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Maintaining a good agency relationship (or how not to drive your web designer insane)

Maintaining a good agency relationship (or how not to drive your web designer insane) Any good relationship is a two-way thing, you should hold your web designer to high standards, but treating them with some reasonable respect is also vital to maintaining a good agency relationship.

Sometimes it might seem like web designers are pricey or that they generate too many bugs, but it's a really hard industry to work in and extremely fast-paced and competitive. There are many levels of pain-staking work that go into making a modern website, involving a wide set of technical and design skills in an environment that requires sophisticated project management techniques to bring a project to completion on time and on budget. Often clients don't realise this and think that our tools are as simple as using something like Microsoft publisher, but unfortunately given the amount of interactivity, the level of fidelity, and the requirement for a lot of flexibility, typically every tiny visual detail ends up having to be hand written in various programming languages from scratch.

This blog post contains the top 10 techniques that you hopefully won't use to drive your web designer completely insane!

  1. Send a 'Request for proposal' document to the web design company that will take two working days for the web designer to write a proposal for, but don't tell them that actually you have a number of pre-decided and inflexible assessment criteria that they will never be able to pass on (such as a particular company location, or very high historical revenues on their company accounts).
  2. Request a proposal from a web design company, but refuse to discuss any points in sufficient detail (for example, avoiding answering their questions on what are their most important project goals).
  3. Take proposals from a number of web design companies, but then refuse to consult further with them on how to improve their bid before making a final decision. This one is incredibly annoying, as to an extent the web design company is in the dark, throwing darts at a dart board: it's really important for the client to look at the different bids, and then get back to them all on where they aren't so strong and give them a chance to improve those areas and re-bid. This is good for the client as well as the web design company.
  4. Send a huge list of feature requests and ask for costing breakdowns to be worked out for all of them, then turn around and say you only have a tiny budget.
  5. Ask for quotes on implementing a brief outline, but do not give an idea of what the budget range is. This is a tricky one. No client wants a greedy supplier who will just propose for something near the top of the price range to eat up the whole budget just for the sake of it. However, web design prices vary hugely, and it is important that the supplier knows that the price range is achievable before spending a lot of times costing it out in detail, and also they need to know what kind of level they are pitching at (for a higher level, additional services would be offered that would not be at a lower level, such as formal usability testing sessions).
  6. Ask for quotes with no intention of seriously considering them, just to gauge the pricing level of the market, to prove a point to somebody, or to check the quote of their preferred supplier is reasonable.
  7. Ask for quotes from dozens of different web design companies (6 is a fair number if you are really shopping around, 4 should be the norm).
  8. Request that an agile development practice be done, to a fixed specification, to a fixed budget. Agile processes work on the principle that changes to specifications (usually additions, or having to back-track a bit) should be embraced, but vital to this is that the budget rises or some other less critical planned functionality is dropped to compensate.
  9. During your fixed-price project, keep making additional requests for functionality but have no way to pay for them. Even if you do have the capacity to find additional budget, it is vital that costs are approved quickly (it should be a matter of a day or two). We have found on some projects that new requirements are requested, and there's a big time pressure to implement them, but that it takes up to two weeks for the cost to be approved. It's easy for the web design company to feel they have to implement them immediately to meet a client's schedule, and then for the client to turn around and say that actually they can't approve the cost.
  10. Expect your web designer to be available on weekends or evenings.
You may have noticed a trend here, and that is not to mess web design companies around at the quotation stage. It takes a lot of time to work out an accurate quote, so the web designer needs to know they have a fair chance of the work they are quoting for is actually going to happen. You might think you're just being diligent by collecting a big set of options to pick for, but there's a good chance you will really annoy the people you need to have a good agency relationship with. If you do need to collect quotes with a low chance of taking them up, discuss this with the web design company and give them a chance to charge for the time taken to produce them, otherwise you are tacitly expecting people to do days of work for you unpaid and not warning them about it.

I hope this didn't come across too one-sided, but here's for ensuring that client and web designer have a good agency relationship from the beginning of a project and onwards.

This was article 5 of 8 in my "Web industry Exposé" series of blog posts.

If you think it's good advice, please share this link with others. If you think I'm wrong or have something to say, please discuss below.

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