverage you need!
  • Intellectual property – make sure you agree who owns any intellectual property produced as part of the project. Commonly, you’ll want to own the IP so that if in future you move away from the agency, you don’t have to start from scratch. This can get more complex if the agency is building you something using an in-house tool they’ve created, so make sure you cover this before signing any contracts.
  • Disaster recovery – make sure you know where your data is being stored, how often it is being backed up, who has access to it, and what policies are being adhered to. Your data is valuable, give it the attention it deserves! It might seem unlikely something will go wrong, but if it does, you’ll kick yourself for not having asked the questions and just making assumptions.

Hopefully these points will help the next time you are going through the pitch process. It can be a maze to navigate, but get it right and you’ll have a much more successful project!

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