Dear CEO: Read This Before Collaborating With A Web Design Agency

*updated March 28, 2015 with re-priortized items because of a collaboration with our online community. keep the convos comin! 


by Colleen Hickman

As a startup CEO, I know that I am the face of my company.  Whether I like it or not, my actions and presentation as a human being are seen as a direct reflection of my company’s worth.

As startup CEO's, we know better than to show up to an investor meeting obviously under-prepared and disheveled. We need to come off like we have our sh*t together. (Whether or not we actually do is debatable.) 

The same goes for our company websites. When these potential investors want to know more about our company, they look us up online. Then, one of the following two things happens: 1) They will see a great website that reinforces all positive things they already thought about our company. Or, 2) They will see a confusing, outdated, and unprofessional website that reinforces all of the negative things they already thought about our company.

When collaborating with an agency to build a website for your startup, know where you stand in the following 4 departments before your first meeting. It will make a hell of a difference in how effectively the agency is able to showcase your company the way it deserves to be showcased. 



First and foremost, think about the big picture. What is the purpose of your startup and who, if anyone, is going to benefit from it? How are you going to reach those people and in what ways will they respond positively? The biggest thing that should be addressed when first meeting with your agency is outlining the bigger picture, and being able to answer every single 'why?' along the way journey.

A website is definitely something you will likely need, but a website alone doesn't do much for your company if no one can find it. Now is the time to start budgeting and planning for your bigger-picture digital marketing strategy to ensure your business is starting up effectively for long-term success.

In addition to a branded website, be ready to collaborate with your agency to plan for the future on:

  • SEO,
  • social media and blogging,
  • digital advertising,
  • and creative ways to get your audience to your website, turn them into paying customers, and keep them as long time promoters.

If you’re like a lot of startups, you won’t be able to drop the cash to launch an all encompassing marketing campaign right off the bat. This is okay. You don’t need to do all these things at once. Roll out your digital marketing campaign in phases and at a realistic pace that matches your company’s growth.

 Calvin & Hobbs dropping reality bombs. 

Calvin & Hobbs dropping reality bombs. 

Tag Cloud Block
This is an example. Double-click here and select a page to create a cloud of its tags or categories. Learn more


Always keeping the big picture in mind, let's come back to your website. You will need to know what kind of website your company needs before you begin work with your agency's web design team.

Here are 3 non-exclusive categories your startup's site will likely fall into:

  1. Brochure Site - a purely informational site, establishing an online presence for your startup to provide easily accessible information about your business. Example: Corvidae Collective's website.
  2. Commerce Site - a website with functionality to display, sell, and process payment of products or services that your startup sells. Example: Colby June's Etsy.
  3. Buddy Press Site - a community website with interactive social networking functionality. Example: Tasty Kitchen: A Happy Recipe Community!

Insider Disclaimer: The more functionality a site has, the more complicated and time involved it will be to build, the more cash you're going to have to fork over to get the job done. 

 Category 4 is "Literal Cashflow Site."

Category 4 is "Literal Cashflow Site."


The B-word. The one that haunts your dreams. How much money can your company spend to commission a website? 

Bring your budget to your first meeting with the agency.  When they know your budget, an agency can put together a realistic proposal for you. Both you and the agency end up being able to move forward with the collaboration because you are seeing eye-to-eye. It's also not unreasonable to ask your agency walk you through the work, time, and details involved in the cost to keep things transparent.  

 You know what they say...the bigger the pig, the bigger the budget.    Image Source

You know what they say...the bigger the pig, the bigger the budget. 

Image Source


Finally, honestly assess where your company is with branding. Have you established your company name, voice, and identity? Do you have a company logo, font package, and color palette?

 If you do, congratulations. You’re kicking ass. Now, get these items organized and prepared as shareable files in multiple, hi-res versions. Upload them to a site like Dropbox so they are accessible by your agency.

If you don’t, congratulations. You’re about to have a ton of fun. There is no time like the present to sit down with your team and hash out a brand plan. Many agencies like ours that do web design also have experience in branding, so consider hiring your agency to work with you to provide final branding. This identity is vital to not only your website but also to all of the marketing and PR efforts coming in your near future. 

 And before you know it  your  office will be  that  office with the slide in it.   Image Source 

And before you know it your office will be that office with the slide in it.

Image Source 

The take away message is this:  Success with your digital marketing agency is a two-way street.  The agency can and wants to give your company badass online curb appeal. The truth is that you aren't going to be happy with your agency's finished product if you are disconnected from and uninvolved in the process.