Web Design Agency Advice For SME’s

what, why & how you should hire an agency to design your website

Over the last ten years, I’ve been involved in every step of getting a website project from an idea to a concept, to a published product. I started in corporate sales of websites and moved along the process of eventually creating them for myself and my clients.

While building a website may seem fairly cut and dry, it’s exactly the opposite. The number of projects I have seen crash and burn over the years is astonishing. Which is why I’m excited to be writing this guide.

I’ll start with the most common pitfalls you want to avoid when selecting an agency, and leave you with some Golden Rules that when followed will set your project up for success.

Who’s this guide for? Anyone looking to hire a web design agency to build your website.

Why is choosing the right website design agency important?

Choosing the right agency is essential to the success of your project. You are making an important investment in your business, so you need to protect that by selecting an agency that can deliver the product you need. Can your business function without a website? I know that mine can’t. When hiring an agency, you are putting that power into someone else’s hands. You need to make sure the agency has your best interests in mind and that they will treat your business as if it were their own.

Always perform due diligence when hiring any digital partner, particularly with web design.

Why is having a website so important for a SME?

We live in a digital world. You need to ask yourself: would you be comfortable doing business with a company that didn’t have a website? Probably not. But why is that? It’s because websites have become the expectation. For the most part, legitimate businesses have websites. It’s that simple.

If you’re serious about growing your business, having a website will be a major asset to you. You can use it to reach new customers, answer their questions and give them the valuable and relevant content they are searching for. You can use it to advertise your business and sell your products or services online.

The way consumers shop and obtain their information has changed drastically over the last decade. Many people today will never even leave the house when making important purchases, so without an online presence, your business is instantly at a disadvantage.

Shoppers do their research and make their purchases in their own time when it’s convenient for them. They may be reading online reviews at 9 am on a Monday, but ultimately make that purchase online at 11 pm two weeks later. If you don’t give them the information they want, when they want it, you will lose that opportunity to a competitor who does.

Another thing worth mentioning here is the rise of mobile shopping. Many consumers today do everything on their smartphones or tablets and businesses who aren’t providing their customers with a positive mobile shopping experience are losing customers fast. Having a mobile-friendly site, or a responsive design (works on any screen) is an absolute must.

The main pitfalls and problems – before you hire a web design agency


The agency doesn’t invest the time in getting to know you, and your brand

This is a big one, and something you will encounter, particularly with the larger agencies. The entire point of developing a new website is to have an online storefront that is oozing with personality. It needs to capture your voice somehow and convey that to your ideal clients.

If the only “get to know you” efforts from an agency are a short questionnaire about what products you sell and what colours you like, they’re not truly getting to know you, your brand and your customers. If the agency isn’t spending the time upfront to really get you, it is unlikely they will be able to deliver a website that truly meets the needs of your customers.


The agency only ever tells you what you want to hear

Wait — what? Now, this may seem completely backwards. But the reality is that if an agency is asking you what YOU want, they’re not doing their job. For example, I love pink. Should that be the main colour on my website? Obviously not. Website design and development isn’t about our preferences, but about being in line with your brand and meeting the needs of your customers.

The end-goal should be to deliver a website that meets your objectives and gives your clients what they want. If the designer is more concerned with saying yes to you, rather than telling you what you really need to hear, you’re not going to achieve the results you were hoping for. When dealing with experts, it’s their job to tell you what you need — some people shy away from this, as they’re scared of losing your business.


The agency gives you a quote without gathering key pieces of information

In my experience, this is often the main issue that derails a website project. For an agency to provide you with a realistic time-frame and budget, there are key questions that must be answered. If you get a quote that doesn’t include the fine details, there’s a big chance it won’t be accurate.

Here are some of the questions you want to ensure they’ve asked you before providing a quote:

  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • What is the main objective of your website?
  • Will you be creating the written content, or will they?
  • What is your timeline?
  • Where will the images come from?
  • Do you need e-commerce?
  • How many email addresses do you need?
  • Who will manage the updates and maintenance?
  • Do you own the website, or do they?
  • How many revisions are included in the price?
  • Is the on-page search engine optimisation (SEO) included?
  • Is the site responsive, or mobile-friendly?

They insist on 100% upfront payment

If an agency is making these type of financial demands, run the opposite way. Once they have all your money, you’re at a huge disadvantage. They could disappear into the night, or take an entire year to deliver your first draft. The normal routine is to request 50% upfront and the remainder upon completion. You should not have to give any money before getting your quote, and they should have invested the time with you to ensure their quote is accurate and comprehensive.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the best ways to save money?

When you’re hiring an agency to design a professional website, it isn’t going to be cheap. You must be prepared to make an investment in your business, but there are certainly ways you can lower the cost. Copywriting, SEO services and images are areas where you may be able to do some of the work yourself. For example, if you are confident with your writing abilities, you may want to provide them with the written content. Or, perhaps you have a family member who is a professional photographer and would offer to create the images you need, rather than paying for them through the agency.

  • Which areas should I be aware of that take the most amount of time?

In my experience, the initial stages take the most time. Taking your website from an idea to an actual concept you can see takes a huge amount of work. To get to that first draft, you are working through the initial stages of negotiating, brainstorming, gathering information and putting all that into something tangible.

  • What should I do first to make sure I pick the right agency?

 There are two main things you need to do. Firstly, get clear on what you need out of your website. Take the time to think about the big picture, and what you need your website to achieve. This comes back to the things I have already mentioned above. You want to identify what your needs are so that you can find an agency that can meet them. Ensure the agency is credible, reliable, and secure. Do your research, ask for referrals, read reviews and make sure you see plenty of their work. If they can’t show you live and current websites they have done for other people in your industry, they may not be as established as you would like.

  • What are the main pitfalls and problems?

The main problems stem from the agency not investing the time and energy into truly understanding your business and what you need to get out of the website. They make promises without fully understanding the scope of what you need, which results in huge problems. It’s the agency’s responsibility to have the experience to know what information they need to gather, but you can protect yourself by knowing what types of things they should be asking and doing.

  • What can I do myself, if any?

This is completely subjective to your skill-set and abilities. If you’re hiring an agency, it’s often best to let them manage most, if not all, of the project. But, in some instances, you will be able to take part. For example, you may be able to handle the copywriting or image portion. It’s important to weigh the actual savings with the work involved, as this may not even make financial sense for you.

  • What are the signs that my digital partner is ripping me off?

They ask for all the money upfront, they’re missing deadlines, they’re not responding to your contact attempts or they suddenly have new and extra charges you must pay before they will proceed. You need to do your due diligence before you hand over a penny because unfortunately, this happens all the time.

Golden Rules – before you hire your perfect web design agency


It’s all in the contract

Make sure you have a contract that clearly states every single item, along with the timelines and expectations from both sides. All the things I mentioned above should be included and accounted for. Ensure there is a clause for dissolution if the agency is not meeting deadlines or delivering a suitable product.


Research the agency

Make sure you’ve seen plenty of their current and live websites and read customer testimonials. Due diligence is key here.


Let your agency understand your business from the beginning

Make sure the agency is getting to know you, your brand and your business from the very beginning. If they don’t seem to understand how important this is to the success of the project, that’s a red flag.


Be patient, it takes time

Understand that website projects take time. The agency should clearly outline the pace at which things will move along. Take that into account when waiting for revisions or the first draft.


Don’t forget about the big picture

When designing a new website, it’s easy to focus on your immediate needs only, but it’s critical you ask questions about what’s going to happen down the road. Who will manage updates and how much will that cost? What happens if the agency shuts down? How can you renew your domain?

These are all things that can become a problem further down the road, so try to anticipate what your future needs might be. Ensure there’s a plan in place to protect your site long term.