If your business already has brick-and-mortar retail or wholesale operations, then you’ve undoubtedly experienced hiring vendors for various needs. Hiring a web design firm or internet marketing agency is not all that different from hiring an IT company or other specialists that focus on ERP, accounting, point of sale, or similar software systems. For web firms, there are some key points that you’ll want to keep in mind:
Some agencies can assist with informational websites, and others specialize in more complex builds, such as for eCommerce needs. This is similar to the difference between a residential contractor, and a commercial contractor. Additionally, some firms offer services to drive targeted traffic to your website through various internet marketing campaigns, ranging from Google Shopping and Facebook ads to organic SEO, and more. Most internet marketing is highly traceable and optimizable, giving you opportunities to test and measure and build campaigns that drive a positive return on investment. You’ll want to learn about the in-house staffing of the agency that you’re considering hiring, and what services they’ll be able to provide to you.
While some of the work that you request may be very custom, and specific to your business needs, you’ll want to avoid being “guinea pigs” overall. Ideally, you’ll want to identify a team with specific and relevant experience in terms of providing similar and relevant deliverables for other clients. This doesn’t mean that they need to know the in’s and out’s of your business operations when you hire them – every business is different, and you’ll want them to learn more about yours firsthand, as opposed to making assumptions from previous experiences. However, if you want a website built or maintained with specific content management or eCommerce platform, want specific marketing campaigns, or want to utilize specific vendors, such as to integrate your ERP, you’ll want an agency that is experienced with providing these services for other clients.
Staffing & Ability to Meet Your Long Term Needs
When hiring a vendor, you, of course, want to plan for stability in the relationship, as well as with the deliverables that you’ll be receiving. This means choosing a vendor that you can grow with, that has the right long-term capabilities and expertise to meet your evolving needs. You’ll also want to understand who will be working on your project, and what will happen if those people become unavailable. Are there others in the team that tasks will get reassigned to? At the same time, will there be a general chain-of-custody otherwise keeping the same people working on your project? You can even ask if the agency has been hiring to handle increased demand to learn about their recent history, and short-term projections.
Contacts & Flow of Information
In some cases, you’ll find a local agency that you can sit within your area, but a large percentage of businesses will choose agencies that are more remote. Either way, it’s good to learn about communication style and expectations. Whether you’re relying on conference calls, screen sharing, or video conferences, there are lots of ways to effectively and personably communicate.
Some firms will provide an account manager and/or a project manager to help manage communications and tasks. Even with those professionals managing your account, you may still work directly with designers and other team members for a more personal touch. Since hiring an outside agency is different than having an employee (or employees) at your location, it’s good to understand how you’ll reach these people, and how often they will be in touch.
Ease of Access
While it may not be an issue to work with a team in a different time zone, if you’re working with an overseas team, and have to wait a day for a response to every inquiry and request, it may hamper your efforts. On the same note, if tasks are handed off to other offices, you’ll want to know how that affects you, and if the other offices or teams are as well versed in your business and your project. Round-the-clock service can sound good, but in many cases, you may be better waiting for your primary points of contact to be able to assist.
Pricing & Billing Terms
Different firms offer distinct pricing and billing terms. It’s important to look at the total estimate, and make sure that the deliverables and terms are satisfactory, and that the length of the agreement makes sense. Keep in mind that some services, like ongoing website upgrades and improvements, may be based upon your usage. If some services are billed as hourly labor, be sure to understand what gets billed. Some agencies only charge for production time, while others charge additionally for internal management time. Yet still, some are pay-to-play, and the only charge for actual work, while others require monthly fees or other monies regardless of your needs at any particular time.
Timelines & Turnarounds
When hiring a third party, you’ll need to work with their production line and queue. I like to tell prospective customers that if they walked into a doctor’s office and found no one in the waiting room, they probably wouldn’t consider it a successful or in-demand medical practice. A long-term agency is similar. While a firm can do their best to address some types of true emergencies, overall, they need to keep to their schedule as best as possible. While time estimates can be provided, for highly custom work, especially when additional vendors are involved these are only best guesses. Sometimes something comes up in an alpha or beta release that requires further adjustment before being made available to the general public. Similarly, things can only move as fast as your team, and any others involved can keep up.
These are some of the major topics that we suggest looking at when interviewing potential firms to help with your website and internet marketing needs. For the best results, be sure to ask about their concerns and advice as well. You may gain significant insight. Most agencies would rather lay things out on the first or second date before you get too serious. Firms want to onboard clients that will be happy, and interestingly enough are often, to varying extents, interviewing you while you’re interviewing them. If they’re not a match, many teams will be quick to identify the sticking points.
Robert Rand – Guest Blogger – Vice President of Operations at Rand Internet Marketing
Educated at NYU Poly, Robert has managed the development and marketing of hundreds of websites. He helps clients take their businesses to the next level by employing best practices while staying at the forefront of our industry. From technical issues to traditional marketing efforts, Robert takes pride in providing clients with services that will make a difference in their bottom lines.