Benefits of Smaller Design Firms

I had originally wrote this segment a long time ago, and intended it for our “about” section. I don’t know, but it seems more like a seminar speal than a friendly note about us, so I left it out. But, I think it’s a good read for potential clients anyway. This is mostly geared towards us in particular, but a lot of the same principles apply to other smaller agencies as well.

Why Smaller is Sometimes Better

There are many cost and quality benefits to working with a smaller agency like Corvus Design Studio. Have you ever wondered why some design companies charge $20,000 for the same website that a smaller company would charge $4,000 for? It is often a difference in overhead, not quality of service. Granted, not all design studios are equal in terms of quality of service, but that’s an easy thing to determine simply by looking at their portfolio. Because the web design industry is relatively new, it’s not always clear to potential clients how these prices are derived, so often a potential client will make the assumption that higher cost = higher quality. We can’t speak for the rest of the industry, but we can describe the cost and quality benefits of working with Corvus Design Studio so that you can make a more informed decision.

Cutting out the Middleman

Because we are a smaller agency, we are able to collaborate directly with our clients. We do not have a sales department, so as a client, you would communicate directly with our lead designer, cutting out the middleman completely. Not only does this save us a small fortune in overhead, but we find that things often get lost in translation when working with a sales rep. Eliminating the middleman allows for clearer communication between us and our clients, and allows cost savings that are passed on to our clients.

Quality Work Is Our Marketing Strategy

As a smaller agency, we don’t invest in outrageous and costly advertising campaigns or marketing. We rely mainly on word of mouth marketing and referrals. Because of this, it is our main goal to ensure each client is happy and satisfied with the services we provide.

In addition, we love to submit our projects to web design award presenters. Only outstanding designs, created with valid and error-free coding are considered. Another assurance of the quality work you’d receive with us.

Small Overhead = Reasonable Prices

Like most smaller agencies, we do not work from an exorbitant downtown office building. Although that would be nice, in order to maintain a profitable business we would have to factor that cost into our prices. It’s a luxury we’re willing to sacrifice to keep our costs within reason for our targeted clientele.

We feel very fortunate to have not been severely affected by the downturn of the economy, but we realize that many businesses, our potential clients, have been hit hard. Especially at this time in America, it would be a careless decision to push the cost of expansion onto our clients. Maybe when the rest of the country is prospering again, we’ll consider that level of expansion as well. Until then, we’re content putting on hold our dream of a lavish, ultra-modern downtown sprawl (within a block of a Jamba Juice, of course).

Websites made for people, by people

We do not rely on software, such as ColdFusion, to manufacture our websites. These solutions are great for enterprise websites whose purposes are more function than form, but not for our general clientele. Although we do offer a comprehensive CMS solution (ExpressionEngine), in most cases we handcode every page, utilizing today’s web standards, valid XHTML/CSS, and organic SEO (search engine optimization).

Individualized Attention

We have a limit to the number of projects we will take on at a given time. We don’t want to be stretched too thin to properly attend to our clients, so when we’re booked up we’ll turn down additional projects.

Doesn’t sound like the best strategy to grow and succeed, right? We look at it a little differently. We work very hard for our clients and we’d like to be known as “the agency that’s worth waiting for”. We want our clients to feel special and favored, and never like just another paycheck. We would like our success to come from hard work and unparalleled quality, and not from sheer volume of projects. If that means our growth to superstardom is a bit slower, we’re okay with that.

What you see is what you get

We have no sales spiels or useless fluff to offer. We assess your project details and provide reasonable quotes for the actual work done. We have a business conscience and feel that the prices we charge for the high quality work we provide is more than reasonable. Although there are other costs involved in creating websites and print materials (namely hosting and domain name), we do not have any hidden fees. Each project is a flat fee, determined based on a comprehensive analysis of the services needed.

This was mainly written because when I first started Corvus Design Studio, we had a string of potential clients decide to go with another firm simply because they were a bigger company. For a long time I couldn’t figure out why someone would want to pay 5 times the amount we were charging for the same quality of work (even higher quality if you ask me). Since then, I’ve come to understand that some people feel that higher cost equates to higher quality, which as any small company knows, is completely untrue. Web design is a relatively new business, and it’s not so cut and dry as say, an auto mechanic. I mean, if you’re replacing a transmission and one company quotes you $2500 and another quotes $5000, it’s apparent to anyone that one is trying to rip you off. Unfortunately, the same type of scenario in web design is not obvious. There are no standards and guidelines for web design companies, and quite honestly, web design firms can charge whatever they feel like, so long as someone is willing to pay their cost…. I know I’m rambling, but it is frustrating to lose potential clients to “fluff” companies who are more sales and less quality and knowledge. Hopefully this post will provide some insight as to the real reasons for the huge cost difference between some companies, and also hilite some of the perks of working with individuals instead of corporations.

  • Pingback:Benefits of Smaller Design Firms | Adobe Tutorials
    Posted at 13:01h, 18 July Reply

    […] I had originally wrote this segment a long time ago, and intended it for our “about” section. I don’t know, but it seems more like a seminar speal than a friendly note about us, so I left it out. Read more: Benefits of Smaller Design Firms […]

  • snarky
    Posted at 19:28h, 18 July Reply

    Assuming the quality of service is the exact same, a smaller designer will always provide better customer service. I’m a freelancer and working with the designer personally is so much better than haveing some middle person who translates information. I would have to agree… smaller is better!

  • CDS
    Posted at 19:44h, 18 July Reply

    Thanks for the comments, Snarky!

  • Courtney
    Posted at 11:58h, 19 July Reply

    Hi Jessica and CDS!
    I first saw your web site featured on Best-Designs and instantly fell in love with it. You are certainly a firm that I admire and will continue to watch and find inspiration in.

    I’ve also documented the benefits of a small firm as opposed to a larger one on my web site, though probably not as eloquent as you have done here. I’ve been telling my clients and friends for a while now that because I’m a freelancer, do work from home, that the cost to do business with me is much less than with a larger firm, with lots of office bureaucracy.

    Great post, and great work.

  • CDS
    Posted at 23:58h, 21 July Reply

    Thanks Courtney! Cool website by the way. I love the bluish color at the bottom. That is my new favorite color 🙂

  • test
    Posted at 07:24h, 27 July Reply

    super !!

  • Daren
    Posted at 17:30h, 13 November Reply

    I agree with the majority of the points you are making here, having a similar experience of working within a large agency and then deciding to go on my own.

    For some (larger) clients, however, a larger firm provides them the benefit of producing more work in a given time frame, i.e. smaller studios just can’t produce the same volume in the same amount of time. Also, many times the larger studios provide staff that are much more experienced business people in general, from an analytical or educational standpoint; hence the larger fees. Some clients can’t afford the luxury of time when bringing a product to market, for example, so they choose the larger firm that achieve the results they need in the smallest amount of time. I think some advertising agencies, and design and marketing firms in general, thrive on this principal though, – sacrificing quality of design/user experience for the sake of sheer volume and profit.

    I think ultimately it is about finding the right clients who understand the value good design brings and are willing to take the necessary time to bring good design ideas to fruition.

    I think that for larger clients with larger gross revenues, however, the difference between a 50K website and a 25K website, for example, doesn’t mean that much to them. That is why it is advantageous for us, as business owners, to try to discuss expectations and budget with the decision makers, and tailor the estimate and proposal accordingly and on an individual basis, according to the size of the company and their gross revenues.

  • CDS
    Posted at 19:58h, 13 November Reply

    Thanks for the comments, Daren. I don’t necessarily agree with you about larger firms having more experienced or more educated employees though. The issue of quality one that applies to any business, regardless of size. I don’t think experience and education are defining characteristic that differentiate large and small firms. Of course there are exceptions to all of the rules, but a lot of smaller companies are started by seasoned designers who have worked in the field and even in larger firms (like you and me). I think that there is an unfortunate stigma attached to smaller firms that implies that they somehow are not as experienced or able to produce the same quality work as a larger firm. And that is really unfortunate. My only point is that potential clients should be aware that smaller does not equal lesser quality.

  • Rob
    Posted at 02:42h, 30 November Reply


    This is a GREAT post about the Benefits of Working with Smaller Design Firms. As a web designer and developer myself, I’ve seen a LOT of mediocre and poor websites!

    Corvus Design Studio definitely pushes the envelope and delivers beautiful websites that are coded well.

    I do agree that working with a smaller company can have more benefits. With smaller businesses, you feel like you are a part of a team, and not just a factory worker pushing Skittles down an assembly line. Another benefit of owning a small company is to avoid the politics that many big corporations face.

    On another note…I’ve seen a few web companies who have these “Get a Quote” pages and in the drop down menu on budget, I saw one company with a smaller budget option of $10,000. You couldn’t select a website for under $10,000! Good grief!

    Honestly….how do these companies think they can survive in this poor economy by charging $10,000 for a website? I’m sure many who do charge this amount are not in business! Times are tough and people don’t have a lot of income right now.

    I am aware that Flash, After Effects, Maya, 3Ds Max are popular state of the art applications, but just because you have an impressive application like Flash, doesn’t mean that people should jack up the price!

    That’s my opinion!

  • Rob
    Posted at 03:02h, 30 November Reply

    I thought I would chime in again if you don’t mind.

    One thing that really bothers me about big corporations especially the design and web industry is job expectations. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in an interview or have sifted through web design jobs on job boards to find employers asking for dozens and dozens of programming language requirements!!

    Please explain this to me, because it makes absolutely no sense! I’ve talked to other friends of mine who are web developers–they have told me that their company fired their part-time crew because of the poor economy and now expect their full-time staff to learn EVERY programming language.

    This is ridiculous! I have yet to meet a web designer that works or is fluent in EVERY single programming language known to mankind. We work with specific programming languages and often it would take many years to learn all of the intricacies with each and every programming language. HTML is nothing like Flash, just like CSS is nothing like PHP.

    It would be like me applying for a music design position at a University and the college saying…”We’d like you to be proficient in EVERY single instrument.”

    That is impossible. Vladimir Horowitz was an amazing classical concert pianist…he excelled in that specific field.

    The bottom line in my opinion…is that many corporations have way too many job expectations. We can’t possibly play the piano and play 10 other instruments and be proficient in those too. Now, I realize that instruments and programming languages are two separate things, but regardless…the job requirements in the design field are ridiculous!!

  • CDS
    Posted at 13:13h, 30 November Reply

    Hi Rob, thanks for the comments. I know exactly what you mean about the unrealistic job expectations found in so many position descriptions. Although it is not always the case, I think when it happens it stems mostly from the fact that the managment does not fully understand what is actually involved in producing websites. I am talking about large name brand corporations that need a web development department, but who are not web design companies themselves. I have found that the only people who truly understand the intracacies of web development are web developers themselves. You are so right about how sometimes they try to disperse the responsibilities among others in the company who have no web design experience at all. I’ve experienced that first hand. I was laid off from a large, well known company in San Jose several years ago, and all of my duties were given to a woman who had absolutely zero knowledge of web design. It was eye-opening to see a renowned engineer (at least within our company) making upwards of $150k/yr struggle with Javascript and HTML.

    It’s always nice when a company has a well-formed web design department, with a lead designer who understands the inner workings of web development. Then they can better organize a team, however small, of qualified persons to handle each requirement.

    Like you said, Flash is not HTML and CSS is not PHP. But until there is a licensing system put into place that accurately describes the functions of a web designer, and weeds out illegitimate practitioners, the real function of a designer is completely open to interpretation. I would be so happy if it were required to have a license or certificate of some sort to call oneself a web designer. This would set rules for hiring, and realistic expectations from potential employers. Particularly if there were categories defining a Flash Developer, Web Designer, PHP Programmer, etc…

    I think the unrealistic expectations of some employers is a contributing factor to the large number of freelancer designers in the world 🙂

  • CDS
    Posted at 13:33h, 30 November Reply

    As for how design companies are able to charge a minimum of $10,000, I think it really all depends on the targeted clientele of the company. For the price, they are likely looking only for large projects that make use of their specilized team. I have also worked for an enterprise design firm like this that charged around $100,000 for their projects. These were not mere websites, though. They were massive online marketing solutions involving flash developers, PHP coders, cold fusion experts, graphic designers, an art director, web producers, marketers, sales team, company representatives, etc. They were truly providing a huge production with a ton of overhead that warranted the huge price. Personally, the projects were nothing that a smaller company (of outstanding quality) could have produced for a quarter of the price and with twice the grace, but that’s neither here nor there. With my company, for example, I have found what works for me financially and ethically. My targeted clientele is not Sony or Microsoft; it’s mom and pop stores, art galleries, online retail, photographers, etc…. I don’t have to gouge people to stay afloat, but in turn I don’t accept any gigantic enterprise projects that would warrant an equally gigantic price tag. Again, I think it all comes down to targeted clientele. But yeah, charging $10,000 for the typically small to medium sized websites most commonly acquired by design studios is a bit high 🙂

  • freelancer uk
    Posted at 15:14h, 01 February Reply

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    […]Benefits of Smaller Design Firms | Corvus Design Studio Blog – San Luis Obispo, California[…]…

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