When a small business has a creative project that needs external help, they often wonder what the best route is – a creative agency or a freelancer? While there are pros and cons to both sides, we believe that it ultimately comes down to what works best for your business.
Naturally, we’re an agency writing this article, so you may think there will be a bias towards picking an agency… but remember – we’re the No Bullsh*t Agency, so it will be a bit disingenuous if we were to sway you in a direction that we didn’t think were true. We’ve turned down many clients in the past as we didn’t think they were ready for an agency.
So, here are our thoughts on whether you should pick a freelancer or an agency:
Reliability is one of the biggest considerations when it comes to picking a creative partner. You want someone who handles the scope of work on time and on budget. Regular communication is also required so that you can plan your own marketing activity around the project and not cause delays to your business.
If you’re paying by the hour, you need to be able to trust that the person will only bill for the time done and not just add hours to get a bigger bill. It’s also more than just about delivering work: if there are any problems along the way, can they be solved quickly? Will they return calls/emails/messages promptly? If something goes wrong with an order, will they take responsibility and fix it without making excuses or blaming others?
Generally, an agency will be much more reliable because they have a team behind them. If a freelancer gets sick, your project is on hold until they get better. They are also likely to accept work whenever it comes in, meaning they are often overstretched and cannot deliver the work on time. Surprisingly, they are usually the ones to bill for unexpected charges as they can often get away with it. Agencies are often worried about their reputation, but freelancers go under the radar.
There are also plenty of agencies who are unreliable and terrible with communication. But with multiple people who can work on your project at one time, they should be the better bet. Ideally, pick an agency with dedicated account manager so you always have someone who can update you on your project status, but also have a direct line to the individuals working on your project.
Experience and expertise
This one is a tricky one as you will get a range in both options! With a freelancer, they could be someone who can’t get a job and so they decided to go it alone. This would possibly mean their work is not as good as the industry average. However, an experienced freelancer will have picked up a huge amount of expertise and experience over their years and can produce quality work that could be better than many agencies.
Within most agencies, there will be someone who is extremely experienced and talented, but they may not be the one who actually works on our account. Agencies are known to send their best people into pitch, but depending on the size of your project, they could actually put their most junior person on it. So, you actually get a poor finished product despite being wowed by their impressive salesperson.
We would say that in general, an agency would beat a freelancer here, but if you’re only looking at experienced freelancers v agencies, then the freelancer wins because you will guarantee to get the experienced person working on your project.
Granted, be careful because freelancers also outsource their work when they’re busy!
In theory, both a freelancer and an agency should be consistent with the quality that they put out. The problem is, they’re not!
Freelancers should in theory be more consistent because it’s always them doing the work. However, their schedules are often a lot more erratic and they are known to put in ridiculous hours to cover the immense workload that they’ve taken on. So, their quality slips as a result. They rush projects just to get something back before a deadline, don’t check back their work and are juggling so many projects that they make mistakes all over the place.
Agencies have a variety of people working in the team so it likely you will get a variety in the outputs you receive due to different people working on your project. However, since there is always someone senior and more experienced in each creative agency, you will always get your worked passed through a senior creative’s eye, meaning that you will get top quality.
With most agencies also having a project manager overlooking the process, there will be fewer mistakes as it’s been reviewed by an additional pair of eyes before being submitted for review. This gives agencies a huge advantage over freelancers who are too close to their project to notice some of these errors.
The diversity in an agency can also bring much more to the creative process compared to just one person.
This situation may have changed over the last couple of years as freelancers in some sectors now charge more than agencies do! For example, freelance website developers are incredibly expensive as they know they’re in demand. They also charge day rates or per hour and so your bill could be endless.
However, agencies still have much larger overheads than freelancers and so will need to charge accordingly to cover these.
In general, freelancers will be a lot cheaper than agencies. So, if you have a strict budget and you just want to find the cheapest option, then a freelancer is most likely the right choice. However, this doesn’t mean they’re the best value for money… (see value section below).
Every project always ends up requiring more than anticipated. For example, if you’re getting your website designed and built and you think you only need the design and development resources, you will often realise that you need marketing input and probably animation too.
Most freelancers are limited in their skills and specialise in one or two things. Already finding a freelancer to do both the design and build well is tricky! You will likely need one website designer and one website developer to complete the job. However, in the middle of the project, if you need unexpected resources, it’s going to be tricky if you’re using a freelancer.
In an agency, you will usually have people with a wide range of skills that you can tap into should you need it.
Full-service creative agencies are useful for this exact reason – you don’t need to keep going to several places to finish one project. One creative agency can do everything consistently.
This is a tricky one, as both freelancers and agencies have their pros and cons here. We’d say that a freelancer generally is slower because there’s only one of them! So, if they’re doing everything themselves, they’d need time to get the project done.
However, agencies have multiple people who can work on different parts of the project at the same time, drastically improving the turnaround time. The problem is, many large agencies have very complicated processes that involve several people and there’s a lot of red tape involved before you even can get a meeting with someone!
We’ve picked an agency here, but only if you go with a small agency. The larger agencies are notoriously slow with projects and they generally only take on huge projects that take months to create. So, if you have a small project, you’d also be of low priority to them.
Smaller agencies are much more agile and they can utilise the different members of their team to get your project done much more quickly than a larger agency as they don’t have complicated processes with too many people involved.
At the end of the day, this is all you care about for your business – to ensure you see value in your investment. However, the problem is, value is subjective. What does value mean to your business? Does it mean you have the most dramatic and fancy website compared to any of your competitors regardless of cost? Does it mean that you can brag your website was designed by an award-winning agency? Does it mean you got your business online for very cheap? Does it mean you learned a lot along the way due to the expertise and education the agency/freelancer gave you? Or does it mean you’ve found a life-long partner for your business because you’ve finally found a creative solution for your various creative and marketing needs?
We cannot pick a winner here because it really depends on what value means to you and where you see the benefits in the relationship.
Either way, you will find pros and cons for using a freelancer or an agency.
The bottom line is that both freelancers and agencies can offer you the same high-quality work. The main difference is their approach to projects and their availability. It’s up to you as an entrepreneur or business owner to decide which type of web design company fits your needs best so that you get the most bang for your buck!