Everything You Need to Know Before You Hire a Web Design Agency in 2020
Updated: Jan 4
So, you want to redesign your organization's website, and you know you'll need to partner with a great web design agency in order to get that done. But are you ready to make that phone call yet?
This guide will take you through each step of what a successful website redesign process looks like -- from picking the right internal team members and the data you'll need before you get started, to the questions you should ask a prospective web design agency.
If you’ve decided that your website needs a redesign, there’s usually some sort of obvious symptom or pain point that you’ve identified. After all, people don’t spend the time and money associated with your typical, months-long website redesign project just for the fun of it, right?
Whether the appearance needs a face lift, the technology is painful to use or the content needs updating, you’re probably here because something led you to the conclusion that you need a web design agency to fix your problem.
But before you hire an agency -- even us -- you need to make sure that you’ve covered all your bases and carefully considered what it is that you really need. (That’s what this guide is for!)
Because while there are a lot of good reasons to give your website a makeover, there are also a lot of bad ones, too.
“I Just Don’t Like Our Website Anymore...”
One of the biggest “issues” that people cite with their website is simply, “I don’t like it anymore.”
Designers and developers at agencies are visual problem solvers, so, unfortunately, this kind of “blank check” statement gives them almost nothing to go on.
It’s merely a personal, subjective opinion that you have as someone who likely views the website every single day. But what do your customers think?
As the most important users of your website, are your customers satisfied with what it offers them?
Another poor reason for a redesign is to keep up with your competitors. Your analytics should be the true judge of how effective your website is.
If you’re redesigning it only because a rival just rolled out their sleek new site, then your goal is really to save face, not to change your lead conversions or update your technology. You can’t be objective, purposeful and strategic when thinking about your own website if you’re only being reactionary to a competitor.
Finally, a significant change to your website, while exciting, doesn’t always necessitate a complete redesign. Adding a feature such as a blog or a membership portal isn’t something that requires a redesign. Neither is getting a new content management system: you can move technologies (e.g. from Joomla to Wix) without needing to go through the whole three- to six-month process.
With that out of the way, there are some very good reasons why your website may need a redesign. Here are three of the strongest:
Your site doesn’t provide value to visitors;
Your site doesn’t accommodate mobile users or isn’t responsive; or
Your site looks outdated and outmoded.
Another good reason is having a new strategy or new business objectives that include clearly defined goals for your website. So if your company is moving in a different direction or introducing a brand new product, it’s worthwhile to consider who your business will be targeting and how your website will contribute to those objectives.
If you still need more inspiration, here are eight of our favorite, oh-so obvious reasons you should redesign your website.
Why Redesign Your Website
But before you take the leap, there are still three key areas you need to evaluate:
The number of leads you’re currently getting;
User feedback about the current site’s helpfulness; and
The security risks involved with your current technology.
Your Website Isn’t About You
Ultimately, Your Website Isn’t About You
You may not want to hear this, but your opinion matters very little when it comes to a redesign.
Your website should be first and foremost about your users. It needs to be designed in a way that your users are familiar with: the way they consume media and the way that they’re going to buy your products and services. Everything is about the user, and as soon as you start thinking that way, a lot of decisions about the redesign will be a lot easier to make.
Neither should your website be a sales brochure. It shouldn’t be about directly telling users what you can do. Instead, it should be focused around solving their problems and understanding their journey and what they need.
Once you’ve determined that you’re going into your website redesign project with the correct mindset, it’s time to call up the agency of your dreams and get to work with new designs and fonts, right?
Actually, not so fast. You have a lot to do to prepare for your next website redesign. In fact, before you start looking at agencies, there are still four internal preparation steps you need to go through, and they include:
Evaluating your objectives against your timeline and budget;
Assessing your technology needs and access requirements;
Aligning your stakeholders and identifying your team; and
Gathering and analyzing your website’s benchmark data.
Step 1: Evaluate Your Budget and Timeline
Just like you can’t go to a steakhouse if you only have $10 in your pocket, you need to have an honest, realistic conversation internally about what you need from your website redesign project, as well as how much you’re willing to invest in it.
The worst thing you can do is hire a web design agency when you have champagne taste and a beer budget.
Websites do cost time and money -- especially award-winning websites -- but that fact alone shouldn’t dissuade you.
Your website is the only salesperson that works on your behalf 24/7 - it’s selling, answering questions and making connections even when you’re not. The more time and money you invest in it, the more value you’ll get out of it.
This stage is all about figuring out that sweet spot that balances your objectives, as well as the resources you’re willing to invest, from the standpoint of both cost and effort.
Perhaps the most important question of them all is:
What does a realistic redesign budget look like for your business?
Of course, when it comes to determining how much your website redesign should cost, you need to keep one thing in mind -- if you’re looking for a website that you ultimately can’t afford, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
But the answer is different for every company, but here are some of the most important factors to consider:
What does your wish list look like, and what do you want out of the project?
The answer could be a simple redesign, a new platform or new technology, new content, new photography and video, or an entire digital strategy with search engine optimization. All of these need to be factored into your budget.
How much of your current website content will be used for your new site, and how much new content will you need to create?
You need to define the content needs for your company's website redesign as early as possible. Not only will it impact your project timeline and budget, knowing this information in advance will help you find the right agency -- not every agency is equipped to handle website content creation.
What level of support and experience are you comfortable with?
On a budget of $1,000 to $5,000, you’ll likely have very little involvement in your website design project and communication between you and the agency will be minimal. At higher-end agencies, you’ll spend more, but you can also expect to have a dedicated account manager and be constantly involved in the process.
Do you need to integrate existing functionality, such as an e-commerce platform?
That will require additional testing to make sure it’s compatible with the rest of the website.
The other point you need to consider is your potential return on investment with a new website. For example, let's say you invest $25,000 to redesign your company's current website. Depending on the profit margins, you could earn back what you spent designing your new site in just a few sales.
So, take our advice:
Don’t to underplay your project’s complexity so that you can bring your numbers down.
Finally, make sure that you leave room in your budget for contingencies.
Just like your budget, you have to consider whether your projected timeline is viable.
If you start talking to agencies at the beginning of Q4 but want the project done by the end of the year, your expectations are unrealistic.
Usually, it takes about one month for agencies and clients to come to an agreement about a website redesign project. This period can be extended if you need to wait for the budget to be approved, or if a key stakeholder is unavailable.
During this time, you should be open and honest with salespeople about your situation -- otherwise, you'll risk your website redesign project going off the rails. A good sales team will put effort into understanding your business, your goals, your competitors and how their agency can fit into the picture.
Realize that your company has a great deal of influence over how long the project will take, and that you need to figure out internally how much time you have available. Throughout the process, you’ll need to participate in kickoff meetings and site reviews, give feedback and spend time either writing new copy for your site or speaking to copywriters who are writing it for you.
At a minimum, you can expect to spend two to three hours working on your website every week. The more moving parts and features you introduce, the more complex the logistics will be, and the more time you need until completion.
For example, one page of copywriting generally involves 15 to 20 minutes of speaking with a subject matter expert. If you’re not willing to invest your own time into the project, you’ll need to pay the agency more in order to compensate.
Get a Handle on Your Internal Technology
Your website’s hosting and domain name credentials are like the deed to your house: not information you need every day, but vitally important.
Your hosting provider is the one that provides a home for all of your website’s files, and your domain name hosting service is where your website’s domain name (URL) is registered. No matter what agency you choose, they need to be able to point that domain name to where your files are hosted, when your new website is ready go to live.
In many cases, however, your hosting provider and domain name hosting service are separate companies, and you may not even realize it. This is especially true if your organization has multiple departments, and it’s been some time since you’ve looked for that information.
For instance, you may have purchased your domain name on GoDaddy, but host your files on WP Engine. Well, what if you only know about one and not the other? (In our experience, this is not uncommon.)
Our advice is to do the research before you hire an agency, and don’t make a potentially disastrous assumption and tell your agency, “Everything you need is in GoDaddy.” Not only would that be inaccurate, this knowledge gap can lead to serious issues down the road, when you go to launch your website.
Align Your Organizational Players
Once you’ve determined your needs, expectations, budget, timeline, and technical constraints, it’s time to make sure that your team is in total alignment. What do we mean by alignment?
The alignment process involves two separate steps:
Identifying and getting buy-in from key stakeholders; and
Assembling your team.
Grab Your Key Stakeholders
Before you pick up the phone to call a web design agency, you need to determine the person who will have ultimate approval power and judgment over the entire project. This is typically someone such as a CEO or a marketing director, who will sign off on any major decisions.
The situation you want to avoid is any sort of “design by committee,” in which more than one person has these responsibilities.
While it’s good to have multiple people involved -- we’ll talk more about that in a minute -- having this kind of crowding at the top of the approval chain will prolong your timeline and increase the chance of conflicts. Plus, it puts the burden on the agency to resolve conflicting opinions and ideas, a time-consuming process that you will ultimately pay for.
That’s why selecting a single, final decision-maker is for the benefit of both you and the agency, so that they can have an established point of contact for their questions and concerns, and you’re not paying your agency to play mediator for your team.
Build Your Internal Team
Beyond this project leader, you will also need to select a committed team that will be working with and assisting the agency throughout the process. They will be able to provide on-the-spot feedback as important developments occur, rather than involving the entire company or conducting an internal user survey.
Your team for the redesign should be a diverse, cross-functional group of people, comprised of no more than five to seven individuals, ideally from many different departments.
They must be willing to contribute to the process by participating in the initial kickoff call and evaluating major milestones, at the very least. They should have different backgrounds and opinions in order to give the best feedback, but not volatile or conflicting personalities that make for a dysfunctional team -- and for awkward arguments in front of your agency of choice.
Who Should Be a Member of Your Team?
Employees in client-facing roles can be a great choice for inclusion. Salespeople and members of your customer service department are often more tuned in than anyone else in the company to what your prospects want and need, because they hear it from them directly. They’re also usually the ones who will answer a lot of your partner agency’s questions.
Your marketing team can also be a great asset, because they not only live and breathe your current website, they’re going to probably be the ones working with and updating your new website the most. That means they’ll have a lot of valuable input - just be choosy as to who you invite from the team.
A higher-level executive in the C-suite would be an ideal choice. They may not participate as much in the process, but they can be inserted strategically at various points in order to make sure that the new website is in line with your company’s mission and vision. This is especially important if your redesign is meant to help turn over a new leaf for your company, or is a key part of achieving forward-looking revenue and business goals.
If your business has a large number of subject matter experts, you should definitely include someone who knows your products or services inside and out, and who can assess the quality and accuracy of the content on the new website. This is especially important if you plan to have any sort of copywriting delivered by the agency as part of your redesign.
Employees who have been at your company for a long time are also a good choice, because they can testify about your company’s story and have a better idea of where your business has been, as well as where it’s headed in the future.
While it’s important to plan ahead, you don’t need to have a final team in place until you engage with an agency and understand the demands they will ask of you. Every agency is unique, and every process will require a different number of people with varying levels of involvement.
Still, you should still have a general idea of the different segments of your business that need to be involved in the project and keep certain people on an unofficial list.
This way when you first start reaching out to agencies, you can point them to specific employees with knowledge of different areas who can answer their questions.
“What If My Website Redesign Project Includes Content?”
If your project will involve content creation (whether that content be written copy for your website pages, a new explainer video for your homepage, or visuals that help explain what you do), and the agency is responsible for creating the new content, you need to have members of your team ready to take on two tasks:
Contributing as a subject matter expert; and Editing as part of your review team.
Contributors need to be available and willing to speak with the agency’s copywriting or content creation team, possibly during multiple interviews. They can range from those who execute the service to those who sell the service -- just make sure to select individuals who can speak to your different business segments with ease.
Also, if this redesign is to be a signal of a new chapter for your company, plan on a C-level executive being involved in some capacity, such as an interview focused on what the road ahead looks like for your organization.
Next, you will need to have an internal set of individuals who will review any new content created by the agency. In our experience, two editors from a client, as well as one point of contact set aside as a final approver, tends to work well. Or you can simply have one point of contact for editorial review on your end.
Again, your agency should be more than willing to work with multiple individuals, but they will need to know who has the final say. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating confusion and missing deadlines.
The one thing to keep in mind with content is who it can easily be the most challenging part of your project.
Be realistic about what you’re looking to get out of a website redesign project, from the content end, and measure that against the level of effort you’re willing to put into it.
Identify Your Internal Technology Resource
Finally, you need to select a point of contact at your company that the agency can consult for the project’s technology needs.
The right person for this job will depend on how robust your company’s IT framework is.
Are you a small startup with five employees and an outsourced IT solution, or do you have a more sophisticated IT environment with thousands of employees across the country?
No matter your internal arrangement, your technology point of contact should be ready and available to answer technical questions from the agency. This person should be prepared for any IT emergencies that might arise during the project and able to be on standby when the website launches.
Gather Benchmark Data for Your Current Website
After you have your logistics and project team in place, the last piece of the pie is gathering your benchmark data. Why is benchmarking data important?
When you contact an agency, you’re doing it because you are operating on a certain set of assumptions. Generally, that means you think that your website is broken because of its design, technology, content, or any number of other reasons.
When you collect data about your website ahead of a redesign, the results may validate your assumptions, but they could also flat out contradict them. That’s why this is such an important step -- you don’t want to start a lengthy and expensive redesign process, only to realize at the end that you solved the wrong problem.
That’s because your users don’t always feel the same pain points that you do, or the things that make you crazy may not bother them in the slightest. In some cases, companies are completely happy with their website design, only to find out that their homepage’s bounce rate was poor.
(Psst! Bounce rate measures the percentage of website visitors who leave - or “bounce” from - your website, after viewing only one page.)
Data Tells the Whole Story
A good website redesign has to be a careful balancing act between making the client happy and staying true to the company brand, while also making website visitors happy and achieving business results such as visitor traffic and lead conversion.
This can be accomplished by listening to the data. When you reach out to web design agencies, you’ll likely be asked a number of questions about your website’s current performance, including:
How many pages are on your site?
How much traffic do you get?
What percentage of visitors bounce off your homepage?
Do visitors return after filling out your contact forms?
Does Google index all of your pages?
Does your site rank for the right keywords?
Do you have broken links on your site?
How do you answer these questions?
There are many ways to gain this kind of insight, but four free tools, in particular, are very useful for understanding your website’s performance and your users’ behavior.
Tool 1: Google Analytics
You might already have Google Analytics installed on your site. If not, you should do so right away, because any agency design team worth their salt will need at least 30 days of data to see trends that can help them create a better website for you.
The good news is that Google Analytics is free and very easy to install.
You’ll need to collect data about how many views each page gets, what the overall traffic to your site is, how users move through your site, and which pages they bounce away from. This information also allows you to see which pages are in most need of a restructure or need to be more closely evaluated.
Many companies that we talk with want to rebuild their website with a fresh new look and feel, without necessarily reviewing the site’s content. Google Analytics provides the kind of data that might make you realize that certain pages need an entire overhaul of the on-page content as opposed to simply a new design.
For instance, if a page has a low ranking or barely gets any visitors, is it even necessary to carry over into a redesign? If a page should be very important but it has a high bounce rate, is the content on this page relevant to the user?
Tool 2: Google Search Console
Google Search Console is another free and easy-to-use tool that identifies broken links and lets you see how your pages rank in Google searches.
Manually repairing broken links as part of a website redesign can take a long time, so the information available in Google Search Console is vital for any agency to be able to accurately estimate what will be required to repair these issues and thus provide you an accurate budget and project schedule.
If you have a very old website, some of your links may have broken over time as you’ve shifted things around. Higher-end web design agencies know to check for issues like this, because it affects their work on things like search engine optimization (SEO).
Tool 3: HubSpot Marketing Free
HubSpot Marketing Free (formerly called Leadin) is a lightweight plugin that can be utilized on any website regardless of what technology or content management system (CMS) was used to build it. Essentially, it shows you where your users are converting, what they’re converting on, and what they did on your website after converting.
It gives you a clear picture of the buyer’s journey and shows you where there are specific gaps, if any, in the process as it relates to your website.
This is great data to have in advance of a site redesign, because you really need to understand how visitors are using your website in its current form before attempting to rebuild it.
Start Collecting Data Early
These tools need to be put in place on your website as soon as possible -- at least 30 days before contacting agencies, but ideally six months in advance. The more data you have when speaking with agencies, the better.
This being said, don’t feel like you can’t engage with an agency if you don’t have these tools installed, but understand the risks involved if you do begin a website redesign project without adequate benchmarking data.
If you begin the redesign process without that 30 days worth of data, you’re going to be working under a lot of assumptions that you can’t prove until you’ve launched, and that often leads to costly change orders or project extensions.
Step 5: Choose the Right Agency for Your Project
Unless you have a fully functional website redesign team (including a developer, front-end designer, copywriters, SEO expert, user experience expert, marketing strategist, etc.) in-house, you’re going to need to hire an agency to complete your project.
(That's probably why you're reading this guide in the first place!)
Picking the best agency is about more than just having the right price tag, or being right down the street from your offices. Website design agencies come in many different shapes and sizes, with goals that are best suited for different kinds of customers.
The only way to know the right kind of agency for you is to understand what types of agencies are out there, and match these with your goals for your website redesign project.
The 4 Types of Web Design Agencies
Ad Agencies: Glitz and Glamour
Usually located in a giant metropolis like New York or Los Angeles, your traditional ad agencies are the big dog-eat-dog firms that you see in the movies, with perks like ball pits and massages and rooms where you do “creative thinking.” Advertising agencies are often intensely focused on Fortune 500 companies and big branding schemes.
Websites are part of what they do but, more than anything else, they concentrate on brand representation.
An ad agency might be right for you if you’re a large, publicly-traded traded company, or if you have a global brand whose reputation is worth a lot to your company. They tend to be substantially more expensive than the other options, but are worth the price if you have a lot of money to spend on messaging and branding.
E-Commerce Agencies: Specialized Knowledge
Agencies in this area concentrate on building e-commerce websites, and market themselves as such. They tend to be much more dialed into the B2C (business-to-consumer) relationship, where your customers interact with you through online transactions.
Typically, they specialize in a particular content management system, like Magento or Shopify, that helps users set up their own e-commerce platform and can handle secured payment transactions.
If this is the right type of agency for your business, you’ll likely already know it, since e-commerce companies require a particular skill set. Developing an e-commerce website requires knowledge of a lot of different specialties, such as security and payments or abandoned shopping cart nurturing, that need to be pulled off without a hitch.
Marketing Agencies: Focused on Strategy
Marketing agencies can come in various forms. They may do work in inbound marketing, outbound marketing, or even traditional public relations. If you’re looking to work with a marketing agency, you need to be aware of the differences here, because they’ll all come to the table with different specialties and solutions to address your pain points.
That means that the focus is on the content and the user, from the moment they land on your website, through to the close of a deal. To us, the entire purpose of your website should be to answer customers’ questions and aid them throughout the buyers’ journey. This is often referred to as conversion rate optimization (CRO).
In fact, there has been a lot of conversation in the industry around which CMS is better for B2B websites, Wix or Wordpress. So, if you've been building on WordPress for awhile now, you may want to engage an agency of this kind, who will have the industry expertise to challenge the status quo of your website build with a new sleek Wix CMS website.
Other marketing agencies essentially do the job of a big advertising agency on a smaller scale. Some focus on outbound marketing efforts, such as magazine and radio ads, with a little bit of traditional public relations mixed in, while others are very design-driven. They might be the right choice if what you’re looking for is a site that reflects cutting-edge visual design trends rather than conversion optimization.
If you already have lots of informative content explaining how a user can solve a problem, and if you’re more focused on helping the customer make the right decision and less on your company pitch, an inbound marketing agency vs. a traditional web design agency will be a great fit for you.
That said, you’ll be making a poor choice if your only focus is to build awareness and need a flashy website with all the bells and whistles.
Website Design Agencies: Technical Specialization
Website design agencies are just what they sound like - agencies that specialize in website design and nothing else. They build lots of sites for lots of different types of companies in lots of different industries, and they have highly-skilled teams that can handle technically-complex challenges with ease.
If you’re looking to build a site with custom modules such as real-time data visualization or interactive elements, a website design agency could be the right choice as they will most likely have an in-house team of developers and programmers capable of bringing your vision to life. A web design agency might also be a good choice if your website project is very simple and doesn’t require a lot of strategy.
If you’re looking to build a site with custom modules such as real time data visualization or interactive elements, a website design agency could be the right choice.
On the other hand, if you want your website to fulfill a larger business purpose and drive leads for your company, it might make more sense to go with a marketing agency rather than a website design agency.
Marketing agencies will see your site as one piece of a much larger puzzle and will ensure that the site you build supports the other elements of your business plan and marketing strategy.
Which Type of Agency Is Right for You?
If you’re totally lost, do this first: Figure out whether your company is primarily B2B, B2C, or e-commerce of any variety. This will affect how you approach your website and how users interact with it. If you don’t know your own goals, you won’t be able to appreciate how a website is supposed to help you with them.
Next, take stock of the various skill sets you might need. Who do you have internally on your team, and where are the gaps? Do you need content writers, developers, or someone with design sense? The agency you work with should be able to fill these vacancies with skilled members of their own staff.
Finally, beware of ye olde shiny penny syndrome. Don’t make your decision based on how pretty an agency’s portfolio is.
A snazzy website which does lots of fancy tricks built by an ad agency might not make sense if your goal is to get your visitors to fill out a form and provide you with their email address or phone number.
Don’t Forget Your Budget
As previously discussed, before you talk to an agency, you need to have some sense of your budget. However, you should expect to have some flexibility on this during the negotiation process, especially if your project will require additional support in the form of copywriting or developers to code specialized features.
When talking about how much things will cost, don’t worry about nickels and dimes. You shouldn’t be at the point where you’re considering removing a few pages from your site just to cut costs, because stressing about a few hundred dollars won’t improve your process or your working relationship with the agency.
Think about your website budget not just in terms of the cost per page or per word, but also in terms of what it brings you: communication with the agency, creativity, strategy, branding, and keyword research. The benefits that these can generate -- and the potential customers that they can bring in -- are worth far more than the few hundred dollars you might be able to save by trimming a handful of pages.
Evaluating Your Agency Contenders
Now that you have an idea of what type of agency you would like to work with, you still have more research to do before selecting your top pick(s).
By researching different agencies and looking at their websites, you can pick up on some indicators that are either green lights or red flags to help you whittle down the potential agencies to do your redesign. In fact, we’d say all of the below factors are ones that you should be able to access online, through your own research, without having to pick up the phone to ask.
Ultimately, the goal of this independent research phase is to land on two to four agencies you’d like to speak with further about your redesign project.
1. Location, Location, Location
The first factor is something that’s a deal breaker for some people: location. If working with a local agency is important to you, that should be the very first thing you use as a qualifier.
Of course, now that teleworking, screen-sharing technology and video chatting are ubiquitous, it’s certainly not important to everybody - but still, you should talk it over with your team before you contact agencies. That may not be the way they prefer to work or collaborate.
2. What Does Their Team Look Like?
Next, you should check the makeup of the company’s staff by reading its About page. How many are core members of the team versus freelancers? What kind of experience and educational background do they possess?
Also, examine the diversity of skills that the team members have. You don’t necessarily want to work with an agency filled with generalists.
For example, if a team has four people on it, and a single person is the designer, developer, copywriter, and marketer, that can be a major red flag. The agency might be stretched too thin and unable to keep up with your project’s timeline.
3. Proof of Performance
When you make a purchase online, you probably look at ratings and reviews to see what other people think of the product. Website testimonials and case studies are the two most common ways that agencies show off their results.
Testimonials are important because you want to make sure that this isn’t the agency’s first rodeo. Usually, a testimonial will provide the person’s name, company, and role, which enables you to see whether that website is still up-to-date and functioning properly.
This can be a bit tricky to evaluate in some cases, since an agency isn’t always involved with maintenance or upkeep, once a website goes live. If you look at a site that the agency has designed and something seems wrong with it, ask the agency itself what the story is.
In addition to reviewing testimonials, you can - and should - ask the agency for references. This is a great way to dig deeper and find out not just what the sites they’ve designed look like, but what it is like to work with their team:
Are their past clients happy with the experience or was it a battle?
Do they feel that the agency team is knowledgeable?
Would they work with them again?
These are all important questions that you can get answered by checking references.
Just like the age old assumption, beautiful people are not always the brightest, a website can look great but still function below expectations. That’s why it’s important to also check out case studies to make sure that previous clients had results in line with what you desire.
Just like the age old assumption, beautiful people are not always the brightest, a website can look great but still function below expectations.
Did they want lots of flashy graphics or a rise in their conversion rate? And was the website built by the agency able to deliver on those expectations?
What If They Don’t Have Either?
The absence of testimonials and case studies should be viewed as a little suspicious, as it can imply that either the agency hasn’t done enough work, or worse, they can’t find anyone willing to vouch for them on the work they have done.
In this case, if you are still interested in working with them, we absolutely recommend that you call the agency and ask for references.
Pro Tip: If an agency doesn’t have testimonials or case studies, you need to ask them for references.
It’s always a risk and a leap of faith when you reach out to a new partner, and agencies know that they need to demonstrate their capabilities to their clients. So if they’re not able to provide this kind of validation of their work, that may be the sign of a larger problem.
Portfolios are work samples that let you know that the agency is in line with your aesthetic. Meaning if you have a dog grooming business, an agency that usually works with technology startups might not have the right look and feel for you. That’s why it’s wise to review an agency’s body of work to make sure it matches the aesthetic you have envisioned.
Although it’s true that websites are starting to resemble each other more and more, there’s a difference between a similar user interface pattern being seen all across the web and a particular agency using a single aesthetic as a crutch. If it’s the latter, the company is taking a cookie cutter approach to design, rather than purposefully toward the needs of the client.
An agency’s price proposal needs to be just as acceptable as its team, its results, and its aesthetic. At this point, you should be conscious of the fact that you can’t get a champagne website on a beer (or water) budget.
You should be able to get at least a ballpark number from an agency without having to ask for a full blown proposal. This saves both you and the agency time.
Most agencies will run a comprehensive discovery process lasting between 30 and 45 days, and you’ll need to get a lot of things in order for several agencies while you’re vetting them. So if one of them ends up giving you a dollar figure way out of range, that’s a waste of time.
Providing price estimates is also a good sign of a healthy agency. It gives you a sense that they know themselves well, they’re competent, and they’re aware of how much effort they need to put into a project.