The Pros and Cons of choosing a small design agency

  • Oct 27, 2016
Small Web Design Studio Manchester

I often get asked the question, can we handle a job of ‘that scale’ or do we have enough staff to work with ‘that client’. And it’s very easy to give a Yes or No answer once I’ve received a project brief, and/or had a meeting with the potential client. We have worked with large brands such as Blackberry, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Fox Home Entertainment, Morson International and L’Occitane. So this does showcase that we have the experience of understanding brand guidelines, working with in-house brand project managers, and having meetings with ‘really important people’. It’s great in theory to think about the financials, and accept any project enquiry -  but, What if that job is too big for the agency? What if they don’t have the expertise? What if they miss the deadline? The project crumbles, and the financials won’t be worth it as the agency will have harmed their reputation and/or have to refund some money as they didn’t deliver.

What are the positives of using Shape Design Studio?

We are a small team of 8, which consist of Designers, Developers, SEO Specialist, and an Accountant. As a University Lecturer for 8 years, I am able to spot potential talent early and hire the very best of Digital University Graduates before anybody else spots them. I am very proud of the team I have formed at Shape, the blend is great, the service offering is fantastic for our clientele, and we all enjoy each others company.

I used to worked in large agencies and even though the output was great, I didn’t like the process of not having direct contact with the client. As a designer I think it’s important to have a relationship with the client and we offer that here at Shape. The client is able to contact the designer direct, and also get in touch with me ( the Co-Founder ) at any time. This may sound simple, but most agencies don’t offer this, and only offer communication via a project manager. I understand why agencies do this and there are benefits, but the majority of our clientele don’t need a PM, so by removing this element it will save the client a cost, and make us look more cost effective.

When you make an enquiry, and arrange a meeting - who will be there?

Me, the Co-Founder. I think it’s very important that the client meets me, for various reasons. If they like me, they will like my agency. If they ask technical questions, I can answer them. If they ask design questions, I can answer them. If they negotiate on budget, I have the authority to make that decision instantly. Whereas most agencies will send out a ‘sales person’ to finalise the deal. They may be great at what they do, and secure the job - but the client may never see that person again. So that relationship has been lost and they need to start again with somebody new. If they solely decided to go with that agency because of that individual person, that they may never see again… is that starting on the wrong foot?

Flexible Diary

We are a very busy studio here at Shape and like to take care of our diary, knowing when everything will start and finish. With projects overlapping, different complexities and timescales - we are only able to take on so many projects without being ‘burnt out’. However, the flexibility of a smaller studio is that they are able to take on ‘small’ jobs  or ‘immediate’ projects that can be fit into the diary around others. I think Shape have a niche here, and I’m happy at how we have positioned ourself within the industry. Other agencies say, sorry we only work on projects over £20,000, £30,000 etc. But here at Shape if the project fits well with our ethos, diary and budget then I’m happy to accept. If the project is not achievable within a timescale the client requests, or the budget doesn’t match the complexity - I will simply say no. I might add that this is also a benefit of enquiring with Shape, because I do know that clients come to us and say “We enquired to 7 agencies and only 5 replied”. I personally think it’s very easy to say no to somebody. It puts them in a position where they understand why you decided to decline, and it takes 5 minutes out of the agencies time. If the agency didn’t reply, the client won’t know where they stand and may waste 2 weeks waiting for a reply they never get, and then have to chase the agency for a response - for them to either ignore, or say “No sorry, we can’t take on the job”.

Bespoke websites, bespoke clients.

We have a lot of businesses, mainly start up businesses coming to us saying we have decided to go with Shape because you can offer what we need, with no limitations. And that’s great, it’s exactly what we do. We don’t offer template websites or standard wordpress themes. If you’re looking for agency to work with and build a brand, target the correct audience and then get found in google - we’re for you. If you’re looking to pay a few grand for a wordpress themed website ( that you can buy for £50 yourself ) and enter some stock images and content, then we’re not the agency for you.

Location, Location, Location

I’m currently writing this article on the train, on my way down to London. Here at MadeByShape, we have clients all over the world, but the majority are in Manchester, Cheshire and London. We rank very well in google ( and other popular search engines ) for the keywords we want to target, that based with our location - will obviously generate lots of enquiries from the North West of England. Clients within Cheshire are increasingly noticing us here at Shape because of our portfolio, the awards and recognition we are receiving within the industry, and I think they see our location as a benefit to them.

Over the past 6 months I’ve monitored our enquiries from London and it’s ever increasing. We’ve seen a growth of 56% since May, and this is down to our domain authority, the work we do on SEO, the awards, and word of mouth. I get around 10% of London web design enquiries asking if their location is a problem for us. The answer is no. I have many clients in London and can arrange meetings when it’s convenient for both parties. Most new enquiries want a proposal, to speak on the phone and then if they are still interested - pop up to Manchester to visit our studio, or arrange a meeting down in London with myself. I’m flexible either way, and enjoy meeting new clients and potential partners.

How we handle full service projects

All our of team members have First Class Honor Degrees. They understand Graphic Design, Web Design and Web Development - which is rare in my opinion. Teaching for 8 years made me understand that certain individuals may understand design, but not development. It’s fine. That’s their skill, or they may not be interested in development. I’d encourage these individuals to apply to bigger agencies because they would have a specific role within the organisation. Whereas as smaller agencies they may need to have a wider skill set because there aren’t as many employees.

I like to know that if a client makes a ‘tech’ request to change coding, I know that the design won’t be affected because that developer understands design aesthetics, typography, composition and layout.

What we don’t have here at Shape is Illustrators or Photographers. We like to work with Freelance Illustrators and Freelance Photographers based on the project brief and the brand appearance. A certain project may require a food photographer, so we’d recommend Matt Pickett, whereas if the project was Fashion related we’d recommend Dave Alexander or Emma Pilkington, or if it’s a florist, we’d recommend India Hobson. This process works well for us because there’s no constant overheads for services that we may not require on every project, and we get to work with people we know will deliver the quality we need.

My bacon roll has arrived now so I’m going to tuck into this bad boy. But if you’d like to arrange a meeting with me to discuss a potential project, feel free to email me direct: or give me a call on 01942 894596


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