Why I never outsourced my design work

A photo reflecting code on a computer

Freelance vs Agency – what model is best for your web design business?

Sixteen years is a very long time to work alone.  I have been asked more than once why I didn’t expand my business, hire some employees and become an agency. It would allow me to charge more and land bigger clients. That sounds great, right? The question I asked myself long ago was “who do I want to work with?” and my answer wasn’t big companies or marketing teams. I wanted to work with SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS JUST LIKE ME.

While many of my own local colleagues have successfully transitioned into agency style web design firms, I feel no envy. These are the people I send referrals to when I get a lead with a 20k budget and a lot of custom development needs. It sounds crazy, right? I turn down big money and send it to someone I know can handle the demand that comes with that price tag.

Sixteen years of experience comes in handy. Over that time, I’ve learned that being successful means being true to what I know I can deliver.

I sell the advantages of my one woman show to clients and behind each point is an advantage for me as well.  Here’s how I break it down:

  1. I’m selling personal service.  I really care about my clients success. When someone hires me, they may have to wait for me to start their project.  They aren’t getting a website in a week.  They aren’t getting a 24/7 support call center.  But what they are getting is someone that will take the time to find out what their business goals really are.  They will have someone that cares enough to help them get it right the first time.  They are getting a long term relationship with someone that will help them keep their website updated with changing times.  I’m getting a client that I enjoy working with. I don’t build their website and say goodbye and good luck.
  2. I code it. I know it. I can fix it.  My clients  know I can handle a fix because I did the work. This is so important to me.  I don’t want to sell something to a client I can’t support on my own.  If a client needs more skill than I can give them, I don’t take the job.  Period.  I want to be the right fit for each client.  I’m not in the business of making them fit MY needs.  Early on, I tried taking on heavy development projects thinking I would learn my way through them.  I quickly learned that was a recipe for disaster.
  3. Low overhead means competitive pricing.  Most small businesses can afford me.  This is the number one reason I’ve stayed solo. While I’m not the cheapest one out there, I am also not so overpriced that SMALL BUSINESS OWNER JUST LIKE ME can’t afford my services.  A 20K website isn’t necessarily different than a 5K website.  If you pay an agency for it, you are paying for their rent, payroll and the team working for you.  I’m able to offer some competitive pricing because I’m working from home and I do all the work myself.  With the exception of virtual assistants, I’m not paying anyone else to help me.  I do pay for a number of online services like appointment scheduling, content gathering and training to improve my productivity.  Last year, my overhead was 28% of my sales.  That means that 72% was profit.  I’m pretty happy with that ratio!

Agency vs freelancer is not just a question for your clients, it’s a very important decision for you as a web designer.  This is a discussion you can have with yourself to determine what path is best.  And it’s a question only you can answer.  If you love managing others and your are dreaming of an agency – don’t hold back! But don’t feel pressure to constantly expand your business if it doesn’t feel right.  Trust your gut and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Resources: Design Roast – A Day in the Life of a Designer: Freelance vs. Agency Work

Cami MacNamara

Cami MacNamara has 20+ years of experience running a small, profitable, one-person web design business, so she can walk her dog whenever she likes. WebCami.com / Twitter / Instagram