In this blog I have a very specific definition of a boutique web agency. For me, the most classic boutique web agency is a duo of web designer and web developer. Together they make the most efficient pair in the world of web design.
In practice I’ve also seen agencies that have 3 or 4 people and still could be classified as boutique agencies. And definitely a very skilled jack-of-all-trades freelancer could also be classified as a boutique agency.
But for the purposes of this blog, I classify boutique agencies as designer-developer duos. I know that I will be making a few exceptions, but as a basic rule, I’m pretty sure that most people in our industry agree with me.
Personally, I also have a bit of a soft spot for these ‘dynamic duos’. Being this kind of small unit is usually a very effective combination. The burden of running the company gets divided between two people, yet both can enjoy a lot of freedom in being charge of their own destinies.
Both can also concentrate on their own specific skill sets, compared to being a jack-of-all-trades, which is much harder to do. Usually even the best jack-of-all-trades freelancer is significantly better in either design or development. With two persons the required skill set for an effective web agency can be achieved more easily.
From the project perspective I’ve also seen very rich portfolios from this kind of companies. These 2-person boutique companies can do a lot of amazing small websites and yet they can also sometimes take on bigger projects and deliver world-class results.
And finally, from a customer perspective, they can provide amazing results with a reasonable amount of money. In many cases you can get truly impressive sites built with just a few thousand euro.
When evaluating agencies that could qualify as boutique web agencies, I usually look at these characteristics:
- The service they provide is very personal and they have direct customers, real boutique agencies don’t subcontract.
- Impressive portfolio of mostly small websites that are designed and coded by them from the beginning.
- Honest and trustworthy web presence; a general image that they have nothing to hide.
- Fixed pricing of projects, real boutique agencies know what they are doing and how much it costs.
- Creative skills and development skills are two different persons, or at least it is clear who is the one that focuses on design and who is the developer.
- Not interested in growing in size, they are a boutique agency since they like working in a small group instead of having team leaders and managers.
- Very focused services for their clients, boutique agencies don’t take on custom software development projects even if it would be easy money for them.
I think some of the above criteria are debatable, but I think most of them should apply if one wants to call themselves a boutique web agency. Any additions to the list?
PS. The image of the article is from Jyväskylä (Finland) where I interviewed the guys from digital agency Dude last winter. Dude is a classic example of this kind of designer-developer duo who enjoys working together and making kick-arse websites.