Hiring Freelance Developers vs. An Experienced In-House Team

There are more than 3 billion people on the Internet. With a worldwide population of a little more than 7 billion, that makes for a 42 percent penetration. By the end of 2016, mobile technology is expected to help push that beyond the 50 percent mark. With this rise in mobile connectivity, web development — both front-end and back-end — has grown more complex, and SEO is increasingly critical for websites of every size and type.

Search is the No. 1 driver of external traffic, and 40 percent of users will select a different site if the top-listed result isn’t mobile-friendly. Google, with nearly 68 percent of the global search market, continuously updates and tweaks its search algorithms to provide optimal accuracy. This means it’s essential for developers to have concrete knowledge of current industry standards and trends.

The individual freelancer model works well for smaller, simpler projects with flexible timelines and budgets to match. For more complex engagements, an experienced team is the way to go. If you’re considering building that team in-house, know that developing a complex content-managed website can easily be two to four times more productive with an experienced team than a new team working in a new technology or environment. As browsers on desktop and mobile devices continue to evolve with new screen sizes, retina displays, and ever-increasing user expectations, their specialization will only grow in importance.

Dedicated Teams Best Freelance Developers

Demand for web developers is projected to grow by 20 percent between 2012 and 2022, which illustrates how essential it is to find the right partner for your design firm’s development needs. Here are three reasons why an experienced team will serve you better than a freelancer:

  1. Reliability: Gifted freelancers are worth their weight in gold, but they can also disappear quickly — sometimes in the middle of a project. Can you afford that risk? As project complexity and ongoing maintenance needs increase, so does the need for an established partnership with a reliable team of engineers equipped with industry expertise and project-specific knowledge.
  2. Long-Term Sustainability: Freelancers are like cowboys or bounty hunters. They come in to solve a specific problem and get the job done, but they don’t need to think about ongoing maintenance and your future relationship with the client. Respected web development teams, on the other hand, have processes in place to ensure the longevity of the projects they work on, as their reputations depend on providing sustainable systems. More clients now demand a longer life cycle from their websites and apps. Can a freelancer deliver that?
  3. Better Resource Allocation: Complex web projects are often too big for a single freelancer, and recruiting and managing a whole team of them is a full-time job. For most design firms, those resources would be better spent on serving clients through design rather than managing developers, code repositories, and quality assurance. Design agencies that employ development teams can propose and complete larger projects with greater efficiency and accuracy. This provides clients with best-in-class design and a team that can support their efforts in the long run.

Drafting the Right Team

If you plan to build a sophisticated in-house design team, you need to start with an experienced lead developer. Five years of active development experience, in the areas your firm focuses on, should be the minimum prerequisite.

Look for leadership attributes and the ability to bridge technology, design, and business domains. Once you’ve found the right person, let him or her build out your team. You should expect to pay top dollar for this kind of engineering talent, which may not be viable for your agency.

If that’s not an investment you’re ready to make, seek out the best technology firm to collaborate with. Here are some qualities that would make a good partner for your firm:

  • Expertise and Longevity: Your partner needs to have demonstrable expertise in the areas of development you seek. This could be WordPress, responsive web design, mobile app development, or e-commerce. Whatever your needs, you want a true specialist with a lot of experience. Longevity is a sign that somebody’s been doing it right for years.
  • An Eye for Design: Most developers don’t “get” design, so make sure your partner understands the nuances of great design, grid and responsive layout systems, and user interaction. Without these attributes, you may find yourself wasting money and time in endless revision cycles. The best among these will understand your designs and collaborate with you to create optimized user experiences for the client’s target audience.
  • Experience Partnering With Design Firms: Not every developer can partner with a creative team and produce spot-on results. Find one who has successfully worked with design teams of the same caliber as yours, and speak with his or her references. Does his or her process and level of sophistication mesh with yours?
  • Non-Competitive: Do not hire another design firm to handle your creative development. Your clients will question the value you add and may consider doing their next project with your development “partner” in the future. This one seems like a no-brainer, but we see it all the time in the industry, and it can be damaging to projects and client relationships. It also helps that your development partner and your firm are similar sizes — considering a development firm 10 times your size is probably not going to get you and your clients the attention you desire.
  • A Relevant Portfolio: A good development partner can help fill the gaps in your own firm’s expertise or experience. You might be a leading brand identity firm but have little experience in developing immersive digital experiences. Choose a partner that does, and together, you can bolster your credibility with clients and prospects.

You might have the best creative in the world, but if you don’t have a developer capable of executing it correctly, your work — and, therefore, your business — will suffer. One person is seldom enough. To thrive in the world of website development, you need a dedicated team.

Jaron Rubenstein is the founder and president of Rubenstein Technology Group. His experience, deep technical expertise, and passion for design empowers creative partners to identify opportunities, manage complex projects, and maintain the integrity of their work from concept through launch. Rubenstein Technology Group is the leading technology partner for top creative firms. Brands ranging from Bloomberg to Harvard University to Wolf-Gordon have benefited from his design-led engineering focus on empowering the user experience.

This article orginally appeared in HOW.