• Brad Kaiser
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DIY Website Builders vs. Hiring a Freelancer vs. Hiring an Agency

Those are the three main options for a new website. Each is a good choice for someone. But how do you know which is right for you?

First, let's look at the pros, cons, and cost for each of the options.

DIY Website Builder

A website builder is software that makes it easier for anybody to make a website themselves, without having to do any of the programming that used to be required.

Like everything, some website builders are very good and some are... well... pretty bad.

Most web hosting companies provide free tools to go along with their hosting service. And most of those aren't very good, so let's just all agree to stay away from them.

There are several website builders that are decent. A couple of the best are Wix and Squarespace. I'd recommend looking at those two first. 

Pros –
  • Affordable for almost anyone.
  • They make it easy for anyone to make a good looking website.
Cons –
  • You need to spend your time (or an employee's) learning the software and building the site. It's not dollars, but it is a cost.
  • Even though they are generally affordable, some of them will nickel and dime you with upcharges for every feature.
  • Although it's easy to make a good looking website, it's not guaranteed. It's also easy for things to go bad after you get in there and start messing around.
  • Aside from the templates, you're on your own. There is no personalized guidance or advice about what will work best for your specific business.
  • Although there are a lot of good looking templates, they are still just templates, and the number of choices is limited.
  • They only help with the technology and design parts of building a website – not with strategy or content.
Cost for Using a Website Builder:

A lot of plans will fall between $15 and $50 per month, depending on your needs. The upcharges for some advanced features on more complicated sites can push the monthly price over $100/month.

Freelance Web Designer

The good news, for business owners who don't have the time or inclination to deal with website builders, is that there are plenty of freelance web designers out there.

An experienced web designer will be able to explain the pros and cons of all your options, and guide you through the entire process. In 2019, the strategy, organization, and content are (or should be) a bigger part of a website project than the technology. A good web designer can help with all of that.

Pros –
  • Can guide you through the entire process.
  • Can help to make your vision a reality – you're not limited to 30-40 templates.
  • Because a web designer has built a lot more websites than you (probably), they know what works and what doesn't, and they can offer ideas that might not have occurred to you.
  • They'll have a handle on other important issues, like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and security.
  • They can be available for ongoing support even after the site launch.
Cons – 
  • I think, probably, the biggest difficulty with freelancers might be the actual act of hiring them. Finding them and asking the right questions to figure out if they will be a good fit.
Cost to Hire a Freelance Web Designer:

Many good web designers will start around $2,000 to $3,000 for a simple website, and go up from there depending on the project.

It varies, of course. Some designers in high demand might charge more, or you might find a good one that will do it for a little less.

If someone offers to build a website for less than $1,000, that should be a red flag that they're going to cut corners, or they're just not very good.

Hiring an Agency

I'm talking about an actual full-service creative agency with employees and walls. Maybe even a foosball table in the lobby. There are a lot of "virtual" agencies these days, which I would put together with freelancers for this discussion.

A full-service agency costs more money, but they also bring more to the table. They have more resources and more in-house talent.

Pros –
  • With a bigger budget and greater resources, an agency can make strategy a little more sophisticated, design a little more unique, content a little more polished, and SEO strategy a little deeper. 
  • An agency can sometimes deliver a bigger project more quickly.
Cons –
  • Might be too expensive for smaller businesses.
  • There will probably be several people involved in the project. The sales person you speak with initially may not be the same person you talk with once the project's under way.
Cost to Hire a Full-Service Agency:

Again, when looking at creative agencies there are a wide range of options. "Virtual agencies" might not (and shouldn't) cost too much more than a good freelancer.

A proper agency, carrying a staff of full-time employees with various specialties, will probably offer projects starting at $10,000 or more.

If you try hard, you can probably find some agencies that would be willing to take $3,000 from you. But be careful to understand what you'd be getting for that – it might not be much.

Choosing the Right Option for Your Business

It's obvious that people with very small budgets should look at DIY website builders and people with very large budgets will probably want a full-service agency. But there are a lot of people in the middle, and probably some overlap at the edges.

It's not always all about the money. But let's talk about the money.

When you hire a freelancer or agency to build a website, that's an investment that should pay for itself, and more.

When considering how much you should invest in your website, you need to consider the reasonable opportunities opened up by investing and the opportunity cost of not doing it.

When to Choose a DIY Website Builder

A small business or solo entrepreneur with revenue less than $100K/year, and limited capacity to do more than they're already doing, might have a hard time earning back a $2,000 investment. That $2K might be better invested in some other aspect of their business that will allow them to scale their capacity for the future.

Likewise, any business or organization where money is limited, and a better website isn't going to help to bring in more money, should also look at less expensive DIY options.

When to Choose a Freelance Web Designer

Now let's think about a business doing $1,000,000+ per year with a flawed website (or no website). Let's assume that business does have the capacity to do more – they just need to attract and close more customers.

In that situation, what if a better website could attract more shoppers and help to close them at a higher rate?

It's not unreasonable to think that the difference between a bad website and a good one could potentially add 10-20% to your bottom line.

But what if it was even just 4%? That's $40,000.

This is where opportunity cost comes in. On the front end, that business can save $2,000 by taking the DIY route. But, at some point, you have to factor in the missed opportunity – the $40,000+ left on the table by not investing in a more effective website. 

Another way to look at this one:

For businesses that pride themselves on service that makes every customer a repeat customer, you could think about the average lifetime value of a new customer.

Starbucks, for example, is said to have a customer lifetime value of over $14,000.

So, let's say you manage to attract a new customer and the first sale is relatively modest. But, you know that most new customers become repeat customers, and their lifetime value is in the thousands.

Looking at it that way, how many new customers would a better website need to attract to pay for itself?
Ten? Four? Maybe just one?

When to Choose a Full-Service Creative Agency

I often think about the difference between a good freelance designer and a good agency as an embodiment of the 80/20 principle.

A freelancer can easily do that first 20% of the work that will get you 80% of your result.

A good agency has the resources to push through and get you that last 20% of the result.

If we keep following this idea, you realize that you'd have to pay an agency to do five times the work in order to get the full 100% potential result.

This is a bad idea for some businesses. It's 100% the right choice for others.

Example: $1,000,000 Business:

Let's imagine $1M business is trying to choose between –

  • paying a freelancer $10,000 to build them a great website that will increase sales by 4%.
  • paying an agency $50,000 to build an even better website that will increase sales by 5%.

In this scenario, paying the agency would get more business, but the increased investment makes it a wash in the first year.

Paying the freelancer gets 80% of the result the agency would get, but costs just one-fifth as much, meaning they come out ahead by $30,000 in the first year.

Example: $10,000,000 Business:

Because a $10M business is at a more advanced point, they already have a good website and the next version needs to be bigger and better to increase sales. They need to choose between –

  • paying a freelancer $20,000 to build out a big website that will increase sales by 4%.
  • paying an agency $100,000 to build a more refined version of that big website that will increase sales by 5%.

This was a tipping point. Spending $20,000 to gain $400,000 in sales would leave them plus $380K.

But spending $100K to gain $500K would leave them plus $400K.


All of the examples above were oversimplified, and don't take into account any of a hundred important variables, including the cost of ongoing maintenance.

But you get the idea – the bigger the business, the more sense it makes to spend money for a bump in sales.

Oversimplified advice:

If your annual sales are...

  • less than $100,000, choose a DIY website builder.
  • between $100,000 and $500,000, you might consider a website builder, but you should also talk with a some good freelancers and weigh the advantages of spending a little more.
  • between $500K and $5M, start talking with freelancers. Find one you are comfortable with.
  • between $5M and $10M, freelancers still have a lot to offer you. Maybe a combination of freelancers with different specialties, or maybe a "virtual agency."
  • over $10M, you should probably talk with some nearby full-service agencies. You could talk with some experienced freelancers as well, just to know your options.
  • over $25M, you should be talking with agencies. But you should also probably have an in-house marketing manager or CMO who can sort through all the options. 

What do you think?

Do you have experience choosing between website builders, freelancers, and agencies? What factors did you consider?

Whats your take?

What do you think about this topic?
If you have questions, or if there is another topic you'd like to see me write about...