You should just hire us. (just kidding, keep reading…)
Perhaps that’s the gist of what you were expecting to hear, anyway. We are a company, after all, that hangs its hat on designing websites and brand identities.
The truth of the matter, however, is that you very well might be better off foregoing a beautiful custom website (at least temporarily), especially if your business is new and your product is unproven. That said, every business today needs SOME kind of an online presence. The quqestion is, how can you get the best value while accomplishing your business goals with minimal stress?
When it comes to designing websites, you are presented with four choices.
- Do it yourself.
- Hire a freelancer
- Hire a small agency
- Hire a large agency
Each option has its merits and disadvantages, which we will elaborate on a bit below. This guide is by no means infallible, but it should give you a better sense of which solution might be best for you.
1. Do it Yourself
Cost: $0 – $1000
Positives: The least expensive option • Can be done quickly if you keep things simple
Negatives: Can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially if you’ve never done it before • Comes off as unprofessional
With an abundance of website builders at your disposal from WordPress.com to Squarespace to WiX, it’s easier than ever to set up a website. All of these services are well-documented and enable you to launch your website in as little as a couple of hours.
While getting a site up and running is fairly simple, you’ll still need to consider and produce content (text, photos, etc.). For people who are talented writers and photographers, this is no problem. For the rest of humanity, we often see that DIY website efforts are left content-sparse once the person who set up the site has moved on to other pressing matters.
Some might argue that having no website is better than one that feels incomplete. With the rise of social media as a tool for business, you could make the argument that a well-maintained Facebook page would make a better first impression. We’d advocate getting a simple website up and running with only essential content as you grow your brand. Then you’ll start building search engine authority while you decide on the next step for your online presence.
2. Hire a Freelancer
Cost: $500 – $5,000
Positives: Professional help at a low cost • More customization options than DIY
Negatives: Quality can be inconsistent • Freelancer can disappear on you
Hiring a freelance web designer or developer can be a boon to startups, solo-preneurs, and non-profits that lack the funding to hire an agency but still stand to benefit from a more professional web presence. There’s no shortage of talented designers and coders out there who price themselves competitively in an effort to stand out in a marketplace that rewards hustle.
Skill sets of freelancers vary significantly from one to the next.
Some folks are talented designers who lack the coding skills to bring their designs to life, so they rely on templates and plugins to fill in the gaps. Other people are excellent developers who have all the technical skills to build you a website that functions optimally, but without an eye for design, the end result can feel lackluster or off-brand (especially if your brand identity was professionally designed).
Occasionally, you’ll come across the website “Unicorn,” the rare individual who excels both at design and coding. Should you make it onto this person’s project schedule, be sure you’ve set deadlines for project milestones as these highly sought-after professionals can sometimes bite off more than they can chew in terms of workload.
At the end of the day, hiring a freelancer is a bit of a gamble since you’re putting your faith in a single individual. That one person’s abilities will ultimately determine whether your project is a success.
The best freelancers are ones who come highly recommended from people who have already rolled the dice with their skill sets and achieved desirable results. Just make sure this person has a system in place should he/she ever lose files, switch careers, or do anything else that might jeopardize your web presence.
3. Hire a Small Agency
Cost: $5000 – $50,000
Positives: Dedicated design and development staff • High-level service with little/no bureaucracy
Negatives: Project costs vary significantly • Watch out for over-promising
Somewhere between building a prototype in your basement and becoming a Fortune 500 Company, working with a small agency will likely be of great help to your web presence and brand. That’s not to say a small agency doesn’t have the creativity to make an impact on larger brands. Heck, many big brands (Coca-Cola, Nike, Unilever, etc.) will hire smaller agencies to design specific marketing campaigns. That said, it’s difficult for a 5-20 person company to handle everything for a multi-national brand without servicing that client exclusively.
When it comes to building a polished, on-brand web presence, a small agency is capable of providing a high-level finished product without a glut of cost and bureaucracy. Dedicated designers and developers make it a safer bet than DIY or freelancer options that your website will look great and function optimally. Some small agencies employ copywriters and SEO/data specialists to ensure websites meet ongoing goals. Most who don’t offer these services in-house are connected with complementary companies who do.
The cost of building a website can vary significantly from one project to the next- and with good reason. A five-page small business site should require much less labor to produce than a robust e-commerce operation.
No reputable agency should be able to assign a cost on your project after a 10-minute phone call. By committing to a price this early in your communication, they are either uninterested in helping you achieve measurable business goals (other than getting a new website) or they are trying desperately to win your affection while sweeping the details under the rug for a later date.
Herein lies the number one possible pitfall of working with a small agency – over-promising. This is not to say that freelancers don’t also over-promise. The difference is a $1,500 website that doesn’t work out is a much less difficult pill to swallow than a $15,000 website that doesn’t work out.
Before promising you a killer design, a seamless content pipeline, and the number one spot for your favorite Google search term (all for the reasonable price of X-dollars), an agency that’s going to help you see results must work with you to define those variables by asking the right questions. For example:
- What does a “killer design” look like to you and why?
- How do you produce content, and how do you plan on sharing it?
- What keywords would you like to be listed for on Google (assuming you know)?
…and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Only after working with you to define the scope of your project should an agency deliver a proposal that has been customized to your specific needs. This ensures your project has goals and a direction and isn’t littered with “extra” services you don’t need (or lacking ones you do).
4. Hire a Large Agency
Positives: Large workforce to handle any project • Pretending you’re in an episode of Madmen
Negatives: Very expensive • Bureaucratic
Setting foot in the office of a large branding and digital marketing agency can feel a bit magical. Tasteful wall decorations, modernist architecture, and an open workspace can elicit an enchanting sense of possibility. You make your way to the conference room to sit down with an account manager, project coordinator, and possibly the principal or creative director (if she isn’t in LA shooting a Nike commercial with LeBron James).
You sit in an Eames chair at a large, glossed-white conference table surrounded by award plaques and statues. The friendly account manager offers you a cup of coffee or a draft beer (yes, they have a small bar for employees to help themselves in the common area). The door is closed now and it’s time to begin.
The large agency likely agreed to this meeting because their account manager screened you beforehand to ensure your organization had an adequate budget. Perhaps your project was intriguing enough to merit the attention of one of the higher-ups.
The agency will go through the proper motions working with you to clarify project scope, and assuming you are in fact a good fit, you will eventually be delivered a proposal for a significant sum of money.
Once you agree, your project will be assigned to a design, development, and content team. Unless absolutely necessary, it’s unlikely you’ll speak directly to the folks who are actually creating your website. Instead, you will communicate with a project manager and possibly an art director.
These people will keep your project on schedule and likely looking pretty damn good, but should an unforeseen variable come into play that changes the project scope, prepare to feel it right in the bank account.
Big agencies, by and large, are comprised of talented, highly competent people, but layers of bureaucracy and a lack of access to leadership leaves little wiggle room. You are always afforded the option to purchase this wiggle room. However, this can come as a huge financial blow unless you’re a giant brand with marketing dollars to burn.
A large, award-winning agency often brings impressive capabilities to the table but at great cost with little flexibility. The good news is that these folks will rarely agree to submit a proposal for your project unless they feel you have met their criteria from the outset.
Still not sure about who to hire for you online adventures?
Tell us about your project – we promise we won’t fall to your feet and beg you to hire us regardless of what it entails.
If you’ve determined you’re in the market for a small agency that has a knack for problem-solving, Let’s talk.