Creating a Brand Online: Choosing a Creative Agency for Your Website

A woman deep in thought

(Image by sunshinecity licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.)

Looking for an agency to design and develop your website is thought of as a stressful decision, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Just like any other investment, it helps to be informed and have a clear sense of what makes different service providers a better fit than others. Of course, it doesn’t help that the design and development process is often obscured with interminable creative-speak and technical jargon. But we’ve found that with a little effort, most people can understand what we do as designers and developers – without having to become one!

This post will give you advice on evaluating your web design and development options, and how to make the right decision for your business.

Before Hiring: See What You Can Do Yourself

As an individual or business, it’s important to use your resources effectively and make each dollar count. There are tools available to make a website such as Adobe Dreamweaver and Microsoft Expression Web, which require some training but allow even novice users to make site changes. And there are online resources like that offer tutorials on coding.

There are also website building tools such as Squarespace, Yola, Weebly, and Wix, which provide pre-made templates and visual (WYSIWYG) editing tools.

However, there are some disadvantages to this type of service. For instance, your site could be based on a generic layout that’s used by thousands of other sites, making it hard for you to stand out. It could limit you to a small number of pages. It can force you to use their web hosting service, which could mean slow page load times. And it can lock you into its platform by restricting you from exporting your site to another service or web host. You could also be held to unreasonable terms of service that could even result in your account’s termination.

To avoid some of the pitfalls of these services, you may want to use an open-source platform like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, which allow you to create a complex website that’s updatable and customizable using themes.

Again, websites built on these services are typically generic out-of-the-box, and it can take a lot of work to make changes to a theme. You may also need a developer to install plugins to enable non-standard features such as e-commerce, and even write custom code to make sure specific actions are handled correctly.

Then, beyond the technical work, a website should also be optimized to provide users with the best experience possible. For a site that merely works correctly, you can make it more welcoming and appealing to visitors by examining the user experience. Good developers are typically trained to make it easier for visitors to find the pages they want and, at the same time, be persuaded by your messages.

If you have the time and dedication to learn how to build a website, go for it!

If you don’t, concentrate on your core business, and get the experts to do it. You could wind up with more time and money in the end.

Decide What You Need

Knowing your requirements is essential. If you want to get online quickly, try to divide requirements into two or more phases. For instance, a clothing store may want to have a website with store information to start out with, then open an online storefront in the second phase, then finally roll out a blog in the third phase.

These requirements should drive your decision-making process. And when it comes to choosing a developer, it’s often best to choose one that can handle every stage of the process because it can often cost time and money for a new developer to find out and assess what came before – and that’s all prior to even starting development.

Do an Online Search (But Don’t Stop There!)

A quick online search can help you get a sense of what web design and development companies are out there, and what sort of work they do. But don’t always go with the first result that pops up.

When you visit company sites, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How long have they been in the industry? Each project presents new challenges, experience is valuable asset.
  • What types of projects are in their portfolio? If you’re looking for a complicated e-commerce site, for instance, it’s helpful to see if your developer has done something similar before.
  • Are you impressed with their websites? Look for design and functionality that you like. Variety will show you that the developer is willing to approach each project with unique aesthetics and goals, and not just recreate the same site for different clients without giving thought to how it’s different.
  • What sorts of clients do they work with? Whether it’s artists, musicians, non-profits, small businesses, blue-chip firms, or another category, you can get a sense of what types of clients they usually deal with.
  • What are customers saying? Look for testimonials from clients, who will describe their experiences. To avoid getting only positive reviews, seek out reviews on sites like Yelp, Google Plus, and to get a more complete picture.

An online search, however, isn’t always the best way to find out how it’s actually like to work with a particular agency.

Ask People You Know (and sort of know) for Referrals

If a colleague or friend has had a website built that you like, find out who designed it. Better yet, reach out to an online network such as Facebook or Twitter, and ask for recommendations from your virtual community. As we’ve written before, social media is a powerful way to find reputable businesses.

By chatting with people who’ve been through the process, you’ll be able to get a sense of what it’s like to work with the agency, if they communicated well, met deadlines, kept to budget, and were amenable to comments and suggestions.

Contact Agencies You’re Interested In

It’s important to have a meeting or at least a phone call with the web agencies you’re considering. This way, you can find out more about their process, capabilities, and pricing, as well as get a sense of the personalities of the people you’ll be in contact with. It’s also very important to ask them about their availability since many agencies have to book jobs weeks or months in advanced because of existing work commitments.

Trust Yourself and Your Decision

It’s important to know if the design and development agency you’re trusting to has the talent and the time necessary to complete your project by your deadline. If you’re unsure about any aspect of the project or have doubts, your agency should be able to provide the assurance you need. The right agency should make you confident you’re making the right decision.