9 Questions to Ask Before You Hire an Agency
Whether you need a designer to create a new logo or an entire team to market your brand, you’ll likely start by hiring an agency. With so many different agencies out there (digital, advertising, creative, marketing, and so on), it can be hard to narrow down the pool—or even know where to start.
We’ll tell you where to start! Typically, a company looking to hire an agency will do one (or all) of these three things:
Send out a call for RFPs (request for proposal). An RFP is a document that requests a number of items from prospective agencies. Usually, it requests the agency’s background, team member bios, a portfolio of work, and a quote based on a pre-determined set of needs. It’s typically the most formal process for vetting agencies.
Search the web. Google holds all—or most—of the answers. Do a local search of agencies near you to find a slew of options. Visit their websites, read their content, and compile a list of those who create work you admire. Or, check the footer of the coolest website in town to find a link to the agency who built it.
Ask around. Word of mouth is our personal favorite! Ask your fellow business owners who designed their beautiful branding and website.
Once you’ve determined which route to take, use these questions to help you vet the competition so you can meet your dream team, determine their skillsets, and feel confident in your investment.
Let’s get started! First up…
1. Who is on your team? Who will be completing the work for my account?
When first meeting with a new agency, they’ll give you their pitch. They’ll talk about their agency’s work as a whole and their collective accomplishments. While this is great, it’s important to know who will be working on your specific account. With small agencies (like us!), it could be the few individuals in the room with you, while with larger agencies, it might be a combination of interns and new hires who approve their work with a top-level exec. Both of these options are great for certain people and businesses. The question is, which is right for you?
2. Can I see past work completed by this team?
As a follow-up to the first question, see the work this team has completed. It provides is the perfect opportunity to assess their skill sets and learn more about their styles. For example, do they design simple, modern websites, or are they known for the busier, eye-catching styles? Again, both are great! But one will feel more you.
3. Who will be my account manager?
The holy grail of questions! Who will be my account manager? Who will I communicate with on the day-to-day? You’ll be putting your full trust and confidence in this person to understand your vision and relay it to their team.
Side note: Know your business’ decision maker(s) before going into these meetings. They will likely ask. It's as important for you to be prepared as it is for them.
4. What is included with my retainer?
Arguably, this is the most important question. What the heck am I getting for my $$$? This is a questions that will—or should—involve some back and forth to understand your needs and how the agency can best serve you. A key indicator of a good agency is their ability to listen to what you say you need and present you with a plan for what you actually need.
5. Is there a cap on my monthly retainer hours?
Agencies are all different. Some build their retainer fees around hours of work, and some craft theirs around the actual deliverables. Find out if there’s a maximum amount of hours devoted to you per month and what happens if your projects exceed that hourly cap. Can you pull from a month where you didn’t reach your hourly maximum? Will the project be stalled until the next month? Will you be charged an hourly fee to complete the project now? All good things to consider.
6. What happens if I need something outside of scope?
If you need new business cards and this type of design isn’t included in your retainer…what happens? Do you get a freebie? (Sorry, but probably not.) Is it billed hourly?
7. How did you determine this retainer fee?
It’s important to know how your money is being spent. Is it determined by the hours spent on your account? Per deliverable? If the agency doesn’t have an answer, it miiiiight be time to say arrivederci.
8. What values does your agency hold?
You may be thinking, “Do their business values align with mine? Does it matter?” In our experience, yes. If your brand is built around the concept of honesty and transparency, then you probably don’t want to work with an agency who is going to fluff sales numbers. From a different point of view, if you are a wellness company, you may not want to partner with an agency who also boasts their contributions to a high fructose corn syrup manufacturer.
9. What makes you different than the rest?
Why is this agency more special than the agency you met with this morning? Let them tell you, but more importantly, let them show you.