Building good stuff is not cheap

Being an agency.

In the digital world, “ok” really is the bottom the pile. So, why is it that so many digital projects produce worse than “ok”.

If you’re overseeing the building of digital services (web-stuff, if you like), then you rarely set out with the aim of building “average” stuff.

Everyone knows that building great stuff is hard, expensive, and takes great skills with lots of experience. But, too frequently, any chance of greatness is killed at the outset: By poorly-specifying what is required, using the wrong skills and resources, and not budgeting properly.

You may be familiar with the phrase: “Good and fast is expensive; good and cheap takes forever; and fast and cheap is crappy” – this holds true for almost every digital project.

Cutting costs

Unbelievably, many programme and project managers look upfront at a project in terms of “man days/weeks/months” and calculate the cost of the project based on some arbitrary “cost per time unit”.

It may seem appealing, if not overly simplistic, to set a time budget and then calculate the project cost by multiplying out the cost-per-hour. Except it rarely works out this way.

Not every person works at the same rate, or produces the same quality of output. Projects scoped this way either overrun on time, or there is a financial loser. Even worse, managers sometimes contrast internal vs external cost by looking at gross cost per hour, ignoring hidden costs such taxation, benefits, holidays, training and unproductive hours.

Most folks are only truly productive for around 25 hours per week.

Total project costs can end-up lower when using a contractor or agency, despite higher gross hourly rates than internal employees. This takes into account; access to more talent, lower acquisition cost, scaling, higher productivity, quicker delivery, reduced support, zero indirect costs, and (usually) higher quality output.

That’s not to say that all contractors and agencies offer a better deal, far from it, cheap contractors and agencies can suffer from being the worst of both worlds (i.e. slow and crappy) – like we said, building good stuff is expensive.

The hired-gun approach

Freelance and contract supply in the creative and professional space is expected to grow to 40% of the market by 2025.

No-one can have failed to miss the rise of the gig economy over the last few year. So dramatic is the growth, that governments, legislation, taxation, financial institutions, HR and recruitment are now racing to catch-up as the very best talent is opting out of the traditional workforce.

The employee could be facing extinction in just one generation – more to the point, the very best talent don’t want to be employees – they want greater control of their working lives.

The gig economy can offer better pay, more opportunity, remote/nomad working, and the removal of the 9 to 5 drudgery. It is a powerful motivator for those with the skills and experience to flourish outside of the traditional working environment.

It’s beginning to look ever more likely that traditional companies will become the nurseries of the working world, taking the young, and the inexperienced until they’re able to spread their wings.

It’s exciting times; traditional working practices are being disrupted, skilled folks have more choice, and opportunity abounds – for everyone.

Note: Our approach

We’ve used contract folks since we started way back in the late 1990’s.

That’s not so unusual, agencies have always used contract and freelance labour, most frequently on an ad-hoc basis to fill-in gaps in resourcing and skills.

What makes us different to 99.9% of other agencies is how we use freelancers and contractors; they are central to our service offering, get the best work, are paid top-rate, and are treated super-well. It’s more expensive (on the face of it) but this approach has been key to our ability to survive and thrive for over 20 years.

We only hire experienced freelance folks. Everyone in out company is at the top of their respective games, all are super-experienced. None of them would accept the compromise of being an employee, and all of them embrace the new working paradigm.