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28.12.2021

Outsourcing

Step-by-step guide for creative agencies to reliably outsource web development work
  • / Introduction
  • / Step One: Finding the right development partner
  • / Step Two: Managing the web development project
  • / Step Three: Getting the most out of your partnership
  • / Summary

Introduction

Outsourcing web development work to a good standard is difficult to do, it’s not a hands-off process like most think. Especially if you want the final website to match your designs, pixel-perfect, or you want the project delivered on time.

We started to realise that the sooner we (a dev agency) were involved in the process with the creative agency, the better the end result.

Agencies don’t send us the web designs out of the blue, for us to see for the first time, and hope for the best. Yes, that does happen in some rare cases. But 9 times out of 10, and whenever possible, we’re involved right from the beginning, when our client speaks to their prospect.

Over the years, we’ve built out a pretty solid process to ensure no detail slips through the cracks when we work with other agencies. And all of that experience and those learnings, are bundled up into this tasty guide for you to tuck into.

Covering three areas:

(1) Finding the right development partner

(2) Managing the web development project

(3) Getting the most out of your partnership

So, agencies, this post’s for you! A complete guide to outsourcing web development. All without compromising on that brand identity you’ve worked so hard to create for your client!

Why outsource?

For creative agencies, it’s usually quite simple. You don’t have the developers or expertise in-house, or you currently don’t have the capacity.

This means you’re not selling websites to your clients, when you could be. So you’re missing out on extra revenue.

As an agency owner myself, I don’t want to be losing money! But I also don’t want to deliver substandard work for our clients, even if it does make us more money.

So outsourcing your web development work to a trustworthy partner can help your business grow without compromising on quality.

Benefits of outsourcing

There are numerous benefits to outsourcing your web development work, including…

(1) Generating more revenue… by offering additional services, such as web design and web development to your clients. If you’re not already selling web builds to your clients, this will add another revenue stream for your business.

(2) Taking on more clients… if you have too much work, outsourcing smaller builds to your development partner means you don’t have to turn down work.

(3) Keeping your clients and not losing them to the competition… by having a reliable development partner. Clients come to you for a full service, so you can now offer it.

(4) Delivering more advanced projects… because your current developers may lack the finesse or skill set to match your advanced creative concepts. By outsourcing the work you can build something better than what your current team can.

(5) Focus on what you do best… by working with a development partner that does the heavy lifting with the tech. Letting you focus on the design and the branding.

Now we’ve covered the benefits, time to find you a developer that’ll make you feel secure and help your business grow.

Step one: Finding the right web development partner

The first step to finding your forever dev is to know what you want. In this section, we run through the questions you should be asking before you start looking for a development agency to partner with.

If you’ve already found a development partner but want to improve the processes or relationship you have with them, you can skip to the next section.

Three types of outsourcing

Often, when we think of outsourcing, we think of a far-off company in a foreign land taking on the work. But there are a few different routes to outsourcing – you can even keep it in the UK!

(1) Local outsourcing: Based locally, speaking the same language, you could head down the pub with your newfound developer friends! They can speak directly with your clients and you can grow the website side of your business together.

(2) Nearshore outsourcing: Think Eastern Europe, fantastic IT hubs sprouting up in places like the Ukraine and Serbia where the average wage is lower than the UK so the cost of development work is too. You could even hop on a flight from the UK and meet your new dev team.

(3) Offshore outsourcing: Outsourcing to Asia, with even lower wages compared to Eastern Europe, the development costs are even cheaper! However, the distance from your business often puts people off from this option.

Other considerations:

If you’re outsourcing work overseas, two factors that come into play are time zones and language barriers. These often play a small role when selecting a development partner because the agency you work with will usually be flexible, work to your schedule and be fluent in English. But it’s still something to take into account and ask.

And finally, how do you want to position this partnership with your clients? Your development agency signs an NDA, they’re a silent partner and you take all of the credit? Or, your client knows about them and you work together as a partnership? Or somewhere in between. This is up to you and there is no right or wrong answer here, whatever works best for your business.

If your dev agency is going to be a silent partner, then you need to make sure you set up a company email for them, add them to tools like Slack or Asana, and make sure they are onboarded to your company as you would a new employee so they have access to important systems to do their job. More on this later.

What to look for?

Developers, like designers, come in all shapes and sizes. And finding the best developer for your project(s) is a key step. To do this, you need a clear idea of the project you need help with.

The sooner you begin looking for a development agency, the better. The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling at the last minute to find someone. And even when you find them, it’s likely they have a waitlist or they need to fit you into their schedule of work. So the sooner you look, the better.

Having spoken to your own client, you should already know the scope of the web project you’re about to embark on. However, this can often be a little chicken and egg. You might know exactly what you need until you get the input of a developer.

If you can get the answers to the following questions, then you can find a developer who has relevant experience and work with them to build out the scope of work.

  • What are the goals of this website? A redesign or a new build?
  • What CMS (if any) will the site use?
  • Are there integrations with 3rd party tools like HubSpot, Salesforce etc? And does the developer have experience with this?
  • Are there any unique features (like a bespoke payment gateway) that the developer needs to be aware of? Do they have experience with this?
  • What are the tech requirements?
  • How many page templates will need to be developed?
    • What is the aim of each page?
    • What functionality will each page have?
  • Is there a current website live, that it will be replacing?
  • What migrations are needed? (Content, SEO, user data, order info etc.) And who will do them?
  • Who will add content to the website?
  • Who will host the website?
  • Is there a deadline?

The more information you have about a project, the more input a developer can have. You need to make sure that you and your client’s expectations are communicated with the developer in advance so any potential roadblocks or issues can be identified.

A lot of developers will be honest and say “I don’t work with that CMS” or “that’s very JavaScript-heavy, I don’t do that type of work”. So by having the answers to the questions above, it lets you ask project-specific questions to gauge their experience.

Creating a full website brief and technical specification and this stage is strongly recommended. This will let you put on paper everything that is needed from this build.

Where to look?

Now you know what you want and what the project needs, it’s time to find the best person for the job. But where do you look? There are many online resources that list out talent and you just need to find your diamond in the rough.

And if you want to keep the work in the UK, or you know that Ukraine is right for you, all of the options below can be filtered or searched for based on location.

For development agencies…

Search Engine Results: The easiest way to draw up a shortlist of development partners is to head over to Google and search for “outsource web development” or “white label web agency”. Other keyword variations are available, but the aim is to wade through the results and create a shortlist of partners you could see yourself working with.

Referrals: Due to the nature of the agency landscape, you likely work with other agencies already. So you could speak to them and see who they use, asking if they have a preferred development partner. Don’t hold your breath though, because some agencies may want to protect their competitive advantage!

For freelance developers…

LinkedIn: This works best if you are looking to work with one developer and not an agency. Just go onto LinkedIn, search for “freelance wordpress developer”, “freelance shopify developer”, “javascript developer”, or whatever developer you need! And then you can look down the list and send a note when you connect.

UpWork: A massive database of skilled freelancer developers. You can search by developer type “wordpress”, “shopify”, etc. and then filter by location or reviews. This is a great tool to help you find a developer for a specific task that also has reviewed and verified projects to look at.

A word of caution when working with a freelance developer in general. You will be working with one developer, and they will likely have other projects. You’re unlikely to be top of the priority list and response times can be slower. When they have annual leave, your whole dev team is essentially on annual leave. This isn’t ideal if your client wants answers to questions or updates made on the site quickly.

Now you have a shortlist of developers or web development partners, it’s time to vet them.

How to vet your web development partner

You’ve made a shortlist of potential development agencies, and now comes one of the most important steps – the vetting process. The best way to approach this is to interview the partner agency or developer as you would a new hire.

Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions, get references, and prepare everything thoroughly beforehand. Create a Google Doc with all of your key questions listed out for every vendor. Use their website or portfolio to ask project-specific questions and dig a little deeper.

Example interview questions to ask…

Background:

  • Can you tell me about your agency?
  • How long have you been operating?
  • How big is your team? And how do you handle extra capacity?
  • How many white-label or outsourcing clients do you work with?
  • Will you sign an NDA?
  • What are your payment terms?

Experience:

  • What technologies do you have experience with?
  • How will the website be built? Will you use a CMS?
  • Can you help with content/data/SEO migrations?

Portfolio:

  • Can you talk through Project X and Y?
  • What was the most challenging part of Project X?

Work process:

  • What’s your process for developing a website?
  • Can you talk us through your QA process?
  • What devices will the website be tested on and how?
  • How do we provide feedback on the site? Through Trello, Asana, Slack?
  • How will the site be built? In batches or all at once?

Communication:

  • Will we have a designated project manager?
  • How often will we have meetings?
  • How do you prefer to communicate: Slack, email, video calls?

Step two: Managing the web development project

You’ve picked the development agency you want to work with, now the hard work begins!! As I’ve said throughout, you don’t just pass the designs over to your agency and forget about the site until it’s built. There are many things that influence the outcome that you have to pay attention to.

In this next section, we look at the things you should be doing before, during and after a website build to ensure it’s delivered on time and is pixel-perfect.

Before the web build

One of the most important parts of a web build is the planning stage before any work begins. However, this is often overlooked or rushed through last minute. Before kicking off the project, make sure all of the deliverables are down on paper and a project plan is in place. We look at the following key areas before we get cracking.

Contracts and the scope of work

Everybody is covered when deliverables and requirements for the site are written down on paper. A lot of the information you uncovered in section one, the questions you asked your potential development partners or the website brief you created, are useful now.

In a contract, as a minimum, you want to list out the following key items:

  • Number of page templates to be built
  • The functionality of each page template
  • All other deliverables and who is responsible (e.g. SEO migration, content population)
  • Key items not included in the cost/that are out of scope (e.g. hosting)
  • What devices/browsers will the website be tested on
  • Terms for additional development work (e.g. process and cost)
  • Intellectual Property (IP) rights
  • Data Protection
  • Payment terms
  • Any deadlines

A project lead, project plans, and timelines

Every web build should have a project manager from the development agency AND the design agency. This is one of the key differences between a project being delivered on time and encountering issues. There needs to be healthy pressure from both sides.

Hopefully, your development partner is a strong project manager, outlining an exact plan for your web build. Detailing how long it will take and when pages will be delivered. This allows you to keep your client in the loop, letting you block out your designers time to test the website.

The last thing you want is some far off date that the developer has chosen, and between now and then, it’s radio silence. It gives you peace of mind and allows the project to move along nicely if you have key milestones where you can check in on the build’s progress.

Designers, meet your developers!

We’ve found the best approach is to involve developers early on and as often as possible. Get feedback on your wireframes and designs before your client signs them off!

Ideally, before you’ve even agreed on the scope of the project with your client, you’re on the phone with your development partner to see if they can shed any experience or provide insights for this build.

Silent partners or out in the open?

Will your development agency be a silent partner? If so, then you need to figure out who will deal with the client communication. Clients will have technical, dev-focussed questions and you’ll need to be able to answer them.

This varies per agency that we work with. For example, one agency, we are their development partner and everything is out in the open. We speak directly with their client, deal with all development questions, and ongoing support is carried out by us. We bill the creative agency’s client directly in most cases.

For another partner agency, we’re silent. We have a branded email, so, if needed, their client can email a generic devteam@… email and we can get back to them. They tell their clients they have an in-house development team and most communication goes through an account manager at the creative agency and our relationship is predominantly with the creative agency, not their client.

Taking either approach is fine with us. There’s a little more admin work when we’re a silent partner and we don’t get to shout about the finished website. But overall, the actual work we deliver is not impacted.

During the web build

If you’ve built a website before, this section may look familiar to you. Having processes and checks in place at each of these stages will ensure your build is delivered on time and matches the brand identity.

Design stage

Before you begin designing the website, what screen sizes does your developer want to work from? Are they happy with just a desktop version? Or do they want mobile, tablet and desktop versions? It’s important to find this out now. We always try to get all three as this then limits any ambiguity between the different screen sizes when seeking client sign-off.

Next, regularly meet with your developers when designing. Once you have completed the wireframes, jump on a call to see if everything outlined here matches the scope of work created at the beginning.

It’s at this stage a developer can give their input and let you know if a feature or piece of functionality on the site is easy or complex. This will ultimately increase the cost, so it’s best to get this input from the developer now before showing anything to the client.

Development stage

Your client is happy, you’re happy, the designs have been signed off. Now it’s time to pass them to the developers. We always have a handover call just to run through any final points that were agreed upon since we last saw the designs.

Now it’s full steam ahead! By this stage, we’re up to speed on every piece of functionality and all of the requirements for the website. And for any other questions, there’s always Slack!

Testing

Your dev agency has been working away hard and they’ve sent over all of the finished pages. Now it’s time to carry out your own full, end-to-end testing.

Here’s a quick look at our own website testing process to give you an insight into how you can thoroughly test a site. Your partner agency should be doing this before they hand over the site to you anyway but it’s good to test it on your side as well.

(1) First off, we do a quick sweep of the site across the most common browser sizes – desktop (1,440px), mobile (375px) and tablet (768px). You can use Google Chrome’s Developer Tools for this step. We’re looking for any major bugs, issues or missed pieces of functionality that may have fallen under the radar.

(2) Next, we compare the design file vs. the development site with a fine-tooth comb. We do this by taking screenshots of the staging site, copying this screenshot into the design software (e.g. Figma or Photoshop) and then comparing the pages side by side. This lets us see any major discrepancies between the design file and the developed website. Again, we’re looking at the most common device sizes – desktop (1,440px), mobile (375px) and tablet (768px).

(3) Finally, we use a website testing tool called Browserstack to check the website across a variety of devices and browsers. This lets us test the site on not so common browsers or devices that you do not own.

Giving and managing feedback

You’ve reviewed the website and you have feedback that you want your agency to make. If they haven’t already, you need to add this to some project management software (e.g. Trello, Asana, Jira etc.), ideally a Kanban board, so changes can be kept on top of.

Website feedback in a long list on an email or in a Google Doc, without screenshots, will slow down this stage of the build and bugs will be missed.

When adding your feedback to the PM board, the dev agency needs to know the device the bug or issue was found on and a clear outline of what’s wrong. This allows the developer to replicate the issue on their side and fix it.

There are plugins such as BugHerd and Usersnap that can be integrated with the staging website, making this User Acceptance Testing phase easier. Allowing you or your client to provide feedback directly on the website, adding screenshots and comments (all whilst it notes the device, browser and screen dimensions it was found on) so bugs can be fixed quickly and easily.

Launch day

You’re happy, your client is happy, the site has been tested, and now it’s time to launch! But there are a few final things to put in place.

Picking a launch day should have been agreed upon well in advance. The most ideal time is when website traffic is at its lowest and there’s the least chance of disruption. However, you still want a team around to fix any issues that may occur. So you need to find a good balance and involve key stakeholders.

To iron out any final issues, it helps to have a go-live checklist. The following items should’ve been agreed upon in advance. But if not, then it’s not too late:

  • Who will take down the old site and launch the new one?
  • Who’s hosting the website?
  • Who’s doing the SEO migration and adding redirects?
  • Do you have all of the relevant login details?
  • Do you have a rollback plan if it all goes pear-shaped?
  • Have you removed the noindex tags!? (a classic.)
  • And many, many more…

After the web build

The website is now live, but your job’s not over. Websites and the technology used to build them constantly change. So you need to keep them up to date to ensure they’re secure. And your client will want new features or functionality as their company grows.

In this section, we look at how creative agencies can support their clients once the site is live.

Training

Not all development agencies will offer this, but we provide training videos and a training session for our client’s clients so they can get fully up to speed with their new website. This stops them from asking simple questions to us, or the creative agency, about how to update pages or change images on the website. Saving us all time!

And it lets them quickly and easily train up members of their team so they can make the most out of the website.

Support and maintenance

Most development agencies will have a support and maintenance package in place to help support websites they’ve built.

If a Content Management System (CMS) has been used (such as Shopify or WordPress), then you need to make sure it’s kept up to date. This is especially true on WordPress, where regular core updates or plugin updates are released. And it’s important to make sure they’re both running on the latest version.

New pages, features or functionality

It’s common for clients to want to add new features or functionality to their websites. You will need to help support and action these changes on the website. Again, a support and maintenance package may cover this, where dev work can be completed at an hourly rate. Or, work can be quoted on a project by project basis depending on what needs to be done.

Again, working closely with the developers who built the website will help to keep costs down. They will be familiar with the website and the code.

Step three: Getting the most out of your web dev partner

After you’ve completed your first project, your aim is to build a partnership with your dev agency that you can learn from over time. Incrementally improving the websites you deliver together.

In this next section, we run through some key steps we take to get the most out of working with creative agencies.

Communication

We’ve said this all the way through but it’s genuinely one of the most important steps. You need to be in regular contact with your agency. On Slack, on video calls, in person if possible! Working together to improve processes and put checks in place to ensure your websites get better and better.

One of our favourite internal, post-launch workshops is the project retrospective. This is where we run through each project and look at these three key areas:

  • What went well [successes]
  • What didn’t go well [stresses]
  • What can be improved [learnings]

After the retrospective, we have a list of actions that can be put into place immediately for other projects. You can also carry this out across agencies, getting the designers and developers to think back about what went well or not so well, and how it can be improved.

Winning clients together

The door is open for our clients when they’re pitching and they regularly get in touch. We can give them rough estimates for projects, highlighting issues we encountered before on similar projects, and add slides to their pitch decks to sell the tech side of the build.

Not only does it help us keep us in the loop, but when they win a new client, we feel like we’ve won too. It’s nice to work together and it adds depth to their pitches, helping them sound like development experts. Making them stand out and more likely to win new work.

Training

Giving the creative agencies we work with regular training, allows us to educate them about the benefits of one CMS over the other. Not only this, we try to be as clear as possible, skipping any jargon when we explain our approaches so they can then relay this to their client in a clear way.

Team building

How can you foster togetherness between two different agencies that might not be in the same country? Well, the pandemic has shown us that we don’t have to be face-to-face to feel together or work as a team.

Again, I feel this stems back to treating your development partners like an employee, or an extension of your team. How can you make them feel a part of your cause? How can you get them up to speed on your values so the work they do embodies this?

If you live in the same country, get together and introduce the teams! Go down the pub or do regular in-person meetings. And if this isn’t possible, all jump on a video call and have a catch-up.

Summary

There we have it. Our guide for creative agencies to reliably outsource web development!

Yes, you can just palm off your dev work to any old agency or developer and hope for the best. But if you want the websites of your clients to match the brand identity and designs you worked so hard to create, then you need to invest a lot of time in the relationship.

We hope this guide makes that a little easier and if you have any questions, please get in touch with us on the following email content@spaced.digital. Or, click on the link to learn more about outsourcing web development with Spaced.

Post Author
Stephen White, Director

Stephen started his career as an SEO, learning his craft at web design agencies and multinational media agencies. Working on household names such as Huggies, Old El Paso, and Birkenstock. In 2018, he took those years of experience and founded Spaced. A strategy-focussed web agency that helps launch and nurture bespoke digital solutions.