Getting your web project off the ground can feel like the haphazard toss of a twelve-sided die—you’re probably surrounded by nerds, are up way past your bedtime, and have a lot less fun than you should. The wrong roll for your organization can end up costing a lot of money, time, and ultimately hurt your brand.

Before you begin your hunt for a web partner, it’s helpful to know yourself, know your goals, and know how much money you can spend on the project. The more you can guide the early conversations, the better you can set the agenda and get the website you want, and maybe even the one you need.

I need a website/blog/media gallery/social presence. And content too.

The right partner will understand your real needs. By collaborating with an experienced web agency, you’ll gain access to their talents, skills and hard won insights and expertise amassed through past client work. Even better though, your web vision will gain an advocate and protector, with the right project management tools, technical skills, and design chops to bring it all to life.

What you think you need might not be exactly what you need and by keeping your vision casting high level and goal-oriented, you let your firm do what they do—overcome design and technical challenges that meet business and audience needs.

Hit the books.

Word to the wise, your homework starts with you, not a list of potential web agency portfolios. Sit down and map out what you’d like your site to accomplish. Understanding your goals, and ultimately needs, should always be the first step. When you have some idea of what role you’d like your site to play, ask your self a few more questions before you start digging into past work and referrals.

Is this a refresh or an overhaul?

What’s your the world will end if my site isn’t live date? A lightweight, low-functionality site can be up in a couple weeks, while bigger projects require bigger teams and more time.

How much time DO YOU have to invest in the project? As the key decision maker, stakeholder, and collaborator, maintaining deadlines depends as much on your firm as it does on you. Missed deadlines are the clients biggest expense. They cost you time and money. Good firms have a project manager that will keep you honest, and you should be ready to listen. It’s their job to make sure you get exactly what you want, including an on-budget project.

Let’s talk about money.

You’re armed with answers about your needs and goals. As you start to take meetings with agencies, it’s also important that you know your budget. A budget is a data point, not a bargaining tool. If you have $100,000 to spend—spend it. If you have less, say so.

Let prospective vendors walk you through how they’ll make that figure work. A good agency will present you with a scope of work that will not only guide the project, but set expectations for everyone involved.

Getting what you pay for is an important part of the relationship, and one that can protect the trust required to do great collaborative work.

Things to consider:

  • Get competitive bids.
  • A reputable agency will run $100-$300 an hour.
  • Maximize your spend by putting priority on the features you need most.
  • Work within your budget and be clear about limits.

Decisions, decisions—a cheat sheet for hiring the right web agency


  • Hire for experience and a clear passion for their work.
  • Hire for their talent and intelligence.
  • Hire to be a strategic, collaborative partner.
  • Hire an agency that you want to spend time with and money on.
  • Hire for a commitment to research and data-driven decision making.
  • Hire for marketing AND design prowess.


  • Hire your cousin, brother-in-law, or old college buddy.
  • Hire jerks.
  • Hire the cheapest bid because they’re the cheapest bid.
  • Ask the agency to "use their creativity" as a means of avoiding constructive problem solving. This is not a substitute for good planning and communication. A creative designer can add value best by applying data driven and tested problem solving skills to to solid ideas.