What Are You Paying For When You Hire a Developer?

Usually folks hire someone else for a task for one of two reasons:

They are either short on time or skill. In particular, when it comes to creative works like design, development, writing, marketing, et al., it means you’re also paying for a unique perspective that informs and elevates the skill at hand. The professional you are looking to hire has something you don’t and you want a piece of it because it will improve your business, your home–your life, in some way.

Some of this may seem simple to an outsider, but it’s a professional’s job to make whatever they are doing look easy–a surprisingly uncomplicated task when interacting with someone who isn’t well-informed about what the work actually entails. If you are looking at all this going, “Hmmm, it can’t be that hard,” you might be wondering why the hell a developer’s rate is so much more than you anticipated.

If it was so simple, we wouldn’t have to hire anyone. We’d handle it ourselves.

There are so many skills that are easy to learn on a surface level; anyone can buy a ukulele on Amazon and learn to play a few simple songs the first day it arrives, but that doesn’t mean they can suddenly compose a complex piece. You are hiring for the time it took to cultivate that skill and for the brain that fuels it.

[People] think freelancing is not a real job and so they think freelancers will work for less.
 Paying for a good developer will have a better result and cost less in the end, because you’re less likely to have mistakes that need fixing or, in a worst case scenario, needing to hire someone else, adding to the total cost.

-Ryan Fugate

We get a lot less of this these days, but it runs rampant in the freelance community: Big dreams, non-existent budgets, and bad attitudes.

The reason the cost is $X is because of the thousands hours of experience, learning, conferences, testing–all of that stuff that make someone an expert. 

Brad Parbs

I agree with Cameron that it is on both professional and client to create a harmonious interaction; at least in my experience with WDS, so many people who reach out to us are gracious, kind, and understanding. They know that we do good (dare I say, GREAT) work and that we are a business; WDS provides a livelihood to nearly forty people (and their families) who are passionate, engaged, and committed to their crafts. But occasionally we run into this too–and much of our team is comprised of former freelancers, so they are all too familiar with this issue.

The thing that people forget…is that they aren’t purchasing a product. They aren’t going to Web King and saying “give me a website, medium rare, with a side order of SEO.” They are paying for a service provided by a professional with years of experience in the field. They are paying for that experience. Sure, they could hire a college grad or the kid down the street who plays Minecraft all day and they’ll do it for 50 bucks, but they don’t have the experience that you have and that needs to be the critical selling point when you are freelancing. You aren’t buying me; you’re paying to use my brain and everything that’s inside of it. 

Chris Reynolds

It’s completely fair to operate on a budget–I mean, hell, aren’t we all? But keeping your expectations adjustable, especially if you aren’t particularly well-versed in the skill that you’re looking to hire for, is vital.

Everybody, client and developer, is always looking out for their own best interests. As developers, and especially as freelance developers, we need to put a value on our time and work because we need to pay our bills and live our lives. As a client, they have an idea of the value of what they want as a final product. The problem is marrying those two concepts–that developers are worth X and the client only wants to spend Y.

The client doesn’t typically know the inner-workings of every part of a website or how everything is built or comes together. If they did, they’d build the site themselves. The trick is to educate the client on why things take this many hours, or why my time is worth this much money per hour in a way that coincides with the endgoal. If the client wants an incredibly dynamic website but has a small budget, we need to educate them on why we can’t do all one hundred things they want within their budget and have an open discussion about why we can only do fifty of the things they want. It’s all about conversation and education.

Corey Collins

If you love someone’s work and it’s beyond your budget, it’s totally reasonable to be disappointed.

And the professional in question may very much love their work, but it is still work. Asking to be compensated for doing work you love is not a diminishment of the joy that is found in it. It is not an expression of insincerity. It’s asking for what they do and for who they have worked to become to be valued–by the very folks who need them (and who they need as well!).

For someone that says “It should be easy…” my response is always, “You’re not paying me to just press buttons, you’re paying me to know WHICH buttons to press.” 

Jay Wood

We’ve all been in that place where we are staring down a potential bill that we absolutely do not want (or maybe simply can’t) afford to pay. It sucks, and it can be easy to take that disappointment out on others. Just remember: We’re all out here trying to survive (and thrive).

When you’re hiring a developer (or a designer, or a writer, or a consultant, or whatever), you’re hiring them for so much more than the completion of a task list. You’re hiring them for their expertise, knowhow, and the time and energy spent into obtaining it. When you’re paying for a developer, you’re paying for their knowhow–so they can build you something incredible that does your business justice.



4 thoughts on “What Are You Paying For When You Hire a Developer?

  1. I think the tone of this article is somewhat defensive. Perhaps there is good reason for that, I don’t know. Perhaps the web developer is often attacked by the client and is forced to defend their fees and the quality of their experiences. Again, I don’t know.
    But must it always be that way? I don’t think so. It should be more of a partnership than an adversarial relationship. It is the web developer’s best interests to have the client succeed, and in the client’s best interests to ensure the developer understands the uniqueness of the client’s business. If they take the time to educate each other, open-minded, both will succeed – with the client the ultimate winner.

    1. Hi Stephen!

      Thank you for the feedback! I agree that the relationship between clients and developments should be a partnership–and in fact, speak directly to this in the post:

      I agree with Cameron that it is on both professional and client to create a harmonious interaction; at least in my experience with WDS, so many people who reach out to us are gracious, kind, and understanding. They know that we do good (dare I say, GREAT) work and that we are a business; WDS provides a livelihood to nearly forty people (and their families) who are passionate, engaged, and committed to their crafts. But occasionally we run into this too–and much of our team is comprised of former freelancers, so they are all too familiar with this issue.

      And also touch on why this post exists–because it is a common conversation, particularly in the freelance world, and development and design is often undervalued–or it’s simply misunderstood as to why rates are what they are.

      Completely agreed with educating and understanding each other, and I think if you reread the quotes from above, particularly Corey’s, you’ll see that we take this approach as well–that we’re both balancing our needs and all looking to get the most out of our interactions with each other. 🙂

  2. From the perspective of a freelance developer this article is fantastic and true. My best clients never question my pricing/rates. Those who do question my rates throw a major red flag that usually prevents me from working with them further.

    I work on Codeable where developers estimates are averaged together and that’s the price the client sees. It’s always entertaining when 3 developers all agree on a price but the client insists our estimates are way too high. We try to be sensitive to budgets but the bottom line is we are professionals and didn’t become professionals overnight. It took years of experience, education and reputation building which costs money.

    As freelancers we must pay our own taxes, fee’s to those who sent us the client/work, and expenses of running our own business. In terms of hourly rates you can see how even a $60/hr. rate quickly gets eaten up and why it’s becoming not so strange of of thing to have high quality developers charging $100+ per hour with fantastic clients fighting over the limited time these professional freelance developers have to offer in a given day/week/month/year. “Don’t make him too busy to work with me” was one of my most recent client reviews where I charged $90hr.+ and so my advice to other freelancers and clients is that this street goes both ways. If you question why an estimate is so high the developer is going to question your ability to be a great client to work for. Great developers are in high demand, so don’t give them a reason to say no to your project by starting off on the wrong foot questioning their pricing it won’t help get your task/project moving.

    If an estimate is way higher than your budget my best advice is to work with the developer to limit your scope of work so that it fits within your budget. Break the work up into parts/phases, pay the developer to help you do this.

  3. I agree with Raleigh Leslie, being a developer is not easy. There’s no shortcut and it takes a lot of understanding and skill to be a good developer. When you are hiring a developer, consider how complex the job or project to be done. The developers will then give their inputs and of course on how much they would charge you in doing the job done. I work at SEMcentric, and I’m one of the skilled workers for WordPress Management and support. In my opinion, you should weigh the level of the project to see if the price and the scope of work are balanced in order for the project to move. You are paying for the skill of the developer to finish and get the job done for you.

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