Working with a digital agency: Get the best project estimate

Helpful tips on how to help digital agencies help YOU get the best project estimate.

So you’re out shopping for a digital agency to help with your website design and development project and you’re getting estimates that are all over the board. Maybe it’s for a new website and you need the full package: branding, website design and development, search engine optimization – the whole package. Or you have an existing site and you need help with SEO, or want a new design to freshen up the look and add some additional functionality. If you’ve been shopping around for digital agencies and estimate ranges are not what you expect or are all over the place, read on for some tips on how to get better estimates from agencies.

Describe your needs clearly; explain it like you would to a 5-year-old.

We’re not talking about treating people like kindergartners. Sometimes people take for granted that the knowledge they have and nomenclature they use should be shared by everyone. Another issue is that terminology may be misused or misunderstood by others, and using dead simple descriptions helps keep everyone on the same page.

Here’s an example that could lead to confusion and an overblown estimate for something simple: “I need to integrate FooWizzle’s website on my home page. How much would that cost?” That sounds pretty basic and straightforward, right? From a digital agency’s perspective, one could read that as a need to do a bunch of programming in order to grab data from FooWizzle’s database and integrate into the code of the home page — a lot of work. And maybe that’s the case. Usually, though, what the client really meant was “I want to add a button on the homepage that, when clicked, opens a new window and takes the user to FooWizzle.” When the request is presented in much simpler terms, there’s less back-and-forth of questions and answers, and nobody feels like a kindergartner.

Prioritize the items you want.

Client X has a website task list she wants done, design goals, functionality requirements… she has everything under the sun listed out in a document that’s ready to send out for bids. Hopefully, Client X prioritized the items.

Prioritizing items serves a couple of purposes: First, it helps the client formulate what items are deal breakers if not met, what items are optional, and what items are nice-to-have but not necessary. Unless one has an unlimited budget, chances are that not everything can be done. Second, it helps the digital agency focus on the must-have items when formulating a budget, which leads to more refined and tighter estimate ranges.

Be up-front about your budget.

It seems nobody wants to talk about money; it’s a taboo subject subject for some reason. The silly thing is, that by not talking about budget at the start, both parties can end up wasting a lot of time – the client waits on an estimate while the agency comes up with a budget that may be beyond what the client can spend. The discussion has to come up at some point, might as well get it out of the way.

With a known budget and a prioritized list of items, an agency can concentrate on the must-have items and try to see if time and cost work within the budget. If the must-haves pass internal review, estimates move on to the optional items, and so forth. At any stage that fails passing, the digital agency can reach out to the client and have a frank discussion of where the estimate stands in relation to the client needs. The quicker both parties can come to an agreement or impasse, the better.

If you have an existing site, be specific about which functionality you already have and what would be new functionality.

This is a pretty easy one, though it sometimes trips people up. Example: client X has an existing website that needs new stuff and is looking for bids. He sends out a document that lists items that already exist on the website along with items he’d like to get added, all in a big list that look like action items. Without clear delineation of what already exists and what are new items, the agency is going to estimate for everything.


Getting bids on your website project doesn’t have to suck. In the competitive market of web design and development, most digital agencies aren’t out to fleece clients, rather they’re more than ready to do the work for the best cost to the client. Take the time to create clear, actionable, prioritized goals for your project goes a long way to helping agencies get you the best estimate.