Tips for choosing a digital agency

Choosing the right digital agency to work with can be a time-consuming process. However, finding the best match is critical to getting the outcome you want. If you’re looking for a new digital agency, we’d like to help make the search easier with these easy tips and a downloadable agency scorecard template to help you make the right selection.

Adam Griffith

By Adam Griffith, 8 minute read

What makes a digital agency awesome?

A great outcome, plus a fantastic experience getting there, is the simplest equation for rating how good a digital agency is. But finding the just-right combination of talent, experience, processes and philosophy can be tricky. You need to find a group of people you can trust to deliver an industry-leading result, whilst making the process rewarding and positive for everyone involved. 

The key to finding the right digital agency is to first understand what sort of business you are: 

  • Are you a small, medium or large company?
  • Where are you based?
  • What sort of digital experience do your project managers have?
  • What is your budget?
  • What is your company culture?
  • What are the things your company values, expects and takes for granted?
  • What level of expertise are you looking for?

Understanding your needs and priorities will give you a framework to help you better evaluate your options and make the right choice. Selecting a digital agency means augmenting your existing team and extending your capabilities. It’s about finding the right fit, the best match. So you need to know exactly what you are looking for and which gaps you need to fill.

How to choose the right digital agency

There is no one perfect agency that’s right for every single client, but there is a perfect fit for your particular organisation. The right digital agency is the agency that is right for you

The first thing you’ll need to consider is whether the agency you have approached can deliver the outcome you’re looking for. At the end of the day, if the agency can’t deliver at the level or the scope you need – then it’s not a good fit. 

The second critical thing is making sure the culture, personalities and expectations between your company and your agency are aligned. Even if the agency has the expertise to get the job done, if the process isn’t a positive experience then both your team and the end result will suffer.

Below are eight tips to help you quickly pinpoint whether a digital agency is right for you.

Tip 1: Find the right digital team for you

You’ll know you’ve found the right people when you feel like the agency ‘gets’ you and what you want to achieve. Expertise belongs to an agency, as well as to the individuals within it, and it’s important to look at both. At the agency level, what are its core competencies? Does it have a particular point of difference? Does it partner with the best service providers for your project? 

Regarding individuals, find out who has the relevant expertise and will they be working on your account? How long have key people been with the agency? What are they like? The best way to find out is to ask to meet them.

We always encourage new clients to ask lots of questions and meet the key members of the team that they will be working with. It's in the agency’s interests to ask a lot of questions too because ultimately, the agency should be just as invested as you in finding the perfect match.

Tip 2: Not too big, not too small

Is the agency a good fit with your business in terms of size? Too small and an agency won’t have the capacity and in-house specialists to deliver complex projects. Too big and the agency can become bureaucratic and slow to respond. 

The right size agency for you depends on the size of your business and the requirements of your projects. If you need a broad range of specialists in their fields (such as strategy, UX, development and SEO), then a medium to large agency will be necessary. However, if you are a small business owner with a very limited budget, then a small design agency will be a better fit. 

Beyond size, you will also need to consider if the agency specialises in the areas you need, such as digital marketing versus web development, and if it works with the technology platforms you require.

Tip 3: Ask for proof of expertise

Case studies, customer reviews, awards and reputation. All these things can help you determine if the agency walks the talk. Is there consistency in the results and outcomes from an agency? Are the people who worked on an outstanding project in the past, still there to work on your business? 

When reviewing past projects, it’s important to look beyond the surface design elements and ask what results the work delivered. Impressive awards and testimonials are certainly good quality indicators, but having a measurable impact on a client’s business should be a key focus for any agency.

Tip 4: Experience matters

A client list is a good place to start, but to really understand an agency’s experience, you’ll need to do some detective work. Find out what sort of projects were delivered behind the logos on an agency’s client page. Was the work significant? Does the agency have recent experience in delivering projects of your type and scale? The best people to ask? Current and past clients of the agency. 

A good agency will always encourage new clients to speak to people who have worked with them already. Hearing firsthand what the experience was like and what outcomes were achieved will give you a sense of comfort and confidence about your selection.

Tip 5: A good journey leads to a better destination

An agency’s process and philosophy infuse everything it is and does. Understanding the core beliefs and values of an agency will quickly give you insight into whether the fit is right. Ask questions about the agency's work methodologies, social consciousness and contributions. Do its management and employees care about the same things you do?

For example, does the agency value its staff and create a desirable work environment? This is important for you to know because highly functional, supportive workplaces attract top talent – and keep them. An agency that treats its staff well is generally also an agency that will treat its clients well. 

Tip 6: Understand the pricing model

There are a number of pricing models different agencies use, including retainer-based, fixed project fees or hourly rates. Having a clear picture of what your project will be and what you can expect is vital to making the right agency selection. This means understanding the assumptions, incentives and safeguards around project scope and costs.

It’s vital to have transparency and disclosure about all fees before you make a final decision about which agency is right for you. Your agency should be able to guide you through all the financial aspects in a way that makes you feel comfortable and empowered. A good agency can also help you build a business case to understand your return on investment. 

Tip 7: Legals are boring… until you need them

Legal documents are about mutual understanding and protection. It’s an important part of establishing a successful and respectful partnership. You should carefully review every clause in your contract, and look for things like who owns the intellectual property (it should be you – the client). 

A reputable agency will provide a Master Services Agreement (MSA) and Statement of Work (SOW) for every project. These documents define commitments, expectations, and response times so that you can feel at ease about the legal stuff and free to focus on the cool stuff. 

Tip 8: Cultural compatibility will make or break the relationship

The way your agency does things, treats its employees and responds to you is going to affect how well you work with the team and how successful your project will be. A good fit will feel natural and easy. 

Is your culture one of inclusivity, flexibility and collaboration, or does your company place greater emphasis on process, procedure and accountability? Does your culture value achieving excellence or is it geared more towards getting things done in the quickest and cheapest way possible?

Even though it can be difficult to objectively pin down, having good chemistry in the relationship between client and agency can mean the difference between an explosive experiment and a winning formula. 

Comparing different digital agencies

These eight tips should arm you with some solid thinking about which may be the right agency for your digital project. A shortlist of three or four is ideal so that you can focus your attention and make the best choice. This is where the digital agency selection scorecard is a great tool to help you both qualify and quantify which digital agency is best for you.

This article is the second in a series on the digital agency/client relationship
Part One: How to brief a digital agency (and actually get what you want)
Part Three: 10 steps to Nirvana in the digital agency-client relationship 

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