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The web industry blows my mind, and I love working in it. My job is wonderful. Sadly, there are many elements of the client experience within the web industry that are everything but wonderful.

Much of this dark side is justified by ‘standard practices,’ because, well, ‘that’s just how it’s done.’ We’ve all heard that phrase before and hopefully have figured out by now it’s nothing more than a signal for change. I try to do my part to change what I can through my agency’s values, policies, and processes.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider deal-breakers when it comes to client experience with a web agency. These experiences may be justified by ‘standard practices,’ or are perhaps just the result of poor customer service or a crappy process. In any case, if I were the client, I would find the following situations completely unacceptable.

If you’ve not been feeling great about your relationship with your web agency, or the service you’re getting, perhaps this article will help you make a decision that makes your life a little better and your cortisol a little lower.

Quick note: If you see me use the terms ‘we’ and ‘our’, I’m referencing something we do at Hooked On Code.

Without further ado, 5 reasons to look for a new web agency:

If you find yourself thinking, ‘wow, they really suck’ after a meeting or interaction with your web agency, I’m not sure you even need to read the rest of this article. Take my word for it that there are agencies out there that have core values and processes ensuring a positive client experience, and you deserve that. If you need someone to text you encouraging GIFs during the break-up call, message me and I’ll be there for you.

Bottom Line 1: If you already loathe your web agency, and your cortisol spikes thinking about sending them even one more ‘please, be better’ email, it may be time to stop the bleeding. You have my permission to kindly break up with them without reading the rest of this article.

It’s not uncommon for a developer to be unclear about deliverables, deadlines, or expectations in general. And, honestly, let’s give them a break — they’re developers. They’re the geniuses building the thing you need, and they might not be great at their super powers AND clear and transparent communication. BUT, isn’t that why you hired an agency, and not a freelance developer? So that you’d have a team ensuring you are taken care of and have a positive, low-stress relationship?

If you can’t seem to get a straight answer when you ask the ‘when,’ ‘how,’ and ‘how much’ questions, you are allowed to demand clarity (and then decide how to proceed if they simply cannot provide it). You have a job to do, and it is flat-out reasonable for your vendors to be able to set clear expectations (oh, and meet them).

Bottom Line 2: A relationship with a vendor that lacks transparent and direct communication, or without dependable and clear deadlines, is not one that is helping you do your job. Find a new vendor.

Have you heard the term ‘ghosting?’ In the web development space, it refers to a developer going radio silent about a project that was already underway.

I saw that involuntary eye-twitch.

Been ghosted, have you?

You’re not alone. Hopefully, it didn’t last forever and your developer eventually got back to you, but no matter how it panned out, it isn’t a great sign of dependability.

Look, everybody makes mistakes. The important consideration is how frequently those mistakes happen AND how they’re handled.

Ghosting or failing to deliver work is the most common complaint we hear from new clients, and it sounds like,

“Our previous agency was great at the beginning. We had a very clear scope of work and schedule of deliverables, but at some point during the project it seemed like they just got too busy for us and they stopped making progress… now we’re left with a half-baked development site that they won’t even give us access to and we need to start over.”

For reference, and so you know it IS possible to find an agency that keeps their deadlines, our process involves setting review meetings and the launch date upfront, often more aggressively than the client even needs, and then we keep them. These dates are in our contract.

Meeting our promised deadlines is such a foundational principle for us I think our team would all spend a week in intensive therapy if we failed to deliver a project or review material when it was scheduled due.

If something comes up that prevents your agency from meeting a deadline, and you’re informed ahead of time, then you have a communicative relationship and can likely work those situations out. If missed deadlines happen over and over and over, even if communication is great, it’s time to look for an agency that can handle your work in a timeline that supports your business.

Bottom Line 3: If your agency is showing you time and time again that they don’t do what they say they will, listen to them. Missed deadlines happen, but if your agency is more dependable for missing deadlines than meeting them, it’s time to find an agency with a better process.

And by ‘stuff’ I mean domain names, website files, theme/plugin licenses, and other digital assets that make up your web presence. Ideally your company has a policy to make all purchases directly rather than allow an agency to make purchases on your behalf. If it doesn’t, you’re in the majority, and simply have to be aware of the potential consequences that exist when someone else owns your digital assets.

Now, I have come across some acceptable reasons for this very common policy of agencies buying licenses for clients. What matters most here is that if you ever needed to move your stuff (aka your domain name, your website itself, etc) away from your agency, that they would be willing to give you full access to facilitate those changes.

If you’re not sure whether you own your digital assets or your agency/developer does, don’t fret. We run into that a lot when starting a project with a new client.

Below is an example of an email you could send your agency contact to figure it out:

*Please mentally read the below with a proud English accent*

Email subject: Website Related Assets & Ownership

Email body:

Hi _____, I need your help filling out a password file I’m compiling for all things website related. I’m realizing I actually don’t know where our domain name is registered and was hoping you could remind me, and provide login information to manage that.

Also, I want to make sure I can access my actual website files if ever needed. Would that be done via a hosting panel? Can you remind me where our site is hosted, and remind me if I have a login to that in case I ever need it?

Thanks so much,

(insert your name and knighthood, if appropriate, here)

Concerning Response Example

The kind of response I would hiss at is something like, “We have a policy to purchase all client domain names under our agency account, so your domain name resides in our account which we cannot provide access to as it contains other client domain names as well.

Your website is hosted on our dedicated server along with other client websites, and we are unable to provide you access to the hosting panel or directly to your website files.”

That example response is demonstrating that your digital assets regarding your website are not truly ‘yours.’ If I were the client, I’d read this as ‘Sorry, nope’ and be pretty frustrated. If you do get this response, the website file access may be tricky to get cooperation on, so I’d focus first on getting your domain name transferred to an account you or your company owns.

Proprietary Code

Another concerning response would be if you’re informed that ‘portions of your website code / files are proprietary and therefore we cannot provide you access to them.’ There are some excellent web agencies that have this policy, but as a client this would lead me to ask the important question of, ‘If there are pieces of code on our site that are proprietary, does that mean we do not in fact own our own website that we paid you to build for us?’ I’d be asking for more clarification on this, and how much of my website I actually owned.

For point of reference on this note, we ensure all of our clients own their own domain names (we never purchase domain names on behalf of clients), and while client websites are hosted on our dedicated servers at WP Engine, they are granted access to those files (along with access to WP Engine’s incredible 24/7 support — yes that’s a shameless plug… we love them) in case they ever need them. Our business is not structured around locking down our clients’ assets or websites.

Bottom Line 4: It’s important that you own your domain name and have access to your website files, at minimum, in case your agency relationship ever sours and you need to move them. To us, this is an absolute deal breaker because in a worst case scenario you could actually ‘lose’ your domain name and/or website if your agency relationship goes south.

We’ve said this already, but you hired a web agency to take stress off your plate, right? So then, logically, if that is in fact not happening, they are not serving their full purpose to you.

You know that phrase, “if you want something done right you’ve got to do it yourself?’ That phrase doesn’t allow much room for expansion, scaling, or breathing… It’s time to find someone you can trust to not only ‘do it right’ but have your back and truly take accountability for the services they are providing.

Repeating myself from an earlier point, nobody is perfect, and regardless of who you work with there will be mistakes, but if you cannot without hesitation say that your web agency makes your life better, you should skedaddle.

Bottom Line 5: You hired a web agency to lower your workload and take stress off your plate. Remember that, and hold them to it or find a new dance partner.

  1. If you already loathe your web agency, and your cortisol spikes thinking about sending them even one more ‘please, be better’ email, it may be time to stop the bleeding.
  2. A relationship with a vendor that lacks transparent and direct communication, or without dependable and clear deadlines, is not one that is helping you do your job.
  3. If your agency is showing you time and time again that they don’t do what they say they will, listen to them.
  4. It’s important that you own your domain name and have access to your website files, at minimum, in case your agency relationship ever sours and you need to move them.
  5. You hired a web agency to lower your workload and take stress off your plate. Remember that, and hold them to it or find a new dance partner.

Did that feel like a counseling session? I dunno, maybe that’s good. Perhaps I should wrap up by saying ‘YOU DESERVE EVERYTHING YOU DREAM OF IN A RELATIONSHIP with a web agency.’

In my next article, I’ll detail my recommendations for finding a new agency. Now go to the loo, stare yourself in the mirror, and repeat ‘I am worthy of a great vendor’ three times. Tootles!

— —

About the Author: Torre Capistran is the owner and Creative Lead at Hooked On Code, a web agency specialized in creating flexible and easy-to-maintain websites using WordPress for companies. Hooked On Code’s core values include Simplicity, Authenticity, Relentless Forward Motion, Passion, and Delight. They are highly deadline-oriented, working tirelessly to deliver their projects on schedule, in a process that feels easy (if even delightful) for their clients.

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