I’m a FIRM believer in working with specialists.
It’s why we focus on design and development, on killing it in building powerful, profitable, complete online platforms, custom WordPress sites, and the design of branding and marketing materials that support our clients’ broader business growth efforts.
No one wants to invest in a generalist who knows the basics about a lot, but not the important, critical details on the one thing they need. No one wants to be sold something by a person who doesn’t fully understand what they are selling. No one wants to invest thousands of dollars in a website that was built by a non-expert — someone who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff day in and day out — especially with the rapid pace that technology shifts and changes.
Yes, I am a great writer (I love it), and when speaking with clients, I can often eloquently communicate an unclear message — it’s why many of our clients audio record our conversations. But it’s not my core expertise, so we don’t offer copywriting services.
Yes, I am really good at blogging for business (I love it). I generate a lot of traffic to our little blog and it does bring us new business. But we don’t offer blogging courses or consulting on this (outside of our website development projects that include it), because we’re not a content marketing company.
Yes, our team has a deep understanding and experience with many shopping carts, email marketing platforms, list building tools and tactics, online conversion strategies, and more. We invest in coaching, mastermind groups, live events, information products, and training that our ideal client would attend, buy or invest in. We truly understand the landscape of online business, and while we talk to A LOT of people about marketing, providing ideas, suggestions, and a fresh perspective, we do not offer marketing services.
We Are Specialists
We’re designers and developers first and foremost. We’ve been in business for 10 years. I started working with Photoshop 20 years ago and started my first job in graphic design in 1997. Design and development is where our specialty lies.
All of the other things we do, are good at, and know about make us better at design and development.
- They make us better at strategic planning because we understand at a deeper level than most other designers and developers what our clients want to achieve with their website. We understand that we’re not just creating a brand or building a website, We’re constructing — from the foundation to the finish work — a comprehensive, integrated online platform to support ALL of their marketing efforts and business goals.
- They make us better at the design because we’re not just thinking about right now, but we’re thinking about 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years+, down the road. We’re thinking about what clients may want to add in the future and building their site to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. We’re also thinking about conversion, the visitor experience, the natural flow of content, and what visitors need to know to make the decision to hire, buy from, or sign up for our clients’ email lists.
- They make us better developers because we’re not just making their idea work. We’re looking at more than function. We’re looking at how it works, how visitors interact with the site, how our clients use the site, and how we can simplify their workflow and automate their tasks to save them time and effort.
- They make us better long-term partners because we immerse ourselves in our clients’ businesses, often getting to know their brand as well as they do, and when it comes to their visual brand, often better than they do. We become valued advisors, a go to resource for consulting and ideas, and a guardian of their visual brand, providing ongoing support for their website and all design needs for years.
Many Marketing, Advertising, and PR Firms Have The Wrong Approach — This Goes For Coaches and Consultants Too
We do high-quality work, we have a meticulous attention to detail, and we operate with integrity.
As a result, we get a regular flow of inquiries from all sorts of business and marketing coaches and consultants, as well as marketing, advertising, and public relations firms who are looking for a design and development partner, especially one who specializes in WordPress.
Let me be clear: WE LOVE THIS.
We love relationships with these types of companies when approached the right way, because they are a win-win-win. The agency, the contractor, AND the client all win because the client is getting the best possible service from specialists.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the approach we’re seeing. Instead we often see inquiries from agencies and companies looking for:
1. A blind subcontractor to merely implement their ideas and add none of their own
There are some BIG problems with this type of relationship:
- The communication breaks down and the message gets lots in translation. The client talks to the account rep, who talks to their team, then talks to the designer/developer. Then if the designer has questions or something isn’t clear, they have to talk to the account rep, who has to talk to the client. This causes confusion, changes the message, bloats timelines, adds revisions, and creates frustration for everyone.
- You have non-designers and non-developers providing consulting to clients about design and development. YIKES! This leads to confusion and frustration because in many cases, they’re consulting on something they don’t fully understand and suggesting solutions that may not work (or may not work in the budget).
- The designer/developer is brought in at the end to just make it pretty or make it work. This is usually bred out of insecurity or the “players jockeying for position” — it is not in the best interests of the client. The designer and developer should be part of the conversation from day one, as they have valuable experience and insights that may not only improve the end results, but improve the process.
- People are selling services they don’t fully understand, like the build of a custom WordPress website or advanced features and functionality. The problem here is that most often they are basing the budget on what they think it should cost not the real world cost. So the client signs off, and they then hunt for a provider who can do the work in their budget. YIKES again! As a result, they often budget far too little, and are forced to a cheap designer/developer instead of the best designer/developer.
2. A provider who will pay them an affiliate commission for the referral
The BIG problem with this approach should be obvious. There isn’t much to say here except: when did it become okay to put lining your pockets ahead of doing what’s best for your clients?
I have actually had people say to me:
Gee that’s too bad. You are the perfect fit for our client and we really want them to work with you. You really are the best, but without an affiliate commission, we’ll have to refer our clients elsewhere.
We will never work with a company who refers their client to the person who will line their pockets OVER the person who is the best fit and will do the best work. Likewise, we will never make a recommendation to a client based on whether or not we get an affiliate commission. Ew. We just don’t do business that way.
Your clients’ best interests should always be your number one priority.
3. A cheap provider whose services they can markup A LOT
Similar to the problem with making decisions based on an affiliate commission, this approach makes me ill. Many marketing, advertising, and public relations professionals and agencies we speak to want to make more money — and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s normal to expect an agency markup on subcontracted services.
What is wrong is the idea that design and development — specifically website design and WordPress development — is a quick and easy way to add another income stream to their business.
They figure that they’ll find a cheap freelancer, or design studio who will be so grateful for their business, that they’ll work cheap — that way they can markup their services A LOT and increase profits without adding lot of work to their plate.
Now you have lower quality work being sold at higher prices so a broker can profit. Not only does this perpetuate confusion in terms of cost and value in the market, but an experienced designer or developer will see through this immediately and say no.
- If they are good, they are probably really busy — quality design and development services are in high demand — and don’t need to work cheap so the agency can boost profits.
- Why would they want to work with someone who clearly doesn’t value their skill, talents, expertise, experience, and profession?
My heart simply hurts for the clients who don’t know what’s happening and invest in these situations. Here, you have people who are unqualified offering consulting and advice, hiring unqualified or inexperienced designers and developers, and underpaying them — these situations are rarely ever going to produce the best result.
The Right Approach To Working With Designers And Developers
With all of this said, it’s important to recognize that there are coaches and consultants, as well as marketing, advertising, and public relations agencies who do have the right approach and mindset when it comes to partnering with designers and developers.
These are the types of companies we love to work with.
The First Step
Before we even get into what a positive, mutually beneficial relationship between and agency and a design company looks like, we first need to talk about respect for each others’ profession and expertise.
For a partnership to be successful:
- The design studio or freelancer must understand the dynamic between the client and the firm they are contracting with and the history. The goal here is to make the firm look great for bringing you in, and at the same time support their existing relationship and overall goals with the client.
- The agency or firm must understand the value that designers and developers bring to the table in insights, ideas, experience, and knowledge — and allow them to do what they do best. Designers and developers will work harder and produce better work when they feel valued, respected, and appreciated.
What A Successful Relationship Looks Like
A successful relationship is mutually beneficial for both parties. That means:
- The agency gets to bring in a partner they can rely on to produce great work, while having their back at all times.
- The design studio or freelancer is included in the project from the very beginning and is paid fair market rate.
- The client receives the best possible service and end product, working with two specialists who can collaborate and communicate effectively.
Tips for Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations Firms Who Contract With Design Studios And Freelancers
At Bourn Creative, we have years of experience working side-by-side with in-house design teams, internal marketing departments, business consultants, marketing firms, advertising agencies, and public relations firms.
Positive, long-lasting relationships take time, trust, and a lot of clear communication.
Working together may not be perfect out of the gate — and that’s okay.
It will take time to really get to know the communication style, workflow, and preferences of each person you interact with and each company as a whole. This may take doing a few different projects together to iron out any kinks in your collaboration.
Here are some tips to make contracting with a design studio easier, more effective, and more profitable:
- Bring a designer and developer in as early as possible. This means getting your preferred design partner onboard and part of the conversation when you’re in discovery, clarifying and finalizing the scope of work. By bringing them in early, you can estimate the project costs and timeline more accurately, as well as identify any potential concerns, red flags, or other issues before you’re knee deep in the project and halfway through the budget.
- Listen and be open to suggestions. Chances are, your designer and developer have done something similar or experienced similar situations and projects in the past. Be open to their feedback and suggestions, and listen to what they have to say. There is no faster way to obliterate your designer’s excitement for creating an amazing final product, than to make them feel like nothing more than an implementation monkey.
- Don’t be cheap, low ball estimates, or devalue your designers and developers. While a design studio who values your relationship as much as you do will be fair with their pricing, you need to understand that high quality design and development do demand higher rates. They will be honest with how many hours things will take and they expect to be paid a fair market rate for their time and talents. Pay them what they are worth and make them feel valued, and they will always go the extra mile to know it out of the park for you
- Negotiate quantity pricing after you have an established relationship. The demand for quality designers and developers is high. If they also have great attention to detail and great communication skills, they also more than likely have work than they can manage — so there isn’t much incentive for them to lower their rates. With that said, after you have established an ongoing relationship, don’t be afraid to negotiate a lower rate in return for the quantity of work you are sending them. There IS value in you removing the marketing, sales and project management from their plate.
- Introduce them to your clients and open a line of communication. If you want great work, you need to partner with a design studio you trust to attend client meetings and speak directly to your clients. Direct communication is needed to produce the best results with the least amount of revisions and challenges.
- Educate them about your client and your relationship. Be open with your design partner about your client and your relationship with them. Share your big picture goals, any challenges or sticky points there may have been in the past, and let them know what other services you are providing the client. This way your designer or developer isn’t caught off guard with any odd questions or comments. It also enables them to be your champion, reinforcing the same message you are sending, and enhancing your expertise.
Tips for Designers And Developers Who Contract With Agencies
As I mentioned, we have worked as subcontractors for marketing, advertising, and public relations firms, business coaches, and marketing consultants. We also work on retainer as a full outsourced design department, managing all visual aspects of a business’ marketing materials, event materials, website, digital design, product design, and communications.
Over the years, there are some important things I have learned that make these relationships run smoothly and ensure they are mutually beneficial — and none of them are related to your talents as a designer or developer.
Here are some tips to make agencies LOVE working with and contracting with you:
- Always be open, honest and upfront. Always, always, always be honest about your skills, work, timeline, and who is doing the work. If you need to bring in a partner, let them know. You want to always make sure your partner knows what’s going on, knows who is involved in the project, and what other external issues may affect the project. Remember, they are putting their reputation on the line to hire you.
- Communicate clearly, often, and early. It’s better to over communicate than under communicate. You never want your partner left hanging, or wondering what’s going on because they haven’t heard from you in a while. A couple days of no communication from you may feel like a week of no communication to them. Be sure to keep them apprised of the project status, and if you are ever going to miss a deadline or need more time, let them know as early as possible so they can properly manage expectations with their client.
- Charge fair market rates. Don’t assume that because they are an agency, you can inflate your rates or charge exorbitant fees because you read a few posts about value-based pricing. Everyone has a budget. You need to be realistic about the scope of work, the time it will take, and the hourly rate you charge — and it’s your job to educate your partner about your fees and the value you bring to the project.
- Offer different options for packages and payment. Offer flexible packages and payment options to make working with you as easy as possible. Offer work done on a project-by-project basis, via a monthly retainer, or by the hour. Likewise, be flexible on payment options and accept cash or checks, PayPal, all major credit cards, and wire/bank transfers. Also offer options to pay in full, make automatic payments, or be invoiced at specific milestones or on specific dates.
- Reward repeat clients who bring you regular, steady work. If you have an agency partner who is sending you a steady stream of work or signs a retainer agreement, reward them with a quantity savings. For example, you can drop your rate from $150/hour to $125/hour, or you can offer them a faster response time.
- Respect the relationship. Do your homework and learn about the client and their relationship with your partner up front. This will help you avoid putting your foot in your mouth, saying something that causes your partner a headache, or making a critical misstep. It will also help you know what to play up, enhance, and reinforce with the client, so you become more valuable to your partner.
- Make THEM look like rockstars. Your focus should never be about making yourself look like a rockstar. Your focus should be on doing great work, serving the client to the best of your abilities, and affirming that hiring your partner (who brought you in) was the best choice the client ever made.
- Familiarize yourself with your partners’ complete buffet of services. If their client asks you about ancillary services, marketing, advertising, or any other service your partners offers, make sure you answer their question, but always loop your partner back into the conversation. Helping them start a conversation to potentially land more business or extend a contracts with an existing client will make you a more valuable asset and turn your partner into a raving fan.
The Best Interests Of The Client Should Always Come First
Before affiliate commissions, before big markups and additional income streams, before jockeying for position, and before hiring the cheapest option, should always come the best interests of the client.
For strategic partnerships to be successful:
- Agencies need to truly collaborate with their subcontractors and partners, viewing them as a valuable resource and addition to their team, instead of merely a leveraged resource, and
- Trust must be established through open, honest channels of communication, fair pricing, and consistent, high-quality work.
- Designer and developers must respect the relationships between themselves and their partner, and between their partner and the client, remembering your partner is risking their own reputation by hiring and recommending you.
If designers and developers are brought into projects early enough, they can help ensure the scope of work is clear and the estimate is accurate. This ensures everyone’s needs are met, and that there is budget to pay them a fair market rate in alignment with their value. And, when both parties needs are met, it is much easier to put aside self-serving actions, to fully support each other and create and end product everyone can be proud of and feel good about.
Interested In Learning More?
At Bourn Creative we LOVE truly collaborative strategic partnerships.
- Have you been looking for a highly-skilled, creative partner to provide quality design and development services to your clients that compliment and support your own services and objectives?
- Do your clients need web design, WordPress design and development, print design, brand design, social media design, event materials design, or even information product design?
- Do you want one design and development partner you can rely on to get the work done right the first time, on time, and in budget?
I look forward to hearing from you and to exploring the possibility of an amazing creative partnership!