How to hire a web design agency


It’s been a year since you decided to bite the bullet and turn your personal passion into your profession. You’ve come home from work every night and put a few hours into creating a business plan and now you’re starting to take on small projects on the weekends. Now, the income from these projects is beginning to rival your day job paycheque and you’re feeling ready to grow; hire staff, get space, expand your reach. Word of mouth has been great thus far, but you know you need to get on the web to grow.

Last year we wrote an article called “So you need a website?” It was popular with people looking to get a website built, and it became a useful resource to send to our prospective clients. The post was good if you already had an idea of what you needed, but fell short if you simply didn’t know much about websites and digital agencies.

Now we want to remedy that by giving you some advice on thinking through your needs, and further to that, how to find a digital agency that can fulfil those needs.

Know your reasons. Make a list!

Before you reach out to anyone, think about your website and what it needs to do to support your organization’s goals. Remember that business plan? Time to dig it up and think about how the website will contribute to the goals you laid out there.

It could be simple, like needing a place online to sell your product. Or, if you’re a non-profit, you might need the website to do other things—whether that’s supporting your outreach programs or collecting donations. Your goals could also be less direct, like using the website as a platform to share your work and build credibility.

Try to understand what you’re doing and what you need. This might sound straightforward. Of course you know what you’re doing! But this is a much more specific way of thinking. We recommend that you make a list of communication goals and specific functionality that your website will need, for example: events calendar, blog, online store, donation button, appointment bookings (anything that’s not just words and images on pages is what we consider “functionality”).

Think about what kind of support do you need from the people building your website—do you need help creating the content? Do you have a business plan that needs translating to the web? Do you need a logo or brand? Do you have a broader marketing strategy that your website is a part of?

Next, search for agencies that seem like they can fulfil your list.

Different agencies for different needs

There are a few things you should be aware of when looking for an agency. Not all agencies offer the same services or work the same way. This can affect the cost of the website as well as the final product.

Some agencies specialize in building websites from scratch, to suit the exact needs of a client, while others might use pre-designed templates and then modify them to meet those client needs as best as possible. For you, this becomes a question of what your organization needs or values—is it a refined user experience or a cost-effective site that gives your organization visibility? It’s not a crime to go with the latter option! Not all websites need to be completely custom.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by this process? You might need an agency that can walk you through step by step and recommend the best approaches to building, designing and positioning the website. If you already have a plan, a structure, and content written, you might just need an agency which can execute the technical parts. Some agencies are good at the first approach while others excel at the second.

Maybe you need to give that logo and brand — which worked for a while — a refresh, and the website is a chance to do this. Some agencies will offer design or branding services to help with this, while others may not.

Find your fit

You can work with people in your area, or remotely, depending on what you’re comfortable with. Both options have their benefits! The ability to work with someone remotely means you can widen your net to the possibility of finding someone who fits your niche. But if you feel what you offer is unique, you might be more comfortable sitting down and discussing with someone face-to-face.

Did I mention we wrote a post about what questions you should be prepared to answer when looking for a web agency?

Not sure where to start? Ask around! If you like your colleague’s website, ask them who they worked with and how it went. A lot of our favourite clients have come in as referrals. This can be a safer bet to find someone you fit well with, as some people who work in digital (not so much us) know how to game the system when it comes to SEO. Meaning, sometimes googling may lead you to someone who isn’t good for you, just really good at using the algorithm to show up first for your search (unless you’re looking for someone good at SEO, then it’s perfect!)

When you see an organization that seems promising, take a look at their work. Have they worked on projects that you appreciate? Is their tone of language or approach to design work with your own feelings on communication and design? If yes, proceed to the next step!

Value match

This can mean a bunch of different things: ethics or morals, or finding an agency that does design work that you agree with, that matches the way you like to communicate.

Finding someone whose design approach vibes well with you doesn’t necessarily mean laying your belief system out on the table, it’s more about finding someone that you think you can work with. You spend a lot of time sitting down with each other and talking. After initial contact, see if you can picture yourself sitting down with these people and working well together throughout this process.

All the best relationships depend on a lot of trust. So this value match is a good indicator of whether or not you can develop that trust—be trusting and trusted.

Nail the proposal

We can’t stress this enough: Ask for what you want! If there are specific concerns or aspects of the project that are important, communicate this to the agency and request them to be addressed in the quote. And, as we mentioned earlier, you’re going to make better decisions while evaluating quotes if you’ve done the soul searching up front.

What level of detail are they going into in their proposal and pricing? Do you feel that it’s adequate for the project? Is it too specific or is it vague on details which you feel that need more?

Not all quotes are equal, so what you might get from different agencies for the same amount of money might be very different things. This is why it’s good to get a few different quotes to get a good understanding of that. Then you can break them down side by side, see if anything is missing, and then you can ask specific questions.

If you get two quotes at $12,000 and $15,000, there might not be any difference in outcome, but it might just be the difference in how they do things: how much research they do, whether they use a template or work from scratch, what post-launch support is available, what kind of hosting they choose, what kind of platform and CMS they use, how much training is provided, how much input you get in the outcome.

We know this can be a lot to think about in the abstract, so know that it’s totally ok to ask questions about any and all of these things. A simpler way to think about it is to ask yourself if the quote meets your needs? Is it overkill? Is the level of detail this proposal has adequate for the project that you’re looking for?

You can get quotes in a range, and it’s you who has to decide how intricate this project needs to be back towards your goals. Maybe you can get away with a 5,000 website, but maybe you can’t.

Some red flags to watch out for is an agency using a lot of jargon in their quotes. We personally feel that it’s deeply irresponsible to only talk in jargon. It takes for granted that people know this stuff, which most people never come into contact with in their day-to-day. This is what we do all day, every day, and so we in no way assume you have the same level of understanding.

Another caveat: make sure you know the benefit of the line items. Don’t just let them throw whatever they want on there and tell you you need it. Again, ask questions, and decide what’s best for you and this project based on your unique needs, budget, and timelines.

Final tips

The fact of the matter is, you need to do some work in order to get the most out of your website. But it’s totally worth it! Because putting in work now means the whole process is far easier, and you come away with a website that can make a huge positive impact on your business. So before you start, think through what your expectations are for how involved you’ll be in the process. What’s your capacity and what capacity are you looking for in the company you’re wanting to hire? Consider your goals for your business—where you are now, and where you’d like to be at the end of this process.