Your company’s growing and you want to increase sales and reach a broader audience. Great! But as you start looking at your website and online marketing, you realize the site is outdated, doesn’t clearly communicate who you are anymore, and doesn’t drive users to take action like contacting you or making a purchase. You need help. If you don’t have a full team of design, development, and digital marketing experts on staff, you need to outsource your digital marketing efforts. Finding the right agency is critical, but with all the companies out there offering web services, where do you begin? Since your time is valuable, taking a few moments to do some prep work before your search will help get you started on the right foot. First, ask yourself these questions:

What are my goals?

  • Understand that this goes beyond just what services you think you need. You may want a new design, but you’ll need to consider how this affects your messaging, the functionality of the site, and what actions you want users to take. A quality firm can help find solutions to your problems and give suggestions you may not have thought of. They will want to know what goals you have in mind for the new site and what’s motivating you for this change?

Is my messaging in place?

  • Chances are, if your site is outdated, your messaging is as well. You can probably pull a lot of information from your site, but you may also need to align it with your company’s new goals or positioning. You’ll want to have a good idea where you are with your messaging and content before engaging a firm. Getting content is typically the biggest cause for project delays.

What’s my budget?

  • Like buying a car, knowing your budget will save you a lot of time figuring out whom to work with on your new project. If you only have a budget for a used Honda, you wouldn’t want to waste your time going to the BMW dealership. The same principle applies to searching for a web firm. You can’t typically tell by the firm’s site design or their service offerings if they are expensive or not, but in general, if you know your budget and can talk about it early in the process, you’ll both quickly determine if it’s a good fit or not.

What’s the timeframe?

  • If you’re like most companies, once you realize you need a new web presence, you probably needed it 6 months ago. You may be in a hurry, but patience will help you get the best results.  However, if you have some hard date you need to hit, most template solutions will get you quick results, but you may need to sacrifice service, quality, or features. Custom solutions take more time, but will produce more unique results that can set you apart from the competition. No matter what vendor you choose to work with, keep in mind that if you delay in delivering your content or making decisions, your final delivery date will most likely be impacted.

Am I flexible on my budget or timeframe?

  • Sometimes you need to stick to your guns and get the site up ASAP. But if you’re not in a hurry and willing to have some wiggle room in your budget for additional items to enhance your site, you may get a better product and ROI. Flexibility in your budget and timeframe will enable the firm you work with to be more thoughtful and strategic in working on your project.

What type of firm? Simple service provider or strategic partner?

  • You’re going to work with a company you’ve never done business with, looking to them to help update your company’s new online presence. Trust is a huge factor before you make a decision, but you need to know what type of firm you want to work with.
  • There are a lot of companies that will be a simple service provider; you need work done, they offer that service and do it, then move on. Simple solution providers may be less expensive, but they may not give you the advice and strategy your business needs. Working with this type of vendor may be a bit quicker and save you money, but you might not get the best results for your business.
  • But there are also those firms that prefer a strong partnership and want a collaborative relationship, taking a more strategic approach while looking at your business goals at a high level to find the best solutions. This type of firm may take longer, but they will view their success by the growth of your business and the satisfaction of your users.
  • There are a lot of firms out there, but remember – you get what you pay for. If you’re looking for help with your strategy or a lot of custom solutions (design, development, digital marketing, etc.) be prepared to pay for it. It may cost a bit more, but you’ll get more in the end.

png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAAGQAAAABCAQAAACC0sM2AAAADElEQVR42mNkGCYAAAGSAAIVQ4IOAAAAAElFTkSuQmCCOnce you’re able to answer these questions, you’re prepared to start your search. After you’ve found some vendors you might want to work with, look at their portfolios and be ready to ask some questions of them:

Can they tell you about their process?

  • A good firm will have a clear process they take their customers through. This may be different from firm to firm, but there should be a clear, organized system. Keep in mind that processes can also vary from customer to customer, because all projects are a bit different, but there should be a clear foundation that they start with.

How do they approach the design and development of the site?

  • There should be some baseline strategy to understand your business, your goals, and your audience before work begins. Some of the best sites out there are rooted in a “content first” approach, where content strategy dictates the design and development of the site. Some firms do great design, but be sure to find out if they put any thought behind it besides making it look pretty.

What happens after the site launches?

  • Once the site is live, who maintains it? If you don’t have the capabilities yourself, find out if they have a support package or ongoing maintenance agreement you can purchase after the site is live. Also, make sure who owns the code after launch. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you’re unhappy with the project but stuck with the vendor because they own the rights to your site even after you pay.

How much does it cost?

  • You’ll find costs all over the board, so this goes back to understanding your budget and what you’re looking for from your vendor. Some firms have set costs for all their services and may be ideal for modest budgets while others offer custom website solutions that integrate design, digital marketing, and development to really enhance your online business efforts. These tend to be more expensive with varying prices depending on scope, but working with this type of firm will give you a unique site that will set you apart from your competition. Vendors that have custom website solutions may also give you a range rather than a fixed cost, since your needs may change as they do their strategy and analysis. Some may also recommend an approach to do a research/strategy/planning phase first in order to get a better idea of what the full project scope will look like when production begins and allow them to find better solutions for you.

Finding the right firm to work with can take a lot of research, but a little preparation will save you time, money, headaches, and will help you find the right vendor for the job. In the end, it’s all about working with a vendor you’re comfortable with, that is, one in line with your business goals and that will deliver a healthy ROI.