If you run a business, you’ll eventually need to hire someone to redesign your website.
The only question is, who do you hire?
What are the differences between hiring a freelancer, a consultant, or an agency?
We’ll look at some of the differences between the three, and help you figure out what’s the best fit for your organization.
Agency, Freelancer or Consultant?
In May 2015, I read an article that addressed the question, “How to choose between an agency or a freelancer”. This article laid out the pros and cons of hiring a team (a web agency) or an individual (a freelancer).
One thing that stuck out to me is certain types of businesses need to hire an agency.
What circumstances would lead a business to choose an agency over an individual?
When Agencies Are The Right Choice
Larger businesses have larger budgets for web projects and minimizing project risk is important. It’s worth the extra money for them to go with an agency.
With an agency, there are people to handle multiple needs, and everyone is an expert in their particular field. Most agencies can handle a combination of the following: graphic design, web development, print design, social media marketing, content creation, SEO and pay-per-click advertising.
If it sounds like your business needs most of these services, an agency would be your first choice.
The downside of working with an agency is most of them cost more than an individual. Agencies may also be booked in advance. If you have projects that need to move quickly, or you don’t need a wide array of services, or your budget is not enough to hire an agency —
That’s when you should look at hiring a single individual.
What’s The Difference Between A Freelancer and A Consultant?
Freelancer is a very general term for any individual who works for themselves. Designers, developers and copywriters may all be referenced as freelancers. Freelancers usually have the ability to do a set of tasks. Many have the experience and insight to tell you what you should be doing next.
In the broadest possible brush strokes, freelancers take a list of tasks and complete them. Where a freelancer becomes a consultant is when they are an expert in a particular niche and they can diagnose your problems and prescribe solutions.
There’s a not-so-subtle difference here.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Every project requires someone to lead it. It’s just a matter of who is taking the reins.
Consultants ask a lot of questions about the project, even when the client comes with requirements in hand. They dig to uncover the hidden details about the project. They figure out where the business can improve. They deliver more value than an individual who simply follows orders to their completion.
To me, this is another difference between a consultant and a typical freelancer.
Distinguishing The Two
There are a lot of people who call themselves freelancers who are probably consultants. Freelancer is just a convenient way to describe anyone doing independent design or development.
The smartest SEO and web development consultants I know would never call themselves a freelancer. They realize they are advisers, and they position themselves accordingly.
Consultants usually charge more than the average freelancer, or most of the people you will find on a freelancer marketplace.
There is a reason for this.
They know what they’re doing.
Hiring One Individual From A Pool Of Many
There are a lot of people, both offshore and in the United States that don’t know what they’re doing. It’s difficult for business owners to spot the difference sometimes.
Can you expect quality design or development work for a pittance? You’ll get something. But it probably ‘t be anything you’re going to be happy with.
My friend Mario contributes regularly to WordPress, the content management system that powers 24% of all websites. Many of his clients are heavy hitters at the enterprise level. He has written extensively on how 99% of the folks who label themselves WordPress developers are not involved in the WordPress community whatsoever.
They don’t keep up with updates to WordPress. More often than not, they don’t follow best practices for coding.
As a result, these faux-WordPress developers often launch that break often, get hacked, or not accomplish the goals they were intended to.
Not all, but certainly many of the the folks you’ll find on freelancer marketplaces charging pennies on the dollar fit this criteria.
Is it worth it?
Putting your business website at risk, just to save a few dollars?
Examples of WordPress Consultants
There are many talented consultants in the world of WordPress.
Curtis McHale specializes in e-commerce and membership sites that have a positive impact on people’s lives. Daniel Espinoza is a WooCommerce expert, and creates plugins for both WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.
Andy Adams improves performance and speed on large websites, meaning more conversions and more money for e-commerce platforms.
These are just a few consultants in the WordPress ecosystem alone. I could name hundreds more.
Are they freelancers? Technically yes. But they are considered experts in a particular sub-set of their field. That makes them consultants.
But let’s say your budget is incredibly constrained, and you want to forgo hiring high-end consultants altogether. Does hiring a full-time employee or contract freelancer to build your WordPress project make sense?
Finally, On Hiring Internal WordPress Employees
One of the arguments for working with a freelancer is that you are able to develop close rapport with them. Eventually, the story goes, you may invite them to become an employee.
It’s common for web agencies — to recruit independent contractors into full-time employment.
And occasionally, regular businesses may also do this successfully.
But I want to add a word of caution.
You will not be able to get the best web employees for rock bottom wages.
Web developers who know their stuff will not usually be found working for $15 an hour in a regular business.
What takes them months to accomplish will only take an experienced developer weeks. On top of that, the experienced web designer will produce better work, that is more effective and makes you more money.
It happens quite often. Established businesses will hire one or two employees internally to create and maintain the company website, and pay them a lower hourly wage than an outside web designer would charge.
But the problem is that building the website almost always ends up taking much longer, is not as effective, and ends up costing 5–10 times as much, because the business is paying an employee, not an outside consultancy.
And at the end of the day, you’re hiring someone to help your company make more money.
Larger companies also hire internal web developers, but usually pay them a competitive rate. This is because they want to attract and retain the best talent available.
For a regular, non-web-development-centric business, there are three options when it comes to hiring web talent.
Consultants can help take you to the next level by acting as advisers who can get things done. Freelancers know how to get things done, and may or may not need a list of tasks — the better the freelancer, the more they charge. Employees are generally there to do your bidding, but you’ll need to pay competitively to get the best talent.