Part 2: Are You Ready to Hire a Creative Agency?

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May 9, 2016

Part 2 of this series will address the theme of not needing to spend money on custom design and development work.

This is Part 2 in a series discussing reasons startups, businesses, or other creative organizations don’t need to hire an agency for their potential web project.

As described previously, we speak frequently with potential clients who, in our opinion, aren’t at a place where they'd benefit from custom design and development. We want to provide insight into why, answer questions about better alternatives, and the next steps to prepare them for the relationship when they are ready.

In Part 1 I discussed startups who haven’t done the due diligence necessary to formulate their complete business roadmap. In Part 2, I’ll be talking about businesses who could see a higher ROI by keeping costs low, and not needing complete custom design and development.

The Situation: Businesses with no existing revenue

In this situation, which commonly happens with smaller businesses or up-and-coming e-commerce businesses, we get an email such as the following.

"Hey Authentic F&F, I’ve got a great product/business/store and need a web site. I don’t have any existing customers and I’m not currently generating any revenue online, but I want a site that looks great and helps take my business to the next level.

I’d love for you to build me a custom website; exceeding my dreams, making me tons of money, and bringing all sorts of attention my way.

Lastly, I should mention I don’t have tons to spend, but I would imagine this project will be pretty simple.

All the best,

Hopeful Client X"

These introductory emails are always frustrating. Not frustrating because they don’t have the capital necessary to build the custom site they are envisioning. But frustrating because we can empathize with the business owner. They want to build a website helping to launch their business, and are willing to pay someone to help out. That’s fair! The problem being, we know building the custom site they want isn’t necessary to find success online.

The question we ask is: if you’re needing to build a new website, or go through a refresh for an existing site, how will improving your site really help your bottom line? At the end of the day what’s the return going to be on your investment? Is spending $10, $15, $25K on a website before you business launches worth it?

In many situations we’re pleasantly surprised and potential clients have analytics on site visitors and come to us with the goal of increasing conversions, lowering bounce rate, or integrating with a content management system. In these situations, yes, it does make sense to invest in bespoke design and development, but if your goal is simply to extend your brand online, or start selling products, there are cheaper ways to go about the process.

As a partner at a web design and technology studio, it might come off odd to advocate for people not building websites. I promise that’s not the case! We absolutely believe in the power and promise sites, stores, and apps to provide to a business, but we also believe these pieces to the digital platform need to be thoughtful and purposeful.

If saving several thousands of dollars by launching a preliminary website, better positions a business for longer term success online, we’d gladly help them out in the interim and continue the partnership as it grows into something lager, warranting a more customized solution when that becomes needed.

Below I’ve listed some strategies small businesses could utilize to start building their preliminary website and digital platform for their business.

Rather than hire an agency

Plan to iterate

Just as we advocate for startups to build an MVP and iterate to find product/market fit, a small business should do the same with their website.

If you’re building your first site for your small business, or maybe opening your first store online, don’t feel like you need to go all-in creating something completely unique.

Use themes, use Shopify, use anything that helps you launch version 1, and then collect feedback from real users, helping you modify the site incrementally. What do they like about it? Is there anything that could be improved?

There is always time (and money) to make things better. Spending $5,000 on a feature you’ve talked with real users about is going to be a much better investment than spending $5,000 on a random idea you think people will find useful.

Squarespace is your friend


I’ve heard the argument that Squarespace is putting our industry out of business, but I can confidently say, they aren’t. For small businesses who want a cost effective, aesthetically pleasing website, with an easy to use administration area, it’s hard to go wrong with Squarespace.

We’ve told dozens of potential clients to get started on SquareSpace, and once their brand has been established and they need a site able to communicate more strategically with their visitors, we can then transition them to a customized site, meeting their unique messaging needs, and leveraging a more powerful content management system.

Believe me, we want nothing more than to do bigger and better work for these potential clients, but in the short-term, ROI is king.

Invest in your Branding

If you’re starting a business or preparing for a new marketing initiative, make sure your branding is on target with the avenues in which you’re hoping to market.

All too often, we’re seeing businesses willing to spend large amounts of money on creating them a new website, to serve as their main customer touchpoint, but they’re still using the Powerpoint logo their friend’s son designed for them 5 years ago.

A website is an extension of your brand, and to ensure the site is coming off as professional as possible, make sure the "face of your business" is contemporary, personable, and approachable. The last thing you want is to design a modern vibrant website, only to have your logo be a large distracting dud on the site.

If your business is getting started, establish your brand first, then create a simple site whose focus is on showcasing the brand itself, not vice versa. The process of building a site after the brand has been established, makes the job of a web designer much easier, and for you, costs lower.

Focus on Photography

No matter the budget, photography makes websites shine.

Designing a beautiful website and throwing in stock imagery immediately brings down the quality of the work. Adding original photography into a nicely designed template immediately brings it up several notches. It turns a template into uniquely designed site making it your own.

Also, photography is something every business can utilize in all types of marketing efforts, whether that’s web or print.

If you’re wanting to project your unique brand online, quality photography is the first place to start. If combined with a brand you’ve invested in (as mentioned in the previous point) you’ve already created the majority of the assets necessary to design a custom site, and if you get started with SquareSpace or another templated site builder, you’ll be able to create a site feeling unique a custom in a matter of minutes.

Wrapping Up

If you’re about to open your business, or think your current website is outdated, begin by thinking through the expected ROI of a custom site build, and deeming if it’s necessary to accomplish your goals. While we love helping our clients with a variety of design and technology focused sites, the truth is, you should be investing in something which will have substantial returns for your business.

If you’re not at a place where custom work is necessary, start small, collect feedback, start to formulate real targeted goals for your site, and then reach out and get in touch so we can help you hit those goals!

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