As the CEO of a digital agency, I have talked with hundreds of potential clients who have been badly burned in their experiences with other agencies. More often than not, it's my team’s job to clean up someone else’s mess.
Nowadays anyone can launch a website and pass themselves off as an agency. There's no degree or certification required to call yourself a web designer, an online marketer, a social media guru or a search engine optimization expert.
So if you don't know the right questions to ask and how to compare agencies, you run the risk of becoming another unhappy customer. Here are five guidelines that will help you in picking the right firm for your web design and online marketing needs.
1. Visit the agency. This may seem obvious, but I know of many people who have hired an agency after just looking at their website and calling them on the phone. This is insanity! Make a point of visiting the company. You will immediately get a feel for their professionalism, their expertise and the scope of their business. If the office is humming with productivity and client meetings, that’s a positive sign. If, on the other hand, you end up at someone’s apartment and all they have is a laptop and a printer, it shows they probably can't handle a significant project.
2. Don’t fixate on price. A website can cost you $1,000 or $1 million. The question shouldn’t be “how much am I going to pay?” The question should be “what results can I expect for my digital investment?” I’ve lost plenty of clients because someone underbid me. A lot of those clients came back to me a year later after wasting their time and money with a cut-rate operation. Let’s say you spend $1,000 a month on online marketing for six months. With a lousy marketer, you’ve not only lost $6,000, but you’ve squandered the time. If the same company invested $10,000 up front for a well strategized and executed marketing plan, the investment could have paid off ten-fold.
3. Don’t rely on references. Agencies will only provide their positive references. The web offers you the tools to do more in-depth research on the company and the people you’ll be dealing with. Look for articles mentioning the company or its executives. Find out if there are people talking about the company in social media. These days, you don’t need a private investigator to do a pretty thorough background check.
4. Is the company recognized as an industry leader? Every agency you go to will tell you that they are the best. That's just meaningless self-promotion. What is meaningful is the recognition of the company from its industry peers. Has the company won awards? Have the top people in the company been quoted in major media outlets? Do the executives speak at industry events? The answers to those questions will tell you more about whom you're hiring.
5. Examine their portfolio. Nothing tells you more about a digital agency than the body of work they’ve produced. If there are only a handful of projects displayed, this should raise a red flag. If there’s nothing that conveys the look and feel you want for your site, beware. Even better than just checking out a portfolio, ask for case studies. These will not only give you insight into the work they produce, but will also show how they approach and execute projects.
The time, effort and money you put into your digital project can either help take your business to the next level, or lead to lost opportunities and possibly damage to your brand’s reputation. The agency you select can be the most important decision you ever make for your business. Choose wisely!
Who designed your business website? Were you satisfied with the results?
OPEN Cardmember Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a results-driven Web design and online marketing company based in Manhattan.
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