You exit, heel-clicking from your manager’s office. At last, the fancy web project you’ve been pining for has been green-lit! Who knew you could be so persuasive?
You’ve got a rough web site brief sorted, you know what you want to achieve and why you need to achieve it. Now to pick your team; web design agency or freelance web developer?
We won’t patronise you with platitudes about ‘starting a web development project being a daunting task’, or whatever. It can be, by turns, angina-inducing, career-affirming, patience-shredding and - depending on how many stakeholders are on board - an exercise in tongue biting diplomacy. Getting the right person or people behind your project will put you firmly on the front foot.
But before we go running head-long into the pros and cons, for both options you need to consider the following;
- Have you defined clear goals and objectives for this project? Knowing how to write a website brief with clarity and direction will keep you on your web developer's Christmas card list for the foreseeable.
- What are the time constraints for all parties and how will both sides deal with any delays or schedule amendments?
- What communication and feedback processes are most effective for all parties?
- What are the protocols (read: limits) for the amount of revisions allowed throughout the process? Designs will develop, mutate and hit numerous brick walls throughout the course of your project (particularly when you’re flooded with ‘engagement’ from stakeholders within your business). Any shake-ups to agreed processes will inevitably impact both agencies and freelancers.
- What kind of content management system (CMS) do you want to use and what training will be provided?
- What kind of support contracts are being offered and what are the SLAs?
- Will you own the website - code, domain, design etc after project completion?
- If you and your developer go your separate ways, are there any barriers to you taking the site to another company/freelancer?
Now, let’s look at the pros and cons....
Web Design Agency
- Agencies can generally support a wider variety of design, tech and marketing requirements than a freelancer, though make sure it’s not all window dressing and that you are comfortable they can deliver what they promise. Not all Stetson-wearers are cowboys, after all. You should feel like every person around the table is an expert in their field and has the portfolio and credentials to prove it.
- Good agencies encourage healthy competition and collaboration amongst their staff, meaning you reap the rewards of knowledge-hungry folks who challenge/attempt to humiliate each other on best practice and the latest available tools.
- You’ll likely get a dedicated account manager at an agency. Providing they’re as competent as their LinkedIn profile suggests, they should be the balm that soothes whatever issues arise during your project. It’s their job to hurry along any tardy elements, mop up any financial spillages and generally give you reassurance that your heels can keep on clicking.
- In the same vein, due to burgeoning resources, agencies can generally work in a more efficient way to freelancers due to many hands being on deck at a time. Or they can all distract each other endlessly with the latest LOLZ. Depends on your agency.
- Agencies are typically more expensive than freelancers. You’ll know from looking at your project spec if it requires the resource of an agency behind it. So, if it’s sizeable or complex and you’re confident in your goals and objectives, you shouldn’t have a problem convincing the purse string holders that agency is the way to go.
- Not necessarily a con – unless parameters and expectations aren’t set – but be sure to pinpoint who’ll be your main point of contact within the agency and what is their level/focus of expertise? If your project remit requires a good understanding of SEO, make sure your contact will add some value or has regular access to a person that can.
- Agencies generally work from their own base, so you might not get much time with them on-site. However, you could/should be able to negotiate CMS training or meetings where lots of your peeps are involved, on your own turf.
Freelance Web Designer
- Due to less overheads, freelancers are likely to be a more budget-friendly option, particularly if you’re looking for one specific service. I don’t need to remind you that cheap isn’t always best. Your dev’s technological prowess and commitment to delivering a great site should be backed up by credible, verifiable testimonials. On the other hand, if the promise of coming in under budget is giving you pre-performance review tingles, don’t be the gal or guy who doesn’t play nice. Exploiting your freelancer’s good/skint nature is not OK. Play fair and pay fair.
- Freelancers are generally creatures with a niche. The competitive nature of the industry, coupled with the requisite geekery that drives them, means that even if your project requires highly a highly specific skill base, you should be able to find a great freelancer to fit the bill.
- You’ll need to cross-reference this sweeping statement with your freelancer’s diary, but if your project requires a certain amount of flexibility, they may well be in a better position to provide it than an agency with more rigid workflows (read: bottom-line-focussed account managers). They might also be happy to work on-site with you, if it would benefit the project. This builds familiarity with your business and allows for more productive feedback sessions and wotnot.
- We’ve all got an annoying freelance pal who posts pictures of their ‘office’ in a sunny park, complete with Frappuccino and artfully-angled laptop. Balancing out the horrors of increasingly laborious tax returns, one of the main joys of freelancing is control over one’s holibobs. From your point of view, this could be a bit of a nightmare. Check what your freelancer’s general availability is like through the course of the year, should you need them. A couple of weeks vacaciones here and there should pose no problem, but if they regale you with stories of six months a year in Costa del Awesome with no internet connection, check you can still tick all your future plans boxes.
- Be sure to check the scope of your freelancer’s skills and that they can personally complete all the tasks your project requires. This is not to detract from your contractor’s abilities, just remember they are but one individual and can only wear a certain amount of hats. If your project has a broad scope and they’re full of appeasing nods saying “I can do the lot!” whilst their hands tremble with dread in their pockets, check what their plan B is. It’s nowt to you if they outsource some of their work to a trusted, capable contact, who can ensure a seamless end result - as long as they meet their side of the deal when deadline day arrives.
Well, there you have it. If the above unleashings of my frontal lobe have told you anything, it’s to look objectively at your project scope and requirements, your goals, budget, resources and long-term needs; known or unknown. It should soon become clear whether a web design agency or a freelance web developer would work best for your project.
While you're at these early stages - take some time to get up to date best practice digital marketing built in to the website, a good start is to download this free eBook on how to drive web traffic, sales and leads...
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