web developer, wireframe web page, HTML code, and an adaptive layout concept

If you want to create a web-based project—whether it’s an API, a single-page application (SPA), or a cloud-based application—you need a skilled web developer with the right mix of skills. Choosing the developer who’s perfect for your project will depend on both your requirements and your budget. The key is knowing as much about these two factors up front as you can.

While a full-stack developer can help with all aspects of your project and can potentially code in a number of programming languages and frameworks, bear in mind that you may need less from a developer—in which case you can find a less expensive developer with a narrower skill set. It all depends on your requirements—and how much you’re willing to spend.

So how do you estimate a budget for how much it will cost to hire a web developer? In this article, we’ll look at a few cost factors to consider when drafting a project description and reviewing proposals from potential developers.

First… what do you need from your web developer?

This may seem open-ended, so lets focus on the project requirements. If you have an existing application or are migrating code to a new platform, chances are you already know what technology is in your stack and who you’ll need. If you’re starting from scratch, you might need to do some research into why one platform is better than another depending on your project—visit the Hiring Headquarters for explainer articles and comparisons between frameworks and languages. Also, you can read up on How to Hire a Web Developer for some more information.

The key here will be writing a clear, detailed project description that potential developers can review to decide if their skills and experience are a good match and if the project is one that interests them. Learn how to write an awesome job post on Upwork here.

Now, let’s look at a few cost factors you can consider to make the planning and budgeting process a bit smoother. Think of these as a general framework for approaching your project—where one factor may be non-negotiable (e.g., you definitely need a full-stack Ruby on Rails developer with API experience), another may be less set in stone (e.g. location of your developer), giving you a bit more flexibility with your budget.

Cost Factor #1: Scope

Scope is an important consideration for any development project—and one that can quickly spiral out of its original estimation (and budget). A single-page website generally takes much less time to build compared to an enterprise-level, customized web-based application.

Document your idea clearly to help give you (and interested freelancers) a scope determination. When you define your scope, be as detailed as possible with the developer. The more details you provide, the more accurate their proposal and estimate.

When determining scope, don’t underestimate the amount of code your project might require. It’s a common problem many clients have—and by not fully understanding the amount of code that goes into a web project’s modules, you might run into scope creep by under-budgeting. A software project may seem small to a non-developer, but some modules require a lot of engineering and coding. This is one reason it’s important to articulate your ideas to a developer, even if you believe it’s simple and wouldn’t take much time.

You can also help reduce the cost of a project by requesting a minimal viable product (MVP). This type of project include the very minimum amount of features and design needed for you to test it in the market. This will help reduce your scope, and you can always expand the MVP should the project be successful. Consider creating your application in phases so that you can build on your software slowly, test thoroughly, and build revenue as each phase is being coded.

Cost Factor #2: Agency Versus Single Freelancer

The location of your developer will play a pretty big role in cost—even more so than their experience or expertise. There is also a difference in cost if you hire a developer working alone versus hiring an agency. An agency is often a “one size fits all” model, so you’ll have access to a designer, project manager, engineer, and more.

With a single freelancer, if you need more than just development help to get your application launched, note that you’ll need to hire the others separately. This can be more costly and time consuming since you’ll be responsible for communicating with each person separately facilitating communication between all parties.

In this case, it can be less expensive to hire an agency’s services with an hourly rate. With an agency, you can have all individuals under one roof, so you only need to work with the agency’s project manager and attend presentations from the programmers on their progress. This can be much less stressful for the client that doesn’t fully understand how web projects are typically handled. It’s also easier for each person on the agency’s team to communicate, because they’re under one roof—figuratively, of course.

Before, we mentioned that some web developers are “full stack,” meaning they do both design and development, which can be beneficial for a small business. However, if the size of your project requires more than one person to get it done, it could be more cost-effective to hire a full-service agency vs. a full-stack developer, so you have access to all the talent (and skill sets) you need.

Cost Factor #3: Platform

Web projects generally run on one of two different platforms: Linux or Windows. Windows hosting can be more expensive than Linux because Windows charges for licenses, however Linux platforms make money through support contracts.

Other aspects of platforms can affect the cost of a web development project, too. Most web projects require a database, and Windows platforms include the SQL Server. SQL Server is much more expensive than hosting MySQL, which is usually the go-to database for Linux developers.

Many enterprise platforms run on Windows, though, so take this cost factor into consideration. The best way to determine costs is to talk to a Windows developer and then contact host providers to determine your monthly costs. Many host providers give you a discount if you pay a yearly contract upfront, so this can lower your cost a bit.

If you use Linux hosting, your hosting costs could be cheaper. Even with cheaper programming costs, you still need a developer that works with your language. For the most part, programming ranges are similar for web development languages, but here’s a general idea of what rates freelancers charge.

Type of Project Description Average Hourly Rate
Basic One-Page Site Just one-page coding. A basic lead-gen page or landing page. $15-40 +
CMS Code Customization (WordPress, Joomla, etc.) Basic customizations of your theme’s code or general functionality of a common CMS platform. $30-75 +
Full Custom Site Code (typically enterprise) Building a design from scratch with custom code and design elements. Usually, a large project that requires coding from the ground up. $75-150 +

Ultimately, the only way to estimate costs is to talk to a developer. Make sure you communicate your ideas thoroughly, so that they can give you a close estimate. Most development times are slightly above or below an estimate, because long coding projects are difficult to accurately estimate. However, the more detail you provide the coder, the closer they can estimate.