What Web Development Agencies Get Wrong

What Web Development Agencies Get Wrong

The agency problem The problem for agencies is that they have to follow a process. This process involves business development personnel, project managers, and teams of programmers. They have to plan their human resources to remain profitable. This inevitably creates a problem that I call redundant complexity.

If somebody wants to pay you to build a wooden cottage for them, what do you do? Do you:

  1. Name a price for building a wooden cottage.
  2. Offer to build them a mansion with a swimming pool, solar panels, garage, alarm system, and an exotic garden, then try to bill them for that.

Common sense says that everyone should choose the former option. Yet, web development agencies routinely choose the latter. The fact that a mansion is objectively better than a cottage doesn’t negate the fact that some people want a cottage.

The $8000 script

An ex-client of mine once wanted a little app built. The app, as he envisioned it, was a one-page front-end application that did a few simple calculations and showed some results in a fancy format. When he approached a development agency with this project, they did an interview with him, then they had a second interview with the coding team 3 days later, and 2 days after that they quoted him $8000. In their detailed proposal, they had a full back-end framework, database to keep stats in, test-driven development, and custom design.

What the client wanted was…well, none of the above. After we laughed about the offer, I did exactly what he wanted in 8 hours and billed him the appropriate $400.

Why do agencies often take this route? And how can you, as a freelancer, profit from this?

The agency problem

The problem for agencies is that they have to follow a process. This process involves business development personnel, project managers, and teams of programmers. They have to plan their human resources to remain profitable. This inevitably creates a problem that I call redundant complexity.

After an agency representative speaks to a client, he can’t say “yes” or “no”. He has to consult at least a few people before even starting to build a proposal for the project.

He also doesn’t know who he can put on the project until he speaks to managers and team leaders, who then have to estimate their team members’ schedules. Only then, the decision can be made as to who might eventually do the project.

Whoever is supposed to do the coding for the project will need supervision, thus the client will be required to pay for a manager’s work hours as well, and this manager needs to be involved in the initial proposal.

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