Whether you’re a new entrepreneur who wants an idea made into an app, an established venture looking for product support, or a senior VP of marketing at a fortune 500 seeking a new vendor, there are five key factors you should take into consideration when looking for a digital agency.


The age-old adage “you get what you pay for” mostly holds true with digital agencies as with most businesses. However, cost should not be your primary qualifying factor—it should be reputation.

There’s psychology that goes into closing a deal, and most senior accounts folks will have this down to a science. They’ll quickly identify your physical and emotional cues, and adjust the conversation as needed to close the deal. This is perfectly fine, however sometimes the sales team is not on par with the execution.

Meaning, you may be paying a premium for a sub par product. In order to safeguard yourself from poor product, design, or development resources, reach out to the agency’s former clients, and extensively use the things they have built. Do this both on your own accord, and ask the agency for references. If you find issues with the UX for example, ask why that is the case. It may be something the client implemented after the relationship ended, or the agency won’t have a good answer. In that case, move on.

Openness and malleability

Regardless of your company size, if the agency isn’t willing to share their designs, documents, code with you while you’re on project. Run. This not only indicates an agency that may be willing to hide things from you, but they may also use your inability to access the work you’ve paid for as leverage down the line to get more money out of you, or strong-hand you into retaining the client-agency relationship. An agency should protect itself contractually, not by withholding work you’ve already paid for.

An agency should also adapt to you, if for example you already use Jira for your project software management, but the agency uses Trello, they should adapt to your workflow.

Subcontractors and subcontractors of subcontractors

It’s not unusual for agencies to subcontract work, but have them be open about it. If you’re paying for onshore development services, make sure those developers are actually on-shore, or local to your region.

Even if an agency isn’t sub-contracting, they may be offshoring work to a subsidiary or foreign arm. Always ask where your work is being executed, and by whom, ask to meet the developers. You’re getting into a multi-month relationship with these folks and will be working alongside each other.

Experts who defend their choices

You’re hiring an agency because you may not have those skills in house, or you’re looking for an outside vendor to take on extra work; at the end, you’re hiring people for their unique talent, knowledge and skill set.

If you’ve never built a mobile app before, make sure to take in the advice the agency is giving before adding a feature that you really want but everyone else is fighting you to keep it out. They’re experts, they have your best interests in mind. At the end, you have the final word, but you hired the agency for their knowledge and expertise.

If you’re a PM at a fortune 500, work with the agency, they’re there to be your support and make you look better. Talk to your accounts lead, or PM and make sure to voice any concerns you may have, deadlines you’ll need to meet, or pressure you’re getting from the higher ups.

This is a relationship business, and the goal of an agency is to give you results. Always!

You’ll get out what you put in

The happiest clients are always the ones who are the most involved. While there is going to be a schedule when you’ll meet with your agency, this is a bare minimum. If you’re asked for feedback give it, if you want to come in and work alongside the devs for a day, do so. But most importantly, the agency should understand your stakeholders, and ensure that the needs of everyone along the value chain are being satisfied.

While agency folks are experts at what they do, they may not have the industry specific or niche knowledge that you do, which is why it’s incredibly important for you to communicate this to them along with what goals you have and what KPIs you’re going to be tracking.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Many folks will try and sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, be wary of those.

Check out more of our thoughts on the industry here.