Before You Hire: How to Vet a Web Development Agency
These days, every competitive company is also a tech company with how vital websites, eCommerce, integrations, and data platforms have become.
Web development agencies can offer the means to seize the opportunities the digital world has to offer.
However, finding a great web developer is a challenge with the sheer number of options available. And many businesses simply don’t know how to spot what makes an agency a bad choice for them.
The web development team you hire could make or break your web development project.
With all this in mind, we created this detailed guide to help you vet a web development agency.
Any web development agency worth their salt will gladly show you their portfolio of past work.
As you look through these materials, keep your own project requirements in mind and ask for examples that match the work you want to be done.
A portfolio review should help you better understand their skill sets and overall fit for your company. Some great questions to ask during a portfolio review include:
- Can you show me an example of a project similar to mine?
- Can you share with me your project management approach?
- Do you assign team members to our account?
- Can I review the resumes and qualifications of those working on our account?
- Do you have a list of team certifications or awards?
- Can you show before and after pictures of a project like mine?
- Do you have an example planning doc or architecture worksheet?
- What role did your team play in completing this project?
You can continue to ask clarifying questions and do your due diligence, but don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel that the web development agency can’t meet all of your needs.
If the agency’s past work does not inspire confidence or seem to match what you are looking for, then it’s time to move on to the next option.
When seeking out web development services, it is important that an agency is familiar with or already uses the tech stack compatible with your project needs.
Start by making a list of all of the components you have that will need to be supported. This can include databases, SaaS tools, CRM, ERP, mobile applications, website CMS, web hosting, and security protocols.
Then ask the potential web development agency to verify that they have team members who are fluent in these technologies. Many agencies will have team members specializing in certain areas of expertise, be it API, database, UI/UX, or even QA.
It’s also a great idea to ask if the agency has more than one employee who can address each technical area of your project. This way, you won’t run into delays if one person is out for an extended period of time.
You do not have to completely understand these inner workings. What you must be able to do instead is explain or demonstrate what you are trying to achieve in plain language.
An agency should be able to break down the tech stack or services you’ll need to bring your idea to life. You can also ask further questions about what they use to do some research yourself later.
A web development agency may also recommend new technology to achieve your goals. In this case, ask questions about the setup, launch, and maintenance costs so there are no surprises. They should be able to quickly explain the benefits of their preferred tech stack.
Testimonials and Referrals
Don’t take their word for it. Ask for customer testimonials and references.
This way, you can spend some time with someone who has already worked with the agency you’re thinking of choosing.
You may also be able to see their past clients online and reach out to them directly via platforms like LinkedIn. Professionals are almost always willing to share their experiences and help others.
You should also check the agency’s social media profiles on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook. Former clients may leave feedback or engage with the agency on these sites. While this can feel like a hassle, the time is definitely worth it.
Reviews on search engines like Google are a good alternative. Don’t just look at the average rating. Dive in and read a large percentage of the reviews. Look for any patterns or trends in the low scores.
For instance, let’s say that a particular company has an overall rating of 4.5 stars on Google, but they have ten 1-star reviews. If all of the low reviews were from eCommerce businesses - and you operate an online store - then that agency is likely not a good match for your company.
When you are in the market for web development services, going with the lowest bidder is almost always the worst mistake you can make.
This presents a dilemma for most businesses since web development tends to be among one of the most costly investments you can make in your company. However, this is one of those areas where subpar pay usually translates to subpar work.
Agencies that cut costs have to compromise on quality. Consider that many agencies run on an hourly project basis, even if you are charged a flat project rate.
The less you pay, the less time they may dedicate to your account overall. This can result in project delays or cutting corners that leave you with inefficient processes or a lengthy change list. And if those changes aren’t in your initial project terms, you’ll pay more overall.
Instead, look for the best combination of talent, fit, and value. Remember, your web development project is most likely an essential part of your business model.
Whether you’re revamping a website or adding a new application to the mix, partnering with an agency based on price alone may seriously hurt your company in the long run.
In-House Web Devs
Another feature to look for in an agency is one with full-time, in-house web developers. Some agencies rely heavily on freelancers or staffing agencies to outsource work.
While many freelance and third-party developers are quite talented, you’re likely to run into issues relying on them in an agency setting.
A major concern here is consistency. Freelancers or unstaffed work are only paid for a particular project (or portion of one). They are not invested in the long-term success of the agency that hired them, much less your own company.
What’s more, freelancers or contractors are often a source of high turnover. You could be quite happy with the progress of your web design, for example, only to have that person leave and the project taken over by a less qualified or uncommunicative specialist. This will cause delays, frustrations, and inefficiencies for everyone involved.
An added benefit of agencies made up of in-house web developers is that these companies tend to invest heavily in training and management to outperform their competition.
When you are vetting web development agencies, specifically ask if they use freelancers or in-house staff for projects - from developers right down to your dedicated account manager. Anything other than a direct answer is a bad sign.
To facilitate a smooth development process, everyone aligned with your account should also align with your company’s core values and culture. Otherwise, they can cause friction with your employees and project managers, which may diminish the overall experience.
What does cultural fit actually look like? Consider project management as an example. If your management team expects detailed daily updates but the agency tends to work in two-week sprints behind closed doors, that lack of transparency won’t be a fit.
Similarly, if you prefer to be involved with planning, design, or architecture feedback along the way while their teams prefer to work in silos and present near-finished work, you may find yourself frustrated (or worse - with a project that doesn’t meet your needs).
With any web development project, strong technical abilities are absolutely critical. But so are soft skills such as communication and collaboration. Poor communication can derail a web development project just as quickly as a lack of technical ability.
Soft skills are a bit harder to identify, but less so if you know what to look for. As you ask about the agency’s approach to things like project management, organization, and even team structure, you can start to pick up on details.
Watch for signs that can indicate their teamwork, time management, and problem-solving skills. You can also ask direct questions about these such as how they handle when a project falls behind schedule.
Don’t be shy about asking to meet more than just an account manager before you get started. If you have an initial chat with developers, designers, or data architects and notice a lack of soft skills during these conversations, then you will likely experience issues once your project is underway.
If you are in the market for a web development agency, then you might not have all the knowledge necessary to vet the hard skills needed to get your project across the finish line.
That doesn’t mean you should skip confirming their credentials or expertise.
Consider asking another web developer to help you vet the agency from a technical perspective. This can help you avoid the hidden pitfalls that someone in the field can spot rather quickly.
This person can be anyone from another division of your company to someone you have worked with previously and trust their judgment.
Choosing the Right Web Development Agency for Your Project
Your quest to identify a web development agency that’s qualified and compatible with your specific project goals may be daunting.
Start off on the right foot by defining your internal goals and presenting them to candidate agencies. From there, be thorough as you ask questions and check references. Call in technical reinforcements to confirm that the people on your project will be able to get the job done right.
Remember not to prioritize lower rates over higher quality. You’re looking for a partner that has the in-house team, soft skills, and track record you need for a successful project. Paying a little more may cost upfront, but being overly frugal could cost more later on in rework and missed deadlines.
Or you can remove the guesswork completely by reaching out to Thinklogic. Armed with over two decades of experience, our company has successfully completed hundreds of projects for organizations of all sizes.
Yours can be next. So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch with our team today for a free consultation.
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