“I’m ready to start building my app. Is it best to contract a freelancer or work with an agency?”

When you’re ready to start building your new app, you can either hire a developer or two, or you can hire an agency to take care of everything for you. Each approach has its advantages.

Developers

Pros and cons

If you contract a single developer or a couple of developers independently, you’ll probably come out cheaper than hiring an agency. Even a cheap agency is likely to come in at $10,000 or more to build an app with any complexity at all. You can get a decent developer for between $50 and $100 an hour. (You can certainly find even cheaper developers, but I would be wary of those.) If budget is your primary concern, you’re best off looking around for a developer you can trust. You might even consider finding a developer to join you as a co-founder to help offset the costs.

Hiring a single developer can have its downsides too. If your developer is sick or goes on vacation, there is no back-up unless you’ve arranged for it yourself. You’ll need to manage the project on your own to make sure progress is being made toward your milestones. Depending on your contract, you may need to pay your developer even if they can’t deliver on time or if the result isn’t exactly what you wanted.

Agencies

Pros and cons

As mentioned previously, agencies are almost always pricier than hiring a developer. They charge a premium on top of their developers’ rates to cover the costs of project management, among other activities. The up side is that you get to be more hands-off than you would contracting developers directly. You spec the project, and a project manager at the agency will take care of wrangling the developers and making sure deadlines are met. In fact, some agencies get weird about putting clients directly in touch with developers for fear the developer might leave and take clients with them. (Don’t work with these agencies. If they don’t trust their developers, why should you?)

Just because agencies are more expensive doesn’t mean they are the solution to all your problems. If you fire a bad developer and decide to try an agency instead, you’ll have the same problems if you end up hiring a bad agency… except you’ll likely have lost more money. Communication can be harder because you’re communicating with a project manager who is then communicating with your developers. This amounts to a game of telephone where your requests are more likely to be misunderstood. The other problem is that, if you can hire an agency, you may be able to create a full-time developer position in your startup instead. This is another option worth serious consideration.

Which do I choose?

If you’re flush with cash but aren’t ready to hire a permanent in-house developer yet, try to find a good agency to work with. If you’re on a tight budget, get cozy with some freelance developers and hire one or two to get started building your app.