Who is Best to Hire to Build a Small Business Website?


No business can grow without investing in its future. A high-quality, professional website is one of the investments to help a business grow. It can boost business performance on all metrics. It can drive improvements in marketing, sales and retention. As with all investments, there is no reward from a website without risk.

Deciding who builds a website is critical for its success. Many business owners hire "cowboys" who promise the world and deliver mediocre websites. For small businesses with a limited budget, that can be devastating.

Today, I want to help you discern who can help your business grow and who only wants to take your money. From this article, I want you to know how to find the best option to build your small business's website.

Choosing the right website service for a small business or startup

Small businesses and startups are uncertain places. Smart decisions are the difference between success and failure. To help you with this, let's examine the factors to consider when hiring for your website.

  • Budget is always important. For businesses with limited budgets, consider the return on your investment. Websites that create income streams are worth investing more in. Do understand when hiring quality Agencies and Freelancers, they charge a higher fee.
  • Project scoping helps you understand your website needs and who you can hire to meet those needs. For example, if you sell products through your website, consider an e-commerce specialist. Or, if you want to get customers through Search, consider someone with SEO expertise.
  • The project timeline is important when considering who to hire. Understand that a quality website built quickly will cost more than if it took longer. You must choose two out of speed, quality and cost efficiency. You can never have three.
  • Long-term support helps keep your website healthy over time. Beyond maintenance, there is room for website growth and evolution alongside your business. When you hire someone to build your website, consider that you may be hiring for the long term. A website is not a one-and-done project. Look to hire someone who wants to see your business grow. That person will actively seek ways to make that happen through your website.

What options are there for hiring someone to build a small business website?

This article will ignore DIY website builders. I want to focus on the decision to hire someone rather than build your website yourself. The main options when hiring are Agencies and Freelancers.

I have worked in Agencies and as a Freelancer. Based on my experience and insight, let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

What are the advantages of hiring an Agency over a Freelancer?

  • Experience and expertise come baked into hiring an agency. They hire experts across all fields who collaborate to create top-quality websites. They hire people to fill knowledge gaps in their team and become more able to cater to your needs.
  • Team collaboration allows Agencies to spread the load of production. Each team member focuses on delivering their part to its highest possible quality. They then assemble the parts to create a high-quality finished product.
  • Cash resources are usually deeper with Agencies. Agencies with large cash reserves can withstand long periods without income. For longer projects, they can wait longer for final payments.
  • Dedicated project management helps Agencies increase efficiency. It ensures projects remain on schedule and within budget. Project Managers manage production and client expectations to keep everything running smoothly.

What are the downsides of hiring an Agency over a Freelancer?

  • Costs when hiring Agencies are always much higher than Freelancers. Agencies have more expensive overheads. They must cover such costs as labour and rent. To do this, they charge higher prices.
  • Slow completion of projects. Agencies are less time efficient as they have more layers of approval. Orchestrating large production teams is not easy and can slow projects down.
  • Less personal investment. Agencies represent teams of people that may change over time. This turnover of people means less interest in the progress of the business and its website.

What are the advantages of hiring a Freelancer over an Agency?

  • Cost efficiency from hiring one person rather than a whole company. Freelancers are more affordable than Agencies.
  • Flexible working and adaptability means Freelancers can easily adjust to changing project environments.
  • Direct communication with Freelancers makes feedback and approval during a project much more efficient. Agencies have many levels of communication that lead to 'Chinese whispers'. The more levels of communication, the greater the risk of misinterpretation.
  • More personal investment from Freelancers. They build their business on relationships and referrals. They will engage with you over a long period and actively look for ways to grow your business.

What are the downsides of hiring a Freelancer over an Agency?

  • Expertise varies from Freelancer to Freelancer. Agencies can hire people to fill knowledge gaps. Freelancers must learn new skills to fill knowledge gaps.
  • Limited resources can hinder Freelancers with smaller cash reserves. They need regular income to stay in business. They may struggle without ongoing payments on long projects.
  • Scalability issues as project requirements increase. Freelancers may struggle to manage an ever-increasing workload. As new requirements arise, they may lack the required skills.

How to vet a Freelancer to build a small business website

I know from interactions with my clients that choosing a Freelancer can feel more risky than an Agency. I can understand why.

Freelancers don't have a diverse team of people ready to tackle any need you have. They also tend to have a smaller roster of clients. Fewer clients means fewer success stories. Despite all this, I always recommend hiring Freelancers.

I am sure my recommendation doesn't shock you. I acknowledge my bias. For me, Freelancers represent a superior choice for small businesses. Their cost-efficiency, flexibility and personal investment in the project make them invaluable.

With that said, not all Freelancers are equal. "Cowboys" exist who only want your money and don't care about your business. I want to share how to discern between the "cowboys" and high-quality Freelancers.

  • Work history is one of the best ways to review potential Freelancers. Look through their portfolio. Avoid people who only list the names of previous clients. Instead, look for people who have case studies. Their case studies will give you an insight into how they collaborate with their clients. Compare how they work with how you work to see if they are a good fit.
  • Specialist or Generalist? Some Freelancers specialise in specific industries or business types. They will bring industry knowledge and know how to make a website like yours successful. Alternatively, Generalists offer insights from other sectors. These insights bring fresh ideas that can help you outperform your competitors.
  • Style and aesthetics are paramount. Especially when choosing a Web Designer. Look for someone who matches your taste. When I built Paul Cooney's website, I found it easy to design for him because we had similar tastes. When hiring a bespoke Web Designer, an aesthetic match will help you create a website you love.
  • Client testimonials give you insight into how they have helped businesses before. A Freelancer with positive reviews is a good choice. Ask people in your network if they have recommendations. Alternatively, find reviews on Google Business, LinkedIn, or their job market profile.
  • Their technical skillset should always match your project requirements. A good Freelancer will be upfront about what they can do and the skills they have. If you need SEO, hire someone who knows SEO. If you need a 3D website, hire a 3D expert.
  • Talk to them. A good Freelancer chooses projects that are right for them. When you interview them, they are likely interviewing you too. They are likely a good choice if they seem genuinely interested in your business and goals. They're not worth hiring if they only want you to sign on the dotted line and give you a mediocre template website.

How to ensure quality when hiring a Freelancer

I know many people who hired bad Freelancers. They paid for websites that either didn't work or felt embarrassed to own. I want to share a few tips to help you avoid this and hire a great Freelancer.

  • Interview them and see what they are like. Interview candidates face-to-face or over Zoom. Try to use a medium where you can have a long conversation. Check their skills and expertise. Check if their character would work well with you.
  • Research them and check their credentials. Visit their website and social profiles to check their previous work and skill set. Wherever you find them, see if they have reviews from previous clients. See if their portfolio translates well to your project.
  • Set clear deliverables and payment structures. Ensure that you only pay for quality work that meets your specifications. Being explicit about the deliverables and payment structure will deter the "cowboys". If they know you don't accept mediocrity, they won't try to sell it to you.
  • Trial projects can help you gauge the quality of their work before paying lots of money. A small paid website project can provide great insight without emptying your budget. Small tasks like designing a holding page can help you vet their process and skill level.

Where to find Freelancers or Agencies to build a small business website?

Your first port of call should be Google. Search 'website designer near me' or 'freelance web developer near me'. The results provide a list of local Freelancers and Agencies to build your website.

Google gives you an insight into some candidates. Appearing first in Google does not happen by accident. The top results know how to take advantage of SEO. They can replicate that process to help your website rank higher.

Use your network to find Freelancers and Agencies. Ask people you know who have websites if they can recommend someone. If they had a good experience, it's likely you will too.

Freelance job markets can help you find Freelancers. Advertise your project on websites like Upwork and Fiverr. Then, Freelancers will pitch their services to you. Be wary and do your due diligence here. Don't go for what's cheap. Keep in mind the principles from earlier to hire a quality Freelancer.

Conclusion: I am not as biased as you might expect

I am a Freelancer. My bias towards hiring Freelancers is obvious.

That said, Freelancers are not always the best choice. Agencies can offer a lot of services beyond websites. Hiring an Agency can prevent you from having to hire multiple Freelancers.

In my Freelance service, I love to get to know the business and its owner. I want to feel that I have a stake in their business. I want to see my clients grow. As such, I always give my best and am choosey about who I work with.

If I were hiring someone to build my website, I would choose a Freelancer over an Agency. The cost savings and the Freelancer's personal investment make it a no-brainer.

I'll leave your choice up to you.