So you’re building a new web or app experience: here’s how to set your project up for success before you even call your first potential agency partner.

In 2009, I was a one-man marketing, PR, and business development team for an architectural firm. Four months into the gig, it became clear that we needed a new website to anchor our growing digital marketing efforts.

Excited at the prospect of working on my first website, I Googled ‘top web design firms in Columbus,’ and started calling. They all had questions. Lots of questions. Questions that I hadn’t even considered before I called. It was so frustrating!

In my head, I thought, “YOU are the experts! Can’t you just outline a solution and a price based on the two goals and limited details I’ve already given you?!”

Eight years and many (many) web and mobile app launches later, I can tell you that the answer to that question is no. It’s just not that simple.

I wish I could go back and talk to 2009 Dave, and help him better prepare for his first web project. I don’t have a sweet DeLorean time machine, though, so I can’t. But I can help you prepare for your next website or app project.

How to Prepare before Calling Potential Agency Partners

When you're thinking about hiring an agency for your new web or app experience, it's tempting to pick up the phone or email someone without preparation.  After all –  no one has free time anymore, right? 

Don't give in to that temptation.  Take a little time up front and follow these six steps, and you'll thank yourself later.

Step 1: Outline Your Business Goals, Project Goals, Project Vision & Budget

This exercise will help your team align internally on business and marketing goals, and determine if achieving them really does require a new web experience. It begins to surface high level requirements for the site (even if it’s just a vague idea).

This can be a simple, bulleted list at this stage. Good agencies will ask these questions up front, so it’s important to have them ready to go.

Step 2: Map Your Current Site

If there is an existing website or app, build a visual sitemap for it. This is easier than it sounds, and helps you get a real sense for how large and complex your current site is.

It also helps you refine your vision for what the new site may look like from a user flow standpoint. There’s lots of free tools to help with this stage – Adept uses Slick Plan for all site mapping.

Step 3: List Current Features & Functionalities

If there is an existing web experience, create a list of the current features and functionalities—email signups, payment processing integration, map integrations, forms, login portals, social media feeds, etc.

A simple, bulleted list will be fine here too. If you used Slick Plan for step 2 above, you can annotate these features right on the site map you built. Once you’ve listed all the current features & functionalities, you can decide if they belong on your new web experience or not.

Step 4: List New Functional Requirements

What does this site or app need to do, functionally? Why do you believe you want/need these on the new site? Some example include:

  • The site must allow visitors to download information sheets, because 75% of our customer service calls are for spec sheets
  • The site must integrate our new HR platform that we just made a significant investment in setting up
  • The app must be password protected so only our customers can access the full experience

Potential development partners will be asking these questions early on in the proposal process, and having a list like this will help them turn an accurate estimate around, much more quickly.

Step 5: Outline Copy & Media Assets

Copy, photography, and videos are an often-overlooked component of building new web experiences. They can also be a significant cost driver, so it’s important to consider them early on in the process. Ask the following questions:

  • Will you be using existing copy? 
  • Does new copy need to be written? 
  • Will you be writing it, or does your agency partner need to write it? 
  • Do you own photography or video assets now? How are they organized?
  • Do you have budget for new photography or video?

Agency partners may not all ask about content and media in the proposal stage—but they should!

Step 6: Set Your Agency ‘Ask’

Depending on the size of the project, it may make sense to create a formal RFP. In that event, Gail Sech, Adept’s VP of Business Development has sage advice to give in her blog on RFP writing.

But, if an RFP feels like it would be a little overboard, a simple overview can get the conversation started. If I could go back to 2009, my ‘ask’ would probably look something like this:

“We are an architectural firm focusing on Higher Education, Retail, and Government projects. We’re looking for a web partner to help us update our six-year-old website in many ways, including the following:
  • Include a CMS
  • Better reflect our high design standards
  • Offer a mobile-specific experience
  • Provide visitors with an engaging case study experience
  • Integrate with our project management platform by providing users with a login portal, on-site
I have pulled together a full site map and initial list of requirements that I can review with you over the phone or in-person. Our preliminary budget for this project is $20K to $30K.”

Why Preparing Matters

Whether you’re a one person shop preparing for your first web project, or a digital veteran scoping a completely new web app, this preparation should be universal. Following these six steps will help you set the project up for efficient success before you begin contacting potential partners.

Taking a few hours–or a few days, or even weeks–to pull this information together might seem like arbitrary work up front, but it can actually save both you and the agency time, effort, and money in the long run. By identifying your needs before involving an agency, you set your own expectations and allow your chosen partner to align with them as soon as your relationship begins.