I have eight years experience as a professional web developer, and another few before that as an enthusiast and student. During this time I have worked for a number of small agencies and in-house teams, and have worked with people in agencies of various sizes. As a disclaimer I think it’s fair to say this is a pro-small agency piece! I know this is a contentious topic in the digital industry, so allow me to explain myself…
When it comes to creative agencies, size matters. At the risk of sounding pretentious, the ecosystem of a creative environment relies on a delicate equilibrium. Too few people can result in creativity being stifled due to an overwhelming amount of work, where a larger unit results in too many processes, too many people and not enough valuable communication (lost in a haze of largely pointless back and forth dialogue).
So in my experience there is a “sweet spot” that few agencies manage to achieve. Sometimes it’s because they’re focusing too much on growth, other times it’s because they don’t have people allocated in the best roles to suit their skillset. In any case I have found that the smaller agencies outperform the larger agencies at most things, and this is favourable to both clients and employees. Let’s have a closer look:
Little-to-no account management
This is the flagship selling point of a small agency to its clients; there isn’t a layer of account management which means the client can speak directly to the people doing the work.
A lot of small agencies get this wrong – too much pressure gets put on the employee and as a result bad service ensues. On the flipside this can be great deal for all concerned – the client (probably) pays less, the agency saves on management fees and most importantly, technical requirements are not lost through a bewildered account manager and the employee gets to have a firmer grip on the project.
Generally speaking a smaller agency can be quicker to react to client needs. They can afford to be more agile in their approach – fewer hoops to jump through, fewer people involved. This is a very attractive proposition for a client who wants everything yesterday.
It goes without saying that this also requires a degree of management (see my first point).
Whilst there are some truly amazing people that work for larger agencies, quite often their skills and interests are not nurtured. They don’t have any say in how the business is run so they have no incentive to influence this.
In small outfits these people are core to the business and as such their passion, their side projects and their ideas are actively encouraged. This feeds back into the business itself and results in a more agile, progressive agency.
Cold, hard cash
I hate the C-word (not that C-word). It’s not really why we do this, but money is a powerful governing factor for most clients. If they can pay less, they will. This is where small agencies definitely have the upper hand. They have smaller outgoings and less staff, yet they can still produce fantastic work. It’s almost a no-brainer.
So, are small agencies better than big agencies?
Essentially the quality of the service offering of an agency is governed by the people at the helm and those doing the work – these factors exist outside of the actual number of people. It’s more about the quality of the staff and their investment in the business which are influencing factors.
All things considered I think a case can be made for agencies of any size, but personally I’d take the small model every time!