Digital Strategy

Why picking the right web agency is like buying an elephant

Graeme Ashworth

Elephants and websites have more in common than you might think. Buying either is a big decision which doesn’t happen very often, and it involves plenty of preparation, commitment, and aftercare.

Above all else, it’s essential that you find the best source for your product so that you know exactly what you’re getting. So, how do you get started and ensure you get the best possible product to suit your requirements?

Elephant This is the kind of elephant I'm after...

Seeing who’s out there

You’ve written a brief describing the features you want your elephant to have:

  • It must be taller than a human
  • Its legs should be able to support a lot of weight
  • It should be grey in colour
  • It must have a tail
  • It needs to have something long attached to the front of its head

You speak to various animal dealers to get an idea of how much it will cost. They ask questions - after all, they don’t just sell elephants, but giraffes, hippos, rhinos, and alligators too. It’s a competitive tender and you want a good deal, so you don’t disclose your budget.

The competition

One dealer is confident that with further clarification of your needs, they can meet your brief. They’re honest and upfront but want to take the time to fully understand your requirements.

They propose running a workshop to assess your current infrastructure, feeding and veterinary arrangements to care for your elephant accordingly. Do they not understand elephants enough to know what you might want, or have they thought of things that others haven’t?

Another dealer doesn’t seem to be trying to scare you into thinking about living arrangements, ongoing care, or anything else. After all, you only want to buy an elephant - right?

Another dealer doesn’t seem to be trying to scare you into thinking about living arrangements, ongoing care, or anything else. After all, you only want to buy an elephant - right?

You’ve asked all dealers to submit their proposal for the provision of an elephant, having provided your brief and a deadline.

Making a decision

The costs come back from the dealers and there is a disparity in the propositions. You look at their proposals and all of the suppliers are confident they can meet the brief. On the face of things, they seem to be broadly offering the same end product and you make a decision based on price and ongoing support costs.

Everything is going great, you signed the contract with a dealer, they are busy procuring your new elephant and everyone is really excited, the elephant will be here in 12 weeks.

The results

12 weeks pass and your elephant is ready for delivery. You get first sight of it, and to your shock it doesn’t look or function quite how you expected. It’s taller than a human, can support a lot of weight, is grey in colour and has a tail, but the trunk you were expecting looks distinctly like a horn.


You’re in a mess – the rhino has smashed what now is evidently too small an enclosure for it. It’s drunk a month’s water in 5 minutes and the vet call-out fee is astronomical. You’ve spent all your budget on a completely unsuitable, angry rhino that’s costing a fortune.

Communication breaks down. The dealer become unavailable – you wrote the brief and they matched it as far as they’re concerned. They went over budget delivering your rhino and can’t incur any further costs to put it right. They’re now busy selling more animals to new clients.

Putting things right

In despair, you call the other dealer who originally tendered for the work and explain the situation. They’re happy to adopt your rhino, but can’t turn it into an elephant - it’s an entirely different beast from the one you wanted.

Keen not to get another rhino, you take their advice and enter into a number of discussions and workshops with them. From the outset, they’ve spotted that your courtyard needs expanding, and that you’ll need to create a gate for the keeper, and another, larger gate for the elephant. They even draw you a picture of the elephant to make sure it’s just what you want.

At last, you’re delighted. The cautious dealer delivers on time and on budget into an environment suited to your elephant, with all the provisions to ensure its long term needs are met.

The moral of the story

Now you can see that a little time upfront to assess the situation and get clarification on the brief would have saved you a lot in the long run and you’d be happily feeding your elephant peanuts in the sunshine by now.

Whilst the above stretches an analogy, this is an issue we see all too often when tendering for digital projects. Specifying a website is a nerve-wracking experience that you might only have to deal with a few times in your life. We do it every day, and we understand the importance of asking the right questions and fully assessing your requirements from the outset to ensure there are no nasty surprises.

Ridgeway has a wealth of experience in working with ecommerce and brand clients. In the interest of steering prospective clients away from unscrupulous or inexperienced agencies, our team of 45 experienced digital professionals means we can offer you the right blend of skills to meet your budget and brief so why not get in touch?