Freelance Web Designer vs. Design Agency

Freelance Web Designer or Design Agency?

Choosing the Best Calgary Web Design Team for Your Website Project

Your company needs a new website and you’re ready to take action. Great!

Before you start calling companies found with a simple Google search for “Calgary website design,” you should consider what type of creative partner best suits your needs:  a professional freelance web designer or a larger design agency. Both types of businesses have their pros and cons.

To get you started, here are the five key areas you should assess when deciding the type of web designer you need:

  1. Size, function, and purpose of your website
  2. Type of working relationship you prefer to have with your web designer
  3. Clarity, communication, and commitment between you and your designer
  4. Timeframe for launching your website
  5. Your budget for site development, design, and hosting

1. Size, Function and Purpose of Your Website

The size, function and purpose of your website play a key role in whether you choose an agency or a freelance web designer.

Larger design agencies generally have an edge when it comes to large, complex web projects. For instance, if you are planning a large e-commerce site that will sell hundreds of products and requires custom programming, an agency is most likely to have the staff to handle each aspect of the project, from programming and design to product inventory updates and server maintenance. Typically this type of project would be too large for a freelancer to manage within a reasonable timeframe.

In contrast, the majority of websites for service-based professionals and consultants are by nature smaller in both size and function. This opens the door to working with a wider range of web design professionals and allows you the flexibility to consider what type of working relationship you want to have with your web designer.

2. Working Relationship and Communication Style

The successful launch of your website hinges on establishing clear communication and a productive working relationship with your web designer. When working with an agency, your project is typically assigned to whoever is free at the time. This means that the web designer, developer,  and copywriter will all be assigned based on availability, not their expertise or suitability for your project. Although you can review a design portfolio for the agency as a whole, you’re unlikely to be able to see work samples from specific individuals.

When hiring a freelance web designer, you have complete control over who works on your project. This also extends to any other professional that may be required to round out your website team, be it a copywriter, graphic designer, programmer, or SEO consultant.

During the interview process you’ll get a sense of who they are, what they’ll be like to work with, and how well you communicate. You can see samples of their past work and see if their design style suits your project.

It’s also important to consider who you’ll interact with on a day-to-day basis. With agencies, there is often a project manager who coordinates all aspects of your website project, including passing on your comments and direction to the rest of the team. This can lead to misinterpretation of your feedback or frustrating delays when trying to communicate your design preferences.

Also, depending on the original agreement, an agency may not be willing to hand off control of the site, instead requiring that all changes be handled by their internal staff (incurring both additional fees and time).

Many entrepreneurs prefer to be more directly involved with the designer themselves. By working one-on-one with a freelance professional, you can ensure that your vision and preferences are heard and understood.

Once the project is underway, you’ll be able to collaborate directly with your freelance web designer about layout ideas, design feedback, content revisions, turnaround times, and so on. You can then leverage this relationship to ensure a smooth project hand-off through training and assistance, which leads us to the next key consideration: long-term commitment and support.

3. Long-Term Commitment and Support

With multiple projects on the go at any one time, a single small- to mid-sized website may not be a high priority for an agency. Once the website launches, the project team will be assigned new work. Future changes will likely be assigned to whoever is free, not necessarily someone with a history with or working knowledge of your site. They may read your brand assessment, and that’s it.

Turnover can also be high within agencies. Ask yourself how important it is to you that the project manager (or other team members) first assigned to will you still be there to complete the final site, or to manage updates down the road. Turnover is a reality of most corporate environments so you’ll want to consider how that may (or may not) impact you.

On the flip side, an advantage of working with an agency is that they usually have several people who can do the work. If one person isn’t available, someone else on staff can step in. While this is an advantage to completing your project or updates on time, it can also be a drawback if you end up working with someone who is not familiar with you or your project… or has any real interest in your business. Yes, they can step in and do the work as directed, but they won’t bring an in-depth knowledge of you, your business, or your clientele.

This is where a freelance web designer can really shine: by applying their acquired understanding of your business – including insights into your target audience, marketing goals, and project history – to offer guidance and recommendations to build on what’s already been done and improve your website over time.

When you establish an ongoing relationship with a freelancer, and are talking directly to the person who doing the work for you, there’s less chance of important information getting lost in translation.

Freelance web designers are often (although not always) more committed to your project than an agency employee. A freelancer’s success is based on getting to know your business needs and challenges. Your project will often stay in the top of their mind — even after hours (which is sometimes when inspiration hits!)

Caveat

Make sure you’re working with a professional freelancer who makes their full-time living through their web design business. Someone who is just picking up side jobs to do at night or while in between employers may not always be available to meet your needs.

Ask how long the web designer has been freelancing full-time and whether or not they are incorporated or a proprietorship. These are usually good indicators of a long-term commitment to growing their business – and yours.

A great freelance web designer will regularly be thinking of ideas for your business beyond the sole web design project and suggesting things that you could do to make your business more efficient or your marketing more effective. They can be a true collaborator whereas with an agency, there may not be anyone who’s dedicated to your business or thinking about your marketing outside of the very narrow scope of your specific web design project. Which option is best for you depends on the type of relationship you prefer and how closely you want to work with the person who is actually doing the job for you.

Turnover is less of a problem when you work with a professional freelancer because they ARE their business. Seeing a project through from beginning to end is how a freelancer gets paid.

4. Timing & Efficiency

Once you’ve decided you need a website, you most likely want it up and running ASAP. An agency is more likely to have the capacity to start your project immediately once agreements are signed and deposits submitted. Why? Chances are good that at any given time they have some staff not fully committed to other projects.

While this likely means you’ll be working with more junior staff members, if you meet with the agency on a Monday, they could probably be starting your project by Friday. If you have a project that has to be done within a week’s time, an agency will most likely have the capacity and resources to turn your project around in that timeframe.

When working with a freelancer, your site will typically be booked at least a few weeks down the road. In fact, a freelance web designer who isn’t booking at least a couple of weeks ahead could be a red flag. How are they keeping themselves afloat without steady work? Of course, this isn’t always the case, we all have down times or unexpected gaps in our schedule, but often a good freelancer is going to be booked for a few weeks out. Given the value of building an effective long-term relationship with the right designer, it can be worth waiting two to three weeks.

In truth, most business owners aren’t really ready to start work immediately anyway. Those few weeks of prep time before starting the actual design phase can be used proactively to work with a copywriter to solidify your content and messaging, a photographer for taking headshots or other product images, and so on. You can use those weeks effectively to have material ready for the web designer, shortening the span of time it takes to design, develop, and launch your new website.

Of course, there may be the odd time when you have a time-sensitive event coming up and you need something done in a week, and yes, there’s an advantage in an agency in this case. But for most website projects, the difference between starting work on November 1st or November 30th is often negligible to your overall business. Why not wait for the person who’s the best fit and with whom you’ll have a great working relationship for years to come?

5. Web Design Price & Budget

Finally, we come to the big question – cost. You can almost always expect an agency to be more expensive than a freelance web designer. Freelancers simply don’t have the same overhead expenses as an agency. Design agencies often have a minimum project fee that starts at five to ten thousand, and goes up (sometimes way up) depending on the size and reputation of the agency.

Pricing for website design projects can run from $100 for a DIY site to well over $100,000 for a full-featured online store. The sweet spot for working with a freelance web designer is generally in the $1,000 to $10,000 range. Many, if not most, agencies aren’t interested in projects that start under $10,000 which is why it’s beneficial to work with a freelancer when you have a low to mid-range budget.

Regardless of whether you work with a freelance web designer or a design agency, the first step should be to scope out your project specifications, either for the full website on smaller projects or in phases for larger ones. In the latter case, the designer will provide an estimate for the first phase which encompasses the research, discovery and planning stages necessary to accurately plan and cost out the final project deliverables.

Typically, a website for a consultant or professional service provider can be quoted at a single flat fee that includes the full scope of work. Make sure you understand everything that’s included in that fee, particularly the number of revisions, number of site pages, site interactivity or features, and web hosting. Working with your designer or agency to prepare a complete project plan will ensure you avoid expensive charges for change requests down the road.

Which is Better? Freelancers or Agencies?

Actually, neither. Choosing the best web designer for you and your specific project depends on your needs, timeline, budget, and the type of working relationship you expect with your designer.

Both agencies and freelancer web designers have their advantages:

  • Design agencies offer quick turnaround, more staffing resources, and the capacity for larger, more complex projects
  • Freelancer web designers provide a closer working relationship, long-term commitment to your project and business, and more budget-conscious solutions for independent professionals

If you think working with a freelancer might be for you, give me a call for a free initial consultation to review your options for creating or managing your website.

Comments

  1. What is better for your organization–a web design agency or a freelancer? The differences between the two many be significant, but the answer depends on your needs.The first step to answering this question is to begin to define your project. Start with making a list of your needs for the website and the needs of your organization.

  2. very interesting and well detailed post. I am a freelance web designer and can easily understand all these points. Freelance web designers are always best choice if you want user friendly and effective website at very affordable price.

  3. Hi Jennifer, thanks for long post. I am a freelance web designer too and totally agree with your thoughts.

Speak Your Mind

*