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It can be a tough decision. First, let’s define what makes a firm “local” or “outside.” The words “local” and “outside” are loaded with all sorts of connotations when it comes to doing business, and we’ll get into judging the reality of those perceptions, but we simply mean “local” based on distance. Cosgrave Hill is based in San Antonio, TX, which is a very unique city in terms of how quickly you can get from truly urban areas to truly rural areas.

If you’re in a rural area think of a local web agency as: Within 30 miles or within a 30-minute drive.

If you’re in an urban area think of a local web agency as: In the same postal city (Ex. 10730 Potranco Road, San Antonio, TX for us) or within a 45-minute drive.

Now let’s look at the perceived benefits vs. real benefits of a local web designers and outside web designers.

 

General Perceptions of Clients

Local Firm – Smaller, more accessible, more attentive.

Outside Firm – Bigger, more experienced, more professional.

 

Specific Perceptions of Clients

Top 3 Perceived Values of using a Local Firm :

  1. In-person meetings.
  2. Intimate understanding of your geographic area.
  3. Individual attention.

Top 3 Perceived Values of using an Outside Firm :

  1. Greater Selection.
  2. Diverse Experience.
  3. Professional Customer Service.

Local Web Agency Perceived Value #1: In-Person meetings

“It’s very comforting to be able to sit down with someone you’re doing business with, look them in the eye, and shake their hand.”

Reality: Short Answer – In-person meetings are relatively insignificant if they even happen. Long Answer – This is probably the most overrated factor for choosing a web designer. The way business is conducted across 5 miles isn’t too different from the process across 500 miles anymore. It’s possible there will be a 30-minute in-person meeting with your local web designer at the very beginning, but 99% of communication and service will be delivered via phone call, email, text, or online video conference. Treating a client poorly is as damaging to a firm down the street as it is to a firm across the country. Our client base is split 50/50 between local and remote clients. We’ve never found any benefit for us or our client if they’re local, which is probably why we pursue clients anywhere in the US. The only time we’ve found distance has ever been a positive or negative is when we’re working with vastly different time zones, like Hong Kong for example.  

Local Web Agency Perceived Value #2: Understand your geographic area

“A local designer may have a better grasp of the demographics of your geographic area.”

Reality: Short Answer – Potential benefit in some cases. Long Answer- There’s 3 parts to this:
  • Yes, someone immersed in your local culture will have a keener understanding of it.
  • However, they also have to know how to leverage this understanding into marketing strategies that help convert individuals in your area. It’s not simply enough to know who you’re marketing to, you have to be savvy enough use that to your advantage.
  • Location is just one facet of demographic, and it’s unlikely it’s as important as age or income.
  • In the end, depending on your product, positioning it with a local spin may not even matter.

Individual attention and customized services

 

“Agencies that cater to a smaller local area typically have fewer clients than outside firms. The smaller your client base the more ability you have to offer and manage unique solutions for specific clients. Clients can potentially receive more individual attention.”

Reality: Short Answer – Probably, to a degree.

Long Answer – This can be a true advantage of local agencies, but again, it’s directly related to size, not location. Local agencies tend to be smaller, but you don’t have to limit yourself to local options if you’re looking for custom individual attention. There are small agencies and individual designers located everywhere that could provide great solutions, and some really big companies are extremely flexible and let you choose exactly what services you want with custom pricing.

Outside Web Agency Perceived Value # 1:  Greater Selection

“For those willing to work remotely with a web designer more options likely mean better options. You’ll at least get different perspectives.”

Reality: Short Answer – Inherently, 100% yes. Long Answer – If you’re willing to open your search to local firms and outside firms you will inherently have a greater selection. There’s a huge advantage to opening up your options for a web designer beyond the 3 or 4 in your town. Firms that are competing outside of their area usually have to offer a competitive advantage to make up for “not being local.” However, going from half a dozen options to more than 10,000 can be a double-edged sword when trying to make a decision in a timely manner. If you just start randomly talking to companies As long as you know what you need from a website, and quickly narrow down the type of firm you’d like to work with, it isn’t overwhelming.    

Outside Web Agency Perceived Value #2: Diverse Experience

 

“Agencies that have a history of working with clients nationally or regionally will have a wealth of experience. Working across a large area helps them stay on top of trends and in touch with what works over a larger group of people.”

  Reality: Short Answer- It depends. Long Answer- While remote agencies will naturally gain this experience through their working with clients there is no reason that ambitious local web designers can’t stay up to date with the national market or hire individuals who have that relevant experience.  

Outside Web Agency Perceived Value #3:  Professional Customer Service

” An outside firm possesses more resources and can employ a specialized customer service staff that is capable of dealing with issues and communicating promptly.

Reality: Short Answer- This is somewhat true. Long Answer- Like #3 from the local perceived values above, this has more to do with the size and resources of a web designer than its location. Usually, a National or Regional firm will have greater resources and departments specialized for handling any issues that may arise. Problems are identified, communicated, and solved faster. In the end, this can equate to more reliability. However, this is hugely dependent on the specific firm.     So is it better to go with a small local firm or a large national firm? The answer really depends on your needs and what you’re comfortable with. There is no inherent reason one would be better than the other. If you get a chance to talk with different companies one thing to pay attention to is how much they try to get to know you, your business, your needs, and your goals. This means at least the person you’re communicating with is considering if they’re a good fit for you. If it seems like they’re just regurgitating information without any understanding of what you need,  remember: Everybody will always say they’re the best solution for you. Everybody will always be the best value for you. Everybody will always say they’ve worked with clients just like you to get amazing results. There are of course no concrete rules or ways to judge which web designer is the perfect value for you. The biggest thing you can do is decide which level is right for your website. We have a great list of uncommon things you should factor into your web designer search. This is just the first item, but we feel it’s extremely important, and almost no potential client tries to get this information from us. 1. How long this company and this person plan on providing these services. How to ask- How do you see your company changing over the next 5 years? It’s a good sign if you get a thoughtful, energetic answer including detailed plans about future business growth. It can seem counterintuitive that the agent,  or company, you’re researching would be thinking about changing from the model they’re offering to you, but it actually offers some very positive signals. 1. They’re thinking about the future. This is huge because any business planning to grow knows that making current and new clients happy is THE ONLY WAY to achieve sustainable growth. 2. They’re good enough at what they do to develop realistic growth plans. 3. They’re not afraid to tell you the truth without thinking how it will affect your decision. If you only get a response about not changing at all, or a weird look that’s a bad sign. 1. They’re unsure about their future. This is bad on many levels and can signal any of the following:
  • They don’t provide enough value to compete with other firms with solid futures.
  • They aren’t passionate about what they’re doing and don’t want to do it much longer. There isn’t a formula for great design and digital strategy. It’s a constantly moving target pulled in 2 directions by technological innovation and changing consumer behaviors. You can’t just clock in. If your agency is just going through the motions you’re going to get mostly solutions that used to work. Maybe you’ll get some things that work for now, but you have no chance at getting what will be working tomorrow.
2. They’re only trying to tell you what you want to hear and don’t want to reveal what plans they have for the company. The most worrisome outcome is that this company knows it’s a fly-by-night operation with the goal of making as many sales as possible before their reputation is too low to trick anyone else.