Last week I was asked to quote for some development work on a WordPress membership website. The website had been built by an agency and was also hosted by the same agency. The client came to me and immediately expressed his frustration with the agency. Apart from the extremely high fees he paid for their services, he found them to be very unhelpful, slow and unmotivated to do any future work to his site. They wouldn’t even allow him access to his site files on their server, so he was effectively being held to ransom every time he wanted to do any development on his site.
After I quoted for the development work he told me how my quote compared to the quote he received from the agency. The quote I prepared stated that the work would be done in a quarter of the time and one tenth of the cost. A week later, I delivered the work on time and on budget. My Clients response was
“You have been sent from God himself!”
Unfortunately, this situation seems to be a common one. In the last year alone I have taken on design and development work from three frustrated clients who have previously had their sites built and managed by agencies. And the story is always a similar one. Which got me thinking – why are agencies creating so many disgruntled clients and which is the better option, a WordPress freelancer or an agency?
Although so far I have not painted Agencies in a favourable light, the purpose of this article is not to pour scorn on web agencies and convince you that WordPress freelancers like myself are the best option. There is a role to play for both web agencies and freelancers. Let’s dive into it.
What is so good about web agencies anyway?
Agencies carry with them a sense of security, professionalism and quality. As established businesses with staff in multiple disciplines they often offer a wide range of services and present themselves as experts in these areas. Sounds good right? If you are the kind of client who might need to use all of these services, and have a budget that can not just afford to pay the large agency fees, but a budget large enough to make you a priority at the agency, then it might be the choice for you. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are getting better quality work from an agency though. There is no reason a freelance developer would be less qualified than an agency developer. And I’m frequently approached by agencies looking to outsource some work to freelancers, in which case you would be paying more for the same work. Furthermore, if you choose your freelance Developer sensibly then the level of security and professionalism can be equal to that of an agency.
What is not so good about web agencies?
In order for an agency to offer a wide range of services they need to employ a team of people who can fulfil those services. There are a lot of costs associated with employing a team of people which is how we get to the massive difference in cost between using a freelancer and a web agency. The extra cost is not because the work is better quality, it is because it costs them more to produce the work. The client I mentioned above was paying his agency 300% more than he pays me for web development work. At the agency he was getting the service of a junior developer.
My new client also found that the agency was slow and appeared uninterested in working on his site. Which brings us to the second issue with web agencies. If you are the kind of client who spends perhaps a few hundred pounds a month on web development, you will struggle to motivate the agency to prioritise your work over other clients who perhaps have a retainer for several thousands of pounds a month. And as a result, you frequently find yourself at the back of the queue. Perhaps even an inconvenience in the eyes of an agency.
Agencies often provide their clients with hosting packages in order to benefit from ongoing fees associated with managing this. This tends to impose a lot of restrictions on what clients can and can’t access. As described above, my new client was refused access to his website files. When it comes to migrating away from an agency, it is not uncommon to come across other hurdles put in place to make migration a less attractive option.
What is so good about a freelance WordPress developer
Freelancers tend to specialise in one, or a few areas. For example, as a freelance WordPress developer, I consider my self an expert in WordPress, but also skilled with most things associated with WordPress. I can’t offer the same range of service that an agency does, but I can usually recommend other freelancers who offer different services to me.
When you contact a freelancer, you have 1:1 contact with the person doing the work. This makes it easier for you to communicate the brief, and for the developer to understand what exactly you want. I typically find that with my clients, we develop long term working relationships and a workflow that suits both client and freelancer.
Did I mention cost? A freelance WordPress developer can produce better quality work at a fraction of the cost. Fewer overheads and a streamlined workflow mean that the quality doesn’t need to be compromised to fit the budget.
So should I chose a WordPress freelancer or a web agency?
It really depends on who you are. In my opinion the reason for so many disgruntled agency clients is that they made the wrong choice and the work they require isn’t suited to an agency. Ideally, agencies would be more selective over the clients they take on to prevent this happening, in the same way that as a freelancer, I don’t take on work that is not a good fit for my expertise and availability. Be realistic about what you need and perhaps read my guide on choosing the right freelancer before making any decisions.