Should you develop your app with a freelancer or use an agency? This is a common question I get asked because, well let’s face it, using a freelancer can be significantly cheaper than an agency particularly if you use a freelancer abroad. And that’s something I can completely understand. But just as there are advantages, there are disadvantages also. Similarly, using an agency has its advantages and disadvantages. So which one should you go for?
Having been in the industry for the last 5-6 years or so, I feel like I’m in the best place to answer this question. Why? Because I’ve worked with agencies and I’ve worked with freelancers. Years ago when I first launched my first app, I used an app development company in London. I invested a lot of resources into this.
To update that app, and helping friends and family develop their own apps, I used freelancers. I’ve worked at both ends of the spectrum, and experienced enough ups and downs with both to give you what I think is definitive, open and honest answer that I wish I knew when I was first starting out in the industry.
So let’s begin. Should you develop your app with an Agency or a freelancer? In my experience, I believe there are five key elements to judge. In no particular order of priority, these are:
- Quality of Product
First let’s look at price. There’s no competition here. And you can guess already – the winner goes to freelancers. 90% of the time, the price of hiring a freelancer to develop your app is significantly cheaper than using an agency. I can’t speak for the whole of the world, neither all of the freelancers online, but in my experience this has always been the case here in London, UK.
Past hires have told us that the average prices of building an app with a freelancer can range from £1000 – £10,000.00. In contrast, apps with agencies can cost anywhere from £20000 to £50,000.00, with some even going up to hundreds of thousands of pounds and even millions. So the price is great – I don’t think anyone can dispute that. But it comes at a price – excuse the pun, which you’ll see later.
Number 2, communication. Communication is a very broad topic to discuss so let’s break it up.
#1. Conveying your idea. It can be very difficult to convey your app idea to freelancers online. No matter how many conversations you have over Skype or Google Hangouts, however many documents, wireframes, pictures, scope requirements you send, something is always missed and its that something that is always picked up when you meet in person face to face.
Meeting in person is just so much easier and should not be underestimated. As a result, communicating online with freelancers can become a very strenuous and time-consuming task. Remember, time is your biggest asset in this world. Not money. Time is everything. And you could be using the extra time to work on business and marketing strategy, not spending this time talking with freelancers to communicate simple things.
In contrast, conveying your idea in person takes a lot less time and importantly you’re able to show your passion, equally, able to see the development company’s passion in return for working with you. You want synergy in the team, even though they’re just your developer. You want someone that believes in you, or at the very least, believes in the same things you believe in.
You get these feelings in person, not through a computer a screen. So for sure, conveying your idea can be difficult with a freelancer and consequently, working with an agency that you can meet face to face with wins the battle here on the first point of communication.
#2. General updates on progress. Again I must make this clear that I’m only reflecting on my experiences with freelancers, and I’m sure not all of them are like this. But whenever I’ve worked with freelancers, I’m the one chasing them up asking for progress on my project. Where are we up to? What’s coming up next? Is there anything you need from me?
Freelancers aren’t project managers, and I learnt that almost immediately when working with them. Their focus is purely on development, so it can be very difficult to get plans, or timelines out of them that accurately reflect the project from start to finish. I say accurately because again, in my experience, things that are said to take two days often taken a week.
This lack of accuracy combined with a lack of communication on valuable information was very stressful for me personally, and I don’t wish anyone to go through the same. On the other hand, with agencies, you generally are given a project manager for developing your app who liaises with the developer and team on your behalf.
Their job is to make sure you’re kept completely in the loop, responsible for making sure deadlines are met, and importantly that your needs are met. Any questions you have, you have that single point of contact. That’s something where agencies truly have a benefit over freelancers. It’s invaluable and again saves you time. So point number two on communication, along with point number one, gives communication to agencies.
BY THE WAY, just on the topic of communication, and I won’t count this against all freelancers but it’s just something I have to mention: Common sense. Again I understand this point is very limited to a select number of freelancers so I won’t delve into it too much and I don’t expect you to apply this to every freelancer you meet.
But some freelancers, where there is a language barrier in particular, can take things very literally. What do I mean by this? Let’s take an example. Let’s say you’ve built an app and there’s a bit of white space on one screen. If I tell them to insert an image on that area, they’ll do it. No problem with that task.
But there’s no common sense involved. They would put the image in, and it’ll be pixelated, huge, and out of place and line of the whole app. It becomes really frustrating when you’re having to continuously tell them “Use your judgement. Make this tiny bit smaller. Move that to the left so you’re not covering the text”.
This can be extremely frustrating and it can take up SO MUCH TIME. I’m going to repeat it again because it’s important: Time is your best resource and you don’t want to be wasting it on freelance devs telling them to use common sense. But this doesn’t apply to all freelancers. Just something to be aware of in my experience.
Let’s recap just a moment. At the moment, on the five key points, freelancers are on ONE point with price and agencies are on one point with communication. next up, TEAM.
Number 3. Team. Working with an app agency almost certainly guarantees that you’ll have a team of people working on your app. A typical team would include a UI/UX designer, a project manager, a frontend developer, each for iOS and Android, and a backend developer. A freelancer online mostly consists of one person, the majority of the time.
As you might already have guessed, it is much more advantageous to work with a team than with a single person who could do the design and development. Why? You want experts in each area of your apps production. For example, let’s say you had an expert designer and you had an expert developer.
The two combined would make your app look great and perform great too. But if you were an agency who was an incredible developer, but weak in design, because his skill-set lies in development as he’s an expert there, then you’ll have an app that performs great but aesthetically isn’t the most pleasing.
In words of app expert Chad Mureta, “you can have the best code in the world but if your graphics looks bad, people will be less likely to give your app a chance.” Obviously the ideal situation would be to have a freelancer who can both design and develop apps to an incredibly high standard, but this is rare. As a result, agencies would have to win on this point!
Number 4 – Quality. Quality is a difficult topic to discuss because every agency and freelancer is different so I’m going to speak purely on my experience here. Code that I have had developed from freelancers online has tended to be of a low quality. In contrast, code I have had developed from agencies has tended to be of high quality.
What does this mean? Well if you have code developed to a low quality, it usually means shortcuts have been taken, code has been copied and pasted from past apps developed containing elements which aren’t needed for your app, templates have been used amongst more.
All of this can lead to a number of problems, such as the app running to a low performance i.e. slow, the app crashing a number of times for users, and the app being coded in such a way that it means you can’t add more features to it without rewriting the code first. This can take up more time and resources. These are all things that we want to avoid. So this is purely subjective, but agencies win on this point for me.
Finally technical guidance. There are a lot of things to understand when it comes to developing an app. A lot of technical jargon to understand. And if this is your first time creating software let alone an app, it’s an advantage to have a source of education. In my experience, development agencies that I’ve worked with haven’t provided me with this and the freelancers I’ve worked with have.
Because you’re working directly with the developer, you can ask them technical questions there and then. Judging by their responsiveness that is and if they are great in getting back to you. But as I said, in my experience, the project managers that I’ve worked with haven’t had a great deal, nor a working knowledge, of technical information related to app projects.
They were often just there to facilitate the app project and make sure it goes smooth. In contrast, because when working with freelancers you often are working with the developer directly, you can ask them to explain certain things to you which is invaluable in the long run. Why?
Because it can help shape your decisions when developing certain features for your app. Plus any extra knowledge in the industry is gold. Learn from the experts because they’re experts for a reason. SO for this point I have to give it to the freelancers.
So THAT’s the 5 key points covered.
But before I give my personal final verdict though, there’s a couple of things that I want to mention and one relates to my epic pun I mentioned earlier. Although freelancers win on price, the low quality of code could mean it could actually end up being more expensive in the long-run because you may have to re-code the whole thing again in order to facilitate the app being scalable i.e. adding more features or stabilising the app to account for more and more users.
Secondly, customer service should not be underestimated by any means. I can’t tell how much value good customer service could add to the production of your app. If it means you have to pay more for better customer service, I would do it. Because with that customer service brings a good relationship, and with a good relationship 9 times out 10 yields you an excellent product. Value it highly.
SO NOW LET’S LOOK AT WHO WINS!
The winner with 3 points to 2 is AGENCIES! Remember though this is subjective and purely based on my own experiences.
But on the points I mentioned above, agencies win. As a message from me personally to you in complete honesty from me to you, I also recommended going for agencies to develop your app, particularly if you’re building an app for the first time.
This is just because I think that although you’ll be paying a higher price, it’ll serve you better in the long run high quality code, great customer service, a team of people working on your project and importantly, give you a whole bunch of time that you wouldn’t otherwise have if you worked with a freelancer that you can utilise to work on a business plan, marketing plan and other intimate details you need to do in order to ensure your app is a business and succeeds.
If after that you feel you are comfortable with all-things app related and have the technical expertise required to manage your own project but low on budget, perhaps consider a freelancer then.
I hope this helps! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Speak soon!