Agency Life: Who’s paying whom here?

Posted by Anne Hall on

Often, when an agency makes a pitch to modify an existing website, their pitch is tantalizingly short on details while being long on promises of what the agency can do.

Too often, those promises are made without having a look at the back-end of the website, and so are made without any real idea of what kind of work the website will actually need to get to the promised state. When this happens, any quoted figure is essentially pulled out of thin air.

Clear project stages are needed to ensure that an agency isn’t committing to doing far more work than they initially signed up for. Indeed, a project may need to contain scheduled reassessments, where the scope of work is reviewed depending on what the previous stage has uncovered or attained.


Understandably, this is something many small agencies are reluctant to do as they think that by not having a complete proposal they risk missing out on business. While that may be the case, by not having a well-defined scope with opportunities for review, they risk a project which goes well beyond their plan and ends up racking up a bill two or three times the cost of the initial agreement.

From there they have a number of options, none of which are attractive. They can tell the client that the project won’t be finished without more money – admitting that they pitched poorly and, depending on their contract (if they have a contract) they may not be able to actually do. Either way, it’s not a recipe for keeping a long-term customer.

The other option is likely even less attractive – the agency does what was agreed upon in the pitch document, which can end up costing them several times what the job was worth in the first place in time and energy. And an agency will find that once they agree with working for free, many clients expect the same going forward – so while they might get more jobs from them, they might not get more money.


In both pitches and agreements the levels of detail need to be increased. Not just to allow for project stages, but also to contain a better description of what is in scope and what is out of scope.

While the scope might not be known entirely at the outset, any pitch or discussion needs to note that some aspects of the site will be the customer’s responsibility. Beyond this, there needs to be a process for identifying and discussing any extra components that come up during the build process.

An agency could be a pushover and lose money, or they could be ruthless... and lose the client going forward. A transparent method of working allows for the agency to make sure a client values their time, as well as appreciates that they’re easy to work with. This fosters customer loyalty – particularly important in these days when there are more agencies and the client base is generally very mobile. It’s much easier to keep a customer than get a new one.


How’s your agreement working?

Digital agencies have often embraced the electronic contract. Simply email a link to the client, the client checks a box saying they’re not a robot, and everyone is agreed. Only, they aren’t really.

Usually the agreement isn’t customized to the client’s project – not that they notice that, because very few of them are reading it anyway. This is where the problem of using a contract designed for new builds when the project is to modify an existing website is at its most problematic. The agreement doesn’t cover the risks of old builds, and features clauses specifically for new builds. None of the potential problems are covered, which means that should any of those problems appear, someone is going to end up out of pocket.

It can take a little time to discuss and actually agree to the details of a website modification. But that time spent upfront pays dividends down the track in both time saved and money earned.


IT Contract Templates has agreements specifically for digital agencies, to cover both new builds and website modifications. These are easy to use, customizable, and allow both parties to discuss the ins and outs of a project in plain English. They mitigate risk, make an agency look good and aid customer retention.

Because everyone likes keeping customers – but not by having to pay to do work for them.

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