The True Cost of Hiring a Web Developer

I’ve noticed some confusion or perhaps inexperience from many of my prospective clients who do not understand the true cost of hiring a competent web developer.

If you want to do web development on the cheap, there are a large range of SaaS apps and offshore developers that can help you. But, if you want quality and true customisation, you’ll have to invest in someone who you can trust, a professional with a reputation and track-record of good work.

Disclaimer: If you’re looking for cheap-as-chips web development, unfortunately I can not help you. As much as my freelance rates are competitive, I do not compete on price with offshore workers who will charge as little as a few dollars an hour. However, if you’re serious about hiring a professional, please read on and learn more about the true cost of hiring a web developer.

Demand for Web Developers is Hot, Hot, Hot!

A reply from a recruiter


As economic value continues to be increasingly captured by software-focused businesses, the majority of the western world has seen demand for software developers continue to outstrip supply.

Let me assure you that in this job market, good developers aren’t struggling to find work. I know that in my experience, each time I decided to look for a full-time contract, I’ve gotten interviews within a few days and even now that I’ve stopped looking (for the time being), I still get contacted directly by recruiters and employers pretty regularly.

I don’t say this to be braggadocios. I’ve had a previous career in Accounting where, like most undergraduates, I had to constantly compete and persist for jobs. I can assure you that I didn’t have recruiters contacting me every week – far from it, in fact.

At the top accounting firms, each vacation internship opening attracts thousands of applicants. However, the software development employment market does not have that level of supply. I’ve heard stories of a small businesses that have advertised for weeks for a developer job and received less than 5 applications!

Good Web Developers aren’t cheap

An exert for a  job ad that I was referred to on

Every now and then, I have a good laugh at some of the job ads I see for hiring developers.

The snippet to the left is from an ad looking for an ‘exceptionally talented’ front-end web developer who is not only ‘an excellent communicator’ but has skills and experience in “Angular, Node.js, React.js & ASP.NET C#”.

I not sure why a front-end developer role would required to know so much back-end however, I was more confused by the salary they were offering; $45,000 – $60,000 AUD based on experience. This seems considerably low for someone I would consider an ‘exceptionally talented’ Front-end Developer. A developer with these skills, I’m sure, would not work for under 6 figures without stock options or some other benefits.

It’s not just the salaries on offer either.

Every so often I get enquiries from small business owners who understand they want some professional help with their website. Of course, I’m always willing to help but nowadays, I’m becoming more wary of prospective clients that are likely to be time wasters. Even though it costs less to hire me than it does to hire an agency, I find that my services are still out of many people’s budgets. This is perhaps my own fault, as I often like to learn more about the client’s requirements before quoting a price and in future, a ball-park figure up front could help prevent a consultation from dragging out.

Understanding your need to hire

I believe the issue of budgeting for web development goes hand-in-hand with the issue of understanding your requirements. In big business, you may have a business analyst or person with a similar role to help determine this for you but as a small business owner, you could be left in the lurch. This is a big topic that I will most likely discuss in future articles but for now, here are some broad categories that could help you determine your cost.

At the lowest end of the scale, you might be looking for basic content-based website to display information about your business. If you have virtually no money to spend, you should probably look at using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product such as Square Space. These services incorporate web hosting and charge a small monthly fee. They may have a API for developers to use (a way for developers to edit the programming of your website) but for the most part, your customisation options are limited. On the other hand, if you have a budget, you can expect to pay a minimum of $1,000 AUD to get an equivalent website up and running on something likeWordPress. Keep in mind, this is a bare minimum and the cost will rise as you include aspects such as design, SEO, maintenance, eCommerce and more.

At the other end of the scale are websites (or perhaps more appropriately named, Web Apps) that require significant programming. Generally, as a rule of thumb, If a certain type of application is highly common, an off-the-shelf or SaaS product should be available. If what you’re hoping to make is completely new, however, you will have to find an individual or team to build it out from the ground up. For example, the rise of AirBnB has seen collaborative consumption/sharing marketplace websites pop up offering anything from surfboard sharing to pet minding. Due to the popularity of this type of application, a SaaS product called ShareTribe now exists which my#SWBNE15 team used to launch our startup over a weekend with no programming.

Of course, if your truly serious about building a startup, you will have to have your own custom code base at some point. This is where the cost may sky rocket. The top startups in Silicon Valley, for example, attract hundreds of millions of dollars of capital to not only market but also develop their product. I’m not saying you will need anywhere in the millions for your own project but it’s important to understand that the cost is likely to rise in relation to the scale and level of complexity of it.

You may have to build it yourself

There’s an inside joke in the Startup world about the entrepreneur who has a seemingly brilliant idea for startup but say they need a ‘technical co-founder’ to build the app. I know this because I was once that person and so were some of my friends who have gone on to launch their own startup. What we quickly realised is that ideas are abundant but execution is key and that nobody was likely to work with us unless we brought equal value to the business. What most of us decided was to learn the skills to start building our projects ourselves.

I mention the inside joke of the non-technical founder to demonstrate that whether you are building a new app or a simple website you need one of two things; the money to hire a proper web developer or the skills to get started on your project by yourself. If you have a lot of time on your hands but no money, I strongly suggest you head to an online learning platform like CodeAcademy or Lynda and start learning. But, if like most people in business, you’re busy handling the responsibilities of your own role, you’ll need to invest some money into professional help.

Until next time,

Christopher R Dodd

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