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How to pick an agency

Choosing and trusting an agency to bring your digital product dreams to reality can be a minefield. Read more for our top tips on things to consider when making that decision.

Strategy

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So you’ve taken your idea for a life-changing digital product and turned it into a potential project! All of the what, where, how, when and why’s have been meticulously thought through and planned. Your dream is thisclose to coming to reality.

Well…not *quite*

There is still one last vital step that could make or break your project, and that is how to pick an agency to deliver your digital baby. In our 12+ years as a digital product agency, people are still surprised that their dream agency doesn’t instantly pop up in a Google search. A great product can go oh so wrong because the right agency wasn’t chosen to build it.

It goes beyond considering if 1) can they do the job? 2) do you like working with them? But all the nuances in-between that. What exactly are those nuances you might be asking yourself?! Don’t worry, I got your back! As Head of New Business (or New Biz as the cool kids say), it’s my job to help navigate clients through the uncharted waters of trusting and selecting the very best fit for their project.

So here are my top tips on things to consider when choosing an agency:

Have someone knowledgeable on your side

If you don’t have someone in-house that can fulfil this role, get an external consultant. This is one we strongly advise and is really SO worth it. You need someone that understands tech projects and to come up with the brief and process so you have something to validate against. Whether it’s a CTO, Digital Product Manager or you bring in a consultant to do the actual development side, that’s perfect because they are used to running tech projects and working with external agencies.

It’s a really flooded market and can be a confusing one, so investing in those skills early on is a great investment. Especially charities that haven’t done it before, the whole process is A LOT without having those skills on your end. Without that, it’s really difficult to know what you’re looking for to benchmark agencies. Because how are you going to be able to pick? 

Based on the fanciest website?!

Research! Research! Research!

Our first instinct is to run to Google to churn out answers to our every query, but you don’t want to do that here. Sure. It’s a useful resource and good starting point, but it can only get you so far. Because the top Google results are usually people that are great at SEO, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are great at building digital products.

  • Directories are a great tool to utilise and use to build a shortlist.
  • Look at their heritage. Go on their website. Look at case studies. 
  • Check out your competitors and find out who built their app/platform.
  • Word of mouth is great. 

Loads of agencies will just nod and say they can do the project. The proof is in the pudding! Make sure you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they absolutely can before you sink your money into it. It’s so easy to get confused by the market as there isn’t just a one-stop-app-shop and one price fits all model. So do all you can to arm yourself with the knowledge about the agency and what they bring to the table with their team, experience, and process to create the best possible output.

If you’re looking for experience, case studies and projects they’ve delivered on time and budget, you need to make sure that’s really clear with the agency so they can demonstrate that strongly. If you have that clear in your mind before approaching the agency it just makes the process so much slicker!

Really think about what you need from an agency? What skills you’re buying in and being really open to that and trying to see on the initial calls, sussing out whether or not that synergy is there. The question of “do you think you can work with them?” is so so important! We have such great relationships and work well with our clients because of that.

I recommend having a shortlist of 4-6 agencies at this point.

Pitch, please!

Don’t put all your eggs in the razzle-dazzle of a pitch basket. They are important to see what the agency puts into it and the snapshot you will get of your project with creatives and a process plan in place, but take it all with a grain of salt. Make sure they can back up all the showmanship. It’s easy to jazz hands and show off in a pitch with all the theatre, bells and whistles.

But, what you are embarking on is quite a complicated, difficult, technical implementation of something. You are going to be spending a lot of time working on the project, so 2 months down the line, deep in a project, you don’t want jazz hands! You want someone that clearly understands you and the problem and can show you the way out of it. Pitching is a good show of intent because the amount of effort shows how much they want to win – just make sure they can back it up! 

Transparency

There are lots of people out there that will tell you they can build your app or take on your project. That’s why we’re really transparent, we’re mission-led. We’re not doing it for anything other than impact and keep that at the heart of the process the entire time. Even in those early phases when talking to clients. 

From a client’s point of view, transparency is absolutely essential! You don’t want someone to say YES to whatever it is you want and just develop it. You want someone honest to a fault, that you know *exactly* what you are getting with them at every given moment. We’re really honest around the process and the fact that without going through our tried and tested process we can’t accurately cost your project. Whereas some agencies are quick to just win things or cost much lower. 

Transparency goes both ways! Share your budget! You’ll get pitched a Rolls Royce when you need a Volkswagon. Going on cost alone isn’t going to necessarily give you the best project. By playing your poker face with your budget you are shooting yourself in the foot. Don’t be vague about the amount you are working with, and the agency can tell you precisely what that budget will get you.

Being really transparent is really productive, as much information you can provide early on, the better! That way the agency has all the information to approach it with the best and pitch for the project which will make it easier to compare. Keeping what you want close to your vest doesn’t help you in this scenario. More is more and that way agencies can show their creativity and flair and a sense of what the client can expect when working with them.

Pushback is lyfe

If you’re looking for a technical partner to bring in the technical expertise it’s good to allow them to have some pushback because we have the experience working on similar projects and can look at it and offer insight and solutions so that the team becomes like a technical extension of the client’s team.

We push back on ideas and really champion for the very best possible solutions in order to deliver the very best app/platform that we can and we really appreciate it when clients do the same! If you go for an agency that just smiles and nods, you aren’t going to get the best result. It takes a buttload of work and friction to make a pearl, so find someone that you feel comfortable questioning your project with the aim of making it even better.

Collaboration

It really varies with client expectations. We’re set up to cater to a client that is looking for our expertise to solve their problem. Or other clients that know precisely what they want and want to bang heads about it and we welcome both types!

Those that know they have a problem they are looking to solve, that’s why our processes are in place, to help develop that through ideation and the D&D process. It’s there to support taking something from a problem statement into a defined solution and how you can deliver that. And validating that against real users and all those areas ensures that we are really building is exactly what the client and users really need!

While some clients reach out with a fully formed brief. Down to feature lists and things they think they need, and that is why the process is there to ensure that’s what they really need and stress test that so it allows for some pushback from an agency. 

Either way, collaboration is essential as it’s the best way for you to get the best build for your project and the team to know exactly how to deliver it. It’s all about making sure that the working relationship is there and the agency is working as an extension of your team!

Teamwork is the dreamwork

You don’t want a best friend, you need someone calm, considered and straight down the line. But your way of working does need to match with the agency you are working with. It’s a very collaborative relationship. So be thoughtful about more than just the first smiling sales call. How is the organisation’s culture? Is the environment harmonious? It’s a long term investment and changing your partner is a nightmare, so take the time to find the best fit right off the bat! 

Meet the team, don’t just base your decision on meeting the MD and Commercial team. Ask that a project manager and some developers are on a call. Really get a feel and vibe for how your rapport is, it’s super important as you are about to potentially spends loads of time with them – so make sure they don’t suck!

Trust the expert (that’s YOU!)

You are looking for an agency because you need help with the technical side of the project. But you are the ones living and breathing it, so you are the hands-down experts in your field. You know your audience and have that reach and knowledge. It’s the job of an agency to fully immerse themselves and set out to understand your audience in a way that you innately already do. Then when there’s that shared understanding, working with your agency is like an extension of you.

More money, more problems

This is a substantial investment you are undertaking. There should be no reason to need to throw money at a problem that arises down the road if you understand the exact work being done upfront. This goes back to being upfront about the budget but also knowing what precisely your budget is going towards. This is why our processes are in place, to protect the client. That was you are assured with exactly what you need and aren’t wasting your hard-earned money on something that isn’t quite right.

I could talk around this for ages! Please do reach out if you want to hear more or have me clarify any points, as the eternal extrovert, I love a chance to chat with anyone curious about our work! The last thought I’ll leave you with is the most important, and that is…

Keep the users at the heart of everything you do and you can’t go wrong!

Published on July 30, 2021, last updated on August 3, 2021

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