Hiring A Freelance Web Designer: Local vs. Overseas


So you need a new freelance web designer?

You need a new website – fast, and even though the Los Angeles area (or wherever you may live) is brimming with all types of web design and coding talent, you’re not sure where to start.

You’ve thought about trying your luck with overseas developers because American developers are just too expensive…or at least that’s what you’ve always heard. But overseas web designers can deliver the same clean coding and excellent designs as local web designers for only pennies on the dollar, right?

Stella Fayman, CEO and cofounder of Matchist, a company that matches entrepreneurs with top developers, seems to agree. In one of her online articles on web design and development asks, “Why pay a local developer $150/hr when you might be able to get the same work done for a quarter of the cost, or less, from another country? Then, you could use the cost savings to build a bigger, more feature-rich application.”

It’s a great question. Who wouldn’t want to try their luck overseas, right?

More and more these days, people who need to get on the Internet fast are choosing to outsource their website design needs for a myriad of reasons, including the one mentioned above. They flock to online sites like Guru.com, Upwork.com, Odesk.com and Freelancer.com because these sites are brimming with overseas web designers with amazing portfolios and prices so low that they almost can’t be seen without a microscope.

All you or any prospective buyer has to do is be willing to spend some time browsing through hundreds and hundreds of portfolios to find the web design professionals to interview for your job. From there it’s simply a matter of spelling out what is needed, sharing sketches of how you would like your website to look, sharing links to similar url’s so the designer can get an idea of your style, and waiting for the project to be completed.

It all sounds incredibly easy—much easier than finding a local designer. But is it?

What’s wrong with local designers?

What, if anything, is wrong with hiring a local (American) web designer to take care of your needs? The answer, of course, is nothing.  A local designer is probably your best bet for obtaining a web design that meets all your needs. Why? Because the designer is located in the United States and abides by the same laws you do, and therefore will be more mindful of giving you what you pay for. You and he can communicate back and forth about your specific needs, and depending upon how “local” he really is, you might even be able to drop by his studio and chat with him face-to-face.

So if the problem isn’t necessarily hiring a local designer, what is it?  For laypersons who are not familiar with web designers, the problem just might be where to start when hiring a local designer. For example, when you decide to use an overseas designer, you would start by searching sites like Odesk.com, Guru.com, Upwork.com or Freelance.com because they are known to showcase overseas designers.

You might also use Fiverr.com, which is building a sweeping portfolio of web designers who can provide custom websites for pennies on the dollar. You can browse each provider’s page, read reviews from past clients, and in some cases you can even see how much money they have earned for their services in the last year.

All of these freelance sites are known “hangouts” for overseas designers.  But think about it, when is the last time anyone told you about an online hangout site for local website designers?

Finding local designers

In our July 2016 article called “Finding a Web Designer You Can Work With,” we explained that “your search for a great web designer would begin the same way it would begin for any other product or service you might need or desire.” You would begin by chatting with people you know who have websites, and asking them what the process was like, who they used for the job, what types of site features were available, and how much they paid for their site.

However, if you don’t happen to know anyone with a website, we suggested that you might look in the services section of a telephone book, or browse for designers via your favorite Internet search engine.

If you type the phrase “Where do I find a good U.S. website designer?” in your favorite search engine, the first few results are often advertisements—for freelance web design sites, of all things. Many of these sites allow you to begin your search with a microscopic budget of less than $250, which indicates that there are probably many overseas developers on the sites who are able to bid such a low amount in the first place. It’s like being caught in a loop.

A second search  in your search engine using the phrase “10 best web design firms” will bring up a more current—and more local—list of web design companies. One of the search results yielded this url: https://clutch.co/web-designers, which profiles several top-notch companies, including their location and the number of employees working for them.

It also lists each company’s price per hour range. Most seemed to fall within the $100 to $200 per hour range (the approximate range mentioned in the Stella Fayman article). This is not an exorbitant amount, but without knowing how many hours it typically takes to create a standard website, prospective buyers may shy away from these companies because they have no idea what their final price will be.

Many of these sites do have a “Request For Quote” feature, but let’s face it, this feature can be scary for most buyers because it requires a valid telephone number to complete the quote, and everyone knows what it’s like to be harassed by an individual or company desperate to make a sale.

Case-in-point: A woman who shall remain nameless recently completed a RFQ (Request for Quote) form at a developer’s site. The form required a telephone number, and she admits that she input an incorrect number for fear of being harassed to no end until she purchased a service.

The developer contacted her via email immediately and asked for the details about her website size (number of pages), features, and whether it would include an ecommerce store. When she gave him the details, he then insisted on calling her so that they could discuss things, including payment options. She wasn’t ready for a telephone call so she explained that she was “just looking around” and would contact him as soon as she made a decision whether she wanted to proceed further.

This was not good enough for the web designer. He wrote back and said he had tried repeatedly to call her but the telephone number she had provided was faulty. She wrote back and said, “I told you I’m not ready to make a decision. I’ll contact you when I’m ready.” Since that second email, she claims the web designer has emailed her at least four more times, saying that he really needs to speak with her about her project because he feels he is the best designer for her needs.

This scenario, unfortunately, is another reason that hiring overseas talent may seem so attractive. Overseas designers are…well, overseas. The odds of them calling and harassing a buyer or laying on the re-dial button until they get someone on the other end of the line are slim to none.

Going global

The Internet has made the world smaller. Now people located at the furthest reaches of the furthest corners of the globe can “see” the same job posts that local talent sees. If they don’t speak the language, they can get Google to translate it. Then they can respond to the all-call, the same as the local talent.

In other words, the Internet has leveled the playing field so that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sadeesh can now vie for jobs posted by thrift-hungry consumers who have the money to pay for a great website design but have no clue how much a decent website even costs, where the best designers hang out so they can contact one, or how to be sure they’re getting the very best design and functionality for the absolute least amount.

As mentioned above, these prospective buyers scour the freelance sites, mainly because they’ve heard the rumors that overseas designers can provide a site that should normally cost $5k to $10 for only a few hundred dollars. Even better, these freelance sites make it super-easy for prospective buyers to find this overseas talent by allowing them to post their job descriptions free-of-charge. All they have to do is describe the job, click “Post” and then wait for the feeding frenzy to begin—which usually happens only a few moments after the post goes live.

The hidden problems of hiring overseas

  • We have established the many reasons that prospective buyers in need of great new web designs may decide to hire overseas talent.
  •   Buyers don’t always know where to begin searching for local (U.S.) talent.
  •  The freelance websites make overseas talent easy to find. Too easy, in fact.
  • Overseas talent can underbid local talent any day of the week.
  • Overseas website designers have sample websites that look as good as or better than local talent.
  • There is a predisposed assumption that overseas website designers will not likely harass buyers via telephone.

With all of these wonderful pluses, why is it a good idea to think twice before hiring overseas talent? Here are the reasons:

The language barrier. Persons for whom English is not a first language may have a heck of a time understanding what you say. Ask any ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and you’ll find that although people from other countries may be able to speak English—and in fact may have a broader vocabulary than you could ever hope to have, this does not necessarily mean they can understand what you are asking.

Simple phrases like, “Please make it easy on the eye,” or, “I expect you to knock it out of the park,” will probably confuse an overseas designer for whom English is a second language.Case-in-point: [This true case involves a logo, not a website, but it gives a great example of a language barrier].

A man went to Fiverr.com and posted this job description: “I need a logo designer to pep up my current logo. Experiment with colors. Dazzle me.” Within 30 minutes, this man received over fifty bidders who all swore they could do the best job imaginable for only a few gigs ($5 increments). The man chose a bidder with an amazing portfolio of logos and gave him instructions.

Unfortunately, once hired, the bidder did not “experiment” with colors because he did not fully understand what it meant. He provided only one color and then wrote, “I give you what you ask. Please pay.” When the buyer asked for more colors, the bidder provided one other color but deleted the first color he had provided, and once again wrote: “I give you what you ask. Please pay.”

After several attempts to explain what “experiment with colors” and “pep up my logo” meant, the buyer simply gave up and counted the payment he had made as a loss.

Time difference. Many overseas website designers are on an 8-hour or more time difference. This means that if you send an email when you get off work at 6pm, it may be 2am where the designer lives, so you’re not likely to receive a response anytime soon. Likewise, you may have been waiting all day for an email from the web designer, but it doesn’t come until 3am in the morning, when you’re in full snoring mode.

No rules or laws. Depending upon where the website designer lives and how noble of character he happens to be, your web designer may feel no qualms about shortchanging you. Not that he or she would deliberately shortchange you, but if you constantly request changes to your project, you designer may grow tired of working with you.

He may also remember that he lives on the other side of the world from you and you are not likely to show up on his doorstep to ask why the changes have not been done. Besides all of these variables, he simply may not understand what you’re asking…which takes us back to the very first item in this list: the language barrier.

Malware infestation. Some (not all) overseas designers are known to write code that is teeming with bugs and malware because they know the buyer will need to keep returning—and paying—to have the bugs removed. Some overseas designers have been accused of creating a backdoor in the database so that they can hack, inject spyware, or infuse malware that keeps buyers returning for help.

On the other hand, some overseas designers create cosmetically spectacular sites that are almost impossible to update. If a buyer wants to rearrange layouts or change the style sheet, or if any type of fix is needed, the buyer must return to the designer and pay for any changes.

Unfortunately, this is not an exhaustive list of all the many problems that may come along with hiring an overseas web designer.

Start over…at home

What’s the moral of this story? It’s that you should start your search at home. Sure, you may still end up using overseas talent, but at least you will have given your local options a fighting chance.

Conduct a search and narrow your list down to a few local web designers. Then do as author Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios suggests and “check references, read reviews, get a demo, meet the team, and make sure they are taking notes.”

Next, follow author Richa Jain’s suggestion in his article entitled “Why Good Web Design Doesn’t Cost $50,” and realize that a good design should have “ease of use, visual appeal, coherence, and a clear call to action,”  among other things. These features aren’t cheap, and even if an overseas designer promises you they can provide them for pennies on the dollar, you need to first make certain that they even understand what these concepts mean.

The bottom line is, choosing the right website designer isn’t an “in-an-instant” decision. You must take your time, do your homework, and be sure you’re getting the best web designer that you can afford.


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