Using a Freelance Web Designer Rather than an Agency

Ryan Gittings

Ryan Gittings

May 1, 2015

Using a Freelance Web Designer Rather than an Agency

As a business owner, let’s take a look at one of the biggest questions you’ll have to ask yourself when deciding to develop or redevelop your website – should I use a freelance designer or should I go with a larger agency?

You probably already have an idea of some of the Pros and Cons involved in each choice, but let’s outline them in more detail here so you have all the information you require to make an informed decision.

Freelance Web Designer – Pros

1) Flexibility

As a freelancer, there is much more opportunity for being flexible when it comes to working practices. This isn’t just in the arena of timekeeping, where obviously the freelance designer is more likely to be interested in working outside of normal office hours, but also in general working methods.

A freelancer, for example, is more likely to be willing to experiment with new ideas – if you want them to – and will be much more open to making multiple changes until you’re happy, rather than necessarily charging a fee each time you want to see what the design looks like in a slightly different colour or with slightly larger text sizes.

2) Affordability

This almost goes without saying – almost, but not quite, as it’s quite often overlooked that an agency will have bigger overheads and thus will need to charge you the client more in order to simply cover its operating costs, never mind make a profit.

Freelance web designers, on the other hand, essentially being self employed, are much more likely to be able to provide a high level of service without having to charge the higher prices associated with agencies. Most freelancers won’t be having to pay for a large office, multiple members of staff, accountants, lawyers, administration staff etc, with even the London-based freelancers usually offering a significant saving over the agencies.

Plus the agency will almost certainly employ a sales team / salesperson that needs to be compensated for their time in generating your business – usually through some kind of commission arrangement. Whereas a freelancer will usually generate their own new business, thus being able to dispense with the higher fees associated with commissions and sales bonuses.

3) Communication

When using a freelancer, you are generally going to be dealing with the “organ grinder” themselves – ie the person who actually makes the decisions – rather than having to go through multiple layers of administration before getting anything sorted out.

This is particularly useful for when you want to ensure you get things done the way you want them to be, rather than having to wade through an endless round of minor alterations before you finally settle on something suitable. The ability to talk directly to the person that’s making the changes to your site is one that is very valuable and is the hallmark of the independent web designer, rather than the web design agency.

Freelance Web Designer – Usual Freelancer Cons

1) Time Constraints

When you are working with only one person, it can be difficult for them to fit you in with their other clients – there are only 24 hours in a day, after all. They will almost certainly have other clients that may take priority, due to the size of the account with them, so you may find yourself being pushed back in the queue when it comes to getting the work done.

Why I am different: I manage time to the minute. I love efficiency, keeping things moving. I won’t partake any project I cannot deliver 100% on, so anything I am involved in, is done the best it can be done, within the constraints. 

2) Narrow Focus

It’s impossible for 1 person to be good at everything, so you may find that the freelance web designer has a speciality in a particular area – eg PHP coding, design and layout, backend software integration – but is unlikely to have good skills in all the areas you require. Internet marketing, in particular, is one area where many freelancers say they have a specialist knowledge, but actually they’re working on out of date information as they haven’t been able to keep up with the latest developments due to being a designer, not an SEO specialist.

Why I am different: I’m a design-led developer. This means, I love to design, but I have the technical capability to also carry out my ideas, to fine tune every single detail exactly how I want it. From websites, to apps, to graphic design, I have every area covered.

Web Design Agencies – Pros

1) Team of People

Unlike the freelancer, a design agency will have a team of people they can call on to work on your project. Each of these individuals will have their own skills and specialisms, so the agency may be better placed to provide what you’re after, drawing from the specialist talents of multiple people rather than the generalist talents of one.

2) Time Availability

With more people to allocate tasks to, the agency may be better able to do things quickly, with any overspill of work being able to be given to another member of the team, rather than having to wait until a particular task is completed for it to be looked at.

3) Reliability

An agency is sometimes more likely to be able to cope with the demands you place on them, simply through the fact of having more people available to do the work. This can lead to them being more reliable than the odd rogue freelancer who might not be able to give you the attention you deserve.

4) Cashflow

The agency is more likely to have cash reserves in the bank, and thus not necessarily be so reliant on upfront or instant payment as the freelancer.

Web Design Agencies – Cons

1) Lack of Flexibility

An agency, for example, may have a rigid set of rules to follow regarding what they can and can’t include in their fees, and may be tied in to a “house style” that doesn’t allow for much of a variation from the pre-determined layouts and design cues they’re familiar with.

This can lead to you having to pay over and over again for minor changes to the design they come up with, plus they may not be keen to adjust things if they feel that what they’ve done is “the right thing” for your site.

2) Cost

Pretty much goes without saying that an agency will almost certainly be more expensive than a freelancer. The reasons for this are generally to do with the overheads that are involved in keeping a larger firm running, rather than the costs of being self employed or a 1 person outfit. Looking at the costs in more detail:

  1. Office – though there are no doubt some agencies that operate a “work from home” policy, most agencies will have an office they use as their central base for both housing employees and meeting potential clients. We all know what sort of costs will be involved here if the office is in central London, but even outside of that extraordinarily expensive location, office rental and servicing fees will probably add a hefty price onto your bill.
  2. Staff – as the agency is not just 1 person, they’ll need to cover all the staffing costs depending on how many employees they have. So the fee you’re being charged will have to include an element of administration costs, rather than being solely dedicated to the work involved.
  3. Sales Commission – agencies usually employ separate salespeople, who will need to take their share of your fee as a commission, again putting up the prices.
  4. Advertising & Marketing – it’s not that freelancers don’t promote themselves, but given all the associated costs as above, agencies need to keep generating more and more business in order to cover their ongoing overheads. For that reason, they are likely to have to pay for advertising and marketing to promote themselves much more than a freelance designer might. (Most freelancers generating a lot of their business through word of mouth and referrals).

3) Lack of Focus

Whilst there are some agencies that are able to concentrate on their multiple projects adequately, many will have to prioritise their biggest clients at the expense of other projects. Of course, this is not that different from how a freelancer might operate, but when dealing with an agency, a client can often feel like their needs are swamped by the overwhelming needs of others, depending on the size of the agency being dealt with.

4) Communication

Similar to the point above, agencies are more likely to have multiple points of contact – account handler, designer, administrator etc – so you might never actually get much chance to speak with someone who can deal with any issue you might be having.

Conclusion

Many businesses are happy with freelance web designers for their flexibility and affordability, whereas many others swear by the idea of using an agency for potential peace of mind.

As can be seen above, there are pluses and minuses with every type of web design organisation. So you’ll have to decide which type makes most sense for you, based on the issues highlighted here.