Choosing Between a Web Development Company or a Freelance Developer

The primary consideration in choosing a development company versus a freelance web developer is the cost of your investment versus the risks associated with paying for such a service. It is important to maximize your investment to its fullest, so be sure to take adequate time in considering all of the pros and cons that we've outlined below.
As we've looked into weighing the pros and cons of both, the first conclusion that we have come to is that a development company immediately stands out as having far more resources to draw from than a one person or small team-based freelance development operation. While a freelancer might be extremely experienced in software, web design, and development, he or she still only has one brain. With a much larger software and development company, they have the combined brain power of numerous experienced professionals. A development company will likely also have access to more advanced development software and technology, as a freelancer would be hard-pressed to match the budget that a larger company has to invest in the necessary tools needed to properly develop modern websites and software programs. In this category, we felt that the larger company came out on top over the freelancer.
When it comes to flexibility, we've rated this as a draw between a larger web development company versus a freelance operation. While a larger company will have far more overall time to dedicate to our project, we feel that you can sometimes get lost in the shuffle between different employees that are handling your project. So in other words, this is where a larger company will start to feel less personal or dedicated. It is not uncommon for up to six different employees to work on a single project. With a freelancer, they will have far fewer time resources to dedicate to you, however, you will only be working with the same person or persons on any given project. While freelancers may be less flexible with the time they can offer you, you will develop a far more personalized relationship with them. This means that communication, assuming you get along with the freelancer, will seem a bit more fluid and dedicated, giving you an edge when discussing the finer details of the project that they are commissioned to build. In this category, we call it a draw.
One of the most important aspects of considering whether to choose a freelance versus a larger development company is reliability. In this category, we felt that larger web development companies came out on top of freelance web developers. Unfortunately, I cannot count the number of times I have hired a freelance developer to complete a project, only to have them quit midway through the project. I've even experienced extreme cases where the freelance developer disappeared altogether never to be heard from again, taking my money and invested time out the door with them. While there are numerous reliable and reputable freelance developers out there, separating them from the unreliable ones can be hit and miss. A larger company isn't always going to be more reliable than a dedicated freelancer, however, after extensive experience in the past dealing with both, we felt that with a larger development company there is a much lesser chance they will not pull through with the completed project.
Legal liability and legal recourse are huge aspects of contracting anyone to create an expensive project for you. There can be numerous legal risks associated with hiring a web developer, whether it be having a shining idea stolen, not completing a project to specifications, copyright issues, not completing a project at all, or outright scamming you and taking your money. In all of these potentially sour outcomes, we have found that it is much easier to take necessary legal action against a larger web development company. It can be very difficult to take legal action against a small or solo freelance development operation. They have much less to cough up in awarded damages should they do something to warrant legal action against them. Freelancers can also be extremely difficult or even impossible to track down to even file a lawsuit against them, especially if they are located overseas or are using fake, disposable, or inaccurate contact information. In this very important category, web development companies came out way on top of freelance web developers.
As we dig through more pros and cons, the topic of ongoing customer support kept popping up. With a large web design agency, it is almost a guarantee that you will have much more dedicated customer support. This could include weekend support, security updates, and extensive post-project support. With a freelance web designer, you are only likely to receive customer support Monday through Friday, and even then it won't be fully dedicated as the time resources needed are just not available. With the important issue of post-project support, a freelancer will need to move on to other projects, which means that in all likelihood they will have little to no time to answer important questions that you might have after your project has been completed. You might even find yourself in a situation where you have to hire a second development company to service your project in the post-project period. In this category, again, the larger web design company comes out on top over the freelancer.
One category we discussed in our pursuit of who to hire, professionalism seemed to hit the table of considerations often. While it would seem that a larger company would excel in professionalism over a freelancer, we have found through past experiences that this isn't always the case. In fact, we felt that carefully selected freelancers usually seem as professional or more than larger companies, as it's usually their name and reputation on the line, thus they have more to lose. When dealing with larger companies we have found that often times you will only know a person by their first name. Employees of larger companies definitely have much less to lose if they decide not to act or perform their duties professionally. While these larger company employees can still lose their jobs or be reprimanded, it's not as severe as potentially losing your entire freelance career over lack of professionalism. In what might sound surprising to any of you reading this, we actually gave the pros and cons edge to the freelancer in the area of professionalism.
Quality standards is another key issue we discussed in weighing more pros and cons. In this area we found freelancers and web development companies to hold relatively the same quality standards. Tying into earlier points we made about freelancers as they relate to professionalism, we feel that freelancers often times have the ability to produce the same level of quality standard as compared to a larger company. With freelancers, their career ultimately depends on the quality of the work they produce above and beyond anything else. While larger companies have more than adequate resources to produce quality work, no one's career reputation is on the line if they don't deliver on quality. Web development, like any other industry, is survival of the fittest, or in this case, survival of the person or entity that delivers quality work time and time again. In this area, we gave it a draw. While it would seem that a larger company has less to lose if they do not meet quality standards, there is always much more action and even legal recourse available to you should you need to force a company to deliver a project to a promised standard. With freelancers their whole career and livelihood are likely to rest upon the quality of the finished project they produce, however, there is less action or legal recourse at your disposal should they fail to deliver a quality project.
One often overlooked and very important issue we considered in our quest to find the right developer, is proper documentation and contracts. In this area, we found that larger development companies performed much better than freelance developers. When ordering a service from a large developer you will usually receive a receipt that lists the exact project specs, as well as all of the services you'll be paying for. As far as the contract is concerned, most large development companies employ an attorney or legal team to prepare their contract templates. With freelancers, however, you will likely get a receipt and some form of a contract, but it will likely be lacking in details, enforceable legal print, and overall professionalism. If a legal conflict does indeed arise at any point, then taking proper legal recourse can largely or completely depend on your receipt and what sort of contract you signed. We have had situations in the past where freelancers didn't even offer a contract at all for larger scale projects, prompting us to request one outright. When they got around to delivering one, it seemed terribly inadequate and lacking in outlining what recourse was available to use if a conflict should arise.
Weighing all of the pros and cons above when it comes to choosing a development company or a freelance developer, we have decided that it would be to our benefit to chose a development company to create the software and web development projects that we desire. Our total budget for these projects will be in the low five-figures, and for that reason, we will need an airtight contract that protects our investment should the developer not deliver the promised services. So in our specific case, the decision really hinges upon an enforceable legal contract, rather than quality standards or professionalism. There are many freelance developers out there that can produce excellent quality work, however, when your project costs get into five figures, it just doesn't seem like even an airtight or comprehensive contract with a small freelancer would even be enforceable. Even with the cheaper costs involved with hiring a freelance contractor, we felt that the risk just wasn't worth it should the project go south and a serious conflict arises.
While our final decision was to choose a large development company, we would likely lean towards choosing a freelancer if the total project budget costs were in the low to mid four-figure price range. We feel that it is all about the balance between risk versus reward. We could stand to lose four-figures to a freelance project turned sour, however, it would be devastating to lose five-figure sums or higher to a freelance developer that fails to do the job they promised.
While we are freelancers ourselves in some regards, we would never want to discourage anyone from using a freelance developer for a larger scale project. If we were to go that route we would likely attempt to structure such a deal around an escrow type of payment that involved a minimal amount put down as an initial payment, and then later paying off the balance owed once the final completed project and services were delivered. So in other words, there are still deal structuring methods that would create a safe environment to hire a freelance developer for a five-figure project, however, not all of them would agree to such strict deal structuring. Thus, it would more time to consume to find the appropriate freelancer. If you don't have the time necessary to locate one willing to structure a safe deal with you, then it is likely best to just pick a larger development company that will be far less risky to deal with.