How to Find A Rockstar
Finding the perfect design agency to partner with can be a daunting task. There are so many options out there to choose from, and you could spend months looking through all the options. Although every agency is different, almost everyone touts that they are the best. So, how do you break through the clutter and find the best agency to work with? We've broken down some steps below to help you in your search.
1. Outline Your Project or Campaign
First things first. Jot down a basic outline for your design project.
What does the project entail?
If you're a startup, you may have no idea where to start with the design side of the business. Many companies like to start with a logo design. However, chances are that your company will need much more than just a logo.
Maybe you had a logo and brand identity created several years ago but never got around to getting business cards or letterheads designed. Having an idea of what your project includes will help you and the agency.
Goals for the project
Naturally, you may think the goal of your project is to make your company look good. Unfortunately, looks are subjective, and thus can't be measured. Instead, you should set goals like:
A new website design will help to increase our monthly profits by $10,000
A rebrand will increase monthly sales by 15%
We want to increase our brand recognition in the industry which will be measured through our social media following and engagement.
Look to have 3-4 goals in mind for the project. This will help the design agency learn what problems your business is facing so they can come up with creative solutions to solve them.
What is your budget?
Do you have a budget in mind for the project? At this stage in the project, you may be unaware of the costs associated. There's a wide range depending on the project and the size of the agency you're working with. The best place to start is reading articles online that will give you ball park figures.
It's important to have a general budget in mind for your project. It will ultimately help to narrow down which agencies you're able to work with. Having a flexible budget is a good idea because agencies can normally offer a variety of solutions, and your budget will allow them to offer you the right solution.
2. Research Examples That Reflect Your Business
Determining the style of design that reflects your business can be tricky. Before approaching a design agency, it's smart to have a starting point in mind. A very important thing to keep in mind is that the best design for your business may not be your personal taste. You have to try and keep your personal feelings aside and accept that the agency is going to ultimately do what's best for your business. Just because you love a certain color or look, doesn't mean it fits what you're trying to do with your business.
However, finding styles you like online can help to brainstorm and get the creativity flowing. There are a ton of great resources available online to help you, but here's a quick list to get your started:
Pinterest - Discover design style inspiration and other ideas from the social media giant
Dribbble - Discover design ideas from the world's top designers and creatives
Logopond - One of the most popular community sites for logo design and company branding inspiration
Design inspiration can strike when you least expect it. If you see something interesting while traveling, take a photo of it so you can reference later. If you enjoy making mood boards, that can also be a great resource to share with your selected agency.
Are there specific brands that you love?
Look at brands that you follow and love and try to figure out why you love them so much. Is it their simplistic design? Their beautiful packaging? Their use of vibrant colors? This input can help your creative agency get a feel for what you love, and give them better direction.
3. Agency Search
Now that you have inspiration and a basic plan in place, you're ready to begin the search for the perfect design agency. As we mentioned, the process of finding this agency can be daunting. Many companies start their search by doing a web search like "design agency". Although this seems logical, it will provide you with useless results.
Search on Google
As mentioned, typing something generic like "design agency" will not get you the results you're looking for. Many of the results you will see will be for agencies with large ad budgets to get them in those positions in search. Companies with large ad budgets typically get in those positions because they work with Fortune 500 brands. As a result, these agencies will charge a high price tag to work with them. If you're a company with a large budget, this would be a great place to start. However, if you don't have that type of budget, it's important to dig a bit deeper.
If having somebody local is important to you, try adding a location to your search (ex. "graphic design agency Naperville, IL"). If you don't mind working remote with your design agency, the possibilities are much larger. Agencies outside of large cities tend to be less expensive because they don't have the large overhead costs.
Ask friends and associates
Sometimes the best place to start is by asking people you trust for their recommendations. Post something on social media to see what feedback you receive.
4. Review Their Websites and Design Work
Once you have a list of design agencies that you like, go and research their websites. Here are some items to look for during your exploration:
Do they have testimonials? Do they seem genuine?
Testimonials are a great place to start when researching a design agency's website (or any company for that matter). This will give you an idea of how their relationships with past clients have gone. However, beware that some companies falsify their testimonials. If a company needs to do this, this should raise a red flag for you.
How do you spot fake testimonials? Look for generic reviews like "great work, I would recommend this company". Although some clients may leave a review like this, chances are most of them will be more specific and genuine. To take it a step further, you could reach out to the person who left the review to learn more.
Check what companies the agency has worked with in the past. Are they reputable companies? Have they done work with other companies in my industry? Although it's not necessary for an agency to be an expert in your industry, it may help them to answer industry-specific questions you have.
5. Follow Them on Social Media
By now, you should hopefully have a shorter list of prospects than when you started. The next recommendation would be to follow the remaining agencies on social media and monitor their activity.
Are they active on their accounts? Are they posting relevant content or spammy content? Do they seem genuine in their posts and interactions with their followers? This should not be your final decider on which agency to go with, but it should give you an inside look at who they are. It's important to see how the agency behaves when they don't know you're watching.
6. Narrow Down Your List
By now, you should have a much better idea of the type of design agency you want to work with. Hopefully your list is down to 5-10 agencies. If you have a bad gut feeling on any of these agencies, you can likely cut them now.
If one of the companies on your list isn't in your city of operation and that's important to you, cut those as well. If you don't mind working remote with the agency, then leave them for now.
If you reached out to each agency on social media and haven't received a reply from one, that may be a red flag. Consider shifting your list to prioritize the agencies that seem more willing to engage.
Now that you have a shorter list of quality agencies on your list, it's time to contact them. We would recommend contacting 5-7 different agencies. It's good to have options, but this step should narrow your list even further.
7. Start Discussing Your Project With the Clients
Determine which method of communication you prefer, and reach out to the clients you decided on in the previous step to discuss your project. Calling the client is always the most efficient option, but email is acceptable as well. Regardless of the method, be sure to leave your return phone number and email.
It's easy to give preference to the first agency that responds, but be patient. If they're busy with other clients, that could be a good sign for you. We recommend giving them a full week to respond. Any longer than that is likely too long.
Similar to hiring an employee, you want to find the agency that you connect with best. You will be working closely and frequently with this agency, so it's important that you actually enjoy working with them.
Be sure to ask the agency things like "How have you helped other companies similar to mine?" and "What are you able to do with the budget we have available?" If the price comes in slightly higher than your budget, see if they have any flexibility on price or through payment plans.
8. Compare and Make Decisions
Once you have done the following, you should have a good idea of who you want to hire:
Compared each of their responses
Made sure your budgets match up
Checked over their terms and conditions
Talked to each agency (preferably over the phone)
With all this done, call the agency back or meet them in person for another conversation. You'll want to get a clear understanding of who will be managing your account and how many people will be working on the project. Who is the best point of contact moving forward. Be sure to ask as many questions as you can so you're fully content with moving forward.
Once you've decided, let the agency know so they can discuss next steps with you.
9. Build a Lasting Relationship
The best results always come from clients we have a great relationship with. We love what we do, and that's because we get to work with amazing people every day. Having a great relationship makes the process 100 times easier for both parties.
The most important advice we can give to a company in search of a creative agency, is to always look at multiple companies, and compare apples to apples in each area that's important to you. Give each agency the same project scope so you can get a sense of differences in proposals, approaches, and costs for the same project.
Personally, we never want to be the only agency in consideration for a project. We love the opportunity to showcase our capabilities against other agencies because we’re confident in what we bring to the table.
We work hard to answer all your questions and concerns because we realize that choosing a design agency is no small feat. Knowing the right questions to ask, however, will put you in the best position to select the right partner for your company's unique challenges. A partner with whom you can work seamlessly with to achieve your goals.