Although it may be difficult for us to be completely objective in this argument, there’s a few things to consider when you’re looking to hire someone to design & develop your website. Each of these different elements can steer you in a number of different directions, so it really comes down to the main question: what works best for you in the long run?
Is bottom-line cost the most important thing for you? Maybe you’re mainly worried about a quality product, and the finances are ready to go. Depending on your perspective, you may be able to find what you’re looking for relatively easily.
Each different option (local web design company, freelance developer, or a big website development firm) has pros and cons, and not every company fits neatly in any of these boxes. We at V3 consider ourselves somewhere in between the “local company” and the “big firm.” Yes, a large portion of our business is from companies local to the Auburn/Opelika/Montgomery/Columbus area, but an equal portion comes from places as far north as Michigan and as far west as Arizona. Also, there are surely many companies that fit the same mold as us as that’s the benefit of web development: you can do it from anywhere.
So, what's the difference?
Knowing the difference between these 3 options can help you refine what you’re looking for as you go, making the selection process simpler. Keep in mind, any part of your project that you choose to do yourself should be considered a cost to you as, we all know, time is money. The more time you have invested personally into your website creation, the most cost you have.
1. The Freelancer
A freelance website developer is someone who may have a different day job, or may just prefer to be self-employed. Nothing wrong with either of those scenarios and can sometimes be indicative of a “go-getter,” personality. Each freelancer developer is different from the next, so there’s never, necessarily, a standard to which each one applies, but here are some things you can reasonable expect in most situations. MOST. Not all.
You can expect a freelancer to have different working hours than you, sometimes getting work done in the middle of the night or early morning. You can also expect a freelancer to be the cheapest option financially, especially in the short term. We’ve seen complete WordPress websites built by freelancers for anywhere from $500 – $1,000 depending on what you’re looking for. In case you’re wondering, that’s dirt cheap for a complete and functioning website that doesn’t have a contract or monthly fee associated with it.
When working with a freelance developer, you can expect to have a little more control over the design and development process than you would with a company. Development firms typically have a process in place for how projects should go in their mind, as well as milestone and other orderly pieces that you may view as either cumbersome or nice and tidy. The flexible hours of a freelancer also contribute to this idea of a likely flexible timeline.
Freelancers are likely a great fit if you’re looking to keep your budget as low as possible, you’d like to have your hand in the design/development as much as possible, and/or your delivery date is flexible. These things aren’t to say that EVERY freelancer is the cheapest solution, or that every freelancer works non-standard hours, or that every freelancer likes non-stress delivery dates. Make sure you trust the person you’re working with before committing to a project.
2. The Local Development Firm (small – midsize)
Local development firms, anywhere from small (less than 5 employees) to midsize (5 – 20 employees) started popping up all over the country within the past 7 years. Old-school design and printing companies have added-on arms of web development to increase their serviceable areas, including a la carte marketing packages with website options. You can also find small firms that do exclusively one side of the project or the other. For instance, some development firms prefer to not have to design anything, and others only design and no development.
You can find all sorts of development options from web firms as well like “waterfall,” or “agile,” all with different meanings and implications about how a specific company will handle your project. Having these different practices already in place can either be a benefit or a burden for your project. If you’re looking for a firm that gives you updates every week/month, then check and see if that’s a service they provide. A local firm will have a website that should describe their practices and principles clearly, letting you know if you think their methodology fits with yours.
You can expect a local firm to cost anywhere from $2,000 – $15,000 for a completed web project, with the gap depending on what different specs your project needs like e-commerce, subscriptions, newsletter integrations, and more. From our experience, the reason for the significantly higher cost of local firms vs. freelancers lies in the ability to have multiple designers, developers, and other individuals lay hands and eyes on a specific project, and have a faster deliverable.
On average, you can expect to have a completed project done sooner with a small firm than the freelancer, with the main exceptions being any red-tape you have to get through for the rules and regulations from the firm itself. We’ve also seen that having multiple designers/developers on a project (from both the client and development firm) can easily add on to the time frame of a completed project. The idea being that multiple opinions all seeking equal weight in the decision-making process has a reasonable expectance of adding time. This isn’t always the case, but it’s not foreign to small – midsize development firms.
You can expect a local firm to take a more personal effort to assure the quality of the design and development. If your local web development company is staffed by local employees, then the rationale of a trustworthy company would be one that wants to invest in local businesses and individuals by offering quality services. We, for one company, are always looking for companies to partner with that share our ideals, including the investment in our community.
However, a local firm may have more up front cost that a larger company, and possibly a product of lower quality compared to some of the larger development firms. Whenever you’re deciding between a small development company and a larger firm, you need to make sure you understand the different services that are offered and whether or not either can fill your needs.
3. The Large Web Development Company
Large web development companies will likely be the most expensive for custom projects, but can have the lowest up-front cost for small standardized projects if you’re willing to sacrifice some artistic input or creative control. You will likely find large companies that have built out website templates for you to work within, thereby restricting your design control, but letting you get a website up and running for relatively cheap, with each add-on costing a nominal monthly fee. You see this kind of structure with the “build-your-own” website builders like Wix and Squarespace where you can get a website started for under $20/mo.
Large development firms typically handle only a few custom projects at a time due to the nature of the scope of work. For instance, if you wanted to work with a web development firm that works with a large e-commerce store like Home Depot or Wal-Mart (even though they have internal development teams), those firms will likely have teams of both designers and developers tasked to one specific existing client. If you would like to have one of your custom projects with a large firm, you can expect the cost the be equivalent to the time needed for a whole team of people to be actively engaged in your build.
Also for large development firms, you can except annual contracts or terms of service that dictate how your project will be handled, for better for worse. When dealing with large sums of money (likely in the $40,000 – $200,000 range), it’s wise for every party involved to be sure their agreement is expressly stated and legally binding. The only down-side for you, the client, is that many terms in web design and development can be jargon-y, and difficult to understand. This makes the beginning of a project much slower, and can be a pain if you need a quick turnaround.
Overall, you can expect a large company to have a couple different options for you as a customer, but not much flexibility outside of those options. If the company doesn’t have what you’re looking for, the cost to make what you want specifically for your project may be significantly higher. That being said, having additional people and resources available to your build can provide more thorough and thought-out results with specific plans of success your website may need. Depending on what you’re looking for, the large firm may be the exact solution to your problems.
72% of our existing clients have worked with either a freelancer or large development firm before working with us.
When it’s all said and done, there’s talent across the board. Some freelancers we’ve worked with have provided quicker, more cost-efficient results of a higher quality than some of the large firms we’ve worked with. A larger budget doesn’t guarantee success just as a small budget doesn’t ensure failure. Our recommendation to you is to find someone or some company that has a clear understanding of your goals, and can provide solutions to you that accomplish those in the most effective manner possible. That may be an in-between website development company like us, or a freelancer from Taiwan.
Find people you trust and that you can communicate with clearly, and you’re good to go.