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PHP is one of the most ubiquitous programming languages on the web. It’s been around awhile, but it has the chops to stay mainstream. If your site is like a majority of those around the web running on Linux or WordPress, chances are you need a skilled PHP developer now and again to update and maintain your codebase. Or, if you’re starting from scratch, you might be considering the LAMP stack, putting this dynamic back-end language at the top of your list.

You wouldn’t be alone: 80% of sites around the web use PHP, and it has one of the largest developer talent pools to choose from.

So how does hiring a PHP developer fit into your project budget? What’s the best way to estimate how much it will cost to hire a PHP developer? In this article, we’ll look at a few cost factors to consider when drafting a project description and reviewing proposals from potential PHP developers.

PHP Developers at a Glance

PHP developers are often simply called “back-end engineers.” They’re able to take a client’s specifications and turn them into a workable, tangible product that runs on a web server. PHP developers code the functionality that brings an app to life. Collaborating with designers, they ensure that the front-end application is appealing to users. You may find that some PHP developers have front-end design skills, but often times, they work with UI and UX designers to create a user interface that’s engaging and supported by solid back-end functionality.

First Step: Defining Your PHP Needs

Before you can set a budget, you’ll need to understand your project requirements. Say you already have an existing app and are looking to add new features that require updated back-end support. That would be an entirely different scope than a few customizations to a WordPress site. Or, maybe you need a PHP developer for an extended engagement to make a series of updates. It all boils down to what you need, the experience required, and how quickly you need it done.

The key here is writing a clear, detailed project description that potential developers can review to decide if their skills and experience are a good match, or if the project is one that interests them. A veteran PHP developer can help you estimate a budget pretty easily, as long as you provide as much detail as you can. Developers bidding on your project can get a better idea of what needs to be done and estimate far more accurately.

Cost Factor #1: Project Scope

If you already wrote your project description, good news: You’ve already tackled the first major cost factor by identifying the overall scope of your project. The first variable to consider when determining scope is the nature of the work that needs to be done.

Not all PHP projects are created equal. There’s a big difference in scope between writing some custom scripts for a WordPress site and coding a new social media app with integrated APIs and databases on the backend from scratch. If you need a PHP developer on hand to sporadically handle tickets, that might warrant a different type of engagement.

Time is the other variable you have to consider when determining scope, as it will determine how you’ll handle milestone payments for developmental phases (if you’re dealing with fixed price contracts), or the overall cost of a project if you’re paying hourly wages. That social media app project mentioned above could take months, whereas a couple scripts to support some new front-end functionality could take mere days.

Tip: The more accurately your job description describes the scope of your project, the easier it will be for interested freelancers to give you accurate cost estimates and proposals.

Cost Factor #2: PHP Developer Experience

PHP is one of the most widely used languages on the web, so there’s a broad talent pool to choose from. This might mean you need to take extra care in your vetting and interviewing process to ensure you’re getting a developer of the caliber you need.

Choosing the right level of expertise for the job is closely tied to how well you determined the scope of your project. You wouldn’t need a senior-level PHP developer for a more simple yet time consuming project, for example. Hiring a less experienced freelancer who can whip up simple scripts at a lower rate will get the job done and save you a lot of money.

Beyond experience level, you also need to consider the type of experience a freelancer possesses. Just like other development areas, PHP developers have a variety of skill sets and levels—specific frameworks (e.g., the Zend framework), APIs, and other technologies like Git, JavaScript, and MySQL can impact what they’re able to do for you, and what they’re likely to charge. Senior PHP experts often have several other languages in their arsenal, making them able to design a full application from the ground up.

The following table breaks down the rates of the typical types of PHP developers you can find on Upwork.

Typical Rates Charged by PHP Developers*

Type of PHP Developer Description Average Hourly Rate
Basic Back-end PHP Back-end fundamentals (RESTful API’s, Lambda functions). Databases like MySQL. Content Management Systems like WordPress. Technology stack like LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). $25-50+
Intermediate – Advanced Beyond fundamentals, specialization in a back-end server environment like AWS (Amazon Web Services), also skilled in one or more chosen PHP frameworks like Laravel, Symfony, or Cake. $50-100+
Full Stack Developer Mix of front-end and back-end technology expertise. Expertise working with Twig, Blade, and ReactPHP. $75-100+

*Reflects rates charged by freelancers on Upwork in North America with over 1,000 hours and 90% success rate.

Cost Factor #3: Location of Development Talent

Location is another variable that can impact a freelance developer’s cost. A big advantage to working with freelancers on Upwork is the access to a talent pool that spans the globe. It also means you can leverage different costs of living around the world to get yourself a better deal on a skilled freelancer.

Cost Factor #4: Independent Contractor vs. Agency

The final variable we wanted to cover regarding freelancer cost is hiring an agency vs. hiring an individual independent contractor. An agency is often a “one size fits all” model, so you’ll often have access to a designer, project manager, engineer, and more. If you’re building a site from scratch with a PHP back end, that’s not all you’ll need. You’ll need a front-end developer, project manager, designer, and more, making an agency a great solution if you don’t already have that talent in-house. On the flipside, when hiring individual freelancers you have total autonomy regarding which freelancer is responsible for which part of the project, but you’ll need to source each of those skills separately.

The tradeoff between hiring individuals vs. hiring an agency is the level of administrative overhead you incur personally in coordinating tasks among all members of the team. Project scope and personal preference will determine which style is a better fit for your needs. Costwise, agencies often have the resources to offer lower rates for mid to large sized projects. Small projects may still be firmly within the range of decent individual contractors, but if you really know what you’re doing, or are a business that has the resources to handle that administrative overhead, you can probably outperform an agency by building your own pool of talent regardless of project size.


Of course, these are just a few factors to consider when choosing a PHP developer for your project. To more fully estimate what a developer will cost, you’ll want to discuss your project in detail with the talent, who will be able to give you a close estimate of the work and hours required to accomplish your goal.