Hiring a Web Design Agency? You’d Better Have Time to Spare.

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For many organizations, redesigning a website means hiring a design agency. Why an agency? Because most full-service agencies offer it all. They can create a design, perform some technical wizardry, publish some content, and BAM! You’ve got a website.

In other words, you don’t have to do anything. The agency does it for you. Easy peasy.

So you gather a list of contenders, listen to their pitches, and peruse their portfolios. Then you pick one. Fingers crossed, you sign on the dotted line.

Afterward, you hope – no, pray – they do great work. And that they do it quickly.

Because most agencies take their time.

That’s the thing about agencies. They’re usually… slow.

Who can blame them? When you work with an agency, you’re actually hiring a big team of designers, developers, and project managers. They’ve got to coordinate with each other. They also need to set aside time to sketch out your new logo, share the design options with you, and corral the group for screen-share phone meetings with you.

Oh, about those meetings…

You’ll probably have several of them over the course of your website build. You take time out of your schedule, dial into a conference line, and look at wireframes and mockups. Project managers are terrified of not pleasing you, so they’ll pick your brain for feedback until your cerebellum starts to ache.

Did we mention they’ll pass you around like a hot potato?

After the salesperson closes you, she’ll pass you to the project manager. Some time goes by. The project manager has you talk with the designer. Then the developers. Then everyone at the same time. Oh, and look! Here are some different people! Maybe they brought in a contractor. Maybe someone quit halfway through.

Total time spent doing all this? 4 to 8 months. Or longer.

All the while, your existing website remains live. And it’s still costing you money.

Anyone with an insurance policy has encountered “loss of use” coverage – the indemnity against your ability to use something (a home or car, usually) and the associated costs of not being able to use it.

For an outdated website, your loss of use period begins the moment your website ceases to provide optimal value. A long design process prolongs that period. It represents more time spent not generating new business from your website.

And to our knowledge, nobody sells loss of use coverage for outdated websites.

One more thing. “Slow to build” often means “slow to respond.”

After your new website goes live, most agencies put you on a service plan. When they’re well executed, these plans provide benefits like:

  • Keeping your website infrastructure up to date. There’s a lot of software powering your site behind the scenes. The agency needs to be sure everything works properly.
  • Making changes. Whether it’s for design, content, or functionality, agencies often have a hand in making changes to your site.
  • Performing technical sorcery. From hosting to CMS changes to domain management to security, the people who built your site want to – and often need to – maintain control of the technical aspects of your website.
  • Responding to support requests. Things happen. You have questions. You need something fixed. You want to change something. You need a quick, capable human to respond to your every requests. The quicker the better.

Anyway, response time for this stuff matters. And you might not know how well your agency handles support until your website is done and you have no other choice.

For instance, how would you feel if your site got hacked and the support team didn’t have a recent backup to restore?

Or what if you urgently need to add a service page in anticipation of seasonal demand but the support team doesn’t do it in time?

Your first response might be, “I’d hire somebody else.” But if your web design agency uses proprietary software and site architecture, you might have to choice but to stick with them (and their crappy support) until it’s time to redesign your website again.

“Agencies are slow and they suck” isn’t the lesson here. We just think it pays to choose wisely.

And enter the fray with your eyes wide open! Many organizations begin a relationship with a design agency without understanding the required time commitment. It rarely matters what the agency’s “projected timeframe” for project completion is. Plan on it taking longer.

What’s more, few organizations include “support request response time” in their list of things to ask about when they interview agencies. During the selection phase, technical support seems like a far out, far off, far away thing. It shouldn’t be.

With those concerns in mind, be sure to select a web design partner – be it an agency, a freelancer, or whoever – who provides satisfactory responses to these questions:

  • Do you guarantee a project timeframe? Keep in mind that any guarantee depends on client behavior. For example, an agency can’t finish your website within a given time period if you’re on vacation and can’t check in to approve mockups. That being said, it’s a good sign when a company can tell you, “Yes. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we can definitely finish your website before [such and such date].”
  • Will I have one point of contact, or several? One is ideal. Several is hectic and confusing. Even if you speak with multiple people throughout the course of the project, you want to have a single, consistent person to whom you can relay your every question or concern. Things get done faster that way.
  • How quickly do you respond to support requests? Trust, but verify with this one. Nobody is going to say, “We’re super slow, thanks for asking!” See if you can talk to the provider’s current clients to get a sense of the support experience. Faster is better, no matter what type of request.
  • Do you prioritize certain support requests? Some support requests can wait a week. Others can’t wait 5 minutes. Find out what qualifies as “urgent” for the company and have them describe how they handle those problems.
  • Does the service/maintenance plan only cover specific tasks? A service plan might not cover all the stuff you think it does. Find out what’s covered and what isn’t. Are small, one-off support issues covered at no additional charge? For example, at One Week Website, we don’t charge extra for support requests that take less than 30 minutes to resolve. The task might not be explicitly defined in our plan, but we try not to sweat the small stuff (or charge for it).

It’s up to you whether a designer’s responses to these questions are satisfactory. What matters is that you ask the questions – and that you ultimately reap the benefits of a great-looking, effective business website that’s enthusiastically and competently supported by your design partner.

As for speed, let’s just say we’re big fans of one week design and development.

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