A Guide to Finding the Right eCommerce Agency
Your eCommerce business is booming and you have a successfully operating eShop. Marketing works well and customers love your products. Congrats! As you probably realized, the methods which worked at the beginning of your business now don’t perform that well. If you feel like you hit the ceiling of success and without additional help, your business will start to recede, you’re on a good path.
Finding a good agency is not an easy task, but it’s necessary to drive revenue and bring your eCommerce to the next level. There are plenty of agencies to choose from that work with clients from various fields and have diverse expertise in multiple sectors. When there are so many options and a lot of uncertainty, you might get confused about which company is the best to work with.
Since we have worked with many other agencies, companies and eCommerce businesses, below we share the key points to look for before signing a contract with a Web agency.
Technical skills and agency’s experience
To begin with, take a look at the web agency’s extra-curricular activities. Like any other professional, every potential agency should be willing to invest extra time into getting more experience and knowledge. Is the agency certified to work with your chosen eCommerce platform? Do they have any credentials or badges to prove it? Also, does the agency have a license or authorization to organize trainings, workshops or special events? Find a company that not only understands the technical part of the eCommerce sector but also trains others to become professionals in this field.
Look for a great team of dedicated project managers and skilled developers. It is recommended to search for agencies that have certified developers or other credentials depending on the eCommerce business case or technology you use. For example, some Web agencies have some of their development teams certified by the official eCommerce platforms. This means half of the team has attained the required skills and have a deeper technical understanding of how the platform works. Moreover, the Web agency’s credentials or badges will give you a better idea of how experienced these specialists are. Also, it shows that improving existing skills and developing new ones is part of an agency’s culture. To summarise, here are the key questions to ask about agency’s expertise:
• Is the company well established or recognized in the industry, field or the community that you want to work with? Credentials, badges, achievements and other signs of credibility are a good measure to validate their status.
• Do trainings, workshops and events play a big role in an agency’s culture?
• What kind of project management approach does the agency use? When discussing the project with the agency take some time to fully understand what type of methods and workflows will be used while implementing your project.
Reliability is the key
Reliability, both in everyday and emergency situations, cannot be missed in a company’s performance. However, it is absolutely vital to consider it, especially if this company will be handling the technical side of your business. When things go down South, you want to be sure that you have a personal emergency contact and the agency will do its best to handle requests in a timely manner. Imagine there is a database failure or website crash, how soon you would like to sort out things? Of course, as soon as possible.
We do recommend to check out case studies as well as analysis of a company’s growth each year. Does it have a record of successfully implemented projects and feedback of satisfied customers? The successful record shows the agency’s ability to provide the best services with great results. So do your research and choose wisely.
Bigger and more complex projects, communication culture, wide skill set, and strong infrastructure are the biggest reasons why companies prefer to hire an agency instead of freelancers. Ask yourself how big is your project and what would be the best size of the project team? If your project is relatively small, a freelancer developer might do the job just fine. For bigger projects, you might want to consider several developers with various technical skills in different backgrounds as well as project managers, QA testers and other professionals. Let’s dive into specifics of the project management team. Depending on the complexity of your project, decide what type of specialists do you need:
• Does the project team have UI/UX specialists, architects, testers and other dedicated professionals?
• In terms of expertise, does your project require more Senior or Junior developers to get everything completed effectively?
The size and competencies of each team member will depend on the scope of your eCommerce business. Also, it is wise to ask an agency which one of the team members will be your personal contact. Who will you call when you encounter some problems? At the end of the day, you want to get the best results and see the growth of your business. Additional things to keep in mind concerning agency’s reliability:
• Will the current time-zone in which the company is operating won’t be an issue to handle your request in a timely manner?
• Does an agency have the expertise to work with similar complexity projects like yours? Does an agency have enough human resources to work with your project or do they outsource IT specialists for specific tasks?
• Does an agency specialize in one or a few eCommerce platforms? Do they have enough expertize to work with a particular eCommerce platform or do they have less specific, but a broader focus range?
• Does the company have some kind of “safety mechanisms” if things go bad with your project? Insurance indemnity is a good example of this.
Shared Business values
No one will doubt that the client’s and agency’s way of handling projects and methods should match. Take a look at the company’s values and mission. It might be a few additional elements that will help you choose the Web agency and see if you both have a similar attitude towards business. IT product development usually takes more time than regular ones and naturally, the arguments could appear. When your values match the agency’s, it’s easier to find an agreement based on similar values and solve the problem.
Spend some time to clarify and find out your own business values and mission before you sit face-to-face to discuss business opportunities with the agency. Take a look at Forbes article about tips on how to define your business values, if you haven’t already (G. Satell, 2015 ).
Management style and work ethics
Every project is unique. Some projects are relatively straightforward and predictable. Others are highly complex and risky. Each requires a different approach when it comes to project management.
The evolving project management methodology list of Agile, SCRUM, Kanban, Lean and others can be confusing. Many companies might not go 100% fully on one methodology, but we believe it’s best to adapt different elements/parts of certain methodologies. Only by discussing in-depth you can find out and see if their approach meets your needs. Which methodology fits your approach the best? Project Management Institute (PMI) wrote a full-length analysis of what are the main steps to think about before choosing the right project management approach for your project (Burgan, S. C. & Burgan, D. S., 2014).
If your project has a fixed budget and should be implemented in a specific time-frame, it might not be necessary to spend time picking the “right” project management approach. However, if you would like to better understand the way in which agency will handle your project, the questions below might get you on track:
• What is the agency’s approach towards your meeting your project goals? Does an agency pay enough attention to understand your business case? For example, a company takes enough time to clarify your expectations and checks if it could be implemented within the frame of your chosen eCommerce platform. What type of communication tools does the agency use to provide smooth and fast interaction with you?
• If you’re looking for technical support, how does the company handle emergency situations? What will be the time-frames for reacting to the problem and solving the problem? Image if you have some new updates installed on your website and during the weekend your website suddenly crashes, how long it takes for an agency to solve the current problem? When your service problems will be solved and monitored by the support team, 24/7 or only during work hours?
• Ask yourself how often would you like to be involved in the project management process and whether the agency has an infrastructure, certain software or apps, to allow it?
Finding the right agency takes both energy and a considerable amount of time
Although some projects have similarities, it also has some differences which make it unique. It should have effective project management which is not a rigid set of various processes. The nature and components of the project must command the type of project management approach and thus the right agency. A mix of principles, best practices, and methodologies of all kinds can be very valuable, but only if they are relevant to the specific needs of the project.
All in all, scaling your business might not be difficult if you have a skilled Web agency behind your back. Depending on the size of your project, it might take a longer time to clarify your needs, goals and the right approach to find a suitable agency. But it definitely pays off to see your business sky-rocketing in the eCommerce world.