Agency vs Studio vs Freelancer vs In-house: What’s Best For You?

If you’re looking to bring a more design-centric culture to your company, or want to create a new digital product then you’re probably looking at a number of options, which may include:

  • Hiring an agency
  • Hiring a product design studio
  • Hiring a freelancer
  • Hiring in-house

In this article, we’ll run through the pros and cons of each. 

Pros and cons of hiring an agency

An agency is usually made up of multiple micro teams to provide a full service (from branding to research, marketing, design and development).  

Pros

  • Continuity — if someone gets ill or leaves the agency, they have other people to fill their place.
  • Capacity — They have the infrastructure and size to offer everything you need in one place.
  • Reach — often larger agencies have an international footprint.
  • Security — training and processes already set up to ensure safety procedures are met.

Cons

  • Agility — team members are usually booked for a specific time on your project. This means with little flexibility, if time slips at all, you may find yourself with a different team coming in midway. This can be a disaster when it comes to digital products. 
  • Price — agencies have higher costs which they pass onto you.
  • Efficiency — scoping, busywork and lawyers can make progress slow and inflexible.

When we’d recommend hiring an agency

If you have a very large project, which needs:

  • people in multiple countries
  • a wide range of service requirements in one place
  • budget and efficiency is less of a concern.

Pros and cons of hiring a design studio

A product design studio usually includes a small, managed team. It is more bespoke than an agency - typically with higher service levels and specialisms.  

Pros

  • Specialised, multidisciplinary team — The team is made up of the right blend of specialised skill sets necessary to launch successful products.
  • Efficiency — The team has usually worked together on many projects so have complementary skill sets that work together well.
  • Agility — Given their smaller nature, most studios can move rapidly and adapt processes and timeframes to your needs. 
  • Price — cheaper than hiring an in-house team or agency.

Cons

  • Reach — unlikely to have international infrastructure/resources.
  • Freelancer is likely cheaper if you just need a specific design task completed.

When we’d recommend hiring a design studio

  • When you have a problem that can be solved with a digital product but don’t want to hire and manage a team or process yourself.
  • To scale a product to a point where hiring a new in-house team makes financial sense.

Pros and cons of hiring a freelancer

Freelancers offer a small set of services and because they have lower overheads, they can offer comparatively lower prices. They typically work on a specific part of a project rather than end-to-end.

Pros

  • Price — It’s cheaper to hire a single freelancer than a design studio.
  • Flexibility — If it doesn’t work out, you can end the engagement easily.
  • Efficiency — they can usually start quickly, and there is little bureaucracy
  • You can hire a very specific skill set, to fill a specific need.

Cons

  • Capability — Launching digital products requires a lot of different skills (from research, to UX and UI design, to branding, to excellent communication skills, planning and development). Very few freelancers possess all of these skills.
  • Management — To hire a set of freelancers to cover all the skills required, means also managing many different personalities and deadlines.
  • Capacity — most freelancers can only take on a small amount of work
  • Continuity — At any point they might pack up shop, go in-house with another company or go AWOL.

When we’d recommend hiring a freelancer

  • When you need a specific skill, quickly, for a short period of time.
  • When budget is the main concern.

Pros and cons of hiring in-house

Hiring in-house means long term you’ll pay less for their time, but there is a large upfront commitment, and thus risk. It can also be tricky and time-consuming to build an entire product team.

Pros

  • Commitment — employment and bonuses are tied to the success of the company.
  • Knowledge of your company and its culture.
  • Availability — they aren’t managing other clients.

Cons

  • Price — if you need to hire an entire product team, it’ll be more expensive long-term than hiring a pre-built team on a per project basis.
  • Efficiency — employees typically work slower, as they get paid anyway.
  • Bureaucracy — more paperwork/hassle to hire.
  • Flexibility — harder to let go if it doesn’t seem like a good fit.

When we’d recommend hiring in-house

  • To take over from an external team once the product has been proven to work and is highly profitable .
  • To fill a single, long-term missing skill set that you know you’ll depend on in future or is a core part of your business (not early innovation).

So where does Caboodle fit in?

Our aim is to offer all the benefits and flexibility of freelancers, with the service, reliability, security and continuity of an agency. You get one team, led by Chris and Lucy, who you can reach directly at any time.

We see ourselves as an extension of your existing team - to bolster your skill set, without you having to go through the expensive, and often risky hiring process.


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