You know you need a web developer. But do you know how to choose the best freelancer or web development agency for your project? Read on to learn how.
So you know you need a web developer. But really, that's the smallest of your problems. Scouting and hiring the most suitable web developer for your project can be overwhelming, to say the least.
In this blog post, I'm going to equip you with the knowledge and resources to find and select the best possible web designer or developer for your online project, regardless how complex your requirements are.
Let's dive right in.
Should I hire a freelancer or an agency for my website?
One of the biggest decisions you’ll make as a business owner is whether to hire a freelancer or an agency. And there are massive differences between the two.
It’s kind of ironic, right? I mean, your end goal is likely the same, whether you choose to hire a freelancer or a digital design agency. In spite of this, however, either choice will prove to be a totally different experience than the other. And more importantly, each will entail a very different process.
You might find yourself wondering whether to choose an agency or a freelancer for your project, and which will produce the best results.
The truth is, you can’t guarantee that one will outperform the other.
It’s well known amongst the industry that some of the world’s most talented web developers operate on a freelance basis, but it’s equally true that many sell themselves as far more capable than they actually are.
With respect, the same can also be said for agencies. There are some amazing digital agencies all around the world, but you also have to be conscious of selecting those of the highest quality.
Of course, there are pros and cons whichever way, but it’s more than that.
There are three distinct factors that you’ll have to think about when considering whether to use a freelancer or an agency to develop your website.
- Ability to meet your project’s requirements
- Quality of communication
- Future support of the project
These are the key fundamentals. And I’m telling you now — it’s imperative that you put these three factors before anything else in the entire process. You can forget about cost, past experience, and the finishing touches for the time being. Because ultimately, the success of your project depends most strongly on the points above. I’ll break it down a little.
#1: Meeting your project’s requirements
This one is a no-brainer. But it’s surprisingly common that the actual requirements of the project can be so frequently sidelined.
When you’re focusing on other aspects of the project, like the overall cost and speed of delivery, it’s easy to forget just how important it is to pay attention to the raw capability of whoever you end up hiring, and whether they are indeed the best fit for your project.
It’s not solely about an impressive portfolio and past experience here. It’s about how suited your prospective candidate is to deliver the results that your business requires. If they don’t have the resources to meet your needs, things are going to be rough.
The first step to conquering this issue is to determine whether the agency or freelancer has a solid grasp of your requirements, and knows exactly how they intend to meet them.
They should have the ability to provide you with an in-depth brief of the plan they intend to follow, detailing their proposed solutions to the requirements that you’ve presented them with.
If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, it’s this:
Your web developer should know your project inside-out, before you hire them. Every little detail. It’s vital.
If they are lacking a clear understanding of how each and every part of the process is going to work, they can’t provide you with an accurate estimation of anything else. Their quote, expected delivery time, project timelines, and even their ability to deliver is compromised if they don’t understand the project in its entirety.
That’s a huge risk for either of you to take.
As competent as they are, the responsibility ultimately falls on you. Ask every question that you have, no matter how small or irrelevant it seems.
At worst, it will show your web developer how invested you are in the project, by demonstrating the extent to which you care; even about minor details of the process.
This will engage any good web developer, so don’t worry about putting them off.
#2: Quality of communication
Nothing quite beats the quality of the communication you have with your web developer. As you’re now building a relationship, both parties must be able to sustain a good level of communication. It really works both ways.
Of course, your early conversations will usually indicate how well you get along. So pay attention.
Sometimes it’s as simple as picking up a good vibe, but ensure that you’re asking the right questions and assessing their responses.
A key tip here is to ask questions that relate specifically to your business, the project, and its requirements.
This forces the developer to think about your specific needs, which means they’ll have to consider suitable solutions and provide detailed responses, ripe with information about their expectations, forecasts and projections.
This is great, because it shows you that they’re not only taking the project seriously, but that they fully understand the requirements and scope of the work.
Get into the nitty gritty.
Also, fishing for these kind of details early in the process — before you’ve even hired them — helps to solidify your mutual understanding about exactly what the tasks will entail, and provides both parties with the opportunity to iron out any kinks in communication in the process. It’s really a win-win.
Some early warning signs:
- Answering your questions too vaguely, and not providing sufficient detail on how they intend to overcome the challenges you highlight within the project.
A few really good signs:
- Responsive to your questions, doesn’t ignore any difficult queries that you may have.
- Takes time to think, and doesn’t always have an immediate solution to challenges that the project may present. This shows that a thought process and brainstorming is taking place. This is a great sign to look out for.
If you can’t communicate, what do you have?
#3: Future support of the project
It’s rare that a website can be built, published, and shelved as completed. As I’ve explained before, websites are like living, breathing organisms, and they grow and change as your business does.
In fact, over 80% of consumers think less of a business if its website isn't up-to-date, according to a study conducted by Blue Fountain Media.
But it’s not as simple as switching up your content, posting to your blog, or publishing news articles.
As your business grows, your customers will inevitably demand more from your website.
Whether it’s in the form of increased functionality, additional pages, or continued optimization that caters to a growing demand, it’s more than likely you’ll need to be pushing updates to the site fairly frequently.
Particularly if your business is e-commerce based, your catalog of products will run stagnant if online stocks and inventory isn’t constantly updated and fulfilled.
And unless you’re a technical wiz-kid of a businessperson, and also have a lot of free time, you’re going to need to delegate this responsibility to somebody else.
Most often this is done in one of two ways:
- Hiring of an in-house website administrator
- A continuing relationship with your hired website developer
Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks of each method. Personally, I’d always recommend opting for the latter (where possible) — based on personal experience. After initial completion of the project, nobody will know your website and business better than your web developer.
This is the best way to ensure that whoever is managing the website on a continuous basis knows what they’re doing, and is competent enough to ensure it’s done properly.
Your web developer — whether they’re a digital development agency or a freelance contractor — is most familiar with the intricate website structure they’ve built.
Ultimately, a website is never “completed”. It should rather be seen as a marketing platform for your business, and your most important one at that.
Consumers are now using the web more than ever before to discover new products and services to meet their needs.
According to Blue Corona, studies are now indicating that up to 80% of people research a company online prior to making a purchase. This is particularly the case with small businesses. And it’s no surprise why—consumers now have access to a wealth of information at the tap of a finger, any time of the day.
Smartphones actually account for a significant number of business-related searches by consumers.
According to a study conducted by search engine giant Google, nearly half of people only ever use their smartphone to conduct Google searches.
And since the freshness of your website content affects your search engine rankings, a stale website is not likely to fair so well in search results, particularly for size-restricted smartphone searches.
And with that said, ensure you’ve thoroughly discussed future support and availability with your web developer.
Of course, there are many more factors to consider in addition to the ones I’ve outlined above. But in order that you get the most value for your money, it’s best you pay attention to those first.
You must sift the wheat from the chaff (as they say).
Seriously, though, it’s imperative that you perform this process, as cliche as my wording sounds.
Once you’ve got that out of the way, you can pay some more attention to the other important factors like:
- Overall cost of the project in relevancy to your budget
- Pricing plan, and how this works out financially for you
- The speed of delivery (or in other words, how quickly the project can be completed and turned-around)
What to look for in a freelance web developer
There are key qualities that you should be looking for when searching for a freelance web developer. You also need to ensure that you’ve thoroughly checked through their portfolio and like work that you see.
As with any creative disciple, every freelance web designer or developer has a unique style and approach to their work.
You’ll often see this in the creative expression in their work. Ideally, you should be looking for a freelancer whose personal creative intuition is in line with your ideals for your business project.
While it’s right to assume that freelancers should be flexible in their approach to design, it’s more than likely the case that their creative influence will be present within whatever work they produce.
Some freelancers will naturally gravitate toward a more traditional approach with web design, whereas others will aim to develop more contemporary work.
One of the most important factors in deciding on which freelancer to hire for your web development project is their personal tastes. If they aren’t passionate about building conventional corporate websites, it might be best you discuss this with them, or opt for somebody else who is.
These little quirks in a freelancer’s personal style will inevitably show through, if they feel forced to conform to an unfamiliar concept of design.
What to look for in a web development agency
Okay, so let’s first point out that there are numerous ‘titles’ that a web development agency might use to describe themselves. A few of those might be:
- Digital agency
- Digital design agency
- Web design (or development) agency
- Digital marketing agency
- Digital design collective
Let me get straight to the point: they’re all the same thing.
Some agencies may specialize more in advertising and marketing, rather than web design or development, but broadly speaking, these terms all mean the same thing. At least, they will to you.
Certain agencies will offer digital marketing strategies (such as SEO or social media) subsequent to the development of your new website, while others might focus purely on taking your website from conception to completion.
Ultimately, the full range of services you expect from your agency matters only to you.
Agencies who offer ‘more’ services aren’t necessarily any better (or worse) than agencies who offer less. In most cases, it just comes down to how specialist the agency is, and the breadth of their team’s expertise.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s probably to be expected that larger agencies in the West (Europe, America, etc) will offer a broader range of full-tier services.
This is simply a case of the size of the team, and how broad their expertise span collectively.
So, to summarize: the number of services an agency offers probably makes no difference on their quality or integrity.
That doesn’t mean you should use a single agency for the entirety of your digital marketing efforts — you may require far-more tailored advertising efforts than a web development agency can provide, in which case you’d be better off looking for an advertising-centric agency afterwards.
There are benefits of keeping everything in-house, however.
The agency knows every little detail, and integration of your website development and subsequent marketing strategy can be much easier deployed (which means it’ll be far cheaper!).
Agencies who have historically worked with a broad range of clients, in multiple industries, are generally your best bet. That is — unless you’re able to locate a web design agency that specializes in your niche... in which case you should also consider them.
So long as an agency is responsive and transparent with their proposal, and you’re able to check out their previous clientele and the solutions they’ve developed, putting your trust in them shouldn’t be too challenging.
Of course, you’ll be looking for evidence of previous projects they’ve delivered on a similar scale to yours, so that you’re able to breakdown the process and the solutions they’ve developed.
With web development agencies, it’s often most about finding a match to your specific project.
Certain creative agencies will have a greater, in-depth understanding and internal experience working with clients like you, which means they’re already aware of the challenges they might face, and have developed great solutions previously.
Digital design agencies with a lot of authority and a strong online presence are often a no brainer, though be prepared for a higher price-tag.
One great note about agencies, though—is that they tend to have greater resources and experience than individual freelancers, and for certain projects (particularly high-calibre ones), this may be far more suitable than the limited extent of services a freelance web developer can provide.
What is a reasonable cost/budget for a website?
One thing you can count on is that there is never going to be an “average cost” for web development services (or indeed any related creative service). There is no such thing as a reasonable cost, either.
The amount you’re quoted is most often based on a broad number of factors, and you’ll never receive the same quote from two different sources.
As a general rule of thumb, for serious projects you can expect an overall quote in the thousands, rather than in the hundreds. As your website is your primary online marketing real-estate, it’s imperative to ensure that you’re investing well, in order to reap the best results.
Nevertheless, I’ve gone ahead and put together a brief list of the most common reasons for price discrepancy, which is something you’re bound to experience between different freelancers and agencies:
Different Prices for Web Development
The most common reasons for price discrepancy and differing rates in web design and development are:
- The level of experience
- Whether you’re hiring a freelancer or an agency
- The extent of the work that will be required to meet the project’s needs
- The actual complexity of the work; more complex work generally demands a higher price tag
- The potential expenses incurred on the developer in building your solution, such as sourcing requirements and licensing
- Your specific requirements; a greater number of in-depth specifications or requirements demands a higher level of intricacy during development, hence raising the price
- The length of time and amount of labor required to complete the project
- Whether you are acquiring only a license to use the work they’ve produced, or whether you are assuming full copyright (full copyright is more expensive)
- Your intentions and future usage of the work (i.e. if you’ll be selling-on what they have produced the cost will generally be higher)
This is just a brief list of the most common reasons for differing pricing.
And one thing to remember: price doesn’t always correlate to quality or experience.
How long does it take to build a website?
So, you need to know: "What is a reasonable timeframe for the completion project?"
The question of how long it takes to build a website is again, one of a misinformed nature. There is simply no single answer (at least, one that is correct) that exists to answer this query.
Realistically, there is no right answer. In fact, it’s tough even for a sole web developer, who knows the precise extent of his skills and speed, to provide an accurate guideline.
There are of course, so many factors that go into the time it takes to develop and build a website, to the point where you are left with the finished product.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that a fixed timeframe is seldom possible in a creative environment.
Whenever you’re working with a creative — whether that’s physical art or digital design, there are bound to be factors that play into how quickly a project can be turned around.
Oftentimes there are (at least a few) bumps in the road, and especially in web development—problems that need to be troubleshooted, which can add unforeseen length to the projected timeframe.
But surely, there’s an “average” timescale, right?
Actually, no. There isn’t really an accurate timeframe that can be measured, because of the number of variables that play into the speed of delivery.
Average time it takes to build a website
Here is a list of some of the most common reasons that it isn't so easy to give an average timeframe for website development:
- Whether you’ve hired a freelancer or an agency; agencies tend to have the advantage whereby multiple creatives can offer input at once, hence speeding up the process
- Method used to create the website; whether it’s being coded from scratch, or using a content management system (CMS), such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal
- The measurable “size” of the website, or the amount of content
- Whether the development is a redesign of an existing site, or a new one being built from the ground-up
- The number of hours per day being spent on the project; since the developer’s availability impacts the overall turnaround speed. For instance, a freelancer working with twenty clients at once will produce the deliverables a lot slower than a freelancer who’s dedicated to five concurrent clients. An agency, who has greater resources, may be able to turnaround the project faster
- The amount of experience the developer has, as this can be an influencing factor in how fast or slow they’re able to produce work of a high standard
That’s just a brief list of some of the common reasons why web development has no specific time estimation.
Your developer or agency should be able to give you an approximate estimation based on your specific requirements, but there is no ‘general’ one-size-fits-all timeframe.
How do you choose a freelancer?
You might wonder, how can you compare freelancers? Out of five or six potential candidates, which do I choose?
Well, it honestly depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Choosing a freelancer depends as much on your ability to match prospective freelancers to your project as the freelancer’s abilities.
Sometimes, the vibe somebody gives off, or the manner in which they communicate their ideas can differentiate them from competing candidates.
And while it’s definitely wisest to focus on tangible assets like their portfolio or historic clientele, you should also pay attention to the level and quality of the one-to-one communication you have with a prospective candidate. You’ll probably find that in fact, this matters more than you think.
The stronger your level of communication is, and how well you both vibe together can strongly influence the success of the project overall.
When two people are comfortable with each other, communication is so much easier. There are less awkward moments, greater confidence to voice your concerns, and these things are highly conducive to a production working relationship.
Another foolproof way to match a prospective freelancer to your project is to ask for a detailed breakdown of exactly how they intend to fulfill the project’s requirements.
In fact, the best way to do this is to interview multiple freelancers at once, and ask them each how they’d approach your requirements and intend to meet the project’s needs. You’ll learn a lot from this process.
For one, you’ll learn just how many methods there are to accomplish the same common goal, at least as far as web development is concerned. But more importantly, you’ll learn more about exactly who can deliver the results you want.
You’ll know this simply from their experience, which will be evident as soon as you review and break down each of their proposed solutions.
Are freelancers reliable?
It’s understandable that a business owner might be cautious when considering hiring the services of a freelancer. Especially for a task so vital to a company’s brand as their web presence, anxiety regarding the professionalism and reliability of a prospective freelancer is definitely something to be recognized.
However, it’s also important to realize where this concern originates from, so that it can be worked through.
Ultimately, your initial concern is likely to do with whether the freelancer can deliver the results you expect competently. Right?
Well, I have news for you.
Some of the best designers and web developers are freelancers.
Because the creative freedom bestowed upon a freelancer is second-to-none, and usually unparalleled even in an agency environment. Additionally, some of the most sought-after names in the freelance web development space have earned that place through consistent, impressive results. Many web developers actually choose to offer their services on a freelance basis because they’re so competent.
After all, why would you pass up the opportunity to freelance while simultaneously expressing your outstanding creative flair?
But back to my point: you simply cannot assume that freelancers are any less reliable than an agency, in terms of what they can deliver.
That doesn’t mean to say that freelancers can’t be unreliable — but as a client, you owe yourself the responsibility exercise good judgement when recruiting. Steer clear of dodgy hiring sites, and instead opt for well-known, established resources to find a freelancer who’s right for you.
Places like Upwork and Freelancer are great examples of sites you can trust. They also offer secure means of payment, so you can trust you’re in safe hands.
But having said that, the best way (by-far) to source a reliable, reputable freelancer is via their official personal website. Perhaps try a Google search for freelance web developers, using these search examples:
- Freelance web developer in my local area
- Freelance web developer specializing in e-commerce
- Freelance web designer with app UI/UX experience
These kinds of search queries are likely to return a healthy pool of trustworthy results, as Google tends to rank reputable sites higher.
Ensure that you ask for live examples of their previous work, or details of their past clientele, and even perhaps the contact information of a current client who agrees to provide you with a one-to-one testimonial.
These steps can certainly put your mind at ease regarding the reliability of a freelancer, and just how reputable they are.
Ensure that you’ve both engaged in at least a couple of phone conversations or Skype calls, so that you’re both on the same page and share similar expectations for the project.
Provided you take these steps when researching and engaging with a freelance web developer, you can rest assured that you’re in safe hands. Quit the worrying, and allow the professional to work their magic.
But let's discuss alternative methods to finding your freelancer. Read on for my personal recommendations about where to find a freelancer quickly and easily:
Where do you find a freelancer?
One of the many great things about the internet is how efficient and quick it makes the recruitment process. And this makes it easier than ever to find a suitable, capable freelance web developer who suits your needs.
There are indeed, many ways to find a freelance web designer or developer, but one of the best places is online.
You’ll have to exercise caution, though. There are definitely more (and less) favorable ways to source your freelancer than others. I’m going to give you a brief run-down of the best places to find a freelancer web developer for your business website.
The Best Place to Find a Freelance Web Designer
It’s key to have a good understanding of your prospective freelancers’ past reviews and work history. As well as the overall level of satisfaction of their previous clients, of course.
Whichever means you use to find a freelance web developer, you must ensure that you’ve done your research, and most importantly, played detective.
Check out their portfolio of previous works, and ensure you’ve browsed the websites of their past and current clients. This will be an important means of assessing how their final deliveries look and function.
One of the best ways to find a capable freelancer is by recommendation from your colleagues or fellow business owners. This way, you can hear about their personal experience first-hand, in addition to having the opportunity to assess the final deliverable that the freelancer produced, with good faith.
However, it’s not always as easy as that. Oftentimes, searching online proves to be more effective. This is especially true if you have a larger project that demands very specific requirements and scalability. In a case like this, you’ll likely want to forego personal recommendations and referrals, instead directing your search online so that you can source the best possible freelancer—one who is more than suited to the job.
There’s only one problem with finding a freelance web developer online.
The industry has become so saturated that it can be a grueling process to scout a great one. Let’s be honest—good is no longer quite good enough. In terms of numbers, the sheer volume of freelance web developers competing for the growing number of online clients can also be overwhelming for a business owner, or even a seasoned recruiter. To avoid this challenging process, you should develop a number of assets and qualities that you’re looking for in a freelancer. Forget about financial quotes for the time being—and focus on expertise instead.
This way, you’re able to locate freelancers who possess the attributes and expectations you have for the project, and from that point you can then begin to narrow them down by specialism or quoted price, if cost is something that’s important to you.
But, without further delay, here’s a list of the top websites to find freelance web developers online:
The Best Websites to Find Freelance Web Designers and Developers
If you're looking to hire a freelancer for your web design or development project, here are the best places to use:
- GLG Strategic Projects
These websites function similar to an online marketplace. You'll need to post a project specification, and freelancers who find the task appealing will apply, submitting their proposal to you.
You should expect their proposal to detail how they intend to meet the project's requirements, and from there you can begin to interview each applicant privately.
Make sure that you put the tips I've mentioned above into practise, in order to find the best freelancer possible.
Remember: you're looking for a freelancer that matches your project and its requirements!
DIY options and website builders
The thought has probably crossed your mind at some point, even if only for a moment. You’ve probably heard from your peers who also own a small business that they managed to build their own website, in less than a day, from the comfort of their couch at home.
And what’s more, their monthly hosting subscription barely costs them a thing.
In the wise words of my business-savvy mother: “It’s a trap.”
In your time as a small business owner, you’ve likely come across your fair share of advertisements for Do It Yourself website builders. Here’s a list of some you may have heard of:
That’s a list of the “better” ones. Others include:
- 1&1 Website Builder
- cPanel Website Builder
- GoDaddy Website Builder
In other words, steer very clear of any tool with the words ‘Website Builder’ in its title or slogan. As my mother would say, “It’s a trap.”
There are numerous problems with choosing to build your business website using one of these tools (or something else similar).
They’re very good at selling a fantasy, but in reality should never be used to develop brand awareness in the form of (what is supposed to be) a professional business website.
Particularly if one of your website’s goals is to promote your business, I’d highly advise leaving that to the professionals.
After all, you wouldn’t design your own logo or advertisements... or so I hope!
You started off knowing that you needed a web developer. And now you know the best process to find one.
Whether you opt for a freelance web developer or a digital design agency, I’m sure you’re now equipped with the tools and knowledge to select the best web developer for your project.
Let us know how it goes in the comments.