Choosing the right agency to build your website

Look at these six factors to compare agencies and find the best one

6-minute read

Every business needs an online presence, but not every business has the time and resources it takes to build a professional website themselves.

So how do you find the right digital agency to help build your website?

BDC Business Advisor Philippe Desjardins says it’s about finding people who understand your business, are pleasant to work with, have adequate technical skills and can fit your marketing budget.

“The fact is, a website is a collaborative effort,” Desjardins says. “You have to be prepared to work with your agency. They’re the digital experts but you’re the expert on your business, and you need both perspectives to make your site as good as it can be.”

Here are the six key factors Desjardins says you can evaluate when choosing an agency partner.

1. Do they take the time to understand your industry and your website?

Hiring an agency to work with you is like hiring a new colleague. It’s important that they understand your company, your culture and the industry in which you work.

“There are a ton of Web agencies out there,” says Desjardins. “You need to find one that genuinely cares about your end results. That can only be achieved by taking the time to gain a deeper understanding of your business and industry.”

Throughout the selection process, your potential agency partner should be asking as many if not more questions than you to understand your challenges and be able to offer the right solutions.

2. Do they have the right technical skills?

Make sure the agency has the creative and technical ability to give you the website you want.

Every agency should be able to build a simple site with little to no functionality. But finding an agency that can build advanced requirements can be more difficult. Not every web company can set up your website to process orders online or integrate your site with your customer relationship management (CRM) system. That kind of functionality requires special knowledge of your site’s back-end systems.

“Do research to understand what every company can do and talk to other entrepreneurs or customers about who they recommend,” says Desjardins.

3. Will their business model meet your needs?

Different agencies have different ways of working. Some have local teams and offices, others are virtual agencies with freelance personnel distributed across the city or even across the country.

“A virtual agency may have low overhead and cheaper fees,” says Desjardins, “but if your project is complex and requires careful project management, you may want to work with a team you can meet with face to face, and where everyone is under the same roof.”

If your project is complex or changes over time, you’ll want to make sure the firm you choose has handled something like that before. If you have employees who understand a lot about building websites, they can help keep the project on track. But if you and your staff lack this knowledge or don’t have the time to devote to project management, you’ll need more from the agency you choose.

4. Do they have experience in your sector?

It’s more important for an agency to be expert at what it does—building websites—than at what you do. But an agency that has worked in your space will get up to speed faster and be able to make better decisions about reaching your audiences and meeting your business goals.

"Be sure to talk to someone at the agency yourself to get a sense of how they can help you. The first and most important rule is to ask lots of questions."

Philippe Desjardins
Business Advisor

5. Does their fee structure work for you?

Some companies charge hourly rates, some quote fixed fees for defined scopes of work. Some require deposits up-front, or installment payments, and many will have provisions to cover cost overruns if the project gets bigger.

“When helping clients choose an agency, we prefer fixed pricing,” says Desjardins. “It’s easy to budget against and there are no surprises. But with complex projects, that’s not always possible—it can be a disadvantage to the agency—so you want to come up with an arrangement that’s fair for everyone.”

Desjardins says that in some cases fixed pricing can actually hinder changes to the project scope once it has started. He also recommends you include an allowance of a few hundred dollars a month for ongoing maintenance when you’re budgeting to build your website.

“The web is a dynamic, constantly evolving thing,” he says. “Your site isn’t ‘done’ just because it’s gone live. Most sites today are built with plug-ins that need updating for functionality and security, and you’ll want to fine tune as you look at your usage stats.”

“A lot of business owners think $15,000 is too much to pay for a website, but it’s well worth it. Your website is the foundation for all your digital marketing. It will generate leads, build sales, create customer loyalty—in short, it will make you money.”

6. How much time will you have to put in?

Some entrepreneurs hire a web agency because they don’t have time to build a site for themselves—and get frustrated when the agency then needs them to provide input into functionality or design as well as content for pages.

It’s important to understand that no matter who you choose, you’ll always have to give them time and content.

Ideally, you’ll have someone on your team who can work with the agency throughout the development process to get them what they need.

An agency evaluation checklist

Use the table below to evaluate a potential agency partner or to compare one agency to another so you can make a choice for your business. In this example, we use a scale of 1 to 4 to rank each factor. Evaluate each agency you’re considering and add up the total points. Then compare the cost estimates you get from each agency. The agency with a high rating and reasonable price is probably your best choice.

ABC Inc. agency rating table

Name of agency: _________________________

Selection factors Rating
Technical skills  
Project management experience  
Sector experience  
Business model  
Pricing structure  
Fit with your business (easy to work with?)  
Ability to work independently  
Estimated fee  
Total $

See the complete version of the tool.

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