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Article · 17 April 2024

Comparing website builders, freelancers, web agencies, and in-house teams

There are multiple options for creating a website, but to choose the right one for you, you need to compare apples with apples — and do so comprehensively.

Comparing website builders, freelancers, web agencies, and in-house teams

Image credit: Entle x Midjourney

When it comes to catering for your website needs, you have multiple options. Do-it-yourself website builders like Wix and SquareSpace are widely available, it's easier than ever to get access to good freelancers via networks like Upwork, and you can add excellent strategists, designers, developers, and copywriters to your team as full-time employees.

For whom, then, is a web agency a good option? To help you frame this decision, we've drawn on our and our clients' experience to compare common options and highlight key considerations.

What factors you need to consider

When it comes to choosing the type of product or service you need to fulfil your website needs, you need you need to take the following into account:

  1. Expertise: what can the tool, person, or agency help you with? Can they deliver website strategy, design, development, copywriting, and reporting, i.e. the full spectrum of services you'll need to launch your website?
  2. Direct cost: what do you pay to get access to the tool or person/agency?
  3. Indirect cost: what are the hidden costs in choosing a tool, person, or agency?
  4. Lock-in: How reversible is your decision, in case things go wrong?
  5. Risk: what are the other key uncertainties that can harm your organisation?
  6. Ongoing support: can your chosen option support you long-term? Is it sustainable?
  7. Fit: all things considered, for what stage of organisation is a given option a good fit?

Comparing your options for creating a website

What solution is most appropriate for you depends on your needs, size, budget, and in-house capabilities. We've mapped this out as follows:

  Website builder Freelancer Web agency Full-time employee
Example Wix or SquareSpace Developer from Upwork Entle In-house developer
Expertise None; it's DIY. You need strategy and execution expertise. Limited to one domain, e.g.  development. You need different freelancers for different tasks, incl. a strategist to help you plan. End-to-end execution, i.e. design, development, and copywriting. Few can help you with strategy. Limited to one domain, e.g. design. You need to appoint different employees for different tasks, including for strategy.
Direct cost Very low; normally nominal monthly fee only. Costs are transparent. Low for each freelancer, but it adds up if you need multiple freelancers. Costs can be opaque if billed hourly and you're unsure of the duration. Medium to high. A good agency will be transparent about their once-off and ongoing costs. Very high. You need to pay salaries, benefits, etc. for one or more experts. Cost is transparent if clear cost to company (CTC) is defined in contracts.
Indirect cost High, because DIY is time-consuming. One of your team members will likely need to spend significant time using the tool, i.e. the indirect cost is that person's salary. High. You or a team member will need to project manage the freelancers. If there is any misalignment, costs can quickly spiral. Low. You don't need expertise. A good agency will do project management for you as well. Very high. Hiring is time-intensive and the employees will need onboarding, equipment, office space, and more.
Lock-in High. If you switch to a different tool, you'll likely need to rebuild from scratch. Low, if the freelancers use open technologies. Low to High. Low if the agency works with open technologies,  high if they use fully proprietary tooling. Good agencies will use a combination. Very high. Depending on your jurisdiction, retrenching or asking employees to leave can be long, difficult, and expensive.
Risk Low financial risk in using the tool, but if your team member who used the tool leaves or becomes unavailable without proper change management, there is significant risk. Since your team of freelancers may not be aligned, there is risk of mismatches and budgetary/timeline overruns. If freelancers suddenly become unavailable, there is significant risk. Low technical and other risk, if you use a good agency. High risk. Finding great people is hard. If the employee turns out not to be an expert or doesn't fit with your team, the sunk cost of hiring, onboarding, salary, etc. is significant.
Ongoing support None. It's fully DIY. Maybe. Many freelancers prefer to work on a project basis, so you'll need to find someone willing to maintain your website. Yes. Many web agencies offer ongoing retainers to maintain your website. Yes.
Best for... Early-stage startups validating an idea or small organisations on a very tight budget. Unlikely to be a good fit for larger organisations. Early-stage startups and small organisations. May not be appropriate for larger organisations unless you are experienced in working with freelancers. Funded startups and established organisations, especially if your website is mission-critical. Medium to large organisations with budget and infrastructure to appoint employees.

It is, of course, possible to combine your options. For example, you could hire a designer and then use freelancers to provide development and copywriting for your website project. Depending on your requirements, this could be a viable option, but in principle the same cost and risk as above applies. You also add the risk of different options not working well together and the management overhead of coordinating between them.

How to pick a specific agency

If you decide that a web agency is a good fit for your needs, how do you pick a specific agency? This is a whole discussion in itself. In fact, we built a free decision matrix to help you compare vendors according to what matters to you, to help you navigate this. In short, you need to evaluate their technology, processes, and infrastructure, in addition to the basics like considering an agency's skills and experience.

Looking for an experienced, end-to-end web agency? Speak to Entle.

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