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Elevate your business decisions with jargon-free, fact based expert tips and advice

11 mins

Should I hire an in-house developer?

Portrait photo of company director Pete Fairburn.

Pete Fairburn

"Should I hire an in-house developer?"

That’s a question we get asked a lot. And it’s no surprise. Deciding whether to go in-house or outsource to a digital agency has many faces – some of which can be tricky to unmask. If you are debating whether to hire an in-house developer, we are here to help you make an informed decision.

We’ll discuss the whys, the pros, the cons, and the results to help you come to the best conclusion.

So, is hiring an in-house developer for you?

Let’s find out.

Why would you do it?

It can be attractive. With the economic downturn, it’s potentially cheaper than an agency (or a freelance contractor), and it gives the immediacy of an “always on” dedicated resource, available to implement anything at a moment's notice, rather than having to wait for an development studio's schedule.

That’s potentually great for those with lots of ambitious digital and website plans they want to execute quickly. Or so it might seem...

Results can be mixed

When it works out, it can be amazing and help propel your business rapidly.

But the results can be mixed, and a lot depends on the type of work you need. We’ve come across many instances where the results have been catastrophic financially, emotionally, or, in some cases, even business-threatening. It’s a high-risk strategy.

One business recently approached us having had a developer employed for over 12 months working on an e-commerce website with ERP integration. After over £50,000 of sunk costs and ongoing reassurance that everything was going well, the developer simply declared: “I’m sorry, I can’t make this work!” And that was it. He just got up and left. Nothing salvageable, nothing to show for it. £50K, 12 months, and a load of lost opportunity.

And they are by no means alone. Another business recently had a critical project left in limbo at around 50% complete as the sole developer on it had to attend to a family emergency. While not the developer’s fault – life happens – it shows the importance of not relying on a single point of failure. We all like and need holidays, and we all get sick from time to time. That’s why having strength in depth is a way to mitigate your business from exposure if your developer suddenly gets ill, takes a break, or finds another job.

Building Business Critical Websites

There is an old African proverb that says, "It takes a village to raise a child". In essence, it takes an entire community to provide for and interact positively with a child to make sure they grow up in a safe and healthy environment.

While a website isn’t a child, it is certainly true that it takes a team to build an effective, business-critical website, especially when more complex integrations and bespoke requirements are included.

Let’s rewind 20 years. Back then, a single individual could design, build, and then market a website and get some modicum of success – even for a larger business. But now, things are more complex. More specialist.

Now come back to 2022 – a digital era where it is untenable for one person to perform all those roles well. A good, well-run, small website project should always – at a bare minimum – include a Project Manager, Designer, and at least one developer. Most typically have more involved: Business Analysts, UX architects, digital marketing specialists, QA testers, front end and back end developers – the list goes on. All those individuals are there for good reason.

A general builder might be fine for managing a small extension, but would you really want them designing and building the Gherkin?

If your website is critical to your business, leaving it to one person is the business equivalent of walking a tightrope without a safety line: you might be alright, but why would you risk it?

It’s not always quicker

Defining and writing a useable specification against which to build a website and all the features you want is, in itself, an ongoing project. If you don’t define your goals properly and clearly, a developer will have no chance of implementing them the way you envisioned and could end up taking you down a dead end of sunk costs for a feature that isn’t quite right. It may have been quick, but have you got where you wanted to be?

If a developer comes up against an area that is not in their wheelhouse, they have a few choices: learn the skills (this takes time), use a plugin (this can cost money and has all sorts of other drawbacks), or hire additional resources to do it. Suddenly, things aren’t looking so rosy.

Recruiting a good web developer

What makes a good developer? What tech stack or platform is right for your business? Are they easy to work with? What equipment and software do they need or expect? What should you pay them? Do they have relevant demonstrable experience?

Those can be hard questions to answer, even for an experienced development agency. So don’t underestimate the challenge of finding a good developer.

It can be an expensive and draining process if you get it wrong.

When should you do it?

If your website is not business-critical, then the risk is lower. But in that case, you’re unlikely to consider hiring a developer.

We have seen businesses with very simple lead-generation websites in niche markets do well by hiring a developer to build in-house. If you have this sort of requirement and a good budget (decent developers are not cheap), then resourcing in-house might work for you.

When shouldn’t you do it?

Is your website business-critical? If so, hiring an in-house developer - at least as your sole development resourece - may be just too much of a risk. You will need to focus on an alternative solution – one that is low-risk and will help bring in the results you need.

Hybrid Alternatives

If you want the speed and responsiveness of an in-house developer but still don’t want to run the risks of hiring a jack of all trades, a good compromise may be using an established development agency to assist with recruitment and act in a consultative capacity.

Some agencies may even offer the provision of additional specialist resources and expertise to supplement your in-house team, which can also lead to good results.

We successfully run a number of projects in collaboration with in-house development teams and have helped businesses to recruit internal resource to supplement their development requirements.

If that is a challenge in your organisation and you'd like to discuss further, feel free to get in touch.

Need expert advice?

Let’s talk results

We would love to talk to you about your project


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