Building Successful Subcontractor Relationships With Designers and Developers

Take a look at how NOT to approach outsourcing web design work and hiring freelance designers and get tips to build mutually beneficial partnerships.

Building Partnerships with Web Design and Development Subcontractors

Few people get excited about working with a generalist who knows the basics about a lot of things, but not the important, critical details on the one thing you need most… and no one wants to hire someone who doesn’t fully understand what they’re selling.

I’m a FIRM believer in working with specialists. It’s why my agency, Bourn Creative, focuses on web design and development — building powerful, profitable, digital platforms powered by WordPress for successful businesses leveling up their brands.

That why we invest in coaching, mastermind groups, and training to improve our skills, and in attending live events and participating in courses, programs, and memberships. We immerse ourselves in what our clients are learning so we’re the best choice to help them implement it.

This expertise makes Bourn Creative a specialist and an authority in its niche, and as a result, we get a regular flow of inquiries from firms looking for a design and development partner that specializes in WordPress. It’s awesome because these relationships, when done right, are a win-win-win: The agency, the contractor, and the client win because the client is getting the highest-level of service from qualified specialists.

The Wrong Way To Work With Designers And Developers

Unfortunately, some advertising agencies, marketing firms, public relations companies, and business consultants approach their relationships with design and development subcontractors all wrong. When seeking out a design and development partner, they look for:

A Silent Subcontractor

Some companies want nothing more than inexpensive production-level designers and developers who will do exactly what they say and nothing more. They want to hide the subcontractor or partner away behind the scenes and prevent them for interacting with the client.

This type of relationship has some big problems:

  • Communication breaks down and messages get lots in translation. The client talks to the account rep, who talks to their team, who talks to the designer/developer. If there are questions, they get routed back through the chain. This game of Telephone causes confusion, changes the message, bloats timelines, adds revisions, and creates frustration for everyone involved.
  • Non-designers and non-developers consult with clients about design and development.. This means there are people that don’t fully understand the digital landscape and software being used suggesting solutions that may not work (or may not work in the client’s budget).
  • The designer/developer is brought in to just make it pretty or make it work. This is not in the best interests of the client. Your design/development partner should be part of the conversation from day one, as they have valuable experience and insights that can not only improve the end result, but also improve the process, client experience, and project profitability.
  • People are selling services they don’t fully understand, which means the budget is based on a best guess or assumption rather than reality. This results in too-small budgets that force companies to hire a cheap designer/developer instead of the best designer/developer.

A Sales Commission

Some companies choose the designers and developers they work with based on a sales commission or kick-back.

  • Getting a referral fee or sales commission isn’t the problem…
  • Choosing a less qualified partner for a client project because of a kick-back you’ll receive is the problem.

It is never okay to put lining your pockets ahead of doing what’s best for your clients and their objectives. Your clients’ best interests should always be your number one priority.

An Opportunity For A Big Markup

Almost everyone I speak to wants to increase profit margins — there is nothing wrong with that. It’s normal to expect an agency markup on subcontracted services. Problems arise, however, when companies view outsourcing website design and development services as a quick and easy way to add another income stream to their business.

Building websites that produce real results isn’t simple or easy and technology is complicated and selling low quality work at high prices is never a good idea. Not only can it damage your brand and reputation but it can also lead to engineering bugs and loads of ongoing support requests that actually erode profits.

The Right Way To Work With Designers And Developers

With all of that said, it’s important to recognize that there are many advertising agencies, marketing firms, public relations companies, and business consultants who approach partnerships with web designers and developers the right way and build lucrative, long-lasting relationships.

These are the types of companies I love to work with.

A Partnership Based On Respect

For a partnership to be successful, there must be mutual respect for each other’s profession, experience, and expertise:

  • The designer/developer must understand the dynamic between the client and the firm they are contracting with and the history of the relationship. As the designer/developer, your goal is to make the firm look great for bringing you in and support their overall goals with the client.
  • The agency or firm must understand the value that designers and developers bring to the table in terms of insights, ideas, experience, and knowledge, and allow them to do what they do best. Web designers and developers will work harder and produce better work when they feel valued, respected, and appreciated.

What A Successful Relationship Looks Like

A successful relationship is beneficial for everyone involved, which means:

  • The agency benefits from having a true partner they can depend on to produce quality work and have their back at all times.
  • The designer/developer is included in the project from the very beginning and is a paid fair market rate for all work delivered.
  • The client receives the best possible service and end product by working with two specialists who collaborate and communicate effectively.

Tips For Working With Design/Development Partners

I have worked side-by-side with in-house design teams and creative agencies for nearly my entire career. I have supported advertising agencies, consulting companies, marketing firms, public relations companies, and in-house marketing and design teams.

What I’ve learned is that building positive, long-lasting partnerships take time, trust, and a lot of clear communication.

Working together may not be perfect out of the gate — and that’s okay. It may take doing a few different projects together to iron out the kinks in your collaboration.

Here are some tips to make contracting with a designer/developer easier, more effective, and more profitable:

  • Bring a designer and developer in as early as possible. Get a design/development partner on board and bring them into the conversation during discovery. They can help clarify and finalize the scope of work so proposed timelines, budgets, and deliverables are accurate. They can also answer questions and identify potential red flags before it’s too late.
  • Listen and be open to suggestions. Chances are high that your design/development partner has done something similar to what your client is asking for in the past. Be open to their feedback and suggestions, and listen to what they have to say.
  • Don’t devalue your partners. Quality design and development done right the first time and done on time and in budget doesn’t come cheap. An experienced partner will make your life easier and your projects more profitable — and they’ll charge higher fees because they’re in demand and don’t need to discount their rates to land new clients.
  • Negotiate pricing after the relationship is established. Don’t try to talk a designer/developer into lowering their fees because there is a potential for more work in the future, especially when you’re interviewing a partner you’ve never worked with before. Wait until you’ve completed a few projects together and have an established relationship to negotiate lower fees based on quantity of work.
  • Open a direct line of communication with the client. If you want great work, you need to partner with a designer/developer you trust to attend client meetings, speak directly to your clients, and represent your company. Direct communication is needed to produce the best results with the least amount of revisions and challenges.

Building a strong partnership with a web designer/developer means collaborating with someone you trust to work with your client on your behalf. This means your partner needs to know the backstory of your client relationships and have context for your work together.

Share your big picture goals, any challenges or sticky points there may have been in the past, and the other services you are providing. This way your designer or developer can step up as your champion, reinforcing the same messages you are sending and enhancing your expertise.

Tips for Designers And Developers

Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks that ensure partnerships run smoothly and remain mutually beneficial — and none of them are related to your talents as a designer or developer.

Here are some tips to make agencies LOVE working with you:

  • Be open, honest, and upfront. Always be honest about your skills, work, and timeline. Make sure your partner knows what’s going on, knows who is involved in the project, and what other external issues may affect the work you’re doing. Remember, they are putting their reputation on the line when hiring you.
  • Communicate clearly, often, and early. It’s better to over communicate than under communicate. Never leave a partner hanging or wondering what’s going on because they haven’t heard from you. Keep your partner apprised of the project status, and if you may miss a deadline, let them know as early as possible so they can properly manage expectations with the client.
  • Charge fair market rates. Don’t assume that you can inflate your rates or charge exorbitant fees because you’re working with a big company. Everyone has a budget. Be realistic about the scope of work, the time it will take, and the rate you will charge. It’s your job to educate your partner about your fees and the value you bring to the project.
  • Offer options for packages and payment. Offer flexible packages and payment options to make working with you as easy as possible. Offer work done on a project-by-project basis, via a monthly retainer, or by the hour. Likewise, be flexible on payment options and accept cash or checks, PayPal, all major credit cards, and wire/bank transfers. Also offer options to pay in full, make automatic payments, or be invoiced at specific milestones or on specific dates.
  • Reward repeat clients. Reward partners who send you consistent new business with a quantity discount. There is value associated with not having to work to generate leads and close sales.
  • Respect the relationship. Do your homework and learn about the client and their relationship with your partner to avoid putting your foot in your mouth, saying something that causes your partner a headache, or making a critical misstep. This will also help you know what to play up, enhance, and reinforce with the client, so you become more valuable to your partner.
  • Make your partner look like a hero. When working with your partner’s clients, keep your focus on doing great work, serving the client to the best of your abilities, and affirming that hiring your partner (who brought you in) was the best choice the client ever made.
  • Get familiar with your partner’s services. If the client asks you about ancillary services, marketing, advertising, or any other service your partners offers, answer their question to the best of your ability and loop your partner into the conversation.

The Client’s Best Interests Must Come First

For strategic partnerships to be successful, agencies need to truly collaborate with their subcontractors and partners, viewing them as a valuable resource and addition to their team, instead of merely a leveraged resource, and trust must be established through open, honest channels of communication, fair pricing, and consistent, high-quality work.

If designers and developers are brought into projects early enough, they can help define the technical requirements, make sure the scope of work is clear, and certify that the budget estimate is accurate. This ensures clients’ needs are met without frustrating surprises popping up after they sign the contract. It also ensures that the best interests of the client always come first and drive the decisions being made.