How to find a great web development agency (Pt. 1)


December 22, 2023

Not all agencies are made alike.

What is your project worth to you and how much should you pay for it?

We talk to dozens of people a month who are looking for new digital properties to help build their business or organization. Some need marketing tools, others need applications to engage their target audience, or workflow solutions to make their business more efficient and profitable. Based on the conversations I often have, I thought I’d offer some suggestions about how you can find the right developer to work with.

Before you start Googling around, or make your first phone call, you need to answer a few questions for yourself.

Too often, I get calls from people calling around to find the best price for their web project. But they seem to have little understanding of the different types of value that different firms might bring to that project, or the value that the project itself might have to their business. A little preparation can help you with a clear budgeting strategy for your project.

Define the business goals for your development project. If your new marketing website or application is successful, how would it improve your business’s revenue? For example: Would a modern new marketing website increase your sales conversions by 15% over the next three years? Would an application to help your fulfillment center track orders increase your efficiency by 20%? Or reduce the amount of time and labor spent on sales fulfillment? If you know the tangible goals you hope to achieve with your development project, the firms you contact will be able to make suggestions on how to achieve them. And you’ll have a better idea of what the project is worth to you, from a financial standpoint.

Calculate the dollar value of your project to your business. If your new project helps you achieve your business goals, how much would it be worth to your businesses in actual dollars over the next 3 years?

Determine the price you’d be willing to pay for the project. Based on the value the project has to your business, what would you be willing to pay for it? For example: if you project that a new eCommerce site will help you grow sales by $50,000 per year, that’s a $150,000 over the next three years. You may determine it’s worth investing $40,000 to build the new site, in order to see $110,000 worth of growth. Whatever number you come up with is your budget “ceiling”. You can now try to find the development team that will bring you the most value within your budget.

Create a detailed list of your needs. If you have an idea of what your challenges are and how to resolve them, create a list of the type of features and functionality you think your project requires. This can be a list on the back of a napkin or a more detailed Request for Proposal. The types of features that developers will need to know can range from the simple (3rd party newsletter platform integration, a contact form, an image slider) to the more sophisticated (a sales portal, any custom programming, eCommerce, integrations with a CRM like Salesforce). It will also be helpful if you can create a site map, listing all of the pages you foresee wanting on the website. What kind of information does your target audience want to know about you and your products and services? What’s most likely to engage them, and help you succeed in your sales process? What’s the most powerful way to communicate this information to your audience? Video? Infographics? Text?

The more you know about what you want, the better the firms you contact will be able to provide you with a fast and accurate quote for what you need.

Once you’ve completed the above, you’ll be ready to start looking for your development partner.

How to get the best product for your budget

Once you’ve answered some key questions for yourself, it’s time to begin calling around. During these initial calls, you’ll begin to gather clues to find the best development partner for your project. Keep in mind, that you’re looking for somebody who can help you reach your business goals while staying within your budget.

Of course, we mainly serve Phoenix and Scottsdale. A lot of business owners and marketing execs prefer to work with local companies and have plenty of in-person communication, especially when they’re making an expensive marketing investment. Whatever city your business is in, explore the local options and see if there’s somebody there who can help you. If you find that the quality isn’t there, you might reach out across state lines.

Wondering who to call first? 1. Ask your colleagues if they’ve worked with any teams that have given them good results. 2. Check your contacts on Linked In, to see if they’re connected to any digital agencies they can refer you to. 3. Do a Google search to find what firms show up in the organic search results. (If they’re good at SEO, that may be a sign they know their stuff.)

Look at the websites of about 10 development firms. Make a list of them and closely examine their work. How do you like their company website? Visit the actual URLs of their clients, so you can see their work live (rather than just dressed-up screenshots on their website). Of the 10 firms you examine, give them each your personal 1-5 star rating in the three following categories:

The quality of their design. Is it contemporary, engaging and easy to use?

The programming: do they have examples of programming the specific kinds of features and functionality you need?

Marketing knowledge: Do the sites they build convey a strong sense of brand and professionalism? Is there a consistent tone and brand messaging?

Hopefully, once you’ve completed your star ratings, you’ll have 4-5 firms that stand out as the strongest. If you don’t, keep looking until you have at least three to request proposals from.

Initial Conversations

Once you’ve decided on your top web company candidates, pick up the phone and call them. As you complete your sales consultations with these firms and review their subsequent proposals, keep a list of any red flags you notice along the way. Even small things can start to add up and show you which firms may be more reliable or professional. The signals you get may foreshadow what might happen down the road when they’re working on your project. Below, I’ll point out a few red flags to look out for as you go.

First contact:  During these early calls, pay attention to the kinds of questions the representatives from these firms ask. Do they attempt to understand your business or organization and the specific goals you need to achieve with your new project? Do they dig into the problems of your existing website and digital strategy to figure out what challenges you’re having? Ideally, they will ask you a lot of questions before they attempt to sell you something. They should be learning as much as they can about you and your organization so they can begin to formulate solutions for you. If they start to sell you on a package or a type of platform too quickly, pay attention. They may not have the capabilities or flexibility to offer what’s best for you. They may offer the same solution to everybody who calls and it may not be what you need. If you can find a team that works with multiple programming languages and on multiple CMS platforms and can show they are experienced marketing strategists, they will have more flexibility and expertise to give you the best solution for your needs, rather than just the solution they’re familiar with.

Red Flags to look for: When you first contact the firm, do they respond within a day or two, or do they require repeat calls from you? Make note of this. You’ll begin to get an idea of how well each specific company is managed. Do they have the capacity to call back prospective customers and answer questions? Or are they too busy to do so? Sales is the lifeblood of any business. If a company you’re calling doesn’t have the resources to prioritize it, they may be in over their heads on their current projects. They may be a small team of a few people who are doing everything at the company and lack the infrastructure and manpower to provide a decent customer experience. I bring this up because too often, I hear the stories from people who suddenly can’t get ahold of their developer for weeks on end, once their project is underway.

Alright, that’s enough for one sitting! When you’re ready to read more, check out Part 2!

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