4 Tips for Working with a Web Development Agency

Sep 19, 2016

By Nick Raushenbush

If you’re looking to hire a web development agency to help you build your website or online store, finding a firm that is both high quality and reasonably priced can be challenging.

While the only guaranteed way to know an agency’s worth is to actually work with them, there are a few measures you can take when evaluating and engaging with an agency that will set you up for a better chance at success. Consider these 4 tips for working with a web development firm.

1. Source referrals in network and meeting with local agencies

No matter where you are located, there are thousands of web development agencies domestically, and many more internationally. With so many options, choosing which web development agency is right for your store can be a daunting. Sourcing referrals from your business network, and meeting face to face with local firms can be a great way to mitigate risk when making a selection.

Referrals are the best place to start. If a trusted contact has personally had a positive business experience working with a particular web development agency, it’s worth taking the time to evaluate their portfolio and have a chat with them. Post your network on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter asking for referrals and see what comes in.

If you aren’t finding much in the way of in-network referrals, use online search results and online publications to find established agencies local to your business. Keep in mind that the landscape for web development agencies is vast, and the pricing for agency services can cover quite a wide range. Look for web development agencies that have clients similar in size and scope to your business.

It’s best to find local agencies so you can have a proper meeting with their team. When it comes to collaborating with any kind of agency, communication is going to be key. Having the opportunity to meet in person and get expectations out on the table greatly increases the chances of a successful engagement.

2. Review client work and agency portfolios

Take a look at the websites created by the agency, and rely on your initial impression to narrow the field from many to a few. Usually, just by looking at their website, you can get a feel for whether this company is good, or not.

You also want to make sure that the style of work that the agency usually creates is in line with your brand. Ask yourself: does their style and level of work fit my needs?

Also, it should be a red flag if their portfolio has both good and bad work, or vastly different styles; this would suggest that they are a collaborator, an actual agency. Ask yourself: is their quality and style consistent across their body of work?

If you can answer these vetting questions affirmatively, take time during an in person meeting to discuss their portfolio with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for client references and examples/case studies of past engagements that were successful.

3. Set clear expectations with the agency in an SOW

Here are the important things you want to make sure to stipulate in any contract, statement of work, or master service agreement when you engage with an agency:

  1. Make sure you clearly specify all deliverables in a statement of work.
  2. If you can, put down a timeline for deadlines and mini project deadlines for deliverables.
  3. Make sure to include a number of revision periods.
  4. Agree upon overage charges in advance.
  5. In case of termination, make sure everything is clearly defined in terms of partial compensation.
  6. Make sure you own all the IP and that the agency cannot repurpose any of it.
  7. Allow the agency to display the work for marketing purposes (i.e. their portfolio), because that’s fair.

It can be easy to loosen up with certain agencies and other vendors, to the point where you might feel like you don’t need a contract. That is a misguided notion. Always have a contract in place. It’s in everyone’s best interest.

4. Work with your agency to integrate a CMS into your website

When working on a web development project, it’s essential to have some kind of a Content Management System (CMS) integrated into the website. A CMS ensures that you, as the client, will be able to make changes to your own website once the agency is done with the initial build. Without a CMS, all edits to existing pages, and creation of new pages, will have to be made by an agency, contractor, or someone who knows how to code.

Some sites are built with a page builder that acts as a CMS, such as Squarespace and WordPress sites. If your site was custom coded with for Shopify, or built on a framework like Ruby on Rails, there are great apps like Shogun, a drag and drop page builder and CMS for any existing website. With Shogun’s Shopify App, you can use it retroactively on your Shopify Store to import and edit existing pages, as well as build and edit new pages.

Even with a CMS integrated into your site, there may be some new development initiatives that go beyond the capabilities of someone who is non-technical using a page builder. Keep relationships with your agency or developer for follow up work.

Set yourself up for success

When you’re outsourcing something as important (and costly) as your website or online store, working with an agency requires a lot of trust and communication. Take time to source good agencies, and vet them with a thorough review of their portfolio. Write a strong SOW, so there isn’t confusion about expectations. And integrate a content management system that allows you to take control of your site when the agency work is done.

About the Author

Nick Raushenbush is the co-founder of Shogun, a drag and drop page builder and editor for any website.

Before moving into tech, Nick co-found and ran creative agency Glass & Marker, and made online video content for tech companies like Google and Yahoo!, and startups launching out of Y-Combinator.

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