By Christopher Swenor
Whether you are a first-time entrepreneur or a seasoned CEO, you have probably at one point felt a little overwhelmed by a tight deadline. When the clock is two-minutes-till-midnight and a project needs to get done, where should you turn?
It’s never easy admitting you need help with a project and doing so is half the battle. Now that you know that you need help, you’ll need to figure out what help will actually look like.
Define broad project goals, the skill sets you need, your timeline, and the size of budget. Here are some great tools that will help you streamline this initial search:
- Clutch.co: Clutch has been around for a few years and has amassed quite a large database of agencies. You can filter by city or focus to find something that will fit your needs. Each listing will have a breakdown of testimonials, services, and average pricing to give you a solid initial taste of the company.
- Which Web Design Company (WWDC): Despite being smaller than Clutch, WWDC does provide a second opinion into web design and development companies around the world.
- Your network: If you are a founder, talk to other founders. If you are a developer talk to other developers. You’ll find people who have had both great (and horrible experiences) with development agencies.
If you use these tools you’ll be able to build out a good list of agencies that could be a good fit. Once you have fleshed out this list, you can move on to accessing and qualifying the agencies.
Assess the Agencies
Now that you have a good idea of some agencies you would like to work with, you can move into assessing them. Reviews sites are great, but they won’t give you the full picture.
Look out for their online personas. What a company publishes online can tell you a lot about its work. By analyzing its online persona, you can get a pretty good idea of what working with this agency is like.
The website of an agency should be treated as an extension of its portfolio. If you aren’t impressed, that could be a huge red flag. If an agency is comfortable enough to put that up on its own site, imagine what it could put up on yours. Take a look at a client work page to get a second opinion. If its client work doesn’t impress you either, you can forget about hiring that agency.
But looks can be deceiving. Maybe the agency you are looking for prioritizes technology over design. The only way to tell is to take a deep look at the content. Is the website content up to snuff? Does it keep an active blog? What about GitHub or Dribble? Once again, if it’s on the web, chances are an agency must be proud enough of it to publish it.
What about the culture? This is something that can be overlooked but is hugely important. Working with an agency that has a culture that matches your own (or at least a culture you can respect) is important. When considering culture ask yourself, "Would I work there?" It’s not a make-or-break factor, but it’s definitely something to consider.
Gather the Sales Collateral
At this point, you should have a whittled down list of agencies that have impressed you with their work. Now, it’s time to go through the sales cycle.
Reach out to the few development agencies that have stood out. Be sure to come prepared with all the information you have on the project to streamline this process. Budget and timeline are huge and could be a potential time saver when talking to a large number of agencies. If you take this step early on in your decision-making process, you will be able to gauge the following:
- How are their communication skills? Do they respond promptly?
- Do they have a clear path to solving your problem?
- Does everything feel organized?
Treat these early points of contact as a small taste of what hiring the agency will look like. If it is slow to respond, that could be a sneak preview of what could happen when there’s money on the line. Here are some questions to consider asking during this step:
- How do you compare to your competitors?
- What is your development process like and how did you come to that conclusion?
- Who will be the main point of contact and how do you handle communication?
Agencies are there to help, so make sure you make it easy for them to do so. This first call is as important for them as it is for you, so be honest and prompt in your response.
Make a Decision
At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust. You can find a company that fits you and your needs perfectly but if you don’t trust it, what does it even matter? This is a huge step and it should not be taken lightly. Whatever agency you partner with, remember it’s exactly that: a partnership. There will need to be trust on both sides for the project to be successful.
Take a dive into its website: Does it pass the sniff test? Is your first impression a good one? Are you impressed?