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If you think hiring a design firm to build you a web site is daunting, try researching “what you need to know about hiring a design firm.” Do some research, and you can find 44 questions to ask before hiring a design firm, or is it 13 questions, or 8 steps.  There are hundreds of blog posts out there. But a lot of it comes down to a few key things:

Trust – Do you trust the people and company you have chosen. Trust encompasses a lot. Typically the longer the agency has been in business, the more experience it has, and the more trustworthy it is. Trust is important. Without trust you can’t build relationships.

Relationships – Do you like the people at the agency? Not just the team you are working with, but the owner and also the receptionist. If you don’t enjoy talking with the agency, if you are not having some fun, then the relationship probably is not going to work, and if the relationship fails, the project will likely fail as well.

But trust and relationships aren’t enough are they? What else do you need? Ideally you should have some basic understandings.  How experienced are you with the web development process? Have you ever done it before? Do you understand the jargon (SEO, RWD, CMS, CSS, HTML5, etc. etc.) An agency can help guide you through the bewildering forest of acronyms (BFAs), but the more you understand before engaging the agency the easier it will be.

Should you hire a specialist? Well that depends. There are companies that only do Web design or only do e-commerce Web sites.  There are companies that specialize in SEO (search engine optimization). There are companies, like HB Design, that span a range of specialties. Who you hire depends a lot on your needs. Obviously, we believe having a wide range of experience—with both digital and print, with small and with large Web sites, with custom and with off-the-shelf CMS systems—lets us find the right solution to a client’s needs, rather than fitting the clients needs into one specialty. It isn’t just about technology and coding.  Successful Web sites are about corporate identity, marketing, and design.

Should you put out an RFP? My personal belief is that RFPs do little to help clients find the right agency. Too often the people writing the RFP don’t understand what they are requesting. The RFP is written in such a way as to predefine a solution.  Instead of an RFP, find a trustworthy agency and present your problem to them. Work with them to define the solution. Tell them what your budget is, and a good agency will find the best solution for you, well within that budget. Or they will tell you right up front that your needs exceed your budget.

So what should you do, how do you find the right agency? First, educate yourself as much as possible about the Web.  Understand why you are building a Web site and who your audience is. Talk to other business people you know about the agencies they use. Get referrals from them. Look at the agencies’ portfolios. Do you like the designs you see? Pick some of the agencies whose designs you like and research them. How long have they been in business? Then visit them. (I am a firm believer of working with local agencies, it helps build relationships). A good agency well welcome you in to talk. If you like what you see, then ask for references.

Yes it is daunting, but you are looking for an agency that you want to build a long-term relationship with.