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Beyond Looks: How to Hook up with the Right Agency

If you’re on the hunt for a web agency, you can guarantee you will have plenty of suitors lining up at your door. How do you choose between them?

All agencies will employ graphic designers and many of them are strongly design-led. This means they can all dress themselves up nicely. Unfortunately, that says nothing about their performance or the processes they follow. How do you know which agencies are only as deep as their online profile picture and which can offer a long-lasting, satisfying experience?

Building a project brief is an important place to start but what things should you specifically be asking about? Here are a few ideas.

Size isn’t everything – but it does matter

There is nothing to stop a back-end developer and graphic designer getting together and tagging the word ‘agency’ on to their brand.

However, there is a value in having a full team of professionals, all specialising in different areas whether that be design, function, copywriting, SEO or marketing. When such talent comes together in one room (yes, an actual premises helps), magic can and does happen.

For example, this article was going in a bit of a different direction until I got caught up in the office buzz around our upcoming Vu ‘LOVE your Brand, LOVE your business’ event.

A large agency will also have processes and systems in place to ensure projects are managed professionally and delivered on time.

Do they listen to your story?

Everybody has experienced (or been) that first date bore. You walk into the restaurant expecting to enjoy an enthralling evening of shared conversation. Instead, you are bombarded with a monologue detailing every major episode in your date’s life, every quality they have been blessed with, every award they have won and how they are rarely recognised for their greatness. If you dare to offer a morsel about your life or interests they will quickly brush over it before coming back to their main topic of interest – themselves.

Bad agencies do the same thing. They love to tell you about their high profile clients, their amazing designers and their portfolio of stunning websites but when you start talking to them about your story, they glaze over or nod with fake enthusiasm.

A good agency will focus mainly on your business, your brand and your goals. Expect to be answering lots of probing questions about your story and how a website will open a new chapter for you.

This leads on to the next section because what the best agencies are really looking to find out is whether you will be a good fit for each other.

Are they only after the one thing?

A bad agency goes into your first meeting with the object of closing the deal. The sooner they can get you to sign a contract and part with a deposit, the happier they will be. They are rarely selective about who they partner with.

On the other hand, good agencies will carefully match their service offering with your vision for your business and see whether the two marry up. For example, there is a big difference between a five page brochure site and a complex e-commerce platform. A good agency needs to ensure they have the skills and capacity to take on your project.

Such an agency will not be afraid to tell you that the relationship won’t work (although they will let you down gently and may point you in the direction of a trusted partner).

If you do decide to work together, your relationship will be properly nurtured. Ongoing communication will be a priority and they will assign you an account manager who can answer all of your questions.

Are there any bad date stories?

So you’re getting excited now. Your agency partner is not just a piece of eye candy; they can talk the talk too. But can they walk the walk?

As a final check, it is worth looking closely at other projects they have been involved with. Again, look beyond the design to see whether the sites are user friendly and load quickly. What features are present? Do they work?

Customer reviews are also a good source of social proof – a jilted ex can give you a good idea of an agency’s potential weaknesses. You may even be able to meet with some current or past clients of your shortlisted agencies to find out if there are any red flags to watch out for.

Ready to commit?

If there’s one overriding lesson to take away from this article it’s to treat each meeting with an agency as a first date rather than a wedding. Enjoy the experience but make sure you ask plenty of questions and pay attention to how things feel before getting in too deep.

If you’re getting the wrong answers or the chemistry just isn’t there, you know what to do…

…Swipe left!

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