Web Design Agency or Freelancer? Which one should I choose?

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I’ve worked in a design agency, owned a design agency and operated as a self-employed design consultant for many years. So, I’ve experienced all ends of the spectrum. But, when it comes to deciding whether to use an agency or a freelancer, it depends on your project and budget. Or does it? I will tell you a few secrets I learned that may help you decide. 

people sitting near table with laptop computer

When to use an Agency

Agencies are helpful when you need an array of services. For example, as a retailer, you may need an ecommerce website building, printed catalogues, product photo shooting and maybe even product packaging. 

An agency usually offers full service, and they have the staff or talent to complete these projects. 

When to use a Consultant (freelancer)

I prefer the term “Consultant”. The title “freelancer” sounds too inexperienced for my liking. Consultants usually specialise in one or two services, such as myself: web/graphic design and development.

Independents are the best cost-effective option if you require one or two services like these. 

Some things to be aware of about Agencies

I co-founded Project Octo, an agency in Manchester (UK), a few years ago. We had six staff: designers, web developers, SEO marketers and account managers. 

We had big and small clients, each at a different rate. 

When a new project came in, the client paid for four staff: an account manager, a designer, a developer and an SEO person.

With a Consultant, you are paying for one person to do some, if not all, of these jobs. 

If the client was small, some of the work would be outsourced, or we’d have a freelancer work with us in-house. At the end of the day, it was a freelancer at half the rate for the agency, so we’d still make a little bit of money from that part of the job. The client wouldn’t know a freelancer was doing their work and would still pay the standard agency rate.

Here are some observations:

  • Designers and developers did not always have direct contact with the client. All project communication would go through the account manager.
  • Staff enthusiasm is sometimes lacking if it’s a smaller project because the more prominent clients spoil them.
  • A freelancer is probably completing the lower-budgeted work, so why not just use an independent designer in the first place?
  • Or, we’d dedicate one designer to these “smaller” jobs and ensure quick turnaround and payment. Effectively, these jobs were the bread and butter of the business (to pay for the fancy office). I know because I was one of these designers when I worked for an agency and juggled nine or ten projects simultaneously. Hello, creative block and burnout!
  • They keep the good, higher-budgeted projects in-house to maximise profits.
Freelance woman sitting while using laptop.

Some advantages of working with independent designers

  • It’s one person, one direct contact point, so you have complete confidence.
  • Trust, honesty. They will say no if it’s not a project that excites or challenges them. And, they won’t lie about whether they can do something, i.e. they have the knowledge or experience to do what you are asking of them.
  • You are paying an individual, an individual who cares about their business as well as yours. 

Final thoughts

I’ll admit it’s a biased post towards independent consultants, but who you choose depends on your budget and the work you need to complete.

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