2012 → 2018: Working with a Web Agency

abstract blue clocks

The Internet and everything that runs through its wires has been growing and changing... quickly. It's a good practice to look at where we've come from and scout out where we're going. This post of ours from January 2012 is a great snapshot, so we've decided to compare it to how we do things today to see if our advice is still applicable to a changing Internet.

from the 2012 post

Think of building a website like building a house. You do your research, find a builder, and say, "Hey, I want a four-bedroom house, how much will that cost?" The price of that house could be anywhere from $20,000 to millions of dollars, depending on different specifications like location, age, materials, surroundings, school districts, etc.

A website is very similar; you could have a one-page website with two paragraphs of text and it may only cost a few hundred dollars, or you could have a one-page website that builds into an interactive map that shows every Twinkie factory in the United States that then tracks how much inventory these factories have in real time (this is important information to know for the Zombie Apocalypse) — something this complex could cost you $100,000.

It's important to remember custom designed and developed websites will vary from customer to customer. Because every business or organization has different needs and a different audience you need to understand that a good website needs to be customized to reach these audiences and capture the message of the business.

Building a website is still a bit like building a house, but now it's a smart house.
And it knows when you're home and can turn the lights off when you leave.

Much of what we said in 2012 still applies today, but to an even larger extreme. A website can still be a single page with two paragraphs of content, but it can also be a fully-explorable and interactive VR experience in a single browser window.

The "Internet of things" is growing fast and virtual reality is more prevalent than ever, which provides us with even more options to pick from when creating things for the Internet. Still, every business has unique needs and every website has an ever-growing number of people with their own ever-growing number of needs to target.

We may also begin to feel the pangs of no longer benefitting from net neutrality. We can't be sure what's to come yet, but a change will be coming.

from the 2012 post

Blind Prices: Beware

A "blind price" is when an agency already has a preconceived price for your website before you have even told them what you want your website to do or say.

When someone tells you a set price for a website, it likely means you are not getting a website that is customized specifically to your business's needs. As a developer, I can tell you with certainty that it is impossible to quote a price for a website without knowing what the customer actually needs.

Pleth and other creative agencies still need to know a lot of information to be able to correctly quote a price for a client. We don't see that changing soon, but there is still space for agencies to offer "website as a service" agreements — subscription models instead of huge up-from sums. Even our beloved Adobe Creative Cloud moved from being a one-time purchase to a subscription model.

Those who simply agree to "X for Y" transactions are still ones to avoid. These types of agreements don't consider your needs as a client — they assume you'll take what they give you and leave it at that.

from the 2012 post

Be Prepared: Your Idea & Your Budget

There is a difference between wanting a website and knowing what you want from your website. Your website is the most important piece of your online presence, and you will know your business better than we will. The process of giving you a quote and executing your idea will be much easier if you come to a web agency with a clear plan.

If a company came to us and said, "Here is a list of exactly what we want our website to do," our next question would be if they have a budget they are trying to stay within. This may sound off-putting, but we ask this question because as we quote the project, we can help you prioritize the features that you want versus the features you need and then try to find ways to get everything you want without going over your budget. Many times a web agency will be able to work with you over a long period of time to reach your goals, so that you aren't presented with one huge bill up front.

The best approach to this is to have the list of features that you want prioritized in the following way:

  • Requirements: must have features
  • Novelty Features: features you want that aren't absolutely required
  • Bucket List: extra features you want if the budget didn't matter

We covered this topic recently in a series of posts What to Expect When You're Expecting a Website, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, but we need to highlight this again...

There is a difference between wanting a website and knowing what you want from your website.

Sing it from the rafters. ??

Your website may no longer be the focus of your marketing efforts — maybe it's your app or your Facebook page — but it's still very true that if you don't have a plan that covers things like updates and content, then your communication channel will most likely stagnate. A stale website is a website nobody will visit, which defeats the purpose of having a website built.

We still suggest that you have a budget, of course; that'll never change. It's OK to start small and build up new features. If what you're wanting to make calls for it, adding features is a good advertising opportunity. Everybody likes having new features available to them.

And even today, six years later, we ask about a potential clients "bucket list" features.

from the 2012 post

Jargon & Doubletalk

“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” - Albert Einstein

I'm not saying you should run away as soon as you hear a word you do not understand. I use technical terms all the time that might confuse people. However, you should be wary of anyone who uses 'big' words but cannot explain what they mean to you. You should always ask for clarification when you get lost. It is our job as web agencies to help you through this process.

For example, this is the same thing happens to me when I take my car in for a simple repair and then they tell me my fluids need to be flushed, my battery is getting old and the flux capacitor is out of jiggawatts. A jiggawhat?!

Never feel bad for asking for clarification. Depending upon the response the web agency gives, you can guess how well communication will be in the future. Those of us who love building websites will be more than happy to tell you more about what we do. Just ask us!

Since Pleth is a smaller agency, we study and made sure that we know what we're talking about. We have to; there's nobody else here to ask, aside from Google! One or two of us may be more privy to a certain topic, but we have a working knowledge of anything we get our hands on.

We make an effort not to bog down meetings with jargon, and it's our policy to make sure everyone is on the same page. We understand that the Internet (and computers and technology, in general) can be intimidating to deal with when money is involved.

Our old advice still stands: just ask us!

from the 2012 post

What's with all these fees?

Monthly hosting fees and email costs are legitimate fees that many web agencies do charge. This is to keep up with the servers your website is hosted on, maintain security and other technical stuff that goes on behind the scenes of your website. However, there are some agencies out there who will charge you monthly fees that are not valid, so be sure you understand what your monthly invoice means and what you are getting from these monthly services. Maintenance fees may be legitimate. Be sure to find out if the agency is doing updates or changes for your website. Are they covering small updates and text changes to the site for you? Again, don't be afraid to ask questions.

Know all costs up-front, understand hourly rates and know what constitutes a paid change versus free or included changes. Learning all this in the beginning will help with communication down the road.

The above is the reality of website development: a new swath of work begins after the website is launched. They're the unsexy parts of development, but they're a part of it, all the same. Until the Internet can update and protect itself, we'll still need to charge for upkeep. It's not very fun, but it's still a part of the process.

Does it all still hold up?

Yes. Very much so.

The most important thing that we want people to know, in 2018 and beyond is that we're always available and ready to answer questions. We don't want to make the already complex world of the Internet any more complicated... we just want to keep making awesome websites.

PS. If you need any help, email us: support@pleth.com.