Are you having trouble deciding between hiring a freelance web designer or a digital agency for your design project?
To help your decision I’ve outlined some guidance below, but firstly there are a couple of questions you have to ask yourself.
What is my budget?
If your budget is less than £8000 then it’s more than likely you will have to go down the freelance route.
Most digital agencies don’t take on clients under £8000; even then, you choice will be restricted to the small agencies.
There are still small web design companies around; they offer the centre ground between freelancers and digital agencies in terms of cost.
If you can’t afford to hire a digital agency and you have reservations about hiring a freelancer, a web design company may be an affordable solution for you.
How Complex is My Project?
Even if you aren’t up to speed on the inner working of designing a website, you should still be able to determine whether the project is likely to be relatively simple or quite complex.
Simple doesn’t necessarily mean a small site and a large site isn’t necessarily a complicated one. Sites can have hundreds of pages even though the design elements are simple.
Complex sites may only have 5 pages but custom functionality and complex design elements make it a complex project.
Now if you’ve concluded your design project is fairly straight forward and you’re on a tight budget, a freelance web designer may, at this stage, appear to be the ideal choice for you.
However it’s not that simple – is it ever?
It’s time to dig a little deeper.
The Positives and Negatives of a Freelance Web Designer
The cheapest option and, if you do your research properly; the one that provides the best value for money.
Freelancers often work from home and have relatively low running costs. Agencies, on the other hand, have far higher overheads compared to freelancers.
Typically agencies point out that freelancers:
- are only equipped to handle small, simple projects
- don’t offer the same level of service
- don’t possess all the necessary skills for complex sites
- have limited resources
These claims are unfair on the majority of the freelance community. Any freelance designer not capable of consistently proving their worth will soon be out of business.
Freelancers these days have to be experts in a number of disciplines. It’s no use being a great designer who can’t clearly communicate with their clients.
Freelancers generally have excellent procedures in place for handling both the client liaison aspect of the project as well the actual implementation.
The Positives and Negatives of a Digital Agency
With a freelancer, you will have to ensure they can provide everything you need whereas digital agencies provide an all encompassing service that caters for all your web design and digital marketing needs.
An agency consists of an integrated team that work collaboratively and are able to work across multiple tasks within the same project simultaneously.
This doesn’t mean your project will be completed any quicker but it does facilitate an “all hands on desk” approach should the need arise.
Agency clients are assigned to an account manager who then passes on your requirements and changes to a designer or developer who implements them then advises your account manager when they’re done.
Theoretically this shouldn’t be problematic; but I prefer the peace of mind of speaking to the person who’s actually doing the job and I believe that’s the case for most people.
Typically agencies locate themselves in expensive city based offices; this provides them with lots of potential client’s right on their doorstep.
City locations also make for easier recruitment and good staff retention, but staffing is expensive.
Agencies obviously have to factor in the extra manpower they have available, even though it may not be relevant to your particular project.
Bigger projects may justify account managers and project managers but small business website projects often don’t require this level of management.
Typically freelancers point out that digital agencies:
- don’t care about their clients in the same way as freelancers do
- are not flexible
- are only available in office hours
- are not responsive when things go wrong
- outsource the design work to freelancers and then take all the credit and most of the money
Once again these criticisms don’t hold water for the most part. Clients only stay as clients as long as their agency is producing a return on their investment.
While it’s true that agencies do outsource to freelancers quite often, I don’t hear too many freelancers complaining about getting the extra work that comes their way.
From the client perspective, it’s pretty irrelevant whether it’s in-house staff that does the design work or whether the design work is outsourced.
Freelancer versus Agency Summary
If you business is in a highly competitive niche (in search ranking terms), its likely your competitors will have invested heavily on their marketing and ranking their website. In fact this is what defines a competitive niche.
Digital agencies are expensive but they do provide the marketing services you will need if you are up against strong competition.
If you’re in a less competitive niche and you don’t have a large marketing budget then hiring a freelancer will be your best bet.
Freelancer still have the same access to marketing resources, many are accomplished marketers themselves, the advantage is you don’t need to pay for anything more than you need.