Web design and development is a field in which a lot of sole-proprietors and small businesses operate and there are also some larger web design firms to choose from. When looking for someone to handle a new web project some people automatically look towards the larger firms because they are under the impression that the larger companies will build them a better website. But this is far from true, there are many small operators who build great websites and there are some big firms who build websites that don’t quite cut it. The size of the company doing the work will not have any bearing on the outcome. It is the actual individual or individuals working on your project and the systems that they use that really counts. In fact, more often than not, an individual web professional or small business can offer you some distinct advantages over the larger firm.
Your relationship with the web design company
To a big business with lots of clients, you are just one more drop in the bucket. It’s not such a big deal to them if they lose you. But to a small business you are their bread and butter. A small business cannot afford to lose a client and needs to make each client happy in order gain new clients and have any chance of success. A small business has to care about their clients, they can’t afford not to care because if they don’t care they don’t get paid.
If you work with an agency, the risk of them falling off the map is generally a little lower, but they probably move a little slower too. And you’ll often have to deal with changing contacts as the project progresses (from sales to design to development to maintenance).
If you work with a freelancer, your risks are a bit higher they’ll disappear someday. It means vetting them is even more important than with an agency. But they also tend to move quickly and don’t juggle as many projects at once.
Personalised and efficient service
A small business is far more likely to have a finger on the pulse of your web operations and react quickly to your needs, because it’s service is more personalised. A small business will stand a better chance of knowing what’s happening, who it’s happening to, and what to do to fix it. You also have the benefit of working with (typically) one person that knows everything about your project, and you don’t feel like you’re constantly getting bounced around contacts like can happen in some agencies.
Software and systems used
Larger web design firms will often have their own proprietary software and systems such as content management systems in place and will usually use them across the board for all their clients – a one size fits all approach. While some companies have developed good systems that work well for a wide range of websites, that is not always the case. Once your website has been set up on such a system you are generally locked in to that company, i.e. you cannot go elsewhere for hosting services or future web development work. Generally speaking, sole-proprietors and smaller companies will offer more flexible solutions often leveraging open source software.
Freelancer rates vs Agency rates
A small operator does not have the same overheads that a larger firm has and this usually translates into savings for the client. Agencies have more overhead, more padding built in, are more worried about cash flow, and generally just tend to be a bit more expensive.
In general, Freelancers are great for jobs that fit the following criteria:
- The job is small enough for one person to handle the entire thing (note, most projects fit this category)
- The timeline is tight and you want them to start quickly
- Communication channels don’t have to be too formal
- Big contractor agreements don’t have to be signed and the contractor doesn’t need insurance or other common big-business requirements
In general, Agencies are better for the following criteria:
- You don’t want to risk your consultant disappearing
- You’re okay with a project structure you don’t define (most agencies have established processes)
- You’re okay with a multi-month project (in general, most agency projects last between 2-6 months)
- You don’t mind waiting until you can be fit into their schedule to start
- Your project will require multiple full-time folks working simultaneously, either due to deadlines or huge project scope