You need a website, right? And you're smart enough to know that you don't have the time or expertise to be tinkering around with these DIY website builders, so what do you? Well, if your first thought is, "I need a freelance web developer," it's time to pump the brakes.
I used to be a freelance web developer, so what I'm about to tell you is not the result of an overdose of Haterade.
Consider these lessons, "lessons from the trenches."
They're very valuable lessons, by the way. This one article can legitimately save you lots of money. We're talking about tens of thousands of dollars – potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I'll explain how that works in a moment. First, let's make sure we're on the same page...
What Does a Web Developer Do?
A web developer is someone who assembles and codes a website and handles a lot of the other tech involved in getting your website online, optimizing it's performance, and maintaining it.
This is different from a web designer – someone who designs the layout and "look and feel" of a website.
It's common for the same individual, especially freelancers, to handle both. They'll create the look and feel of the site and handle all the development work as well.
It's important for you to know the difference because you need to know if the individual or agency is competent in both aspects of this.
Knowing how to work a camera doesn't make one a photographer, right? Well, knowing how to build a website doesn't make someone a designer.
There are also some great designers out there who you should never let near the actual workings of your website, so this goes both ways.
Oh, and there are also some great designers out there who will build you an absolutely dud of a website.
"Huh? How can that be?"
I'll talk more about this later.
A Good Web Developer is a Gold Mine
It's important that you know the value of a good web developer and good web design.
Your website generates a ton of business and revenue (or you want it to, eventually), right? Well, that's super valuable.
Go with a bad design or the wrong web design strategy and your website will only produce leads and sales at a small fraction of its potential.
Nail the design, but drop the ball on development, and you're still going to face the same terrible outcome.
A good developer is going to make sure that the execution is flawless. Your site won't have bugs, it'll be mobile friendly, it'll be fast, and it'll stay up to date with the latest standards.
This is a big deal! Just look at site speed as one example...
A single second shaved off of page load speed can produce a 27% increase in conversion rates. – Soasta
That's not to mention that the faster your site is the more likely you are to rank for high-value keywords in Google.
Search engines do not want to deliver slow, poorly-coded, or buggy websites to their users.
The same significant outcome is true if we look at another factor like mobile friendliness...
40% of people will choose a different search result if the first is not mobile friendly or has issues working correctly on mobile. – SkillCrush
The bottom line is that choosing a mediocre developer can cost you serious money.
That brings us right to the idea of hiring a freelance web developer and the 5 reasons I think you should stay away from them. Now, I want to be clear that I'm not suggesting that these factors are the same for freelancers in other fields – these criticisms are confined solely to freelance web developers. Okay? Don't send me emails about that.
Alright, let's get to it...
Reason #1: Finding a Quality Freelance Web Developer is a Shit Show
Yeah, so...everyone thinks they're a "web developer" these days. Just like digital cameras and photoshop turned everyone and their mom into photographers, advanced web design and development tools have turned anyone and everyone into a web developer.
There are tons of freelance web developers selling their services right now who probably couldn't even tell you the difference between a web designer and a web developer. It's a real shit show.
I'm a member of a half dozen or more Facebook groups full of these people. They're asking each other for help with this and that. I'm talking simple stuff here, stuff that any competent developer could do in their sleep.
So here you are, in search of a freelance web developer, and you probably have no idea that you're going to have to wade through all this noise and nonsense.
How can you do that if you don't really know up from down? It's like choosing a mechanic when you don't know anything about cars.
The good news is, you don't have to wade through this murky pool. More on that later.
Reason #2: Freelance Web Developers are Notoriously Flakey & "Busy"
Let's talk money for a second, because most of this "flakey" and "busy" stuff boils down to money.
A freelancer, by definition, is one person and there's only so much that one person can do. In order to be successful, a freelancer needs to charge a pretty penny. If they're low-balling – which so many of them are doing – their only option to survive is to take on tons of work. Tons of clients.
That's exactly what so many of them are doing. They don't know how to price themselves and they don't know how to sell at higher price points, so they land lots of small contracts.
That's terrible for you. When you hire one of these freelancers, your experience will be that they're "flakey" and "busy" all the time because they are – they're servicing too many clients, trying to stay afloat.
If there's a client paying more than you, you're going to get put on the back burner. It's a constant tug of war for the freelancer's attention.
When your business is on the line, that's not a paradigm I'd want to be trapped in.
Reason #3: Freelancers Don't Really Have the Bandwidth to Support You on an Ongoing Basis
In the old days, all your business needed was a brochure website. A "web presence."
Once that website was developed, it kinda just sat there. There wasn't a lot of ongoing work to be done.
In today's digital world, a website is a living, breathing thing. To be successful, you need to be giving your site attention on a regular basis.
There's general maintenance, security, conversion optimization, search optimization, new sales pages, new landing pages, new email opt-in integrations, and so on.
Who is going to do that ongoing work for you? A notoriously flakey and busy freelancer who really has no intention of doing a lot of lower-rate ongoing work? Those stressed out freelancers are busy chasing new projects, not servicing you.
Sure, they *offer* to do ongoing work and *say* they'll do ongoing work, but it's not going to be their main focus. It can't be. They need new projects to survive.
If the choice is putting a new landing page together for you or taking on an entire site for a new client, which do you think they'll choose?
Reason #4: Freelance Web Developers Can Just Up and Disappear on You
Entrepreneurship ain't for everyone. Lots of freelancers are "here today, gone tomorrow."
This might not seem like a problem at first. You might think you can just bring a new freelancer on board if that happens, but that's not really how it works.
There are lots of different platforms out there and different freelancers have different platform preferences. Even within WordPress, there are many different themes, frameworks, and builder tools.
If your first freelancer builds something and then disappears, you're going to find that lots of other freelancers don't really want to have much to do with it unless you find one that prefers all the same stuff that first freelancer used.
It's not that they're incapable of using the same tools, it's that not being an expert in those tools seriously bogs down their workflow.
There's one theme builder framework for WordPress that I know of that releases dozens of updates a year – feature additions, feature changes etc. If a freelancer isn't using that theme framework consistently, they're going to have to re-learn a lot of it.
See how that complicates things? So having a freelancer up and disappear on you can leave you with a site a lot of other people don't want to touch and the big time-consuming task on your plate of finding someone somewhere or dealing with a potential redesign.
And don't forget, that search for a replacement means wading back through the pool of unqualified people and taking yet another risk on frazzled freelancers.
Reason #5: Most Web Developers and Designers Don't Know Anything About Marketing, Traffic, or Conversion
I'll be honest, this problem isn't confined to freelancers, but I would say that it's even worse and more common with freelancers.
The #1 thing you need to know before you make a decision on who is going to design and dev your website is this: It doesn't matter how pretty or well-developed your site is, the bottom line focus needs to be sales.
The biggest myth in web design is that "pretty" sites are easy for visitors to use and convert well. That can't be further from the truth. Ugly sites routinely outperform beautiful sites.
Now, you obviously don't want to purposefully put an ugly site out into the world, but my point still stands. Pretty ≠ money.
Designing a site that looks great, that people love to use, and that converts them into buyers is both an art and a science. It requires someone (or a team of people) with a strong understanding of all the following:
- Graphic Design
- Conversion Optimization
If you want your website to convert, it has to do what a brilliant salesman does in a brick and mortar shop and a lot more beyond that.
If you had a brick and mortar shop, you wouldn't hire the same freelancer to design the layout of your store, design and hang your signage, do the actual store buildout, stock the shelves, setup the security system, program the POS system, and then get dressed up to start greeting customers and selling them product, would you?
Well, that's effectively what you're doing when you hire a single freelancer to design and build your website.
Look at one factor alone – copywriting. The copy on your website can make or break your ability to convert visitors into leads or buyers. Most designers and devs don't even know enough about copywriting to tell you if the copy you're writing yourself is good or bad, much less create good copy for you or tweak your copy for better results.
It's very difficult to find all these traits in one person. That's why you really need a team of people.
Why An Agency is Your Best Bet
An agency is a team of people, all under one roof, who collaborate on your project.
They bring together different areas of expertise to make sure that the finished product is one that you love and that accomplishes exactly what you want it to accomplish.
Not only will an agency be more effective for you, a lot of the downsides that come with freelancers simply aren't present. Since the workload is spread out, you're much less likely to run into responsiveness issues and overwhelm.
Since agencies typically don't hire or keep incompetent people around, you don't run the risk of having people working on your site who really shouldn't be.
It's just a better experience from start to finish. And really, as I mentioned earlier, a better experience on an ongoing basis.
The only problem with most agencies is the cost. The agencies that go after big fish exclusively are going to be well out of your budget (we're talking tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars here).
The small boutique agencies are a better bet, but they're going to charge a premium. Even if you don't need a complex, premium site, they're simply not going to want to touch your project for less than an amount you may not be ready or willing to pay.
What you really need – and I'm talking mostly to small businesses, solopreneurs, freelancers (in other fields), and startups – is a "tweener" agency. In other words, something that's in between a freelancer and an expensive boutique agency.
A Quality Agency That Won't Break the Bank?
If you were considering a freelance web developer or you otherwise need tech help with your online business, you definitely need to take a hard look at Digital Gravy as an alternative.
Digital Gravy was built to serve online businesses with high quality custom web design and development and overall tech help with a strong focus on traffic and conversion. And not just the initial delivery of that, but the ongoing support, maintenance, and iteration as well.
With one decision you get to skip all the downsides of hiring a freelance web developer while having all the upside of a professional agency. Except, those two things happen at the same price most freelancers are charging.