The key to a successful project is always going to be good communication. Getting on the same wavelength with the people you're working with and sharing enough information so that everyone knows what they're doing – and where they stand – is essential.
So many issues with website development all come down to bad communication along the way. But good communication shouldn't just start in the project kick-off meetings – clients and agencies should be open, honest and clear with each other right from the start of the briefing process.
There are some questions we think you should ask as early as possible in the process – because when they're answered the wrong way halfway through a project, it can really throw things off the rails. Their answers can also help you pick between a few potential candidates, too.
We'll also look at some information you should be upfront about sharing once you've started working with your chosen agency, all in the name of good communication!
Writing a brief
We go through the full process of writing a website brief in our ebook called (big surprise) How to write the perfect website brief.
For a brief (oh yes) summary, the best web briefs set out what you need from your new website. It should cover who you are and what you do, what challenges you're facing, and what services you're interested in to help solve those problems.
It should also give prospective agencies a bit more contextual information – your target audience, your competitors, and where you sit in your industry.
For a full template, you can download our guide…
What questions should you ask to help choose a digital agency?
Once you've sent out your brief and had some responses, the next challenge comes from choosing between them. You might invite the best responses to come and do a full pitch to you – but how do you work out who you want to pitch to you?
These questions aren't necessarily answered by a response to a brief, but they're still important things to know.
Can you come and see us?
Even in digital industries, nothing beats a proper sit down to discuss a project. Face-to-face meetings give you the opportunity to have more in-depth discussions, delve into details that might slip through the net in emails, run with interesting ideas, and just simply get to know each other. An agency should be willing to come and see you regularly to keep a project on track.
This isn't to say you should choose a local agency just round the corner – anyone who really wants your business will be willing to travel, so you might be missing out on the perfect match if you restrict your search to just a few miles.
But if you've found an agency who are a little less flexible about coming to see you, and don't give you access to the people actually working on the project (maybe their nearest office is full of account managers, and all the development work is done elsewhere?) then you might run into issues.
Can we see your work?
Simple one, this. Agencies are, by and large, pretty proud of what they've done, and will be pretty upfront about telling you who they've worked with.
However, don't just be dazzled by big names – if an agency claims they've worked with a company you admire, ask to see what they did for them. Check they're not talking up a small job for a subsidiary into a major project.
Similarly, if you want to see examples of a certain type of work from an agency, then don't be afraid to ask. For example, if you're briefing an ecommerce project, the webstore they built for a small business is much more useful to you than the brochure site they built for the multinational.
Do you outsource any of your services?
A lot of agencies do everything in house, and a lot don't. This isn't always a problem, but it can turn into one later on in a project if they're having an issue with a supplier – and it's a nasty surprise when you didn't even know someone else was involved.
You might be more comfortable working with someone who does everything themselves, or you might not mind – but it's best to know.
How will designs be presented?
Back in the day, web designers would usually present their designs as flat mock-ups – basically an image that shows you what the website is going to look like. It might be presented in a browser for context, so you can scroll up and down, but nothing's clickable.
Today, there are so many more tools for designing websites, and many more creative ways to present designs. It's possible to create full demo versions of the final website before it goes into build, giving you an idea of how things will load, transition and animate.
While there's nothing wrong with a flat design, a full demo gives you a much better idea of how the site will look when it's finished – and this could be the deciding factor for who you want to work with.
But presentation also has another meaning. Will the designer be emailing you a link, or sitting down with you to talk through the site? Again, it might matter to you, it might not – but if it does, you should ask.
How late in the day can we make amends?
Some agencies will include one or two rounds of design changes in their quote – so you can send it around the team, collate feedback and ask for amends, then tweak those amends to your liking once they've been made – and then charge for additional last-minute changes after that.
Some agencies will charge an additional fee for design amends made once the site has gone into development, as it means doubling up on the developer's time.
Others will do both, and others still won't do either – basically, every agency will have their own approach to design and development time, and amends. Have this conversation up front, rather than waiting for the CEO to finally check his emails and decide he doesn't like the fonts!
You've started working with a designer – what should you tell them?
So, you've made your pick – what now? There are a few things you should be ready to tell your chosen agency before the project starts, whether they ask you about it or not.
All the behind-the-scenes details
There are a number of resources you should have ready for your agency to make their lives easier. First of all, they'll need to get an idea of how your website is performing in order to make the best-possible SEO recommendations, so access to your Google Analytics account can be essential for getting the best results.
You should also provide any design assets you have available – unless you're having the agency re-do them, of course. Hi-res copies of team photos, vector files for your logo, names and files for your company fonts, and so on – anything like this that you can provide will save time, and as such keep your costs down.
What the processes will be like at your end
It's really important that your project management processes match up with the project management processes at your agency – at least to an extent. Ensuring there's one main point of contact at either end, responsible for collating and filtering messages, is a key part of any project kick-off.
You should also discuss your internal sign-off processes with your agency, too. Does the nod of approval from the main contact count as approval, or does everything need to be run past the MD too before it can move forwards? When there's conflicting requests from your brand manager and your sales manager, who has the final say? Discussing this early on can avoid problems further down the line.
You probably put your planned deadline for the new site to launch in the brief, but it's not the only deadline you'll have as part of the project.
Do you need a rebrand and designs approved by a certain date so your new print brochures can be done in time for launch? Will you want more of your team to be involved in user testing, making that part of the process a bit longer? Will you need content for a certain section earlier because the person responsible for approving it is going on holiday soon?
Each project will have multiple internal deadlines before that big launch date – discuss them as early as possible to avoid issues as they start to approach.
Need some help with your brief?
If you've not even got to this point of the process yet, and are still puzzling over the brief, then we can help – download our free guide to writing a website brief below. It goes through everything you need to include, and why, with a step-by-step template to help you put everything together. If you have any questions in the meantime, then please don't hesitate to get in touch!