When to outsource web work

Your in charge of your organisations website. It has become moderately successful and now you have a decision. Do you hire a full time web designer or outsource to a web design agency?

In many situations the decision to develop in-house or outsource is not down to you. Either an internal team already exists, or you are forced to outsource because you cannot fund in-house staff. However, occasionally you will have a choice. How do you decide between developing your website in-house or outsourcing to an external agency?

Lets take a moment to compare the choices.

Illustration of two people holding placards. One reads 'Vote for IN' the other reads 'Vote for OUT'

Using an in-house team

Using in-house staff provides a number of benefits…

  • Internal teams are more cost effective for long-term projects and ongoing maintenance.
  • Because in-house teams work within the business they can understand organizational objectives and target audience, better than an external agency.
  • An internal team is committed to evolving the website over time. They are constantly looking for ways to improve the site.
  • An in-house team is able to promote the website internally and ensure it does not become neglected.
  • Because an internal team is not juggling multiple clients they can (if well managed) be more responsive than an external agency.

Outsourcing to a web design agency

However, outsourcing can also bring some substantial benefits…

  • Outsourcing is more cost effective for short projects where the expenses of hiring, salary, training and equipment would be prohibitive for an in-house team.
  • An external agency brings a fresh perspective that institutionalized in-house teams cannot offer.
  • External agencies have a broader perspective of the whole industry, rather than what is happening within a single company.
  • An external agency needs to constantly ensure it is cutting-edge to stay competitive. This ensures that the quality of work is consistently high.
  • Because external agencies tend to be larger than in house teams they have more specialized and highly skilled staff.

The choice

There are good reasons to go with either approach. It comes down to two things, the length of the project and the funding available. If your website needs constant development and will evolve on an ongoing basis then an in-house team may be more appropriate. Of course, supporting an in-house team can be expensive. There are the initial costs of recruitment and equipment, as well as the ongoing expenses of salary and training. For shorter development projects the benefits and cost savings of outsourcing may outweigh the convenience of an in-house team.

In reality, the decision isn’t between internal or external. There is no reason why you cannot combine both approaches. For example, an external agency could be used for development work while ongoing maintenance could be handled by an internal web editor. Equally, you could do the bulk of development internally, but bring in external agencies for specialist work such as search engine optimization or user testing. This hybrid approach works well because it combines the strengths of both in-house and external.

This is an extract from Paul’s book – The Website Owners Manual

  • Great summary Paul. As someone who leads an internal team I think it’s important to strike up a close and ongoing relationship with an external agency – on who you can rely – to capitalise on the reasons you say above. I like what we do with Headscape – which is every 6 months we meet up for a day and do a ‘show and tell’ from both sides – agency and internal team. This way we tune into each other’s latest set of challenges, solutions and successes – can leanr from each other – and potentially scope out work from there… Great post – thank you.

  • I’m working for a client as there sole developer on a sms service.
    It has got to a point where I’m on an ongoing contract, but only working sets days a week. This benefits the client in costs and that I strive to keep up with the latest trends in development, and bring that to his project, plus I host the project too.
    For me this means that in this era of the “credit crunch” (the latest buzz words) I have a regular flow of income, which allows me to take on shorter term contracts to fill the time, and develop my own project (The DJ Book.com) which is itself in beta development at the moment.
    What is even more funny is that I commissioned a freelance developer to do some work on my project (the dj book), to keep things moving whilst I was finishing off another contract.
    Oh the great circle of development.

  • eranatasya

    hi there, im a student of a college, i haven’t learn how to create a web. But i have learn it by my own. I dont know how to design a webpage. Which application can I use while designing? lol~?!

    • Excellent post, Paul! You explained well everything here, it is very clear. I agree with you in the “Choice” part that there are good reasons to go with any of the approach. It really depends on the purpose of the company. If to reduce cost then outsourcing is the first choice than in-house. etc


      Sorry, I have to re-post because it didn’t appear the first and second time this post was submitted.

  • Hey Paul,
    I posted comments about this in the Manning forum when you released the draft of this section. Since then I have extended the comments into an article and by coincidence it’s the first one published on my blog.
    I do agree with your views on outsourcing, but believe there is also another side to it that can have very negative effects on an agency or internal web team if not kept a close eye on.
    A reliable bank of external resource can slowly turn into dependence when dealing with multiple projects ranging from large account work to small and quick jobs. The external resource is called on to complete the quick jobs leaving the internal resource to continue to work on the big account work because a hand-over is just not viable. The large account work is generally ‘the same old thing’, and the quick jobs are the ‘fun’ ones…
    Over time, I’ve seen it kill a whole team’s morale, causing key people to leave and ultimately reducing the value of the agency as a whole – it was a slow and vicious cycle that I wrote about in the hope it can stop even one team going the same way!
    I won’t post the whole thing here, you can read it at: http://www.thesambarnes.com

  • I am impressed with your article. Well done Paul.

  • Outsourcing is really hard. I prefer to invest my relatives so that they can make designs. Very good explanation by the way. I liked to read all.

  • I recommend you also to look webmaster forums for more out sourcing posibilities. There are also social sites like facebook. Great article Paul. I think you can outsource better than me.

  • Its an orderly article i had now great concepts on how to outsource. Thanks Paul.

  • I prefer part time designer and find it from webmaster forums. They offer cheaper prices.

  • The large account work is generally ‘the same old thing’, and the quick jobs are the ‘fun’ ones… ???

  • Outsourcing is really hard. I prefer to invest my relatives so that they can make designs. Very good explanation by the way. I liked to read all.

  • Outsourcing Solutions already has become a trend and a lot of businesses do it to get more from their investment. Just make sure you are working with the correct outsourcing partner.

  • Outsourcing is very beneficial when you dont have professionals in your team, you will probaly increase your cost of hiring and training instead you should outsource it, but outsource it to someone which is really very professional..

  • I prefer part time designer and find it from webmaster forums. They offer cheaper prices.

  • Outsourcing is really hard. I prefer to invest my relatives so that they can make designs. Very good explanation by the way. I liked to read all.

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