Freelance Web Designer, or Web Design Agency?
Before we get into this article – full disclosure. I’m a freelance web designer. I wrote this article because I often get asked about why my price is so cheap compared to such and such agency. The truth is, often people are comparing apples and oranges, so hopefully this article helps clear things up a bit and steers you on the right path of who to choose for your website venture.
So you have decided your business needs a new website and you’re ready to find a web designer. Awesome!
Before you type in Google “Sydney Website Design” and just call the top three hits, you should consider which partner will best suit your needs; a freelance web designer or a large design agency. Each business type has pros and cons.
Top 5 Considerations When Choosing A Web Designer
There are some specific areas that once assessed, will help you decide which type of designer you need;
- The size and scope of your website. How extensive do you need it to be, and what is the purpose exactly?
- What type of communication and commitment requirements do you want your designer to have with you and your business?
- What, if any, ongoing relationship do you need to have with your web designer? Are you planning on doing the updates or do you want someone else to handle it?
- What is the timeframe to get your website live?
- What is your budget – not just for the design, development and build, but ongoing – security, updates, backups… all the things that usually get forgotten.
1) Size and Scope of Your Web Design Project
How big you want your website, and what kinds of functionality you are looking for, will affect your decision to choose a freelance web designer or a web design agency.
When it comes to large and complex projects, agencies certainly tend to have the upper hand. For example, an e-commerce store selling thousands of items, like Amazon, or a mobile service provider like Optus, are going to have highly customised programming built into their websites. There will be ongoing A/B testing to monitor the smallest increments of improvement for both visitor experience and profit performance. Projects like this generally require a team, and a freelancer just wouldn’t be able to manage it within a reasonable time frame.
Having said that, the majority of websites are actually smaller in both size and function. Private practices, entrepreneurs selling a new product, or any service professional, don’t tend to need detailed and intricate workings that would rival a multi-million dollar companies web presence.
Take any restaurant for example. From your local Crust Pizza to the Crinitis in Sydney City. The functions of a menu, a bookings section, an “About Us” page are all required. While branding, style and personality all change dramatically, the essential back end functions are similar.
Being aware that your business may not need 100% custom development opens up a wider range of web design professionals.
- If you have a large and extensive web project in mind, an agency will probably suit you better.
- Generally, most professionals won’t need an ultra-complex website. If you are one of these, you are open to freelance web designers.
- Using a freelancer over design agency should never, I repeat never, sacrifice branding or visitor experience simply because it’s cheaper.
2) Commitment and Support
Any decent web design agency will be working on multiple projects. When it comes down to it, a small to medium sized web project will likely become a lower priority. Once your website launches, that team will be assigned new work. New changes will likely be assigned to whoever is free, as opposed to someone who has a history with you, or a working understanding of your site.
There are two sides to this coin. An agency will generally have several people who can do work. If one person is busy, another staff member can step in. This is a definitive advantage to projects or updates that have a strict timeframe. The downside however, is that whoever does work on your site may not bring the in-depth knowledge of you, your business or your customers. They will work as directed, but may not provide any inspiration.
A freelance web designer like myself may not always be available immediately, because there is only one of me. However, like many other freelancers, we make up for this by being able to apply our unique understanding of your business to the forefront. A good freelancer will have insights into your target audience, marketing goals and project history. This can translate into amazing suggestions and guidance over what’s been done, and how to improve your website in the future.
When you have an established relationship with a freelancer, you are always talking directly to the person who is doing the work. This means there’s much less chance of information being lost in translation.
Freelance web designers are usually (not always) more committed to your project than an agency employee. Their success (and ultimately their income) is acutely tied to their understanding of your business and your vision of a successful website.
A great freelance web designer will be focused on your business, even outside their scope of practice. This means that they will be excited to collaborate with you and use their experience to help build and streamline your business and marketing endeavors. Being that freelancers are working for themselves, you may even find one that focuses on your industry specifically. This will give their insight added credibility and make them a more valuable addition to your team.
Agencies certainly may offer these kinds of services, for example branding, marketing strategies, etc. But they are always deliberate and formal processes. Your business may need this, in which case you certainly will want to consider using an agency. This will not be the same as ongoing, organic improvements.
- Think ahead if you want the same person working with you in the future, or if you’re website doesn’t need this. This will guide you to choosing a we design freelancer or an agency.
- A single person working on your website throughout it’s life will have a better understanding of what you expect it to achieve.
- Freelance web designers will likely be more committed to your success, because without you they don’t have a job. Agency employees don’t usually have this same urgency.
- Agencies can often provide detailed branding and marketing services, however if you don’t have the budget for this, a freelancer may provide great insights over time due to ongoing focus on your project.
3) Ongoing Relationship and Rapport
The successful launch of your website depends on having clear communication and a productive relationship between you and your web designer. The differences between an agency and a freelancer can be dramatic in what they can offer you and your business.
For an agency, they generally assign projects to whomever is available. While you can review the portfolio of the agency as a whole, the work of the specific individuals who work on your project won’t be so visible.
When hiring a freelance web designer, you get to choose the exact person working on your website, that you want. This includes any additional parties who might be involved, including photographers, SEO consultants, copyrighters, etc. During your interviews, you will get to get a feel for who these people are and how well they communicate.
With agencies, you do also have to consider the day to day interactions you will be having. With size comes delegation – and you will probably be speaking with project managers. This can lead to communication breakdowns. When I used to work in advertising, I can’t tell you how many times a seemingly simple request for a graphic change would come back looking completely wrong.
If you are having a smaller project done, there may be issues in the agreement that lock you into having all changes handled by their staff. Always read the SLA! This might be exactly what you want if your website is large and complex.
- Keep in mind if you want to know exactly who is working on your website, rather than just an employee within a company.
- If your website is your baby and you find a freelance web designer you are comfortable with, you will be able to gauge them from your interview process.
- Make sure you read your SLA! If you want to add content and edit your website, an agency may not offer you this as a way to ensure ongoing income for their business. This won’t probably be an issue if your website is large and complex.
Your timeframe from hiring a web designer until the site goes live, will likely be ASAP. This is generally the case. If speed is your biggest concern, an agency might be the way to go. They generally have the capacity to start immediately, due to having multiple staff on call.
A freelance web designer will likely not be available to start immediately. Unless you manage to catch them between jobs, being that they are a sole entrepreneur they will probably have one or two other projects lined up before yours can commence.
However, in many cases, a business owner is not actually ready to start work. Depending on what your web designer is contracted to do, there are always going to be tasks that need completing before the website can really start. Copyrighting (professional if you can afford it, or your own material if not), photography and headshots, etc. are all things that have to be done and will speed up the process if you do them while the freelancer is completing their current project and about to start yours.
- A web design agency is going to be able to start promptly and have your task finished efficiently. If speed is the biggest concern, they will probably suit your needs.
- A freelance web designer may take longer to start your project, however this time may be well spent on your behalf getting photography and content ready.
5) Web Design Price and Budget
The biggest question of all, is price. In fact, this may be the number one consideration that forces your decision. A web design agency will almost always cost more than a freelance web designer. Freelancers simply don’t have the same overheads. A web design are always paying multiple staff, some of whom may have nothing to do with your project. Design agencies often have a minimum project fee that can start from $5000.
Pricing can run from as little as $100, up to $100k for a fully fledged online store, jam packed with well photographed products. Anywhere from $500 to $10,000 is what you would expect from a freelance web designer, depending on the difficulty of your project.
Regardless who who you choose, some things to ask about, so you can budget correctly are;
- Number of pages
- Number of revisions
- Special features included (shopping cart, SSL certification, content management system for in-house editing)
- Seemingly basic features included (blog, contact forms, social media integration, mobile responsiveness)
- Web hosting options
Knowing what you want from the start (and a good communicator, agency or freelancer, will be able to help discover what you want) will save you costs down the road. Building a website and then as a side note realising you want a content management system is not an easy transition – it may require a complete rebuild of your project.\
- Do some research to find out whats included in your project, so you can get better estimates on the overall costs.
- Make sure whichever professional you choose, they ask questions and you feel confident in their understanding of your project.
So Which is Better – Freelance Web Designer or Web Design Agency?
Drum roll….. Well, neither. They both suit different needs. As pointed out right at the start, when you start to ponder the 5 key questions, your project will answer it for you. The key benefits of each if you scrolled to the bottom and didn’t read the rest (it’s ok, it was a long article) are;
Web Design Agency
- Fast turn-around time
- Ability to handle the largest and most complex projects
- Plenty of staff on hand for impromptu requests that may arise from you.
Freelance Web Designer
- Closer working relationship
- More individual commitment to your project both short and long term
- Usually better value for money, with no overheads to speak of.
If, after reading all this, you believe that a freelance web designer is what you need for your project, give me a call on 0423 856 323 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, for your initial free consultation. If you have decided that web design agency will better suit your needs, then we have both saved a lot of time!What do you think? Are there any points about freelance web designers or web agencies that I have missed? Please share or comment below.