Fantastic agencies (and where to find them)


Whether you're just starting out on a new business venture, or you’re a seasoned pro looking to rebrand your company, your choice of agency will be crucial to your success. Effective branding (or the lack thereof) can literally make or break your business.

But in a market saturated with tens of thousands of freelancers, boutique agencies and global design houses, how on earth can you make an informed decision? Fantastic agencies - where are these mythical beasts, and where on earth can you find them?

Our short guide will help you navigate some common pitfalls and select the very best agency for your business.

Let them ask the questions

Working with a branding and design agency should never merely be a case of asking someone to design a logo for your business. Any agency worth their salt will take a step back from the Mac and ask as many questions as possible, before ever putting stylus to screen.

What do you stand for? What do you want to achieve?
What are your plans for growth? Who is your ideal customer?
What do you want them to understand about you?

A fantastic agency will ask all these questions and more, then take the information and use it to form a holistic view of your entire brand identity. Everything else will follow.


Bigger isn’t always better

It’s tempting to think that the bigger an agency is, the better they must be at their job. After all, doesn’t size equal success? Not so. Many agencies choose to stay small and perfectly formed. They run an agency because they genuinely love design, and they may prefer to avoid the additional headaches that inevitably come with expansion. Bigger agencies need to take on more and more clients to cover their increased staff and premises overheads. Depending on your design budget, that means you may well be a small fish in a big pond. It also means you’re likely to be paying inflated prices to help cover those additional overheads.

What’s more, bigger agencies invariably employ account managers who’ll be responsible for taking your brief and passing it on to the design team, which can lead to important points being lost in translation.

If you choose to work with a smaller agency, your business will be supremely important to them. You’ll be a big fish in a smaller pond and you’ll be treated accordingly. There are no middlemen muddling up the messaging - when you brief in a project you’ll more than likely be talking directly to the designer who’ll be completing the work. And because they keep their overheads low, they’ll be able to pass that cost saving on to you, charging lower rates than their larger counterparts.

North vs South

As described by Tim Collins (The Northern Monkey Survival Guide) although the money used in the North & South looks the same, it’s actually very different! One northern pound equates to roughly four southern pounds. So if you’re considering hiring an agency in the South, a good rule of thumb is to look at your marketing budget, double it (then double it again), sell all your possessions and shove the money into a wheelbarrow before heading to see them.

The proof is in the….erm, proof.

Fantastic agencies are kept busy doing what they do best - first-class design and branding. In fact, they’re so busy that they may not always be top of the class when it comes to self-promotion. You know that design agency you’re always seeing all over social media and in the local press having won their latest accolade? They’re almost certainly great at what they do. But so are the agencies that don’t have the time to enter awards and post on Instagram every hour on the hour. So don’t bother counting the awards up. A far better test of an agency’s worth is to look at their work. Do you love it? Does it resonate with you and your business?

Great agencies offer solutions, not brochures

Most clients will go to a design agency with a specific requirement. An A5 leaflet please. A HTML email please. And they know you’re great at your job so most of the time they’ll deliver exactly what you’ve asked for, without question. But a fantastic agency will be genuinely interested in you and your business, so before they dutifully deliver what you’ve requested, they’ll ask you a few questions. What’s your objective with this piece? Who are you trying to reach? What business problem are you trying to solve? By bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the project, they just might give you a different perspective, or another idea to consider. Be open to that.

The people

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the best test of a fantastic agency is simply this. Do you like them? Do you get a good feeling from them? Do they communicate well, and get back to you when they say they will? Are they straight-talking? Can you see yourself working with them? Do you have a good rapport? If the answer’s yes, you’ve likely found your mythical beast - the fantastic agency. Hang on to them.

Stephen Delaney