A functioning website that’s easy to navigate on desktop and mobile platforms can yield maximum exposure and high-sales volume for your company. Whether it’s creating the About page or ensuring the site is ADA-compliant, no detail is too small to be overlooked. But when you decide to build a website or improve an existing one, there’s an important initial question to ask yourself: Is it better to hire a freelancer or bring in a full-time web developer for your business?
When you’re thinking about the kind of site you want for your company, knowing the size and timeline of the project will guide you in the right direction. Depending on your vision, the pros of partnering with a freelancer could outweigh the cons. But in some cases, it may be better to have a developer on staff. [Read more about the web design process and how to create a successful website.]
Hiring a freelance web developer is one way to build a website for your business, but because freelancers work on a project-to-project basis, they may only be ideal in some situations. Freelancers will temporarily join your team and help create a website that reflects your brand and the freelancer’s own personal style. Depending on the agreement you have with the developer, you may not receive the same level of ongoing support from a freelancer as you would from a salaried employee.
Here is a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of outsourcing your web design instead of using someone in-house.
A major benefit of hiring freelancers is their work helps get them their next gig. In other words, they’ll be committed to doing a good job on your website because they’re looking to build a reputation to land future contracts and they need a portfolio to showcase the work they’ve successfully completed. It’s in their best interest to perform well for you.
Thomas Jost, a former freelance developer and engineer who now works for Built Technologies, said freelancers might do a better job than in-house employees on certain areas of a project.
“Oftentimes, because they are sole proprietors, they’re willing to go above and beyond what a salaried employee would be willing to do,” he said. “The predominant driving force here is word of mouth – freelancers are relying on your referrals to keep their lights on. Salaried employees are only worried about being productive enough to not get fired most of the time.”
Freelancers can also be more cost-effective for smaller projects, like updating or adding new components to a website, changing different design elements or building new pages. There is little need to bring on a full-time team member, and bear all the associated costs, if the work needed is relatively minuscule.
Hiring a freelance web developer comes with risks. Freelancers are sometimes less committed to a project and have lower accountability, leading to a greater chance of them disappearing from a project and ghosting you. Conduct thorough research and read reviews about the freelance web developer you’re interested in working with before even really getting started on the project.
Freelance web developers are also more difficult to manage because they aren’t full-time employees. They work under their own hours, which might make overseeing your website’s progress during normal business hours a challenge. Additionally, freelancers’ non-traditional offices can yield odd hours of communication with unpredictable day-to-day availability.
Additionally, freelance web developers are typically accustomed to niche expertise rather than a wide range of skill sets. One freelancer may not be adequate for your entire project. Consequently, you may find yourself having to contract multiple people just to build one website.
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Lastly, a freelance web developer has no obligations to your company once the project is complete and their contract is over. If any issues surface following the completion of the site, you may have to resolve the problem on your own or look for a new web developer to help. While cost savings is one reason to go the freelance route, hiring a freelancer could have the opposite effect if not executed correctly or efficiently.
Businesses regularly wrestle with the decision of whether to hire full-time employees or use independent contractors to fill a variety of roles. Hiring web developers to work for your company full time can eliminate the cons of dealing with freelancers, among other advantages. However, using in-house staffers to build your website can present its own set of issues.
Whether your business is a startup or more established, in-house web developers can give your company the high-quality support it needs for long-term website assistance because you’ll have a consistent team working together toward a common goal. On-staff developers are on your payroll and working within the framework of your business, so communication is easy regarding projects on the docket.
An experienced developer intimately familiar with your company can guide you through the decision-making process and ensure everything is running smoothly once the website is finished. Ed Parsons, founder of technology company Acutulus, said this is a vital service in-house developers can provide.
“If you need assistance in developing the idea around the site, having a developer in-house can offer consistent and constructive insight, as well as advice on design,” he said.
Furthermore, by hiring an in-house developer, you’re ensuring you won’t have to handle any maintenance issues or updates on your own, unlike when you’ve worked with a freelancer who is no longer obligated to help you once their contract ends.
“It all depends on the complexity of your project and frequency of updates,” said Donnie Strompf, founder of digital marketing company Good At Marketing. “If you need the website to be updated daily with new content or complex programming, an in-house developer is the best way to go.”
Something else to keep in mind is that different levels of expertise may be required throughout the life of your project, and often these abilities are only needed for a short time. An in-house development team allows easy skill set transitions as your website design progresses.
Hiring permanent web developers can also save time, because it means you’re not creating freelance job postings, scheduling and conducting interviews with candidates, and handling future issues by yourself. This can let you focus on other aspects of your business without worrying if a freelancer might disappear in the middle of a project, requiring you to start your search all over again.
The cost of hiring a web developer depends on factors like the candidate’s job history, position and overall experience. Because they would be a salaried employee, the cost will likely be significantly more than it would be to hire a freelance developer. You won’t only be paying for the work they provide, but also for any benefits packages you contribute to, 401(k) matching, and so on. Plus, most businesses need more than one developer, and the costs of multiple annual salaries, office space, training, health insurance, licensure, paid vacation/sick time and other overhead costs can add up quickly.
Even if you can afford it, creating a team of in-house web developers can be a slow and expensive process. You have to take valuable time to recruit for positions, hire talent, and train new employees. In the period it takes to create and onboard a team of in-house web developers, a freelance developer could probably complete a smaller-scale project.
There will also be days you’re paying your web developers for not completing tasks. Having a salaried employee means you pay for them to be at work even if there is no current project for them to tackle, running the risk of not only wasting money, but also driving the team member away from your company for a more fulfilling opportunity elsewhere.
Hire an in-house web developer if you’re able and ready to pay higher costs, are planning a long-term project, or want more control over the site’s build.
Deciding whether to use a freelance or in-house web developer is tricky because both can serve small businesses well. The answer is also often complicated because, like any business decision, it depends on your company’s specific needs. Important factors to consider when deciding which way to go include the brevity of your project, the level of support you’re looking for, and what financial resources you have at your disposal.
If you’re leaning toward using a freelancer, it’s critical to vet each candidate and understand how the developer or team will fit into your workflow. In addition to asking potential web developers pertinent questions, Ben Lord, founder of the web design company Softlimit, said that business owners should find someone who is reviewed, reliable and recommended.
“Finding developers that will be there when you need them most is key,” he said. “They need history that you can verify and need to be able to offer the support you’ll need on a long-term, ongoing basis.”
Freelancers generally either charge per hour or per project. According to Upwork, a ballpark range for hourly freelance wages goes from $15 to more than $150, which may feel more palatable than shelling out thousands and thousands of dollars for an in-house developer. Of course, spending less money can help you financially, but it can also come with trade-offs, like only working with the freelancer for a limited time.
In contrast, in-house web developers are great for businesses looking to execute large web projects that require constant upkeep and maintenance. Hiring someone full-time is also a good option for business owners who aren’t sure what kind of website or platform they need.
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“If you are seeking to have a robust web application built that will require significant technological understanding and know-how to maintain, then you should hire in-house,” Jost said. “This includes if you anticipate large periods of scaling or introducing complex functionality beyond that of a simple content management system or CRM.”
Ultimately, when deciding who to hire, remember this: In-house developers are best for big, complicated website projects that will require ongoing work, while freelance developers are better for smaller projects that don’t hinge on constant maintenance. With that in mind, the decision comes down to the type and size of your project. Ask yourself these basic questions: What am I looking for? How much time is needed? What is the cost, and what are the technical requirements of this project? Your answers will lead you to the option that is the best fit for your business’s unique situation.
Matt D’Angelo contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.