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 –
Cons –
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 –
Cons – 
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 –
Cons –
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 –

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 –

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...

What do you think?

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