Buy cheap, buy twice: why it pays to pay more for design

There’s always someone out there who can do it for less. And if you’re in charge of the marketing budget, then your head has likely been turned recently by a web designer, copywriter or SEO specialist who promises the earth for a figure which is often less than half of what the competition is charging.

With budgets tighter than ever before and a much bigger focus on results rather than innovation or a long-term web advertising strategy, the design world is naturally having to think long and hard about rates, and agencies big and small are having to keep a close eye on both the competition and the market when it comes to pricing strategy. There’s also a growing preference to hire cheaper in-house designers too, which means organisations are leaning away from the traditionally expensive agency.

Some of the cheaper creatives out there look pretty convincing too. From long, impressive client lists to exciting portfolios, it would seem counterintuitive to go with the more recognised name than an up-and-coming who is undercutting by 50%. This, however, is where problems are born.

When you hire an expensive designer, consultancy, agency or writer, you aren’t paying for their time or resources. In the two-sided coin that is the creative world, you pay for ideas, and most importantly, experience. This is why the biggest and best ad agencies retain huge contracts for years at a time, bringing fresh ideas into the foray that no one within the organisation could ever dream up. If you’re reliant on in-house staff who become embedded in your culture, and possibly jaded by your in-house practices, then the creative taps can instantly be shut off. Fresh ideas are the key to any marketing department, and if your cheaper in-house team is stagnant, they might as well not be there at all.

The other side of this coin is trust. From social media management that stays on top of your communications direct to the consumer, to SEO expertise you rely on to gain web traffic, the need for a trustworthy partner who won’t screw up comes at a big premium. Do you seriously think the guys charging a fraction are going to be completely focused and knowledgeable enough to know what to do if their campaign, SEO strategy or web design project falls flat?

The biggest issue, however, is the danger that your engagement with a cheap provider will cause long-term damage. Ask any account manager at a large design, SEO, or creative agency and they’ll have plenty of horror stories from clients who have had to call in the professionals to fix a complete mess or pick up an online campaign that is full of errors, black hat SEO and poor design practice. This is where the real costs begin to add up, with the organisation not only having to pay the low-cost, low-quality contractor or agency but the knights in shining armour who come in and fix things as well.

The key to avoiding these problems is a fine balance. You may find there are agencies who charge a little more, but this is likely so for a reason, such as offering more personalised support, a better-qualified team and being able to devote more time to your project. Be sure to shop around. Realistically, a price that seems expensive may actually be spot on compared to how their skills stand out in relation to the rest of the market. So if you’re looking for logo design, web design, a free SEO audit or web development, think long and hard about saying yes to the cheapest option out there.

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