The top 10 most costly mistakes you can make when choosing a creative design agency

By August 20, 2012News and Views

Choosing the right design agency for your business, project or brief can be daunting. Here are 10 costly mistakes to avoid and to help you make better decisions.

Costly Mistake No.1: Deciding solely on price

If the only factor you look at to separate one design agency from another is price then you are most probably making a costly mistake. Price is only one of the many factors that make a difference between a successful business engagement and one that causes a headache.

As a client you should ask yourself ”what is the cost of making the wrong decision”? To make a more informed choice decide what’s really important to you. For example is it:

  • Quality of creative output from the agency
  • Relevant agency experience in your industry or sector
  • Range of services and how well they match your needs
  • Reputation or references
  • Management experience and expertise
  • Perceived standard of services
  • What’s included in a quote

Rank the design agencies once you have a full list of criteria that’s important to you. Only then look at price. If your preferred agency is on the high side in terms of your budget you have the choice to negotiate or to look to exclude (or delay) elements of a project. If you can’t agree on a price you can afford then work your way down the list to the next design agency.

Costly Mistake No.2: Not finding out exactly how much work you’re getting for the price quoted.

A quote from an agency may look competitive but does it include everything another has included. Have they missed parts from their scope? Rounds of revision? Options in design? etc. How much time are they putting into the project? Find out the estimated days covered in the quote. This provides another way of comparing, although be aware that design is not an exact process. Sometimes the creative process goes faster than others.

Costly Mistake No. 3: Not checking that the quote is financially viable

The only people who work for nothing in our business are those that have no experience. So you need to ask yourself is the price quoted financially viable for the scope of the project. If it is not, then you’ll probably be in trouble accepting it. Experience counts for a lot and at the end of the day it’s return on investment that’s important.

Costly Mistake No. 4: Entering into a long term contract and using proprietary software

Don’t agree to contracts that are longer than necessary and avoid proprietary software if you have a digital project. This simply locks you into a supplier for longer than is good for you. For example websites these days tend to be built on content management systems. The world of web moves fast and often we have come across clients stuck using proprietary software that is out of date by today’s standards. Insist on open source software – it’s usually much more cost effective as there are no additional fees to pay for the software, and provides you with much more flexibility. You’ll not be tied to one supplier forever more as there will always be other design agencies working with the selected open source software. For example, we use WordPress, CMS Made Simple, Magento and Shopify to deliver our website and e-commerce solutions. They are all open source with massive communities providing plenty of future choice.

Costly Mistake No. 5: Not discussing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) until it’s too late

Never heard of SEO? There are many who haven’t and yet it is one of the most important parts of the jigsaw to ensure the success of a website. The design might well be award winning but if the website can’t be found your company won’t be winning www business. How does the agency go about search engine optimisation? Is it included in the quote and to what degree? At Feelingpeaky we’ll look to optimise the code and content of the site to agreed target search phrases as part of the project. Additionally, we can provide on-going SEO services to reinforce and improve your positions and ultimately qualified traffic in the future.

Costly Mistake No. 6: Not making it clear what you’re expecting from the project

The client’s briefing document is one of the most important parts of a successful project. Do you really understand the scope of your requirements? It is important to have a clear understanding of the business objectives. Establish that there are clear calls to action and understand the audience and how they are to be engaged with the communication. At Feelingpeaky we provide base briefing documents to clients that ask the key questions we need to understand – both to quote accurately and for the team to respond successfully to the brief.

Costly Mistake No. 7: Not taking up client references

The best way to get a feel as to what to expect from a design agency is to speak with some of their existing clients. Don’t let them cherry pick their best two.  Ask for the clients that are closest to your own business – ask for lots – ask for 10. Choose from the list and make sure you contact a few of them.

Costly Mistake No. 8: Not finding out what will happen if things go wrong

Don’t believe any design agency that says nothing ever goes wrong. Occasionally it will. What can differentiate a good design agency from a poor one is how they deal with it. The responsibility and actions they take as an agency to resolve the matter. A print design project is delivered that’s different from that signed off. A website goes down. How quickly do they respond to the problem or complaint? Between what hours can you contact them? Do they provide a service level agreement?

Costly Mistake No. 9: Not demanding regular review meetings

It’s important to ensure that a project scope includes ample time to cover regular review and progress meetings throughout the project schedule. Make sure the meetings are diarised otherwise the week gets full and there simply isn’t the right amount of time dedicated to the successful project.

Costly Mistake No. 10: Not realising that a collaborative process delivers success

This is potentially the most costly of all. Design agencies that lock themselves in a dark room and present the fait accompli miss the key part of a successful project which is you, the client. If you choose a design agency that doesn’t promote collaboration it most certainly will be a costly mistake. You need to collaborate through the whole process from strategy to information architecture (if it’s a website) or structure of a print piece through to layouts and design implementation. It is though important to define roles in a project. The client should focus on the broader business and audience needs leaving the designer to focus on the finer details of typography, layout, colours and presentation.

And finally, one extra costly mistake (because we like to go beyond expectations 🙂

No. 11 : Don’t shortlist on creative alone.

A successful agency review should never begin by evaluating agency portfolios or selecting agency candidates based solely on creative. Creatives move from agency to agency, and also great clients generally contribute to great agency work. It’s better to select your agency candidates based on wide range of attributes (relevant experience, capabilities, services, size, location etc.) rather than on just what they’ve done for others. Selecting from portfolios blinds the critical client/agency relationship, making it difficult to judge an agency’s actual value to you. When is creative relevant then? AFTER you’ve spoken with agencies; AFTER they’ve had a chance to understand your needs. Then an agency should be allowed to present their most relevant work; which was produced under similar circumstances for similar clients.

This report is based on my 12 years of running a creative design agency.  Please consider them, you’ll benefit from having much more successful design projects.

Chris Peak
Feelingpeaky.