What to Look for in an Agency's Proposal

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Riley Whisler —

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No matter the size of your project, selecting the right digital agency is a difficult choice. When you receive proposals, what should you look for? What are the most important factors to consider?  As you make your decision, here’s some insight that may make the process easier for you and your team.

What should be in a proposal? 

While the proposals you receive might look different from agency to agency, there are a few crucial elements to look for as you are assessing partners:

Information about the agency and what you could expect when working with them 

It’s important to know who you will be working with and how they will work with stakeholders on your end. For example, does the agency have project managers? Do they use any particular systems to track progress? How often will they provide status updates? After reading through the proposal, you should have a better sense of who the agency is and key details about their approach to client work as a whole. Additionally, meeting with the agency or project team on a call or in person is helpful to round out your understanding of who you might be working with.

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Questions to Ask When Evaluating an Agency Partner

Case studies relevant to the project at hand

Case studies are a great way to evaluate the work an agency is capable of producing. It’s also helpful to see if the agency has completed similar projects and can handle yours. If you are presented with fewer examples than you hoped for, reach back out to your contact directly, as you should feel confident in your selected partner’s skills. Sometimes, an agency might provide a link to a completed project (such as a website they redesigned), allowing you to evaluate if the case study and the actual outcome are aligned. Lastly, an agency must show the types of clients they have worked with in the past. Have they worked with an organization similar to yours in size, vertical, or structure? 

The approach to your project and any areas of focus/consideration when they get started

Obviously, you wouldn’t give a proposal a second look if the agency failed to explain how they would complete the project. It’s important that you feel the agency has a grasp on the approach they will take and outline the steps up until the end. 

It is important to note that an agency may not have all the answers right out of the gate. Sometimes, they might propose a small discovery phase at the beginning of the project to focus on unknowns and make decisions in collaboration with you. It’s perfectly fine for a shop to admit what they don’t know, as this shows a level of transparency and desire to iron everything out on the front end to avoid any pitfalls. 


Why Effective Communication is Important as a Project Manager

A timeline and price

Also important to know is how much the project will cost and how long it will take to complete. An agency should be able to take the information provided to them and create an estimate based on existing knowledge and experience.

Sometimes it’s impossible to estimate a project down to the exact dollar or end date. An agency may provide ranges for each phase of the project or a high and low estimate for its entirety. This approach helps set an expectation and keep costs within two guideposts. If you have any important budget or timeline considerations, communicate these before accepting proposals. 

Timeline vs Budget Chart

Budget - Does their approach fit within the budget you communicated?

Is your budget completely firm? Is it worth flexing if one agency has a better track record, more specific case studies, and understands your project better? At the end of the project, you don’t want to feel regretful that you didn’t spend a bit more for a better outcome. 

Sometimes, the budget is completely firm, and it’s understandable to be strict here. Most of the time, an agency's price reflects the talent and output of work they produce. You may pay more of a premium for an agency that doesn’t outsource any of their development processes, has an impressive client roster, or has more senior and experienced talent. 

Timeline - is there a specific date you are looking to hit? Can the agency hit your deadline or get started when your team is ready? 

Just because an agency can get something done quickly does not mean they will execute with quality. Although, a quick turnaround does not always equal less quality. An agency may staff the project with a larger team to fit within their resourcing plan and complete the project on a timeline that works for them. Don’t automatically eliminate an agency if they give a short timeline. Ask for their reasoning and try to understand why they shared the timeline provided to you.

Does the agency understand your problem? 

You may be looking to redesign your website, build an application from the ground up, or refresh your visual identity. An agency must understand the reasoning behind the project, who your team is, specific considerations, and what success looks like. As you are evaluating proposals, some questions you have might be:

Business Proposal key questions

Making a Decision

As you receive proposals, you must know your and your organization's most critical decision factors. For example, if you are a large non-profit, is it essential that the agency knows how to navigate a large stakeholder team while fitting into a tightly defined budget? Here are a few criteria you may consider when selecting:

Expertise - are they specialists or experts? Have they done enough projects similar to mine? 

It's important to note that some projects are unique, and agencies may not be able to show exact 1:1 examples. A good partner should be able to point to similarities in a past project and connect them to yours. Do they understand the basic concepts, are transparent about any unknowns, and are willing to plan an approach with you? 

Approach - Are they transparent about their steps to complete the project? Have they laid out their plan of attack?

The approach an agency gives you in a proposal shows how well they understand your project and what it will take to achieve a successful outcome. If the approach seems to miss critical elements of your RFP or the information you communicated, it's most likely that the agency isn't taking enough time to put its best foot forward. 

Creativity - Is the agency thinking through a creative solution for you? Are they adding insight or expertise that excites you to work with them? 

Some of the best agencies in the world have the fantastic ability to think outside the box and put together unique solutions. Some projects are more straightforward than others, but a bit of creativity can turn an outcome from good to great.

Proposals and Savas Labs

Here at Savas, my title is Client Strategist because our team approaches potential projects strategically – balancing scope, understanding budget and timeline fit, finding crossover in our expertise, and creatively solving problems. When I talk to potential clients on a daily basis, I know we're not always the right fit for each other. We don't try to force things just to win work or add another client to our roster. But when there is a fit, we try our best to show our expertise and desire to build digital products that create impact and put together an approach specific to the project at hand.

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