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The Challenges of Delivering Web Projects for SME Developers

The 5 Ps

In today's rapidly evolving web development landscape, small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) developers face a unique set of challenges. According to LinkedIn, over 85% of the 28,000 agencies offering web development services in the UK have fewer than ten employees. As someone who has been involved in the industry since 1995, I have identified five key challenges that SME developers encounter, which I call the 5Ps:

  1. Personnel
  2. Proficiency
  3. Price
  4. Positioning
  5. Progression

Personnel

The success of any agency hinges on the skills and expertise of its personnel. However, most small agencies struggle to maintain a complete digital/web team due to limited resources. Attempting to offer a "full-service" package, including branding, strategy, creative, print, digital, and web, with a team of ten or fewer members inevitably results in difficulties covering all the necessary bases.

Proficiency

Web development requires a broad range of skill sets. From user experience (UX) and information architecture (IA) to creative design, production, project management, system administration, front-end development, back-end development, security, privacy, and hosting infrastructure, there are numerous areas of expertise to master. Small teams may find it challenging to achieve proficiency in all these domains, leading to potential shortcomings. While some agencies may opt to "wing it" and take shortcuts, this approach poses risks to clients and may result in delayed issues surfacing later.

Price

The prevalence of small web development agencies is partially due to the demand for low-cost web development services. These agencies often cater to other small businesses and must compete with DIY website platforms like Wix. Keeping prices affordable for this market segment presents an ongoing existential challenge for most small agencies.

Positioning

Standing out from the crowd in a highly competitive market is a major hurdle. A simple search for web developers in any UK town yields numerous companies claiming to "build WordPress websites." With similar websites, offers, themes, and modules, differentiating one agency from another becomes a significant challenge. Finding a unique positioning strategy while managing the other challenges is crucial for success.

Progression

Acquiring new customers is known to be significantly more costly than retaining existing ones. Despite the other challenges at hand, small agencies must offer continuous progression, service, maintenance, and innovation to retain their customers. Unfortunately, addressing these ongoing needs can often strain the resources of SME agencies, leading to customer churn.

A Fresh Approach to Overcoming the 5Ps

Is there a silver bullet to address these challenges without merely doubling the headcount? While no single solution guarantees success, I propose two "silverish" bullets that, when used together, can help overcome the 5Ps: focus and partnership.

Focus

SME agencies must focus relentlessly on their core competencies. A thorough examination of their strengths and weaknesses is necessary. By honestly assessing their skill sets and asking hard questions, such as whether they consistently produce wireframes for user journeys or possess strong creative and production capabilities, agencies can identify areas where they excel and where external help might be required. This focus should be the agency's unique selling proposition (USP).

Partnership

When addressing identified gaps in expertise, SME agencies should consider forming partnerships rather than simply hiring freelancers or contractors. A partnership goes beyond a transactional contract and emphasizes cooperation to advance mutual interests. Hiring a freelancer may temporarily address personnel and proficiency gaps, but it may strain the agency's finances in the long run, impacting pricing and progression. In contrast, partnering with a specialized service provider can offer continuous support at a predetermined price, fostering natural progression for both the agency and its customers.

Summary 

Given that the majority of digital/web development providers in the UK employ fewer than ten people, it is inevitable that the sector faces significant challenges. The 5Ps outlined in this article are prevalent among the SME agencies I have encountered, including some larger ones where web development is just one aspect of their operations. The good news is that SME web developers can effectively tackle these challenges by prioritizing their core competencies and forging strategic partnerships with the right collaborators.

One excellent option for forming these valuable partnerships is with us, I-Next. As a reputable and trusted service provider, we specialize in supporting SME web designers. Collaborating with I-Next can help address the challenges faced by SME agencies and unlock new opportunities for growth and differentiation in the industry.