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The pros and cons of white-labelling your digital services

Craig Gilchrist By Craig Gilchrist

Are you considering white labelling your creative or technical services to other agencies? If so then this article attempts to weigh up the pros and cons for you.

If you're not familiar with the concept of white-labelling then put simply it's where one company or individual provides their software development, design or other skills to companies that rebrand and sell the services as their own.

If you consider supermarket own brands then that's a perfect example of white-labelling at it's best, those Tesco value cornflakes probably aren't made by Tesco at all but a smaller and more speciality-focused company who's making the cornflakes which are resold as Tesco's own product.

Our white-labelling story

You might have noticed that we've just rebranded but in case you missed it, we used to be GotFocus Solutions.

As GotFocus we built a great name for ourselves providing mobile app development services to companies all around the world. In fact, as of today we've built nearly 40 apps in 15 languages and had over 1.2 million downloads.

The problem for us is that for half of those apps we weren't allowed to talk about (and still aren't). This is because the development, delivery and marketing of said apps was, on paper, done by other, larger agencies. The truth is that as GotFocus Solutions we were a collection of uber geeks that loved the development and creative aspect of building beautiful award winning apps but then we didn't really have the means to sell our services and so providing apps for better known agencies was a win-win situation. We got a steady flow of paid mobile app development work without having to really sell ourselves. Herein lies the problem.

The more amazing apps we developed for larger agencies the the more good reputation they gained with their clients and the more satisfied the clients were, the less likely they were to start looking for app development agencies - after all why get rid of an already successful app development team right?

The account holding agencies rise in popularity meant that they were offered more work from their client which inevitably came our way and the busier we got.

Ultimately, while we were building amazing apps, the agencies we white-labelled to were building amazing brands. We didn't need to market ourselves as we had a string of agencies marketing their app development services and then outsourcing the work to us and that made us lazy when it came to marketing GotFocus Solutions.

In short, although this article may have sounded cynical so far, I still believe white-labelling our digital services has been very good for us and we'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future, though with as much emphasis on growing our business on our own brand as on our white labelling service.

Using our past experiences I thought I might share a few things you might want to consider to make a more informed decision about offering your skillset out as a white-label service.

Marketing your own brand is an expensive and risky business

If you're an amazing technical individual or small group of techie/creative types then you'll most definitely need to weigh up the costs of marketing and your own personal expertise. If one of your colloboration has the ability to 'write to sell' and good business acumen then great - get to it. The truth is though that to find somebody who's both a great techie and a real salesman is rare and so building a brand costs money.

Established agencies already have a brand which you'll need to compete with ultimately to win business. Why not work with them to provide your services for the common good? You're saving a ton of cash as your agency client is providing a sales and marketing force well beyond your reach.

You get access to great clients

If you're white-labelling to other agencies then chances are you're going to work with some amazing global brands.

Agencies already have relationships in place with these amazing clients and they know the brands inside out. These clients trust their chosen agencies as an extension of their brand and rightly so, as chances are they've worked with them for years.

You provide an expertise and the agency provides the guidance to ensure that what you deliver is on-brand.

Our mobile app development service is a perfect example of this. Most of our agency clients have brilliant relationships with brands that they know inside out. When coming up with new app ideas they'd work with us to provide the app strategy, we'd provide the ideas while they kept us on brand and on message and then they'd often produce the creative and we'd deliver the app.

Working like this we've had access to some amazing global brands and have delivered some lovely apps and websites.

You don't get any credit

You've created something beautiful. The agency loves it and their client loves it even more. Your product get's released and the consumers love it too. You're handsomely rewarded for your work financially but then where do you go from there?

At this point you're tied down by non-disclosure agreements. You can't talk about the work you've done because the agency already has a sexy case study on their website claiming your work as their own.

The only follow up work you can possibly gain from this relationship is from the agency. No referrals and nobody attributing your amazing work to you.

You're making more competition for yourself

You're doing an amazing job for an agency that is probably on your doorstep competing for the same business that you're providing for them. The only problem is that they've got amazing case studies and you don't!

You get to concentrate on what you love

White labelling means that the agency handles all of the clients requirements leaving you or your team to do what they love doing. The agency has collected everything you need to know to get to work and they're handling all the communications with the client. That however can also lead to a problem...

You lose control of the project

The agency has taken you on as a specialist and as such you have the contextual information to provide the consultancy needed to deliver the client requirements... this however can be lost in translation when routing this information through a person who doesn't fully understand but has to liase with the client. This mightr ultimately mean that you end up supplying a solution on what's been sold rather than what's best for the consumer

Summary

Based on our own experiences I'd say that the pros outweigh the cons in the short-medium term. White labelling has allowed us to focus on building an amazing technical team who are unrivalled in producing incredible apps and websites but we've been fortunate in finding great agencies to work with.

My advice to you is to look at the longer term goal and never lose focus on your own company and brand needs. If your business is a lifestyle business then white-label forever but if the long term goal is to build a brand to last the ages then always keep an eye on your own brand. There may be a time when the cost of whitelabelling outweighs the benefits.

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