Doing your Due Diligence

Do your due diligence when commissioning a creative agency.

Before you get into bed with your new design agency, have you done your due diligence?

In my other job, I run Toast, a multi-disciplinary design agency that’s been running strong for over 25 years.

Part of that job also involves looking after the various websites we build and manage for SEO.

Another part of this involves protecting our IP by using CopyScape to flag sites that have shamelessly plagiarised my content.

I love finding these sites.

Generally, they are so unbelievably shit that I don’t even bother with them as letter from our solicitors and the following fracas costs the business over £1000 to sort.

There have been some serious infringements in the past, and these have been followed up and the content removed, but it got me thinking.

It’s so easy to just rip off someone’s content online, how easy is it to parade as an established, experienced business when in fact you are anything but?

Check them out.

This goes further than checking out a few online reviews, which can also be faked easily…

If you are looking to sense-check an agency before they start to work with you, the simplest and quickest thing you can do is to check their financial position on Companies House.

Whilst not all agencies are Limited Companies, most are, and there are some real truths you can garner from a quick check into their profile.

Their balance sheet.

I’m no beancounter, but I know my way around a balance sheet, and this simple A4 page can tell you a lot.

If their website claims to have clients like Nike, Unilever and other big brands, ensure their balance sheet reflects this.

Whenever I find an imposter, I check their balance sheet.

The site claims they work for blue-chip clients, but their balance sheet shows debtors of £3,345 and their net assets running in the red.

This is either a company in trouble or stretching reality a little on its website.

Check their team.

You’ve probably seen agency sites that look great and have a large team of people.

Did you know that companies have to state the number of employees when they file at Companies House?

A website that boasts a team of 20 but whose accounts clearly only show one employee for the tax year seems a little odd.

See how long they’ve been around.

Creativity is a tough business to work in. Agencies can be so busy promoting other companies that they don’t grow their own, so there are a lot of startups and (sadly) closures in our game.

You can see if the company was set up yesterday on companies house. Does their website reflect this, or are they claiming to have been around for over a decade?

An established company with years of accounts suggests a slightly safer choice than one set up yesterday, so it’s worth checking this.

I can be a six-foot-eight adonis on the internet.

That’s the problem with us creative types: we have the skills an ability to create something from nothing, and that something can look incredibly attractive as a prospect for your new design or web agency that will build you an amazing brand.

The reality can sometimes be that it’s some 18-year-old kid just starting out.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of entrepreneurialism, but it’s not the same as lying through your teeth.

If you fancy a look at my companies accounts, you’ll find them here:

I’d advise that this is one of the simplest things you can do when comparing agencies to work with.

And.. just to set the record straight for those of you with extreme diligence, Toast was set up in 1997 as a partnership but incorporated in 2002 as a limited company. So it is 25 years as a business, 20 as a Limited Company – just making sure I am not falsifying my own facts. Phew.

Give me something else to do other than rant about stuff.

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