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Why Small Agencies are Best: like busy garages

by Sam Collett
A recent visit to our local garage got us thinking about why clients should choose small, efficient agencies. And how a local MOT garage is just like a small web agency.
Aug 26, 2022

 One of our key ambitions here at Practically.io is to be as efficient as possible. We would rather our clients save time and therefore money to get an elegant but also cost effective answer to the problem. We do unique amazing things with ai, business applications and end to end technical systems, and we are not your average agency, but in some way the bread and butter projects – web design, branding, technical partnerships and SEO are relatively normal.

Some recent visits to our local garage – the wonderful guys at ETB Car Clinic in Malvern, Worcestershire – made us reflect on how we, and other small web agencies, operate in a similar fashion and how, we think, clients should choose small, efficient agencies when choosing their partnerships. Let us explain…

 

Firstly we have to deal with what we mean by a small agency. This is not as simple as you would think and there are many definitions out there. We at Practically think that 15 or less is a valid, small, number. As of writing we are 10 people and this feels like a family size that we are comfortable with. We have experience working with and in larger agencies and things change when you get to that 15 people limit. The Federation of Small Businesses, HMRC and other government agencies have a different idea of what constitutes a small to medium business (with various definitions but generally its over 2 people up to 100). For the purposes of this discussion, we would also like to discount small offices that are part of a larger national or international group. For us, these don’t count. Perhaps we should be using the average size of an MOT and Tyre garage such as ETB. Again 5 -15 people seems like a good size.

 

Reason 1: Small teams mean less fat

At a small garage, and a small web agency, everyone is highly skilled and everyone has multiple roles. Juniors are never juniors for long, and even when you have a specialist they too are expected to be adaptable. This extends to the “bosses” of the company, who may or may not be involved in the daily grind of coding, for example, but can get involved at a push and will get stuck right into problems. 

 

Reason 2: Priorities are dealt with as priorities.

If your site or company has an issue that needs urgent attention, then then this gets priority. No ifs or buts – everyone will do their very best to help. Emergencies always come first no matter the size of the client and if we can help then we can. In this way a small garage is very much like a small web agency. There is always room for someone in need.

Similarly the can-do attitude is more likely to come from a smaller team. Project managers and middlemen are there to be a buffer to saying yes. We do like to say yes.

 

Reason 3: Partners not clients

A sign of a good agency big or small is that it keeps hold of its staff and clients for a long time, despite both growing over time. We are proud of this fact and we know of other local agencies who also are really great at growing their clients as well as their personnel. Experience has shown us that having a happy team is a delicate balance, and one bad hire can break this bond forever. So we are picky and hire based on how the new person will slot in as well as the more obvious skills they will require. We also tend to hire juniors and especially graduates, especially those we have taught and know will work in the team. 

Reason 4: Collaborations and recommendations are easier

 We have worked at medium sized agencies and some big ones. One of the problems with agencies of a size is that the machine needs to be fed at all costs. Wage bills are huge so you need incoming work that matches this. Moreover you will undoubtedly have shareholders in the mix who need their cut. Therefore, when a new client comes along and asks you to solve their particular problem, the answer is always “We’ll take care of that”. For example your web company may be asked to create a mobile app, without the expertise or experience. But with a small agency they are, or should be, more willing to pass this work on to friends or specialists and they are more likely to become specialists in their own right. They know that one day this favour will come back to them. Our local garage will quickly pass on specialist work to their local network, and vice-versa.

Similarly medium agencies are not great at working with other, especially smaller, agencies. Why we have never quite worked out, but it is probably because the agency is designed to be a self serving entity with everyone else as inferior. 

 

Reason 5: You get a personal service

As Ten4 say: “Large agencies often make a big song and dance about the fact that they’ll give you your own, dedicated team. With small agencies you get that by default; when there are only [8] people in the office, you pretty quickly get to know everyone who answers the phone.” You get small teams of people dedicated to your projects and as there is less heirarchy and structure you are likely to be dealing with the dev or designer who is working on that problem.

We do have a flat structure here at Practically.io, which mirrors a small MOT garage. You don’t have project managers and you are likely to deal either with the one manager (OK so we have two) or the guys doing the work.

Reason 6: Scrums are possible when teams are small

The can do attitude of a small garage where everyone joins together to fix problems. Problems and most of all emergencies are shared by everyone when the team is small enough to be nimble. Scrums were invented in car factories, where if there was a problem with one part of the production line, the whole line stopped and no one could do their job. In response to this everyone from the line would jump on that problem until it was fixed. Small teams and small agencies adapt to problems in a similar way.

 

Bad aspects of small teams

It’s not of course plain sailing with a small team. The very nature of the size does mean capacity is a problem, and if one project goes wrong this might impact others. Plus some clients do like the feel that a much larger agency gives you – the no one got fired for hiring IBM adage. Medium and large agencies come with better facilities and offices, for example.

Yet among the smaller agencies that we know, including ourselves, we find the output and list of clients are vaguely similar to medium agencies, which again comes back to efficiency, lack of barriers and sharing of skills. Why not go small next time you go looking?