Choosing the right digital partner

September 3, 2017

When building a responsive website or mobile application, there are several different options you have when deciding on how to bring your idea to life.

You can….

1. Do it yourself

2. Hire an Agency

3. Insource

4. Outsource

Most decisions in application and website design come down to the economics of development, both long and short term. It is almost always cheaper to outsource your project than to hire your own team or do it yourself. Having your own team (insourcing) is undoubtedly the best approach, but your chances of finding talented people who aren’t already employed, or fit in your budget, are extremely slim.

Doing it yourself is an option, but only if you possess the talent or time to learn and do everything required to build your application or website.

So that leaves you with two options to consider… outsourcing or hiring an agency. You might be asking yourself, what is the difference between outsourcing and hiring an agency?

Conceptually, they are the same idea. However, in terms of execution, strategy and support, they are vastly different depending on where you go and whom you talk with.

In the context that we are examining today, outsourcing would be defined as hiring a freelancer, or an individual who does not do this type of work full time, but has the skills and time to work on your project part time.

Generally speaking, in these types of outsourcing scenarios the freelancer will work on your project for a specific amount of time and will do the work based on the “scope” of a project, which can differ from the needs of the project (more on that later).

When looking to outsource to an individual, you have to ask yourself… if he/she is so talented in the first place, how come they are not doing this full time or working on their own applications?

This is a very important question because designing a website or developing an app is almost never a short-term project. The initial build out might be able to be go through design and development in a few weeks/months, but in the technology world, things are always changing and your website or app will absolutely need ongoing maintenance to stay relevant.

So having a development team who is constantly “in the know” and available to work on your project is crucial to long-term success. If the person who is working on your project is infrequently developing or only working on a few projects at a time, it’s just inevitable that they will fall out of touch with best practices and development standards.

More importantly, if they are a project-based or independent developer, what happens when you need to make a modification, add on a feature or need server maintenance? Well, they may not be available when you need them to be and your website or app are royal screwed until they have time to work on it again.

Nothing is more frustrating than getting your website or app live to the point where you are able to start acquiring users and customers, only to have some feature break or need a new one to be built and then not be able to because your developer isn’t available to you.

These situations can be avoided by choosing the right design agency

Under these circumstances, with the known issues and unreliability of freelancers and individual developers, most companies and brands who outsource design and development work, entrust their projects to an established creative studio or digital design agency. One that has a track record of delivering on time, and to satisfaction while also providing the required infrastructure for long-term success and support.

Which creative agency?

There is no dearth of creative agencies, especially in New York City. And what worked for another may not always work for you.

Here are some pointers to help you narrow it down.

Age/experience:

Because mobile apps are a fairly new concept (they came into being only after smartphones started proliferating among the population), almost all mobile app development companies are fairly new. Even websites sprang up only after the Internet penetrated homes and offices worldwide, so digital design agencies are also bound to be only a few years old. In such a scenario, how you differentiate the good ones from the bad ones is by looking at the ages and experience of the key personnel associated with the firm. Do they have the necessary design skills / portfolio to accomplish what you need to spearhead your project?

Clients:

If they have clients who are in the same field as yours, that is a bonus (as long as it’s not a direct competitor) – it shows that they have some knowledge of the industry that you are in. If they have worked with major companies, that is another plus – these big players would entrust their work only to someone they investigated thoroughly and were sure could deliver.

Location:

There will undoubtedly be a lot of meetings involved, so it is better to choose one located in an area you can travel to easily.

Quality of work:

This is most important. Imagine yourself as a user and check out their website designs or the mobile apps they have developed. Do they appeal to you? If not, you know better than to proceed or expect something different for your project.

Pricing:

Look at whether they offer a standard contract, and how much it costs. Read the wording carefully. Check if they would be willing to negotiate by doing away with the things you don’t need, adding what you require, and still give you a fair deal. A digital design agency who wants the contract to work for them and not for you is best avoided. Ideally, you need to partner with someone who can make the contract work for both parties – a ‘win-win’ scenario, as opposed to a ‘win-lose’ strategy.

Awards:

These are the ultimate symbol of recognition for any creative agency. Winning an award means that what they do has the approval of other experts in the same field. Peer recognition is the highest form of human appreciation there is.

Interaction:

How exactly do they talk to you when you approach them? Do they use a lot of technical jargon to make themselves appear knowledgeable or do they come down to your level, explaining everything in everyday language? The latter is the kind of people you should be working with because you don’t want them to stall your efforts later by raising ‘technical’ objections.

“The Java framework that we are using cannot support this feature on the Apache web server”

There is also another thing you need to be looking at – during the course of your interaction with them, do they suggest better ways of accomplishing something you had in mind? This is also where the age/experience factor comes into the equation. Somebody who can help you grow and doesn’t just “always say yes” is the right creative agency you need.

When you talk to them, ask probing questions.

  • What kind of team structure will be in place for the project?
  • What are the roles of the team members?
  • What kind of experience do they have?
  • Who reports to whom?
  • Who will be the liaison with your own company, and what is his/her role in the structure?
  • Is it one where others will listen to him/her

Agree on the measurable KPIs or Key Performance Indicators:

This way, you know what milestones can be achieved, and by when. On this topic, get a commitment on how frequently they can report to you regarding the progress of the project. The project reports also need be in writing, not verbal.

Check what their clients have to say about them:

If they cannot provide any references, or can furnish you only with a few, that means most of their clients, irrespective of how impressive the work might appear to you, are unhappy. You don’t want a great-looking website design or mobile design that gets you fewer visitors than your earlier one.

Visit their offices in person:

Are the people generally crabby or happy? Unhappy employees might leave, and that might affect your project if they cannot get a replacement, or the new person hired in his/her place is a rookie with no or very little experience. Remember that when they pitch to you, everything is going to appear great. It might be a completely different situation in reality.

Do they outsource the work to anyone?

It is one thing when they engage the services of experts, but completely another when they assign the work to freelancers and pay them on an hourly basis. Remember that it is still your project, not theirs – and any dip in quality subsequently affects you directly, not them.

Shop around:

Talk to multiple agencies. No two are ever alike. Each one of them has their own, unique perspective and by interacting with them, you can get a better idea of what you need and how things can be done.

But before you go shopping, know what you want, or at least have a basic idea. Walking into a digital design agency with a Request For Proposal or RFP to see what it can do for you or how it can help your business is a bad idea, because each creative agency has its own way of doing things – at the end, you may not be left with anything in common to compare them against each other. On the same note, remember what we talked about some making the contract work for them and not you?

Asking for an analysis on what the competition is doing is an equally bad idea – because what works for the competition may not necessarily work for you. Any effort to take on the competition at its own game might backfire if they realize what you are doing and change their marketing strategy to something better – you would then be stuck with an outdated strategy, and bound by a contract with the digital design agency to follow it through, or risk heavy losses. How is any of that good for business?

If you are not sure about exactly what you need or even have a basic idea, at least have a budget in mind before you go shopping. You can then ask creative studios what they can do for you, and make an informed decision based on all the above as to which would be the best fit for your company, the one that would deliver maximum returns on your investment.

About Crafted

Headed by Peter Mendez and Greg Valvano, both of whom have years of experience working with major brands, the team at Crafted has been personally handpicked for their expertise in brandingdesign, development, digital marketing and video production.

Only Crafted team members are permitted to work on our projects. As such, we have been recognized as an award-winning digital design agency in New York City for our website design and mobile app design projects.

As one of the Top 10 Interactive Agencies in New York, we welcome all those interested in entering into a strategic business partnership with us to come meet the team and see for yourself how differently things work at Crafted.

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