Accountants and marketing agencies: what to ask to get the best deal

by | Aug 2, 2019 | Strategy

This post is aimed at people working in accountancy firms who have been given the job of approaching agencies like PracticeWeb to get quotes for developing a new website.

If you’re thinking of working with an agency like PracticeWeb, there’s some basic practice you can follow to make the process painless and to make sure you get the best possible deal.

A good place to start is by creating a brief.

What your accountancy firm needs

A brief gives the whole process a foundation and makes it easier to compare vastly different offerings.

It also helps you focus on what your firm really needs and not unnecessary bells and whistles.

Let’s make the assumption that you’ll be sharing that brief with your current web agency or provider (assuming things haven’t gone too badly so far) and a select group of alternatives – what needs to be in it?

As someone who has spent nearly 15 years working through client briefs in various industries, the simple answer is: more is more.

Time and again I’ve encountered briefs that are, well, too brief. I’ve even seen £100k+ briefs written over four lines.

That’s never going to work – it’s impossible to give a properly considered response without plenty of detail.

Next, think about your timeline. Those short briefs I used to receive (mostly from big brands who will remain nameless) were more often than not accompanied by a ridiculously short deadline.

“Can we have a response by 3pm today?” they’d ask three hours earlier.

That’s no fun for anyone and nobody can do your project justice under that kind of pressure.

Structuring your brief

I recommend creating a document and splitting it into the following sections:

1. What do you want to achieve?

I know this sounds obvious but we often get a bit British about it and end up being overly polite, beating around the bush. If you want to grow the client base by 100 clients, say so. If you want to generate 45 leads a month through your landing pages, make that plain. If you want to make sure your new office in Springfield outranks your competitors in Shelbyville, state that goal upfront. (There’s nothing wrong with being competitive.)

2. Give those results context

Be open about where you are right now and what results you are currently getting. Share a little of the business plan and the marketing goals that need to be met in order to fulfill that plan. Be open if what you are doing right now is falling short. Don’t be shy – no agency is ever going to cut-paste-Tweet that you are currently under-performing in new-business run rate – they just want to help.

3. Know your personas

Those who know me well will be aware this is a bit of a soapbox of mine. If collectively between us we do not know who it is we are seeking to motivate, then the campaign has little or no chance of being a success. This is the essential first step to achieving your goals.

4. Be open about budget

In most cases, agencies don’t take this as permission to quote right up to a penny beneath the threshold. In fact, in my experience, it will actually work in your favour. On many occasions, I’ve agency teams put their heads together, prescribe the body of work that the prospect actually needs and then have the difficult chat about how to find economies to squeeze that amount of work within the available budget.

5. What are the must-haves?

You know your business and it’s your money – what do you see as absolutely essential to the project success? Put it down in writing. (But don’t be surprised if elements of this get challenged in the agency response.)

6. What do you like in-market?

Sharing examples of what you aspire to, or find impressive, can really unlock the conversation. It’s not about copying or cloning – often the end product looks nothing like the inspiration – but it can provide a great jump-off point.

7. What don’t you like?

Avoid unnecessary dead ends – tell prospective agencies what you don’t like and they won’t do it.
Include a project timeline. When do you want a response to the brief? When do you want your new website to go live? This creates urgency and focuses minds.

8. Include a project timeline

When do you want a response to the brief? When do you want your new website to go live? This creates urgency and focuses minds.

The questions, there will always be questions

But questions shouldn’t be regarded as an inconvenience, they are a sign the process is being taken seriously.

Any agency worth its salt isn’t going to just take the brief, scuttle off and build a slide deck. If they do, that in itself is a warning sign.

If I’m working through a brief for a client whose website PracticeWeb isn’t already managing these are just a few of the questions I’ll ask:

About you

Business goals

  • What do you want to achieve this year?
  • Where do you want the business to be in five years’ time?

Marketing goals

  • Have you set specific marketing goals for this year?
  • What have you already put in place to achieve those goals?
  • What is working, what isn’t?
  • Have you set an annual marketing budget?
  • Have you put in place measurement for cost of acquisition?
About your client
  • Who do you serve best?
  • Is there agreement in the business on what clients you want to work with?
  • Do your current clients reflect those you want in the future?
  • Have you developed a set of key client personas?
  • Do you have an understanding of the stages your prospects go through before buying from you?
  • Have you got this written down?
About your market
  • Who do we need to beat?
  • Who do you regard as your top three competitors?
  • Where do they win?
  • Where do you win?
About your digital strategy

Where are we now?

  • What values and beliefs define your brand?
  • Does your current website reflect those values?
  • What are the major pain points you solve for your clients?
  • How many enquiries per month are you generating through the website?
  • How much business is currently won on referral?
  • Do you know what content themes, topics, articles & pages are performing?
  • What else is in your tech stack?

Where do we need to get to?

  • What does a successful campaign look like?
  • What is the biggest obstacle in the way?
  • Do you have brand guidelines?
  • Who is going to create the content to power your marketing campaigns?
  • Who is going to optimise that content for search engines?
  • Do you want your partner to challenge your thinking?
  • How often do you want contact from your partner?

This may seem like a lot of work and, honestly, it can be somewhat arduous, but the framework takes the pain out of it. The time you spend at the start laying the brief in the proper way will be paid back many times over once the project is under way.

Decision time

When you come to choosing your agency, provide feedback to others on why they didn’t win.

It’s not so that they can re-pitch you but, rather, it’s a chance to learn and improve next time around.

Most agencies are small businesses and want to improve so they can win the next pitch.


I gather that at times, engaging with agencies can feel like dancing with the devil.

Even a few weeks into a project, suspicion can linger, with every suggestion cross examined to the hilt – what are these creative hipsters up to? So far all I’ve seen is a wireframe of a website and a couple of mindmaps.

Speaking for my own experience, though, the team here all ended up in their roles at PracticeWeb because they gain satisfaction from doing a good job. They like to do quality work and make clients happy.

Sometimes I wish our clients could see the internal discussions around every decision so they can see just how much people care about the work they do.

I’m sure I’m not speaking out of turn to say that’s probably true at most other agencies, too.

A big thanks to Big Partnership and the always brilliant Dave Chaffey and team at Smart Insights,  whose own writings inspired me to put this together.

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