Digital Product Development: Agency or Freelance?

Choosing between an agency and a freelancer for digital product development can be a tough decision, for especially for those who aren’t entirely sold on hiring a completely in-house team. When it comes to hiring a professional for your UX/UI design and software development, you need a solution that is reliable, experienced, and trustworthy. Both an agency and a freelance can offer those (to varying degrees), but each option also has its unique pros and cons.

The Agency Route

Quality of Work

Agencies are known to deliver higher-quality work than a typical freelancer, largely because of their greater access to project resources, and because it’s likely an agency has already worked on a project similar to yours.

Tim Trampedach, a Product Manager in San Francisco for about ten years now, has had to make many decisions on hiring project teams. Currently the President of Torqued, he believes that an agency is nearly always the best route.

“You get a more contained scrum team often containing a project manager, dev lead, perhaps UX and developers” said Trampedach. “It’s obviously more manpower and more costly, but there can be huge benefits in getting a team that’s already worked together extensively. Either way, with an agency you will often get a higher quality resource since they’ve been vetted once to join the agency. That’s of course assuming you chose a high quality agency.”

Tim makes some valid points, but if you’re just getting started and trying to test the market with a low-budget, agencies may not be the best route for you. Just remember: you’re getting what you pay for.

Staff Capacity

Outsourcing work to an agency can also be beneficial if your organization doesn’t have (or want) the capacity for internal IT staff.

“Most small businesses fit into this category- that is, businesses with fewer than 100 employees.” says Randy Nieves, senior Vice President of Product Management at NexusTek. “For customers with an existing internal IT department, that team often has to wear too many hats and is split between maintaining network operations, maintaining software, or building software. They often don’t have the time nor the skills to know and respond to all the needs of the business 24×7.”

Agencies help roadmap your entire project, understand your business goals, and offer different resources to respond to many different needs. On the other hand, an internal IT staff does not always have the time or experience to take on new projects or consider the project from a business perspective.


“While depth is certainly important, the agency cross-breeding experience, lessons learned, and insights gained can benefit clients, as they gain first-hand deliverables from agencies that are not just industry specific, but have learnings from other clients and industries to refer to for success,” says Robb Hecht, the VP Digital Account Director at Hero Group.

When you work with an agency, they bring experience that they have gained from previous projects in regards to technology. If you work with a freelancer, chances are that they’re too specialized to provide a similar benefit.. An agency on the other hand would understand many different problem sets and project requirements and can give counsel beyond what was requested by the client.

Freelance Route

There is no doubt that the gig economy is rapidly growing. According to Forbes, about one-third of the workforce has already identified themselves as an independent worker. Though your freelance options are limitless, here is some insight into the freelance world for digital product development:

Moving Fast

Tim from Torqued also stated that freelance options are good if you’re looking to get a project moving very fast:

“The quickest will be to go on UpWork, or a similar site to get a resource. You might be able to get up to a small 2-3 person team quickly, perhaps within a couple of days. My experience is that the quicker a 2-3 person team is available, the more likely it’s going to be lower quality work though, often coming from a giant farm of barely trained engineers fronted by a project manager, i.e. with a big level of indirection vs. talking directly with the developers.”

This is true, you can go on the UpWork website and hire 2-3 people in an hour if necessary, but you must understand that the quality may not be up to par. Having worked in an agency setting for years, I have first-hand seen clients come from a freelance team with a project that has completely gone wrong.

Time and Attention

Stacy Caprio from Accelerated Growth Marketing thinks that a direct hire is also the best way to go.

“Agencies tend to give you less time and attention, since they are mostly in it for the recurring monthly revenue from as many clients as possible. If you have a higher budget and know something has a high chance of working for you, then you should go in-house, as you’ll likely get higher quality if you do a good job hiring.”

This is a unique perspective, and while some agencies might be in it for the monthly recurring revenue, you must do your due diligence to find an agency that wants to see your business and product succeed.


There are respective pros and cons to hiring an agency or freelancers, and either route you go, the team must be vetted to ensure a high-quality end product.

If you’re looking into agencies, check out Clutch, an agency directory platform with authentic client reviews; if you’re looking for a freelancer, check out UpWork, a platform with hundreds of experienced individuals.