Avoid the costly mistake of hiring the wrong design agency.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When you determine it is time to look for a design agency to hire, it's easy to feel the need to retain the first company you talk to that says the right things and gives you a reasonable price. Hiring a design agency is a new partnership that requires deep levels of trust, experience, communication and savviness. Before you say, "You're hired!" there are several red flags to watch out for that will save you time, money and even the equity of your brand.
Over the years I have spent over a million dollars on remote freelance workers. There are good and bad freelancers. It is hard to tell the difference so look for any of the warning signals below.
1. Negative reviews or a lack of reviews
You should always read any online reviews about the agency you're interviewing. Online reviews are a simple way for others to proclaim their support of a business's work publicly. Do a Google search for the agency's name followed by either "reviews" or "complaints." I look for reviews on third-party websites like Google My Business, Facebook Business Pages, Yelp and the Better Business Bureau. There is no excuse for a design agency to not pursue honest reviews of how they treat their clients and the quality of work they deliver.
Keep an eye out for reviews that mention characteristics you find valuable. For example, if you're most concerned about getting a timely turnaround, then interview an agency whose reviews suggest its ability to hit tight deadlines. If it's imperative to you that the design agency understands your reasons for why you do business, then look for reviews demonstrating this agency listens carefully and masterfully communicates throughout the project.
Taking a quick look at a business' online reputation can save you money in the long run. If you can't find any review or if an agency has negative reviews that cause you to lose trust, steer clear.
2. Limited online portfolio
Design agencies produce work that is visually appealing or solves problems. A portfolio is a way for a business to show off the work that it has done and brands that it has worked with. When a design agency has a very limited portfolio or no visible portfolio, proceed with extreme caution.
A design agency without a portfolio implies that it either hasn't done much work or that the work that it has done is not worth bragging about.
To find an agency's portfolio, you should start by looking on its website. Look for actual examples of completed design work. You may also see its portfolio mixed with its social media (we'll talk about that next).
If all efforts fail in finding the portfolio, and you're still interested, then request to see a portfolio and have the agency provide you with references to vouch for its work. If you still don't get a complete portfolio or get no portfolio at all, then move on to interviewing the next agency.
3. Poor social media presence
How can you expect someone to design a website, an infographic, a white paper or even social media assets if he or she is not regularly assessing what does and does not drive engagement online?
A design agency without a social presence is a red flag. I also look for follower counts and engagement. If the agency is leveraging social media correctly, its work should be striking a chord with followers, resulting in likes, comments and even shares.
Follow the design agency you're interviewing and go through its posts and history. Observe how it portrays itself, and how it interacts with followers. If you find yourself squirming or feeling uneasy about the brand it broadcasts, then the agency is likely not a good fit for you.
4. Limited payment options
Modern businesses make it easy to pay for services. It is as simple as sending an invoice with the option to pay using PayPal, Quickbooks or credit cards.
Paying with a credit card is not just a matter of convenience. It is a line of defense if an issue arises. I make sure to have a list of deliverables before I start any project. If the agency does a poor job and won't provide a refund, it is easy to file a dispute with the credit card company.
Invoicing and payments have evolved so much so that design agencies must provide trusted and transparent means for their clients to pay for their services. If the design agency you're interviewing accepts only cash or check — you should end discussions and move on. No credible agency operates on a "cash only" basis.
Before you hire that agency
It pays, in the long run, to check for reviews, survey the agency's portfolio, explore its social media and confirm that it has a trusted means of payment. You'll be glad you've committed the extra effort into researching any design agency so that you don't get stuck with a lemon.
When I hire an agency, I look for companies who want to grow my business. The relationship is more like a partnership than just a simple you do X for Y amount. They see me, their client, as an extension of their brand and product. That means they'll be vested in my success and will put forth the extra effort and do what's necessary to make sure we succeed.
Avoid the costly mistake of hiring the wrong design agency. If you're interviewing an agency that exhibits any of these red flags, stop the pursuit and continue the search until you find one that meets your needs.