Define what you want and need
In order to find the right agency, you need to have a clear idea what you want them to do, whether that be act as a long term partner covering many areas or a specific project in a defined area of expertise. This is really important because it defines what sort of agency you need and for what purpose. It is no good hiring a PR agency and expecting them to solely produce a very technical website for you, sure they might be able to project manage it but chances are they will most likely outsource the work to someone else and charge you more for that management fee. Choose your agency based on the exact skills they offer which suit your business needs.
Write a clear brief which has had internal sign-off and a budget
Once you have defined your project, your business needs and expectations, it is a great idea to write a detailed brief or tender detailing your problem and future aims, this will help the agency to provide a creative solution for you. Taking a website development project for example, by writing a brief which details your goals and objectives, timescales, budget, important contextual information about the current website and the team that runs it, key deliverables which need to be met and any software or technical requirements which will impact the creation of a website really helps the agency to get to know your project and most importantly quote you more accurately for the work. It also helps you to define whether the agency fits your needs, are they specialists in the particular CMS you use? Have they got experience in your industry and sector?
Research is key
Before you even approach an agency, ensure you have a thorough look around, ask trusted people for recommendations and ask about their experiences with different agencies. Check out the agency’s website, social profiles, participation in events, and find out how experienced their people are. Don’t worry, although this feels all a bit stalker-ish, this is simply to understand whether they truly feel like a match for your business. Alongside this, with this background research, it enables you to move quickly past a glossy pitch and ask them real questions.
Now you have done your research you have likely stumbled across who they have worked with and hopefully some good case studies detailing what they did on a few of their projects. The key here is to not just get won over by awards, big brands or a flashy website. These things do not always add up to the agency who is the best or even right for you. Really look at the case studies, was the project similar to yours, do they have actual experience with the specific requirements you have? Do the team behind it have the skillset you need? How long have they been in the industry? Have they got experience in your industry?
It is important to ask many, many, many questions. Do not be afraid to ask ‘silly’ questions, no question is silly and if you get a response that makes you feel it is, they are perhaps not the best agency to work with.
Some useful questions to ask:
- How big is your team?
- What are you specialists in?
- Do you have experience in (insert your industry or problem here)?
- Do you do all of the work in-house or outsource any?
- What is your biggest success to date?
- What is your biggest failure?
- How do you approach a project?
- Who will be working on my account?
Everyone has a budget to stick to, the important thing here is to be realistic about what you want for your money and see how transparent those agencies are with indicating a cost to you. In any instance, it is very hard for an agency to quote 100% accurately during the early stages as there are many unknowns within a project. However, they should be able to give you an indicative cost based on the information they do know, and if you have supplied a good enough brief, this will help a lot.
Be wary of an agency promising you the world (especially if you do not have a budget to match) and likewise have an idea roughly of how big the project really is, because you also do not want to be hugely overcharged for a small project. In my experience, it was the agencies who were very honest upfront, who explained their day rate, how they worked and how long it would most likely take that I trusted. I did not want to be sold a dream, I needed a clear, realistic view of whether my budget would get me the many, many things I always wanted when I started a project. It also helps to manage expectations internally and not receive a nasty shock of a whopping invoice or incomplete project further down the line.
Finally, and probably one of the most important ones, do you like these people? Do they come across as trustworthy, good people that will get the job done? They don’t have to be someone you would be best friends with. But you do need to have a basic level of being able to work well with these people. If your initial instincts aren’t good, then realistically your ability to build a strong and valuable relationship with this agency is already starting on the wrong foot. Look at these people as an extension to your current team, because that is how you are going to have to work. If you wouldn’t want to deal with them regularly, it doesn’t matter how much of an expert they are, you are not going to have an enjoyable experience. And it should be a good experience, because an agency should make your life easier, make you look better at your job and help progress your business goals.