At the time, the design firm you chose completely fit the bill, their portfolio was highly creative, their branding skills were top-notch, their web design skills were off the chart and while they weren’t the cheapest  in your RFP round-up — they were sure close. So what happened and where did they go?

Well… you know your designer didn’t leave the country (at least in your gut you don’t think so) they have however, been missing for a week maybe two, haven’t responded to your last 3 emails and are crazy slow to get back to you on the phone when you have the simplest of questions. What gives?

This may be your first rodeo or maybe you’ve been here before but you know deep down that this isn’t going to end well — the sad part being you’re only 3 weeks into your project. It seems that when it comes to design firms you are 2 for 2 with getting a lemon agency, not because they can’t perform, it’s just that it takes them forever to get something done. At this point you’re use to the missed deadlines because it has become the norm.

It doesn’t have to be that way. What it comes down to is time management and design work-flow.

Important questions to ask when you hire a company besides “I need a proposal for XYZ” is to ask how what their bandwidth is like in terms of taking on new projects and by what means do they communicate throughout the development process. Ask questions and set expectations, you’re spending good money, you want it not only done right but on time. Now granted, they may not be completely honest with you just to jump through that last hoop of the RFP to garner your approval, but there are typically tell-tale signs that like anything else, pop-up even before you take on a new design firm.

A word to the wise, more than half of the project will be communicating and hitting deadlines, what good is a great design team if they can’t deliver or get back to you? When an 8 week project becomes 4-6 months, you have a problem.

Look for responsiveness. Before you pull the trigger on a project, think back to your first call — did they answer or if they didn’t how long did it take to get back to you? During the early communications with the firm, were they quick to get back to you or did days pass in between? Did you feel like the enthusiasm was there or were they going through the motions just to appease? A lot of this is really a gut feeling thing. But trust your instinct, it will save you a ton of time and money. So you may end up going with a more responsive company that charges a bit more, trust me, at the end of the day you’ll know it was worth it if not only to rid yourself of a daily headache dealing with an illusive designer.

Good design firms that are not only creative but also live and breath customer service are hard to find — but they can be found. They’re a lot easier to come across then UFOs, Nessy and Bigfoot — you just have to really look. When you find them you’ll know it too.

The bottom line… Don’t rush into that branding/website design relationship, hold out for a design firm that can not only design well and comes in at a fair price, but also cares enough to facilitate the communication process. Without that you’ll be one unhappy camper. You just have to believe.