Choosing a web development agency to push your big ideas into reality is a big decision. With the number of agencies out there, the choice can easily be overwhelming. To help you choose your perfect match, below are the top 7 tips for finding the best web development agency, written by a software engineer. And if you're unsure if the agency route is right for you, check out our 3 best ways to outsource web development first.
Anyone can set up a web development agency. However, only those with experience in software development will understand how to create software, the process and how long things should take. Be wary of web development agencies set up by people without experience in web development. Ask yourself this, would you set up a law firm without any experience in practising law? If they fall in this category, try to understand their motivation for setting it up and what experience they've gathered since starting. Then ask yourself, "what value are they adding?" before making a final decision. If they rely solely on staff members, it might be worth looking at freelancers to work with you directly or another agency that adds value from top to bottom.
Web development agencies often subcontract work out to other companies. Subcontracting work is reasonable when the agency unexpectedly has too much work and needs an overflow or wants specialist help with a small piece of a larger project. However, always check that the agency has in-house resources or experience to deliver a non-trivial chunk of the work before giving it to them. Suppose the web development agency wants to take on a project but plans to subcontract the whole project to an external web developer? In that case, these agencies are less like web development agencies and more like recruitment agencies. Engaging a recruiter to help find web developers is also an option. However, it should be your choice if you want a recruiter rather than a web development agency.
It's common for web development agencies to display a portfolio of past work or case studies. Agencies can present fabulously designed projects. But in some cases, they may have only been involved with software development and not the design process. Always double-check what involvement they had in the projects shown. Undoubtedly, their participation in other areas would have impacted the project's success, and they may have played a pivotal role. However, it is essential to be clear on what they did for you to make an informed decision. If you want a design service as part of the package and the web development agency has only software engineering experience, it's essential to establish that.
Before I go any further, bear in mind that I have no legal expertise whatsoever, so please consult a legal expert on these matters. Much of the advice I've seen on this topic is that web developers should explicitly hand over IP rights to the client before starting work on a project. And this can be undoubtedly true, so consult a legal expert before jumping into bed with a web development agency. However, this might not always be true.
In some circumstances, a web development agency may provide a faster & cheaper service because they reuse components between different projects. Think about the drag and drop website building solutions you've probably seen advertised on the TV. One of the reasons they can do this is because they own the rights to the IP for those components and grant you a license to use them. You might not receive the IP but instead receive quality, speed, ease of use or a better price. Just make sure that having the IP isn't core to your business.
Picture this, you've found a web development agency you're happy with, but the agency has got a lot on. They tell you they'll try to squeeze you in but can't give you an exact date yet. You like them, and they give you a good feeling. You agree for them to do the project but don't set dates to be accommodating. Six months later, the project still hasn't started and isn't going to any time soon. You were happy to wait, but not for that long!
This story is a typical one. This project is in the "won" projects pile. The project will get delivered when it makes sense to the agency. You can get stuck in this queue when there's a commitment with an agreement, payment, or the agency considers the project of low value. Some businesses are happy to wait, and some are not. Establish how long you can wait beforehand. Avoid the "won" projects pile. Chances are the web development agency will chase projects that have not been "won".
As a general rule of thumb, I usually see two pricing models with web development agencies. They either trade time for money and have a rate card for each person they put on the project, such as hourly rates for junior, senior, and lead developers. Or, they do a fixed price to deliver what's needed. The hourly rate option (also known as a Time and Materials contract) usually has the advantage of being more flexible. However, these can cost more without proper time management.
The fixed-price contract is better for sticking to a price, but it can be more rigid. It's less likely that the web development agency will want to make changes part ways through a fixed price project, but this isn't always the case. Check the exact details of the contract beforehand and consult a legal expert. It's essential to decide if cost control is more important than quality control. Pricing models often dictate the management style of the project internally. It has a domino-like effect.
Ok, so imagine your website build is complete, and you're happy with it. Now imagine your business grows down the line. You want to have the development team brought in-house or move to a more 'heavyweight' agency. Great. Except for the web development agency that initially did the work didn't include access to the source code (i.e. the actual files). You now need to arrange access to the source code and do a 'handover' with that agency or have the new developers start from scratch.
Some of the usual things to check for in the deliverables are handing over git repositories, credentials, account ownership for things like hosting, documentation and design files. These items are just some things you might need later down the line to build on your website in future. The specifics of what to include in the handover will depend on the type of website. It might be worth contacting a 3rd party software developer to check what you might need.
There it is - the top 7 questions for hiring a web development agency. They'll undoubtedly be more questions you'll want to ask before making your decision, but it should give you a good start. If you like to get more help on the topic or help with a web development project, please feel free to get in touch.
Full stack software engineer
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