By Danny Wong
Before you decide to hire a new web design agency or agree to renew an existing engagement with your current agency partner, ask them if you haven’t already: “Will you outsource any of the work?”
Wait for their answer and follow up with a simple, “Why?” An honest “yes” shouldn’t automatically disqualify the vendor the same way a plain “no” doesn’t guarantee they will be the best fit team for the project. Take this opportunity to probe their reasoning for why they’ve chosen or decided against outsourcing any of the work for your engagement.
At MAXBURST, for instance, we cover an overwhelming majority of our engagements exclusively in-house. That’s because we’ve worked hard to build a highly trained staff of over 30 people who are experts in their field. We take this approach because we’re firm believers that the best work is often done by a team of hand-selected staff who’ve worked together on numerous projects already. However, there are some instances in which we partner with other technical specialists to produce limited deliverables. We’re clear with clients about where our strengths lie, and we’re transparent about the areas where we need to collaborate with reputable and skilled vendors to fully meet customer needs and accommodate their timeline.
Of course, different web design agencies take their own approach to fulfilling client projects, which we’ll dissect below.
Strictly in-house: A carefully curated A-team
Typically, the best web design agencies handle most of their work in-house. Smart agency owners know their biggest asset — and their largest competitive advantage — is their creative talent. So, rather than manage a network of freelancers, top-tier agencies recruit the best designers to work with them full-time. This allows the agency to carefully curate a creative team that’s capable of completing projects that exceed client expectations.
Naturally, that explains why agencies prefer to retain designers. But why would this benefit customers?
Although clients themselves could feasibly wrangle together a bunch of designers to work on a project and other agencies could do the same with a handful of part-time creatives, what gives dedicated in-house teams their advantage is their streamlined communications, established systems and interpersonal relationships. In-house staff members that have worked together on dozens, if not hundreds, of client engagements have established a strong working rapport and utilize processes that enable them to effectively and efficiently output high-quality client deliverables.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, business professors Robert S. Huckman and Bradley Staats shared a revealing story. “A few years ago one of us met an orthopedic surgeon with a reputation as the Henry Ford of knee replacements. Most surgeons take one to two hours to replace a knee, but this doctor routinely completes the procedure in 20 minutes. In a typical year, he performs more than 550 knee replacements — 2.5 times as many as the second-most-productive surgeon at his hospital — and has better outcomes and fewer complications than many colleagues.” Huckman and Staats attribute some of his speed to the team he’s established. “Although most surgeons work with an ever-changing cast of nurses and anesthesiologists, he has arranged to have two dedicated teams, one in each of two adjoining operating rooms; they include nurses who have worked alongside him for 18 years.” Essentially, what Huckman and Staats found was that among teams, their shared experience helps them perform significantly better.
It’s clear that web design agencies — and their clients — benefit from having dedicated talent. However, a strictly in-house team also comes with limitations. For instance, if the agency doesn’t have an animation specialist on-staff, then animation services aren’t offered. Thankfully, that just means you can find an agency that specializes in animation to fulfill that portion of your web design project separately.
Heavily outsourced: A hodgepodge of freelancers
Clients tend to avoid agencies that outsource too much of their workload. Common concerns include quality control and timeline efficiency. Indeed, often you’ll see engagement teams that are filled with highly-skilled designers who may work remotely across different areas of the world and separate time zones. But while the team may look good on paper, they may end up operating as a dysfunctional unit since each hired hand may have his or her own communication preferences, working hours, and design philosophies. Unfortunately for clients, this can lead to confusion and poorly assembled deliverables.
In some cases though, there are agencies who’ve figured out how to overcome these challenges and offer business owners a budget-friendly solution for producing engaging websites. When you ask an agency why they prefer to outsource most of their work, you’ll want to understand how they’re using outsourcing to offer clients more value. The better agencies here typically have an uncanny ability to effectively recruit and manage an array of talented freelancers. Oftentimes, agencies that outsource most of their work offer more economical rates than their counterparts. With contractors who are compensated only for work delivered, these firms can better manage their overhead expenses and pass those savings along to clients like you.
Another upside to working with a web design agency that regularly outsources work is you get access to more talent, which offers you both creative flexibility and scale. The agency you hire can easily staff projects you throw at them with all sorts of specialized talent and you can quickly go from outsourcing two design projects to 20 because your vendor can bring on dozens of quality designers for part-time projects faster than traditional agencies could recruit full-time hires. That said, quality control should always be a concern as you’ll want to ask your web design agency about who their freelancers are and if the agency has worked with them many times before.
Combining the best of both worlds
Ideally, you’ll partner with a web design shop that takes a hybrid approach.
Mainly, you’ll want a web design firm that has a strong in-house team and selectively outsources projects to third-party vendors they’ve worked with previously who specialize in particular design and development tasks. For example, at MAXBURST, we do not have any in-house SQL experts but we already have a shortlist of preferred partners who excel at SQL and have worked with us before to complete joint client engagements. We’re mindful to collaborate only technical specialists who are well trained, highly skilled, and meticulous about the details to ensure the deliverables we produce for clients exceed expectations.
When you partner with a web design company, it’s important you are able to trust them. In an ideal scenario, your design agency partner has all of the internal resources and staff they need to fully deliver on the project. In cases where they need to outsource, it’s vital that they are upfront with you too. That way, you can feel confident that they also prioritize transparency and have your best interests in mind.
And, of course, if you’re looking for a new digital design firm to update your website and create compelling user experiences, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.