The Key Differences Between Development Agencies and Freelancers
When it comes to designing and developing your new webpage or product, companies have a wide variety of options to choose from. Establishing this relationship is one of the most critical choices an entrepreneur or company can make in the early days of their project.
Dec 2020 - 4 minutes read
In the past, we’ve written a lot about hiring the right development company, but we haven’t spent as much time talking about the alternatives. One of the most popular alternatives is the freelance developer. Instead of working for a larger company, freelance developers generally work alone, interacting with clients directly. They have control over their own workload, their hours, and what clients they take on.
As a development agency ourselves, we’re undeniably biased towards the processes that we’ve perfected over the 10 years that we’ve been working together. However, that isn’t to say that hiring a freelance developer isn’t the right choice for your company or project. You just need to go into the decision with open eyes, so you can make sure that the fit is right and you’re getting what you need.
Today, let’s delve into some of the key differences between an agency and a freelance developer, and where each may be right for your needs.
Comparing Development Agencies and Freelancers
Some people argue that it’s difficult to fairly compare agencies and freelancers. After all, an agency is made up of at least two people and often boasts a staff roster of dozens of talented developers. A freelancer will only ever be one person, working and learning alone.
Despite the obvious differences, there are real advantages and disadvantages to both. Let’s compare them using the criteria that are most important to their clients.
According to one survey conducted by a popular freelancing platform, 57 million Americans did some type of freelance work in 2019. That’s a 4 million increase from just 5 years ago, and represents 35% of the American workforce.
With so many American companies forced to shutter departments, halt projects, and lay off workers due to COVID-19, we should expect to see this number rise in 2020 and beyond. Many freelancers opt to pursue this style of employment because they enjoy the freedom and the flexibility to make work for themselves instead of waiting to get hired at an agency or a larger company.
All of these stats confirm that despite the many benefits of an agency, one advantage that companies have if they want to hire a freelancer is availability. With so many freelance developers working today, it’s not hard to find one with the right skill set that’s available for your particular project.
Communicating with a freelance developer and an agency couldn’t be more different. Most freelancers are much more informal with their clients, communicating with them directly using the method that their clients prefer. Despite being able to communicate with freelancers directly, it’s not uncommon to hear about interactions breaking down or becoming infrequent once the freelancer gets bogged down with work. After all, there’s no one whose job is just to communicate with the client. The freelancer has to do that, as well as all their development work.
If you’re working with a good agency, communication is frequent, clear, and straightforward. Typically, agencies will assign a project manager to spearhead client communication for the project, and they will always be available to answer questions. If necessary, they can help translate technical complexities into terms that the clients can understand, and are always there to facilitate a positive and respectful working relationship.
If the agency is experienced, they will have standard processes in place like check-in meetings to ensure that communication with the client is always a top priority.
Many companies and individuals prize their relationship with their freelance developer because of the flexibility of their schedule. Many freelancers have made themselves available at all hours to take on last-minute fixes, and if you’re working with someone overseas, the time difference may even work in your favour.
However, a freelancer can’t make more hours in the day, and if your project suddenly balloons in scope, you may be out of luck if they can’t fit the extra work into their schedule in a timely manner.
That’s why some people prefer agencies, where there’s a lot more flexibility in terms of workload simply because they have more staff available. If it’s crunch time, the project manager can assign more developers to your team in an instant, taking stress away from an already stressful situation.
When you’re working with a freelance developer, their operations are typically lean. After all, all they need is a computer to do their work. Their rates are often more inexpensive than the average agency, simply because they don’t have the same amount of overhead. After all, when you hire an agency, they have to make sure that their fees can pay for all their staff, their office space, and the rest of the tools that they use to do their work.
Even though freelancers often quote a much lower price, this lack of overhead can sometimes be a limitation. They may not have access to the same enterprise-grade software, and may be limited to using more rudimentary organizational tools. This may not pose a problem in your day-to-day work, but when you want to pay an invoice using a credit card or need a place for an on-site meeting, you may run into issues.
Despite the large number of jack-of-all-trades freelancers available, the reality is that most specialize in just one set of skills and have honed those to perfection. This is fantastic when all you need is someone to perfect your UI/UX or design the front end of a project. However, as we all know, development projects can quickly grow in scope, leaving you struggling to find additional freelancers. Then, once these other freelancers are on board, you’ve appointed yourself the project manager, and facilitating communication between your teams becomes your job.
Most agencies intentionally create full-cycle development teams, giving them the freedom to take on large, multidisciplinary projects without batting an eye. If you’re developing something from scratch or know that your project will grow in scope, a full-service agency is a better bet.
Despite their differences, there isn’t one single answer to the question: “Should I hire a freelance developer or an agency?” They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and are better suited to different projects. If you only need a developer for one task or are looking for someone for a short-term project, a freelancer might be a better fit for your needs. Their prices are generally more inexpensive than an agency, and they may have more flexibility to take on last-minute work.
If your project will grow in scope, or if you’re looking for a development partner for an ongoing commitment, an agency is probably a better choice. They can leverage their larger staff and enterprise resources to meet your needs, no matter how complex.