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How To Choose the Right Digital Agency

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when embarking upon a digital project is not what color your website will be or the main font for your logo (although these are crucial decisions—more on that later!), but which agency you’ll be working with.

Assuming you don’t have a bevy of designers and engineers on your personal payroll, and you don’t want to go through the pain of hiring individual freelancers and making them all somehow work beautifully together, you’ll want to seriously consider working with a solid digital agency that can handle all the moving parts of a project for you.

While FabHire (like some other tools) is a resource to help you choose, ultimately you will have to do a little bit of legwork to hone in on the right choice. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume that the project you have in mind is building a new website. Here are a few tips to guide you through the process:

1)      Review Portfolios & Do Some Research

While newer digital agencies might still be working on beefing up their portfolios, a large number of firms have been around for a while and have design and client portfolios that you can access through FabHire or directly on their websites. Reviewing this information will give you a good sense of the company’s overall style and capabilities, as well as the types clients they’re accustomed to dealing with.

Look out for trends. Does the agency develop only real estate websites, or do they have experience working with a range industries and design styles? Does the agency have an internet marketing practice that can help with your SEO goals, or are they primary a graphic and frontend web design shop? Does the agency work exclusively with Fortune 500 clients, or do love helping startups and newbie entrepreneurs that might be bootstrapping with their savings?

Getting answers to these types of questions is critical, and you should try to do as much up front research as possible to get a sense of how a firm works before you approach them personally. Also remember—when browsing portfolios, don’t make the mistake of just judging a book by its cover. While we at FabHire are huge design nerds, we know only too well that strong backend programming capabilities are just as, if not infinitely more important as frontend design work. Don’t simply get swayed by a pretty portfolio, especially if you have a limited technical background. Some of the best firms out there don’t just produce candy-colored iPhone apps, but use their deep engineering expertise to develop sophisticated data-driven applications, business portals and more. Again, the key is finding the firm that best fits the kind of job you’re looking to get done.

2)      Pick up the Phone

Yes, go do it—now! At the end of the day, working with a digital agency is a long-running and extremely important business relationship, and unless you want to experience the pain of switching firms (which often involves moving code over and having a whole new team of engineers try to decipher what was last done), you’ll want to treat picking a firm like you would picking a spouse—by doing a lot of dating, a lot of communicating, and yes, even signing a prenup.

To know what to ask a firm, read our post on 12 Questions to Ask a Digital Agency.

3)      Get Personal (But Not Too Personal)

You have to remember when speaking to team members at an agency that these are real (often awesome) people, and they each have their strengths, idiosyncrasies, and particular ways of doing things. You can discover a lot just by making small talk with the receptionist, sales person or project manager—seeing what their communication style is like, how friendly and approachable they are, and how responsive they are in answering phone calls and emails. Take the time to get to really know the person on the other end of line, and ask yourself if you can see yourself communicating with them on a regular basis. Ask good questions and try to gauge if they are genuinely interested in your project (apart from, of course, the $$ involved), and like the idea you have in mind, but can give constructive feedback. Most importantly, see if you can just, well, gel with them.

4)      Respect their Time

While it’s nice to be in the client’s shoes and have people preparing proposals for you—maybe even competing for your business—remember that there’s plenty of work to go around in the web world these days, and so you need agencies to like you as much they need you to like them. What talking to firms, don’t bombard them with unreasonable requests (like 20 page NDAs in 8 point font), and respect their time. Remember, you are contacting busy people and they are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. So establish a relationship and get the information you need without being overbearing.

5)      Stay In Touch

Even if you decide not to go with a particular firm, end your conversation on an upbeat note, leaving the door open for future projects. Digital agencies can have a revolving door with high-demand employees leaving to join competing firms or start their own shops, and you never know when you might run into someone again. It’s a small world in the agency space, and in the B2B space in general. Keep your goodwill, even when in the shoes of the client, and you’ll be sure to get excellent treatment should you ever decide to pick up the phone and call on a firm again.