We're a WordPress web design agency with a difference. Instead of having a big office with employees, our WordPress agency is a team of WordPress web design experts - consisting of project managers, WordPress developers, designers, an SEO expert and a project assistant. Each team member works independently, usually on a freelance basis - all overseen by myself as Operations Director and my husband Andy as Technical Director.
In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of running a WordPress web design agency in this way. Most importantly, I will discuss the impact on our clients and how the experience compares to working with a more traditional web agency.
The WordPress web design agency and the distributed team
The WordPress web design world has always played a leading role in the use of distributed workforces, proving and driving forward this modern business model. You can see this by looking at some of the world's top WordPress web design agencies.
For example Automattic, the creators of WordPress.com, have always had a distributed workforce. All their employees work from their own home or office and the team is spread all over the world. Although Automattic has employees, whereas members of the Barn2 Media team work independently, there are many similarities (although we're a much smaller company).
An even better comparison is WordPress web design agency Modern Tribe. They provide WordPress design and development services to major companies across the world as well as creating popular WordPress plugins such as The Events Calendar. Although much bigger than ourselves, Modern Tribe have a very similar setup to Barn2 Media. They have 7 employees (there were originally just 3 when they were a smaller company) and over 30 active WordPress freelancers from around the world.
But isn't it just outsourcing?
When I explain the structure of our WordPress web design agency, I'm always disappointed when someone replies saying "Oh, so you just sub out your projects". This attitude tells me that I haven't explained it right. The ongoing challenge is to combat people's preconceptions and show that the virtual team model is a positive way to run a modern WordPress web design agency, and does not carry the same negative connotations as 'outsourcing'.
The word 'outsourcing' has a lot of negative connotations. It implies that the work has been passed to a third party who may not understand the customer's business and has an unknown level of skill. There's something off-putting about the idea of a faceless subcontractor who isn't the person you chose to do the work. People have a natural fear of the unknown.
The situation is even worse for a WordPress web design agency because the industry is blighted by an epidemic of offshore outsourcing agencies. I receive over 20 emails a day from these companies, all making the same promises, and I wouldn't dream of letting them touch a Barn2 Media project. (In fact we did try this briefly in the early days, years ago - and quickly learned our lesson!)
While I'm not saying that ALL outsourcing companies are poor, there are certainly a lot of bad ones out there and they have a bad reputation. We're regularly asked to take over poor quality WordPress websites that have been developed by overseas outsourcing companies. They are nearly always brittle and badly coded, with little or no attention to detail. This is why WordPress web design agencies that operate as a virtual team need to clearly distinguish between their business model and outsourcing.
When people refer to 'outsourcing', they are generally assuming that the work is being passed to a third party at the expense of quality. The original company may have little or no involvement in the work after it has been outsourced. There's often a suggestion that something underhand is going on and that outsourcing is something to be ashamed of. Some WordPress web design agencies even outsource work while claiming to be doing everything in-house, which I don't agree with at all. If you feel the need to hide what you're doing then there probably is something wrong with it.
In contrast, we have a well-established team of WordPress professionals who we work with on a long-term basis. Their profiles are published on the team page of our website and our quotes include a section listing everyone who will be involved in designing your WordPress website. It's a real team, built in an innovative and modern way.
5 reasons why a virtual WordPress web design agency is better for clients
I believe that a well managed virtual team can keep its clients just as happy - or even happier - than a traditional web design agency! Here's why.
1. Quick access to WordPress web design experts with shorter lead times
One of the best things about a virtual WordPress web design agency is its ability to scale up and down to meet clients' needs. If an unusual number of new projects suddenly come in then we can involve more of our WordPress developers, instead of keeping clients waiting.
Compare this to a traditional web design agency. The work has to be booked in according to its employees' availability. The directors can possibly move things around a bit to fit in an urgent project - however this is usually at the expense of another client, whose project is delayed. This can lead to longer lead times and less flexibility.
I'm not saying that the virtual team model is perfect in this respect. If a project has a dedicated WordPress developer then if the client comes back for more work in future, it often makes sense to book in the work when that developer is available - which may not be straight away. However on the whole, the setup of our WordPress web design agency allows us to allocate work in a more responsive way. As a result, new clients rarely wait more than 2-3 weeks before we can start work.
2. WordPress experts with the right skills and experience
WordPress web design agencies with a physical office are forced to recruit staff from their local area. On rare occasions, they may recruit from further afield and pay relocation expenses - however on the whole, they recruit locally. This vastly reduces the pool of people with the right skills and experience, and leads to some strange priorities. The first priority is "Can they work from our office?" Only people meeting this condition are considered in terms of their actual ability to do the job. This is a huge restriction for traditional web agencies.
If a web design agency is based in a remote location then it's very hard to find suitable employees as there won't be many WordPress experts locally. If a web design agency is based in a major city such as London then there will be a better choice of available talent, but they will have to pay higher salaries as a result.
In contrast, distributed WordPress web design agencies like Barn2 Media can recruit from absolutely anywhere. The only barriers are things like language and time zone, allowing us to focus on finding WordPress experts who truly meet our quality standards and company ethos. In practice, we tend to only work with people in the UK as there is plenty of talent within our own country and there's no need to look further afield. However the world is our oyster and we're not limited by location.
3. Better recruitment processes (yes, really!)
One of the most common complaints about outsourcing is the assumption that the work is being given to people of unknown quality. Our WordPress web design agency has stringent procedures for recruiting new virtual team members. In my opinion, these are better than the more traditional practices used by companies recruiting new employees.
Whenever we recruit new members to our virtual WordPress web design agency, we check the quality of their work in great detail. For example:
- Our technical director checks the skills of potential WordPress web developers by studying the code of a major WordPress theme or plugin they have developed and ensuring it meets our strict quality standards.
- We invest a great deal of time in discussions with potential project managers to ensure they share our values and train them in Barn2 Media's policies and processes.
- When talking with new SEO and online marketing experts, we look at WordPress websites that they have previously optimised to ensure their work meets our SEO guidelines and is white hat and non-spammy.
Most companies are less thorough than this in vetting their new employees. The traditional recruitment process relies on CV's and job interviews, neither of which are a good gauge of an applicant's abilities. If a company is being extra stringent then they may introduce extra elements such as a presentation. However the ability to write a good CV or present well at a job interview require completely different skills to the ones the employer is actually looking for, so it's easy to employ someone who isn't suitable.
4. We only work with people who perform consistently
UK employment law is so generous that it's very difficult for a WordPress web design agency to get rid of an employee whose work isn't up to scratch. As a virtual team, if we're not happy with someone's work (and they don't respond to our attempts to help them improve) then we don't have to use them any more.
Our client's aren't forced to receive sub-standard service from someone who we know isn't good enough but have to keep working with. We have the luxury of choosing the best possible WordPress experts for each web design project, and our clients benefit as a result.
5. We only take on the types of WordPress web design projects that we do best
I was recently chatting with the managing director of another UK WordPress web design agency. He employs several WordPress developers in-house, all sharing an office. We discussed the pro and cons of our respective business models. I was interested to hear about the pressures he is under to take on a minimum amount of work simply to pay the wage bill and break even. This creates pressures to take on different types of projects and to provide services that generate ongoing income, even if this isn't particularly profitable or enjoyable. It's also an incentive to provide services that may not be your main area of expertise, which can lead to reduced quality and unhappy clients.
This is a situation that never happens at Barn2 Media - ALL our work is profitable, by definition. We only pay our virtual team members for work that generates revenue, so we never taken on projects that we're not comfortable with just to pay the bills. Instead, we focus on ensuring that every project is a good match for both the client and ourselves. We welcome WordPress web design projects that we know we will do well. If we receive an enquiry about a service that we're less comfortable with, we refer the client to another agency with the right specialism. This creates good working relationships all round.
The virtual WordPress web design agency - something to be proud of
I love the way that Modern Tribe embrace the 'virtual' nature of their WordPress web design agency, rather than making excuses for it. Their homepage states: "We're a digital agency with a modern twist. All freelancers. All experts." This is exactly the right attitude.
The virtual team is an increasingly popular business model for a WordPress web design agency. While it isn't perfect and you have less control over your team members than a traditional web agency, this can be managed through effective processes and good communication.
There are many benefits to having a distributed team. A virtual WordPress web design agency can scale up and down to meet the needs of different projects and timescales. It can recruit and retain the best people without worrying about location. There's no pressure to take on unsuitable projects just to pay the wage bill, which helps to provide a better service to clients. It's a fantastic business model that is set to grow and grow, and I'm proud to be part of it.