A quick guide to helping you choose between a freelancer and digital agency on your digital project
So you have a business and need someone to help with web design and development. Maybe you’re launching a new business. Or, it could be that it’s time to upgrade the website you already have. Who should you hire for the job?
The dreamer in you would probably prefer to work with a digital agency. Not only would you get access to an entire team of proven creatives and business growth experts, but you could rest easy knowing the job was being done right. The pragmatist’s side of you might have a different opinion, though. That part of you will be wondering about the freelancer or one-person shop who gave you a ridiculously low quote for the job.
There are hardly ever “right” and “wrong” answers to these types of dilemmas. It’s all about what you need and what you value. With that being said, we truly believe established businesses are almost always better off working with our right-sized digital agency (more on what that means in a moment). That’s the reality, whether you work with our firm or a competitor.
Let’s look at seven of the biggest reasons we feel comfortable making that recommendation…
#1 A Digital Agency Provides the Expertise You Need
There are some really talented and hard-working solo web designers out there. The only problem is they can’t duplicate themselves. No matter how many hours they put in, or how much energy they devote to your project, they are limited by their own schedule, experience, and areas of knowledge.
Within the GoingClear team we have a number of different specialties, not to mention 100+ years of combined work experience within our core creative team. We might not have seen it all yet, but we’re getting pretty close.
This matters because modern business websites are multifaceted projects. In addition to layout, structure, and content management system choices, we have to deal with programming, plugins, and other factors like search engine optimization (SEO). It’s difficult for one person to be proficient in everything, much less perform half a dozen roles at a very high level.
When you work with an agency, you have a team of people who are all handling the parts of the project they are best-suited for. A freelancer, on the other hand, has to try to wear many different hats to try to get things done. That’s simply not a recipe for success, especially as projects get bigger and grow more complex and or post-launch marketing needs.
Most freelance designers, if they are successful enough, will eventually join a bigger team (or start their own) for that exact reason. It’s where our firm came from. No one is great at everything, and client results improve dramatically when one person isn’t trying to do every job by themselves.
Creating a business website involves more than drawing a set of nice-looking pages and putting them online. That’s why you want access to many different layers of expertise for your project.
#2 Teams Get Things Done Faster Than Solo Designers
This is a fairly obvious point, but one that is definitely worth highlighting. When you have a team of designers, programmers, and online marketing experts working together, everyone can share the load. Projects can be moved through to completion smoothly without major delays.
It isn’t just a matter of having the work spread out over multiple schedules, either. Digital agencies also have a degree of redundancy built in, meaning there is a backup person for every role or task. So, if one of the developers gets sick or goes on vacation, the whole project doesn’t have to grind to a halt.
When you contrast this with the way most freelancers work, the differences can be pretty striking. An agency can quote you a timeframe for your web design and development project and stick to it comfortably even if they have to manage other client work at the same time. A solo professional, on the other hand, can be delayed by illness, exhaustion, or an unexpected personal issue that requires attention. In fact, they could even be forced to hold up your project because another of their previous clients is taking too long to finish their work.
The faster a website goes online, the sooner it can start making money for your business. To put this another way, you can’t afford delays, and a half-finished web presence does nothing for your company. You wouldn’t want to choose a digital agency based solely on the speed at which they work, but time is ultimately money. To pretend that schedules don’t matter is to set yourself up for failure.
#3 It Helps to Have a Few Different Perspectives on Your Website Project
This is a point most people don’t think about if they haven’t worked in a creative agency setting, but it’s a major benefit. In our firm, we all meet with new clients and get the chance to ask questions and draw impressions. Then, when it’s time to start working on concepts, mock layouts, and feature lists we can ask questions and get feedback from one another.
This is crucial because it’s easy for a solo designer – or even a designer and client – to get locked into one-dimensional thinking. They may not get “outside the box” when it comes to different solutions or ideas. The client asks for something and then gets the freelancer’s best interpretation of that request.
In an agency, on the other hand, we evaluate progress as a group. We ask questions, get opinions, and even occasionally challenge one another on our work. We see who can come up with the best ideas, and then try to collectively make them better. As a result, we don’t just know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but avoid getting into ruts or predictable patterns. And of course, we make fewer conceptual mistakes because we are always checking in on each other and weighing in on what we see.
Obviously, you don’t want to have too many people working on the website at the same time. When there are a dozen or more individuals involved the vision can become diluted, egos can get in the way, and it becomes nearly impossible to make decisions. However, it’s almost always the case that a small team can consistently produce sharper work than any single individual.
#4 An Agency Can Focus on Your Business Needs
When you have a competent, right-sized digital agency on your side, the focus is on finding out what you need and delivering it. When you hire a freelancer, they will also want to do great work for you… but within the scope of their own capabilities.
What does this mean in the real world? Suppose a development team realizes your site could benefit from a specific ecommerce feature, or wants to integrate an app that would allow you to schedule employee training online. Because there are different specialists (and specialties) within the firm, they can simply share the idea with you, get your feedback, and get to work.
A design professional working on their own can’t necessarily follow this same process. Working alone, they may not even see the need for the integration in the first place. And even if they do recognize the benefit, they might not have access to the right apps, for instance, or be proficient with the kind of coding skills necessary. To test the idea might mean finding another freelancer to partner with, agreeing to terms, and then increasing the budget and/or timeframe to delivery. How likely is it that all of the steps will come together? What if this process is repeated multiple times?
Even when you get past the need for different perspectives, skills, and overlapping schedules, digital agencies have an enormous advantage over solo designers because we can view client projects through the eyes of our own specialties. We don’t have to take a one-size-fits-all approach to finishing projects because we have the in-house expertise to figure out what businesses really need and then deliver it.
#5 A Digital Agency Can Actually Save You Money
Most businesses know intuitively they would prefer to work with a digital agency over a freelancer for the reasons we have already mentioned. What makes them think about hiring a solo designer anyway is the perceived difference in cost. And, we have to admit it’s true that the average individual working out of their home will be more competitive on price than a professional firm will.
However, the bottom-line realities aren’t quite as cut and dry as that. That’s because the costs associated with web design and development don’t only show up as figures on a proposal.
As we have already shown, hiring a freelancer to work on your new business website will likely mean pushing the delivery date back significantly. How much could it cost you to go without the features or upgrades your business needs for six months or longer? What happens if you miss a bigger event like the holiday shopping season or an important trade show? You might not be invoiced for those costs, but you’ll definitely feel the hit.
Even if you were to put those scheduling realities aside, the financial differences might not be as stark as you imagine. An experienced agency can quote a fee for web design and development and stick to it (so long as the parameters in the project don’t change significantly). But, a solo designer is less likely to be experienced and is more sensitive to delays, direction changes, and cost adjustments based on a bigger scope. In other words, they might have to hire help to finish the job.
For those reasons, the figures quoted by freelancers tend to rise quickly and significantly during the life of the project. In the end you might pay more than you would have given to an agency anyway.
#6 You Will Get a Better End Product
When it comes down to it, you aren’t choosing someone for web design and development just because you think it’s time to freshen things up online; you’re doing it because you want your business to be stronger and more profitable. Regardless of any other differences in fees, scheduling, or expertise, what matters most is that you get the very best finished product you possibly can. That’s really where a digital agency shines.
From the initial project planning to content creation, design, testing, and launch/marketing strategies, firms like ours are built to produce effective websites. We have proven processes we can follow from the beginning of the project to the end, along with the case studies to prove it. When you hire a team of experts, you are giving yourself the highest chance of success.
Freelancers often work hard and show a deep commitment to their projects. But, for all the inherent limitations they face, they simply can’t go head-to-head with agencies in terms of results. They just don’t have the tools or bandwidth to commit the way we do or rack up as many wins.
There are some businesses who will always think of the short term or go with the cheapest option. And of course there are others who will think about longer-term profitability, sustainability, and ROI. That second group never has to be convinced about the wisdom of hiring a digital agency instead of a freelancer. So, the question you have to ask yourself might not be about whom to hire for your web design project, but instead: what kinds of results matter most to you?
#7 A Digital Agency Can Offer Ongoing Support
Let us take this opportunity to remind all the businesses out there that a web design and development project isn’t finished once the new site goes live. In fact, you could argue it’s just beginning at that point.
There are any number of reasons you might want ongoing support from your digital agency. You might want to work with a firm that can host your site to keep it safe and running quickly. You could need a team to help you market your business on search engines and social media sites. You could be eyeing future content additions or programming upgrades. Or, it could be that you just want the peace of mind that comes with knowing someone will audit your pages regularly and look out for problems.
The point is that your website is going to need care and maintenance. That’s something you can get from a digital agency, but not necessarily from a freelancer. And even if you could find a solo designer or developer who can help you on an ongoing basis, you’ll run into the same problems you’ve already outlined – they might not have the schedule or expertise to provide the sort of service you need.
Don’t discount the importance of follow-up service when thinking about your new business website or digital marketing plan. It’s likely to make the difference between a short-term boost in traffic and a permanent improvement in your profitability. To make the most of your online business opportunities you’re going to want an agency full of experienced professionals on your side.
Let’s Talk About the Fine Print…
There are a couple of points that need to be made before we bring this article to a close. The first is that even though we think established businesses should be working with digital agencies, that doesn’t mean we look down on freelance designers.
For one thing, GoingClear started with freelance work being done by our founder, Paul Scott. He handled lots of projects for clients (and he did a great job) before we ever started hiring staff. From that, he learned that solo professionals can do great in certain situations – particularly when simple web design solutions are called for, or when clients have very limited budgets. He also learned that there are limitations that make it hard for freelancers to compete for serious business web design projects.
The other thing to note is that we recommend finding a right-sized digital agency for your needs. If you run a small or medium-sized company, you probably don’t need a team of 50 designers, programmers, and information architects to get your web presence going. And there’s certainly no need to pay for the overhead associated with a huge downtown office and dozens of extras you might not ever use.
When it comes down to it, you want access to the skills and experience required to finish your project without going too small or too big. For most businesses who aren’t working out of a garage but haven’t made the Fortune 500 list yet, the answer is going to be a medium-sized agency with a dozen employees or so. That’s where the “sweet spot” for value tends to be.
Want to Talk About Your Web Design, Development or Digital Marketing Project?
If you’re looking for the very best – in terms of value, creativity, and bottom-line business performance – then work with the best. Contact the experts at GoingClear in Lynnfield today to schedule a free consultation so we can talk about your project!