Saas vs Freelancer: What does SaaS mean, and why does it matter to your website?

Here at Advisor Evolved, we get a chance to talk to a lot of agency owners, and every once in a while, we come across someone who really struggles to understand our business (and pricing) model.

In particular, they don’t understand why we have a monthly recurring charge and/or why it is the amount that it is.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to address how and why we do things internally here on the blog so folks have a better understanding of the development and design space.

Ready to dive in? Let’s do this!

First off, Advisor Evolved is a SaaS company/business model. SaaS stands for “software as a service“.

This is the same exact model that thousands of other software and development companies operate under. You may not realize it, but you’re already using several SaaS services.

Your agency management system is SaaS. Your email provider is SaaS. Your tax/accounting software is SaaS. Make sense? Those softwares and systems provide a service for your business, and are therefore paid in an ongoing, recurring fashion.

SaaS companies are literally everywhere.

I think what makes it difficult to understand sometimes is historically in the web design industry, people are used to the “freelance” model. That is, interviewing several designers or agencies, and hiring one of them based on an hourly rate to complete their task(s).

While this has been a long standing way of doing things in the design/development space, it has a few major drawbacks that can seriously hamstring you and your business website.

Here are some common drawbacks of the freelance model, and why SaaS is the best way to go if your website is a vital part of your business. Hint — it is.

Capable and honest talent is hard to find

First of all, in the traditional freelance space, it can be hard, like extremely hard to find a good, reputable freelancer. People in this space are a different breed folks. You’d have to be in the industry to fully understand what I’m saying.

I’ve worked with solo freelancers, larger agencies, and other contractors, and this might sound a little harsh but people in the design/development space can be, for lack of a better word — flakey.

That is, they can be hard to work with. They’re here one minute and gone the next. Not replying to your emails or calls. Maybe they’re not in this country or in your time zone.

Smaller freelancers often times have trouble delivering projects on time (or at all) because it’s just them managing everything. Larger agencies are typically much more expensive because they have an entire team of people they have to involve and feed.

What’s more, many freelancers (in general) often times work on the side or have other projects or jobs going on, so it can be hard to lock them down for what you want to do. I’m not sure how many agents I’ve spoken to whose original site was built by their neighbors’ grandson who just learned Dreamweaver in high-school and did it for $500.

I look at the site and it’s basically falling apart.

The point is, there’s usually no middle ground, and finding a reliable designer/developer is seriously like finding a needle in a haystack. All of the great ones are already hired by larger agencies, so often times you’re left using someone who may not be as seasoned.

Task sites like Fiverr and UpWork can be good resources for one-off jobs, but hiring someone from either one of them to build out a website can be a risky proposition.

Obviously with Advisor Evolved, that’s something you simply don’t have to worry about because we handle all of that for you. We do custom work, and also have several pre-built/designed layouts our customers can choose from.

Not only are our website designs modern, but they’re designed specifically for your industry by people who are in your industry and know the pain points and needs of insurance agents and advisors. This means you don’t have to explain anything to us, or coach us up on your industry. We know what you need already.

The same cannot be said for random freelancers and/or people you may find on task sites.

Speaking of insurance agents…

Freelancers are a lot like insurance agents

Like insurance agents, they come in call shapes, sizes, with varying experience levels.

There are people in the web development space that pose as designers/developers, who are actually reselling stock, off-the-shelf templates built by other people, as “custom” websites. This is actually pretty wide spread in this space.

You have people who claim they are developers, who can’t write a single line of code.

To the untrained eye, it can be hard to spot a good designer/developer from a poser.

Just like in insurance, the uneducated consumer can’t really tell the difference between someone who just got their license and a 40 year veteran who has seen it all, because everyone is selling the same thing, from the same companies, with the same offer. That’s a conversation for another day though.

The point is, people in the web design space can be like a cross between a used car salesman and a shady mechanic, especially as it relates to SEO for insurance.

I’ve been in this space for almost 20 years, and could tell you story after story about clients being ripped off, projects left incomplete, websites being hacked by malware, taken offline for no reason, domain accounts being hacked, stolen, and more.

All….the….moving….parts….

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What’s more, when it comes to developing a website, there are a lot of moving parts involved. Sometimes they’re all handled by the same person, but when dealing with larger design agencies, they’re typically delegated to various team members.

You have the designer who actually maps out the visual layout of the website based on what audiences you’re serving, and what actions you want those audiences to take.

Then you have the developer, who turns that design/mockup into a living breathing web page by writing code.

Then you have the content team, who helps an often uncreative client find the right words to articulate their brand, service offering, and calls to action, as well as optimize their content for SEO.

Once the project is complete,… then what?

A website is not a set-it-and-forget-it type of tool.

If your online presence is going to be successful, you need ongoing support and maintenance — a group of people who are there to keep the health of your website in order, answer questions, help you when you get stuck, and remove any other technical barrier that stands between you and your ability to use your website as a true marketing, sales, and service tool.

At Advisor Evolved, we combine all of those things for the client, so they don’t have to scramble around, trying to piecemeal everything together on their own, with little to time or knowledge of how it all works and fits together.

The most underrated element in your online success is this:

Ongoing support and website maintenance is probably the most underrated ingredient in any successful business as it relates to your online presence. Many of our customers would tell you that they didn’t realize how much help they needed until they actually had someone they could lean on.

In fact, there are actually companies out there, who charge a recurring monthly fee for website support/maintenance only.

No website. No content help. No marketing consulting. Little or no phone support. None of the things we offer (in addition to our designs).

Just website maintenance, backups, uptime monitoring and the occasional fix.

(That’s how important those things are though to the health of your website and the ability to use your website).

At Advisor Evolved, everything you get with that type of support company (and more) is included in our monthly charge. Take a look at our plans page for a complete breakdown.

We combine the design, development, hosting, content, backups, uptime monitoring, customer support, and much more into a manageable monthly charge.

Not only are we a software-as-a-service type of company, but we are a customer support and maintenance-as-a-service company too.

Website maintenance is critical

What’s the point of a website if it never works right?

On the maintenance piece — don’t forget that a website is built with software, and software is continuously being changed, updated, and patched. If your website is a vital part of your business, which it is, it needs to be maintained just like anything else.

Would you put 60,000 miles on your car without changing the oil, flushing the transmission, or getting new tires? Of course not, yet this is how people treat their websites all the time. Again, it’s not set-it-and-forget-it.

We’ve seen all types of nonsense unfold. Sites infected with malware. Super slow loading times. Broken code, broken plugins, out-dated versions of internal software. Data not being archived. Sites completely down for months without the client knowing it.

Did you know Google uses the page load of your site as an SEO ranking signal? It’s that important.

Your website is a living, breathing part of your business and should be treated as such. If you’re an Advisor Evolved customer, there’s absolutely nothing you need to worry about with this, because again, it’s all included in our monthly charge.

Reinvesting back into the product

Support and maintenance is one thing, and a very important thing at that, but what about the underlying product? The SaaS model allows you to reinvest back into your products. This is a bigger deal than you think.

You know when your agency management system or CRM receives an update?

Most people click a button and their system is updated. They don’t realize that months and months of work and tons of money was invested into that update. Refactoring code, improving user interfaces, and adding features cost money.

At Advisor Evolved we are continuously reinvesting back into our products, infrastructure and services to give our customers (and their customers) better tools and a better experience.

Many people don’t know this, but our PowerPack tool which is now a fan favorite among our customers (and what some call a “game changer” in the insurance marketing space) took 8 months to and multiple 5 figures to develop.

This is a tool that flat out helps people write business, and the time and revenue that was invested in it’s creation would not have been available if we were not a SaaS operation.

Freelancers don’t reinvest into your site

Reinvestments back into the product/service is something that you simply don’t get using a freelancer. A freelancer is never going to call you up out of the blue and ask you if you’d like the newest version of X, Y, or Z.

They’re never going to run updates for you or improve your website. Their job is done when they deliver the product or site.

At Advisor Evolved, we’ve pushed out hundreds of updates over the last year (yes hundreds) from small bug fixes, to updates to our server infrastructure, and brand new features, and 99% of the time our customers never hear about them.

Why? Because that’s our job and that’s what our customers pay us for — to keep them online with an awesome, conversion driven design that works. We don’t even tell our clients when WordPress is updated, or make a small improvement somewhere.

That’s old news and something they don’t need to be bothered with.

On our pricing model

Every once in a while we get “wow, $150/mo? This website better wash my car, dishes, and take the kids to school”

Here’s the thing, and you may not realize this because you might not be in the design/development space, but that’s very reasonable in this space.

Some might even call it cheap. Yes, cheap.

In fact, we’ve been told by a lot of people from carriers, industry groups,  massive associations and industry consultants that we need to charge more based on our value and product, and where the competition is priced.

When you price a product or service there are a ton of metrics that go into it like what the market value is for your product/service, where competitors are priced, the demand, and in the end, how good your product is.

When I looked at all of those things, I saw a huge gap in the market.

There were either low tier providers that were around $20-80/mo, or companies charging $1600/mo. There are also free DIY solutions (or almost free) where the agent is responsible for doing everything themselves.

There was no middle ground whatsoever in both the product offering or the pricing. The product offerings were essentially The General and Chubb.

There was no Safeco Optimum Package or Travelers High Value Homeowners product in the marketplace.

In the end I looked at those variables and based our pricing on value. I wanted to offer a lot to the client, at a reasonable cost even if it was a one-person or scratch agency.

$150 is about than the commission most agents make selling one $1000 premium policy (based on an average 15% commission of course), whether that be an auto or homeowners policy. Just one policy pays for your site for that month.

When you look at what some companies are charging for maintenance only, and what others are charging for outdated and ineffective products, we felt that our pricing was extremely fair, if not low based on the variables at play.

Maintaining and sustaining

The other part of this type of model is, if you’re not sustainable, you can’t offer your product or service for long. I used to tell my insurance clients all the time when rates went up, “insurance companies need to make some kind of profit, otherwise they can’t insure anyone.”

Running a business, whether it be SaaS or not, is no different.

We want to make sure we are sustainable for the long run so we can fulfill the needs of our clients well into the future, while offering a great product/service at a reasonable cost.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, whether something is cheap or expensive is all relative, and I certainly don’t want it to sound like all freelancers are trouble because they’re not.

Ultimately, the SaaS model has allowed us to offer a very strong product and service at a competitive price, and will allow us to improve it so it’s even better in the future.

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