A choice that many companies have to make, go to the full service agency and have them take care of everything or find a freelancer or multiple freelancers and cut out the middle man.
As a freelancer whos has worked for multple agencies I've seen both sides and I've seen the good and bad from both. I know that everyone's circumstances and needs are different so theres no one size fits all. All I can do is point out a few things to consider if you are on the fence in deciding.
There are thousands of freelancers and agencies out there which vary massively in price and quality. With this you'd expect an agency to be better than a freelancer but it's not always the case. An agency often has quality standards in place which are usually better than a freelancers' and may have to go through more scrutiny with more people being involved. But a good freelancer with high standards could be just as fussy. You can get good and bad work quality from both so it's more about choosing the right person/company.
The bad thing about a freelancer is there is only one person. He/she could have a lot of work on with other clients or the amount of work you need might be too much for one person. With an agency they would be able to add another developer to the project (if they have the resource). A big agency will meet your demands better if you require a lot of hours.
A lot of agencies use junior developers without much experience because they are cheaper to hire. Many agencies also outsource to eastern europe or india. With a freelancer you have a better idea of whos doing the work (unless the freelancer is outsourcing which is also possible).
For many this is the most significant factor as a lot of companies use a freelancer because they are cheaper. Agencies can cost anything from £40 per hour to over £150 per hour. Freelancers start from about £20 to some that are over £100 per hour. You have to do your research for freelancers and agencies because some are expensive and worth the money because they offer expertise and experience and some are expensive just becuase that's what they can get away with charging. It is probably worth considering how difficult the work is judging the level of expertise you require as you could hire a cheaper freelancer or look for an agency who offer different rates for junior and senior developers.
You do have to be careful when it comes to cost because if an agency is cheap they are almost definitely outsourcing or using junior developers. If a freelancer is very cheap you should just make sure you are sure about their experience.
This is better with an agency although you will be paying for it. Most agencies will charge a significant fee for project and account management. This is because of all the people from the agency that will be working on your project. You would speak with an account manager who may plan the work with a project manager. The work would then be delegated to designers, developers and front end developers.
Design, SEO, Marketing
Many agencies market themselves as full service digital agencies which means they offer all the digital services a company would need. This would be branding, design, development, marketing/seo and print. If you were to use a freelancer you would need multiple freelancers to be able to get all these services. If a freelancer does a few of the services it's not likely they do them all really well.
Overall agencies win when it comes to reliability. Your taking a bit more of a chance with a freelancer because you are relying completly on one person. If this person stops responding to you where does that leave your website? An agency would probably give you more than one point of contact and shouldn't affect you much if someone leaves their agency.
I suppose this just depends on the circumstances with who you go with but with large agencies they can add resource to meet timescales. A busy freelancer may struggle to meet a tight deadline.
I know it's not just a case of selecting between an agency or a freelancer because what's more important is who you actually choose. There are excellent freelancers and agecies out there but there are also a lot of poor ones. I will probably follow up with another post on what to look for in a freelancer or agency.
Scott Pringle - PHP Magento and Symfony developer with 5 years experience.