In today’s economy, marketing professionals are being bombarded on all sides. Your budgets and staff are leaner than ever. Long-time valuable clients and trusted vendors are going out of business. The pressure is on to create new markets as the U.S. economy continues to struggle. Add to that mix the need to learn and implement a whole array of new marketing strategies. SEO. PPC. Social Media. Analytics. Web conversions. Meanwhile, as sales have to make more and more connections just to keep up on sales, marketers are being tapped more and more regularly to not only develop leads but complete RFPs.

If you think of blastverting of old marketing, targeted marketing as modern, the level of analysis and interaction with customers today has truly moved us beyond Marketing 2.0 to Marketing 3.0.

Faced with all that, when the CEO announces that you are launching a new web site with an upcoming trade show or product launch, it’s a wonder there isn’t a brain explosion epidemic. Getting a web site done is one of the trickiest prospects you’ll ever face professionally. Do it right, and you are a company hero. Do it wrong, and you can lose your head. One of the hardest steps in the process is finding the right partner. The sheer variety of different approaches can make the process even more daunting.

There are four different effective routes you can take, based on the time and money you have:

  • The Agency
  • The Firm
  • The Boutique
  • The Freelancer

The Agency

Many advertising and marketing agencies have web marketing as part of their offering. If your company has an annual web marketing budget of at least $500,000, you may get the most value by investing the $250,000 and up agencies typically charge for a web project.

What you will get is a web site developed as part of the overall advertising and marketing strategy they are helping you roll out. It may include some content production, such as animations, custom illustrations, photography. SEO optimization is generally included in the total cost. Site will typically be built in a commercially available CMS or an in-house CMS.

Your role will more or less be to do reviews and approvals during the process, with frequent, high-touch meetings and presentations throughout.

Time frame for most agency produced sites is generally in the nine to twelve month range, from visioning to execution. Budget ranges from $100,000 to millions, depending on the project and the creative prestige of the agency.

The Agency route works best when

  • you are on a multi-year, cyclical campaign schedule;
  • you have a well-established relationship with your agency;
  • your agency has real, in-house web marketing capabilities (note: They are often really just marking up The Freelancer.) and
  • you have the staff and/or budget to support your overall effort successfully.

The Firm

The Web Design firm is the “just right” size that more and more companies turn to when they want a strong return on investment and know what their overall marketing strategy is.

Perhaps the most distinctive measure of firms is that they are mature enough as a company to have project managers helping guide clients through the process. But they can be anywhere from 15 people to 50.

They provide the benefits of the hands on of a boutique with the disciplined process and account management of The Agency.

What you get is a web site that reflects your overall marketing and advertising strategy. There may be some graphics work provided, but the client typically provides the text and imagery for the site. SEO is generally a separate engagement, if offered at all. Site will typically be built in an available open source CMS or an in-house CMS.

Your role will be more hands-on – orienting the vendor to your company, providing messaging, corralling content from your team – but without the intensive iterative visioning and design meetings of The Agency model. Your project manager will track progress, updating you regularly and bugging you if your deliverables are slowing down the project.

Time frame varies here depending on the internal resources allocated to the project, but an average 50-page site typically takes four to six months. Budget ranges from $20k to $40k depending on size and complexity of the project.

The Firm route works best when

  • you already know your general marketing strategy and messaging;
  • you primarily need outside expertise in effective web design;
  • you have in-house time to provide necessary elements, but don’t want to manage the project and
  • you need an effective web marketing presence, scaled appropriately to your budget.

The Boutique

If you are a small company, with a smaller web budget, and don’t mind, or prefer, managing your web project yourself, The Boutique might be a good fit. These are typically firms with 6-8 people, where the company founder is your contact and a part of the production crew, in a development or creative role. Sometimes, The Boutique is actually a group of freelancers, which can work if there is good history and a dedicated project manager.

The end product varies widely. Boutique shops are often some of the most talented individuals in the industry, but the intimacy of the client relationship can sometimes result in scope creep or the design ignoring or contradicting best practices. Most boutique shops are building in open-source content management systems. Some have house-built tools.

You will be the primary driver of the project, often serving as creative director, QA and testing manager, and driving the project at the same time. Pro-active project management from the Boutique side can sometimes be driven more by their cash flow needs than logical project flow. Meetings and reviews are generally more ad hoc.

Time frame here also varies widely. Depending on the boutique’s business cycle, you may have them breaking down your door with design iterations done in almost real time. Or you may be back burnered while the creative director is on a surfing safari. But if you have a good relationship with a Boutique shop, they can be a great partner. Budget for a 50 page site is typically in the $12,000 to $20,000 range.

The Boutique route works best when:

  • you have all your marketing direction well in hand;
  • you know what you are doing with SEO and PPC;
  • you want to run your own project and manage your resources directly and
  • you are more focused on changing look and feel than measurable results.

The Freelancer

One of the best things about Freelancers is that you will be working with one person directly for the whole project. One of the risks in working with freelancers is that you never know how strong their skill set is until you get deeply into the project. Sometimes, groups of freelancers band together to provide a more Boutique experience, with your contact handling the hand offs.

The end project result varies as much as the individuals involved. You could get a site built in a CMS or a static HTML site. It could be a home grown solution, or an open source CMS. You need to have clear visibility to a Freelancers actual work executed, rather than just contributed to, to make sure you make the right hire. You might get someone who is a great programmer but has poor or no graphic design skills, whose portfolio shows great looking sites he or she programmed but didn’t actually design.

You will likely end up the sole driver of the project. And unless the contract itself is very clear to both you and the freelancer, you may be in conflict over who owes whom what over the course of the project, or what the project is.

Timeframe tends to either be really fast (8-10 weeks), or drag on months. Because of the nature of cash flow for Freelancers, if the project gets off track, the Freelancer is going to focus on new projects. If the project gets back on track, you will be at the end of the line. Budget is typically in the $8,000 to $12,000 range.

The Freelancer route works best when:

  • you are the complete master of your marketing needs;
  • you have very specific needs for either a programmer or a designer;
  • you know how to run a web design and development project yourself and
  • you have a flexible delivery timeframe or need a focused rush project.

So what’s right for me?

It depends on what you need, and what your budget is. And some of that is highly, highly subjective. While budget is a determining factor, you also need to trust your intuition on who is going to deliver the result you need, and keep the process of getting there as smooth as possible, for everyone.

eMagine itself is mostly a Firm model, with strong in-house online marketing expertise available. In some areas, we fall in between The Agency and The Firm, providing you with help, for example, with branding and messaging specific to the web site, or creating print and presentation collateral. Our online marketing consulting team provides both high-level and hands-on strategic and operational support – perfect for companies that need expertise but don’t need a full-time online marketer in place. Our Project Managers specialize in web design and development, combining the knowledge and availability of a Boutique with the reliability of a Firm.

Are we just right for you? The best way to find out is to make your web case through a complementary web needs analysis.