Should you hire a freelance web designer or an agency?

You are a small business owner or a professional and you need to redesign your website. You’re not sure how much you’ll need to pay. Most importantly you’re not even sure how much value you’ll get from the redesign.

In the back of your mind you know you expect to invest between 5’000€/$ and 10’000€/$.

The problem is: the company/freelancer that made your existing site is out of business and now you need to find another service provider.

So you ask for recommendations to friends and partners. Then you reach out to one or two companies but found out that they’re too busy and/or expensive.

So now you’re looking for the right company online. And after googling “web design services” you quickly realise you’ve two options

  • Hire an individual
  • Hire an agency

You’re left wondering: who’s going to deliver more value for the same money? And the short answer is: it depends on what you value the most.

Let’s run through some points and evaluate pro’s and con’s.

But before doing that, let’s exclude

  • Individuals working part-time or in the evenings. They might offer you good rates but trust me, they’ll give you nightmares when you’ll need them the most
  • Individuals in business for less than 2 years. They’re just too risky.
  • Agencies of 2-3 partners. They’re closer to an individual in the comparison.
  • Agencies that requires 10’000$/€ to start anything. They’re just out of reach and you can’t expect to profit from such an investment

Now let’s go through some “value points” and evaluates PRO’s and CON’s for each.

Flexibility

With an agency you will speak with a manager of some sort. He won’t really know technical limits (he’ll have to ask all the time since he can’t waste developer’s time with meetings).

Individuals. They’ll be able to adapt more easily to new scope and opportunities. If he’s a good freelancer with a business mindset (like me 🙂 you’ll also deal directly with a “business owner” that understands your point of view and needs.

Specialisation

Agency: you’ll have access to specialised people. One designer, one developer, maybe even one strategist/marketer. This is good if you’re solving really complicate/advanced problems. But on the other hand it’ll mean more disconnection.

Individual: if the individual can handle strategy, design and development, like me :), it’ll mean you’ll have someone who keeps the big picture together. This will save you time and give you a better product. Of course if the project scope and goals are very unique you should go with an agency of specialists.

Speed

Agency: having 2-3 designers or developers on the same project can definitely speed it up.

Individual: they’ve limited bandwidth and often they also have weeks if not months of waiting time.

Reliability

Agency for sure can give you a better impression of reliability and stability. But if you think at individuals and remove moonlighting freelancers and the ones who have been in business for less than 2 years, then you have freelancers as reliable as an agency.

Cost

A freelancer will save you money. You won’t have to pay for the secretary or for the project manager reporting to the developer.

My bet is that the right professional will deliver way more value to you.

(Provided that you fit in the initial frame. E.g. you are a business owner that needs a web presence to get leads and you can budget 5’000€ to 10’000€ for the job)

That’s it. I hope this is going to help you find the right help. Good luck with your business.

How to make your existing WordPress site responsive and mobile friendly

You own a WordPress site and you kind of know it’s important to optimise it for smaller screens. This is important not just to help your visitors but also for search engine visibility

Two Google facts can help you see the big picture:

So is your website mobile friendly (enough)? To answer you can ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have to zoom to actually read the content?
  • Your (menu) links are so close that a person with big fingers can’t easily select the right menu link?
  • You can’t fill the contact or checkout form without making mistakes?
  • You waste all your mobile data package because images are too big and designed for desktop computers
  • Does the page take more than 2-3 seconds to load on a slow connection?

If the answer is yes to the above questions you need to take action to not lose traffic from Google (and also to offer a better experience to your visitors, and convert more of them to customers/leads).

You also can use this Google tool to find out whether or not they see your site as a mobile friendly one.

Three options if you’re using WordPress

First of all realize it’s not a binary thing. You can adjust your site to various degrees – especially if you’re flexible on the outcome.

First try: update the theme. If you bought your theme from a marketplace like ThemeForest make sure you’re running the latest version of the theme because it’s possible that since the last time you checked the theme author made the theme mobile friendly and responsive.

The first try didn’t work? Then you’re left with these options

  1. Use a plugin such as Jetpack.com or WPTouch
  2. Change the theme you’re using
  3. Improve the code of your theme

Let’s see pro’s and con’s of each approach.

Jetpack.com approach:

  • Cost: free
  • Speed: some minutes
  • Cons: you’ll have little control over the style/appearance of the site. You’ll might have issues if you’re using advanced plugins or a custom coded theme, especially for your homepage.

WPTouch.com approach

  • Cost: from 0$ to 229$ (if you need WooCommerce support or advanced branding)
  • Speed: 1+ hours depending how much you want to tweak it
  • Cons: You’ll have better branding/style than Jetpack.com approach but still limited. The look of the site will be the one of an app and this might or might no be a con depeneding on your audience. And as for Jetpack.com you might see completely different things in the homepage

Change the theme approach

  • Cost: from 0$ to thousands of $ (if you’re hiring a professional)
  • Speed: days to weeks
  • Cons: it can be painful and not worth the investment

Improve your existing theme approach

  • Cost: hundreds of $ (with the right developers) – thousands with an agency
  • Speed: few hours of development time
  • Cons: you need to find and hire the right developer

This last approach might be a good fit if you have a strong brand, want to preserve your look and feel across devices and do not want to invest in a redesign or switch theme.

Technically speaking keep in mind that being mobile friendly is not a “binary thing”. You can prioritise and get the quick wins (like typography, menu and layout) rather quickly and sacrifice or postpone some minor enhancements (like comment forms, photo galleries and complicated media pages).

This way you’ll look good in Google’s eyes and help your visitors become customers and leads.

How to ship web projects on time and on budget

You are a non-technical entrepreneur trying to to ship a complex web project and you’ve heard too many horror stories. Freelancers disappearing, projects never shipped, tens of thousands of dollars/euros wasted.

You are going to work with 1-2 developers that will be sitting somewhere else in the world.

You’ll work with these developers for at least the next 2-3 months and you never managed a web projects before.

How can you increase your chance to ship the web platform on budget and on time?

Here’s how…

Building the platform is just 10% of the work

Don’t forget that building the software/platform is just 10-20% of the job. The rest is marketing/sales and customer support. So budget for it and focus on it as well.

Keep in mind that helping your customers is the goal also for your developer(s). They should never focus on the code and lose sight of the jobs to be done. In this respect make sure that the effort put into coding a feature is connected to the value that’s being created. That password reset form? It can definitely wait; for the first month or two of operations you can do it manually.

Do not start with the “complete” platform

Think cycles versus waterfall approach. Do not even start with the “almost complete” platform.

I won’t annoy you with “Agile” and other development methodologies that only funded ($$$) teams can apply. You should always have a weekly or maximum bi-weekly goals and status updates. At the end of each cycle you should be able to have something new and valuable to show to your prospects and potential users. Even before you switched to live.

You really think you need that messaging feature?

What if you just start by displaying the user email so that the users can email each other anyway? Isn’t more or less the same job? (given that email privacy isn’t an issue of course).

Resist the temptation to keep adding features just because you’ve this big vision in your mind.

Wait until the actual users will ask for this messaging feature. Of course not everyone will reach out to you and ask for it, some will just think “no messaging? I can’t use this platform”. But don’t worry about that if that’s not directly tied to the core value you’re providing.

Set specific dates and budgets. Be flexible on outcomes.

You cannot control both (time and money) and features. And since staying on budget is always more valuable than adding another feature you’ll have to be flexible on the outcome. In practice this means that every week

Constant and clear communication is the priority

When you find the right developer/designer set clear expectations about communication on both sides.

You should ask (and offer) weekly statuses. You should ask to your developer to be upfront and do not hide technical challenges and roadblocks. Make the point that by sharing the challenges as soon as they arise you can plan around, communicate with customers and find solutions. If the roadblock emerges at the last minute, it’ll be much harder to maintain the quality of the project.

You’re not building the next Facebook (meaning you don’t need to optimize for millions)

And even if you are you should not worry now about performance optimization, scalability and infrastructure.

This is tricky because many developers like to prematurely optimize this aspect.

If you are using WordPress as a platform just go with WPEngine.com and do not worry about infrastructure until you have many thousands of happy people using your platform.

Email members without a profile picture in BuddyPress

faceless-directory

You are growing a new online community and you’re using BuddyPress for the technical part (BuddyPress is a free WordPress plugin that’s basically a social network in a box).

The problem is: too many of your newly registered users are not uploading a profile picture.

This is bad for you because when new visitors are coming to your members directory page they’re scared away by a list/grid of grey and anonymous default avatars.

No one wants to join an inactive community. Even if a third of your users are without a profile picture you’re losing potential community members.

What’re some possible solutions?

  1. Quick fix #1: replace the default grey avatar with a default image that’s nicer. Maybe a variation of your logo, or just something with more personality
  2. Creative fix (the Google way): you could have automatically generated profile pictures using the initials of the person and a random color. Google is doing this for Gmail for example
  3. Hide those users fix: you could modify the sorting criteria to hide or leave “at the bottom” users without a profile picture.
  4. Force your users to upload a picture: with this plugin. I don’t recommend it because it’s too aggressive and can cost you users
  5. Add the profile picture to the signup page with this plugin. It won’t be mandatory so you’ll still have the issue
  6. Email your users asking them to upload it. For the rest of the article I’ll focus on this solution. I couldn’t find a plugin to do this but with few lines of code you can get a list of users without a profile picture and then email them.

How to list BuddyPress members that are without a profile picture (also known as avatar or gravatar)

You can use this snippet of code I uploaded on GitHub here.

Just copy and paste it into your functions.php and this is what you can expect

members-without-avatar

Then you can set a weekly/daily task to copy paste the emails and send a personal friendly reminder asking the new user to add a profile picture. Of course you can combine this approach with other listed above. You can also automate it but my recommendation, especially if you’re starting out, is to do this manually for at least some weeks.

Good luck growing your online community! 🙂

 

Disclaimer: this has been tested on BuddyPress v.2.2.3.1 and WordPress 4.2.1. It’s not using particularly new functions so it should work on older versions as well. It will very likely work on future ones and it shouldn’t have an compatibility issue with other plugins. As usual test on a staging server first and then implement the changes in the live site. With all this said WiseBits isn’t responsible for the code above. I really hope this will help you grow your online community!