How to Pick a Digital Product Development Agency You’ll Love

Published by Drew Johnson · January 19 2024
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There are so many agencies. Estimates show that there are almost 90,000 ad agencies in the USA, that’s about 1 per every 3,700 US citizens. For comparison, there are only about 63,000 grocery stores in the US. This stat doesn't even account for the other types of agencies: app development, content marketing, you name it—there’s probably an agency for it.

So, how do you pick the right one when the number of choices can seem overwhelming? We’ll make it simple for you with a short walkthrough and a free worksheet that’ll help guide your selection process.

Establish requirements & qualifications

When building your agency roster you’ll want to consider which services you feel confident outsourcing and which you’d like to keep in-house. Are you looking for a digital product development agency or a search engine optimization agency, maybe you need both. A hybrid app development company could be a good fit too. Consider the following:

  • Services: What kind of project do you need help with? Is there a specific problem you’re looking to solve or do you need an expert to help identify issues first?
  • Experience: Are you looking for a well-seasoned team or are you willing to take a chance on a group of industry newcomers? Do you need an agency with experience in lots of fields or are you looking for an expert in a single field?
  • Cost: How much are you willing to spend? Do you have a fixed budget or is hourly work okay? Would you be willing to trade equity in your business to help fund your project?
  • Location: Do you want to be able to work with your agency in person or are you okay with a fully remote experience? Maybe you’d like to meet 1:1 quarterly?

Once you’ve worked through these questions you’re ready to determine requirements, what qualifications you’re looking for, and what you’re willing to be flexible about.


What kind of agency should you use?

Requirements are a good jumping-off point but there’s more to consider. Do you want an all-in-one experience or is there a specialized service you’re looking for? It’s kind of like deciding between attending a state school or a liberal arts university, there are pros and cons to both.

What is a full-service agency?

Usually based on a specific industry, you can find “full-service” design, development, marketing, and advertising agencies all over the internet with a single search. Understanding how they work can be difficult though. If you’ve ever worked with one of these agencies then you know they claim to do X, Y, and Z, but they might only do X in-house. How does that work?

Full-service agencies will sometimes fill their skills gaps by outsourcing contracted work to third-party providers. This can feel like you’re paying an agency to find a service provider for you. Platforms like Upwork or Fiverr know this and have built their product around cutting out the middleman, allowing you to off-shore on demand (which can be its own can of worms).

Make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to…If it feels too good to be true, it might be.

There are plenty of reputable businesses that handle everything in-house—these are great but can be pricey. The more affordable the service, the less likely it is to be run fully onshore. Make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to before paying for anything. If it feels too good to be true, it might be.

What is a boutique agency?

Much like a boutique retailer, a boutique agency specializes in high-end, niche, and designer work. These agencies will typically work with larger brands (sometimes household names, sometimes up-and-coming) but in a limited capacity.

For example, at Rapptr we work with several clients on projects that involve custom mobile app development services, IoT app development, or custom web app development. These are all fairly technical skills, they require expertise and experience. Boutique agencies often focus on providing a single specialized solution for their clients, using unique skills that might be hard to find at a full-service agency.

Boutique agencies often focus on providing a single specialized solution for their clients...

The other great thing about smaller agencies is their size. Boutique agencies often value you in a way that big box shops can’t. They take on fewer clients than other agencies in general, so every client is special—your satisfaction is vital to their success. You can typically expect more face time, 1:1s, and workshops from smaller shops.


Building a partnership

Sometimes working with an agency can seem transactional: you’ve got a problem, you hired someone to fix it, they did the work, done. This attitude can work for short-term engagements but might not be a great stance to take if you plan on working together for a longer timeframe. Consider the following when you’re looking for a long-term partner:

  • Trust: How trustworthy does this agency seem, do they have a client roster and online reviews you can check out? If they’re new to the market, do they have educational or professional qualifications? Were they recommended by someone you trust? 
  • Collaboration: How will this agency work with your other agencies? Do they seem like they’re going to be able to work at the same level while having complementary skill sets?
  • Equity: Would you consider going into business with this agency? If you had the opportunity to sell equity to them would you seriously consider the offer, would they manage your business as responsibly as you do?

Trust is tricky, it can be highly personal so it might not be best to rush into anything here. Consider how important a new alliance might be to your business long-term. Finding the right fit is more than just, “Can they do the work?” It’s also, “Will they be there when I need them to be, can I trust them to help me navigate difficult situations?”

It’s also important to consider personality. As individuals, we don’t always get along with everyone and that’s fine. You don’t need to be best friends with your agency or its leaders but, at a minimum, you should have good business rapport.

Worksheet & checklist

Grab a copy of our Agency Selection Worksheet and start searching for your new favorite agency. The worksheet includes spaces for capturing key concepts from this article, including requirement gathering and partnership metrics. By filling out multiple copies you can compare and contrast your top choices, streamlining your selection process. 

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