A great web developer is essential to any small business, but you may not need one on staff. Learn about hiring a freelancer versus an in-house developer.
Web developers are vital workers for any small business. Having a functioning website that's easy to navigate on both desktop and mobile can mean maximum exposure for your business. Without a good website, your business is missing out on many customers. Ninety-six percent of Americans have made purchases online, with 80 percent having made a purchase within the last month online. Even if you aren't running an ecommerce store, an effective and intuitive website has become a bedrock characteristic of a good business.
When you decide to build a website or improve on an existing one, there's an important initial question: Is it better to hire a freelancer or bring in a full-time web developer for your business? The answer is often complicated because, like any business decision, it depends primarily on your business's specific needs. However, there are some important factors to consider when deciding what to do, like the brevity of your project, what kind of support you are looking for and what financial resources you have at your disposal.
When deciding who to hire, remember this: In-house developers are best for big, complicated projects that will require ongoing upkeep, while freelance developers are better for smaller projects that don't hinge on constant maintenance.
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Freelance web developers
Hiring a freelancer can be a great option for creating a website, but because they work on a project-to-project basis, a freelancer may only be ideal in some situations. There are several benefits and drawbacks of outsourcing your work to a freelancer. Freelancers will often join the team and help create a website that is reflective of both your brand and the freelancer's 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.
A major benefit of freelance web developers is that their work helps get them their next job. By doing a good job on your website, a web developer is looking to build a reputation to get future contracts.
"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 ideal for smaller projects, like updating or adding new elements to a website, changing different design elements, or building new pages. Bigger projects may be better for in-house developers who can be present for constant upkeep.
When deciding on a freelancer, be sure to vet each candidate and understand how the developer or team will fit into your workflow. Ben Lord, founder of the web design company Softlimit, said that business owners should find a team that 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 by project. According to Upwork, a ballpark range for hourly wages of freelancers is $15 to more than $150.
In-house web developers
In-house developers are best for businesses looking to take on large web projects that will 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.
"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."
An experienced developer can guide a business owner through the decision-making process and ensure everything is running smoothly once the project is finished. Ed Parsons, CEO 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.
One potential drawback to freelance development is unreliability once the project is finished. By hiring an in-house developer, you ensure that you won't have to handle any maintenance issues.
"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."
The cost of hiring a web developer will vary based on things like job history, position and overall experience. Because they would be a salaried employee, it will likely be significantly more expensive than hiring a freelance developer. However, if your business has high-level, advanced projects to take care of and you can afford to hire another employee, an in-house developer may be your best option.
It's better to hire freelance web developers for smaller projects that probably won't require ongoing upkeep. In-house developers should be reserved for large web projects, like building a complex content management system for a business. In-house developers will cost your business more but can guide you through the development process. Freelance developers are ideal for small businesses looking to complete quick projects that require little maintenance. Regardless of whether you choose to bring someone in full time or hire a freelancer, it's a good idea to vet each candidate so you know what kind of work you'll end up with.