You have a Ruby on Rails application that needs development work done. To accomplish your company goals related to this application, you need development resources. In this situation, you have a few options to consider: Should you partner with a development agency, hire an in-house developer, or find a freelancer?
There’s an ideal solution for every situation. We’ve written in the past about which you should choose based on your situation. But if you’re comparing the options, you’ve probably noticed that hiring a Rails agency seems like the most expensive option. At an hourly cost breakdown, most agencies will be more expensive than a freelancer. And depending on costs within your company and how much you would pay a full-time developer, it seems on the surface to be more expensive than hiring a full-time developer, too.
So why should you choose that option? There are several benefits to choosing a Rails development agency. I’ll break down seven advantages of hiring an outsourced development agency for your Ruby on Rails application.
Decreased developer management responsibilities
For most of the clients we partner with, our main point of contact is a non-technical employee at the company. These people range from Marketing Managers to CEOs, but they often don’t have a deep knowledge of Ruby, Rails, or web app development. That’s one big advantage of working with an experienced Rails dev agency for your project – you don’t need to have deep technical knowledge to get things done.
If you hire an internal, full-time Rails developer for your project, you’ll also need to know how to manage a developer. Ensuring they're set up to thrive is a major time commitment on its own. Working with freelancers poses a similar challenge.
While our clients communicate directly with the developers at our agency, we also have a Project Manager that serves as a technical translator, scheduler, and prioritizer for you and our development team. You’ll spend less time learning the ins and outs of your web application and micromanaging your development resources. And you can spend more time mastering your other job responsibilities to meet your goals.
A wider scope of past project knowledge
Experience with similar projects in the past can be invaluable for not only getting the work done right, but for estimating the amount of time (and money) it will take in the first place. When you partner with a team of developers at an agency, the team can reference a broad pool of past experience.
Even developers that work in the same framework have different subsets of skills. For example, some of our Rails developers are more experienced in updating ancient applications, while others have a knack for dealing with data. When we examine a potential project, we’re able to reference knowledge from a diverse team of developers to see a plan and see potential bumps in the road, too.
If you do choose to hire an internal developer or a freelancer, it’s important to choose someone with related experience if possible. That doesn’t mean they need to have worked on an identical app before, but it’s helpful if they have experience solving a similar kind of problem or using certain tools.
Flexible partnership options
Business is unpredictable. While you may need (and have the budget for) extensive development resources this month, you never know what will happen in the next six months.
With an agency – or at least most of them – you’re able to construct the right partnership for your business situation. We have clients who have been on $1,000 per month and $10,000 per month retainers depending on the year. A team of developers is better able to ebb and flow with your business. Our team for your project can grow with you and decrease when you need us to.
If you hire a full-time, internal developer to manage your application and then have a few down months, you can’t just decrease their pay until things turn back up. And if you’re partnering with a freelance developer and suddenly need an increase in output, hiring another freelance developer and expecting them to collaborate could be problematic as well.
The way our retainer system works, we ask for a 30-day notice to increase or decrease a retainer amount. This helps us resource our developers to work on our client projects. If you have a big project added to your to-do list, or if you need to decrease your retainer due to budget cuts, an agency can handle these unexpected changes. If you have a special one-time project, these can also be estimated and organized by our development team outside of your monthly retainer.
A structured and proven development process
A major perk of hiring a Rails dev agency to manage your app is that they will already have an established process for building, testing, deploying, and evaluating the new features that are being built for your application.
While a freelancer may have a specific process they’ve used before, being a team of one allows for a bit more flexibility than a larger team. If you’re hiring your first internal developer and you don’t have an organized process already, you’re putting a lot of responsibility on one person to establish and stick with that.
Our development team has a documented process that we follow for all of our client applications that often includes pull requests for major code changes. This ensures code is reviewed by another team member before deployment and reduces the risk of error.
Access to a wider library of tools
There’s a variety of third-party tools that can benefit your application – from code quality inspectors to cloud storage. These tools can greatly improve the stability of your application, but the costs on these third-party plugins can also add up. When you’re working with a freelancer or hiring a developer, you may need to pay for these various tools yourself. However, depending on the agency you work with, some of these costs may be partially or fully absorbed by your agency.
Your agency will also have a project management tool to keep your development project on track. Tools like Asana, JIRA (which we use), or Trello keep a transparent log of the work that’s being done on your development project. There are hundreds of different ways to use these tools. A reliable dev agency will be able to demonstrate and train you on their methods for keeping projects organized.
A complete team
Many Rails agencies have team members other than Backend Developers. For our team, this includes UX Designers, Front-End Developers, and Project Managers. One developer can’t always do everything for a Rails application. If you need skills outside of your developer or freelancer’s realm of knowledge, you’ll be spending more to find someone else to add to the team.
One reason agencies are more expensive is the wide range of skill sets you’ll find on the team. A UX Designer or Front-End Developer can jump on a project to solve a workflow challenge quickly, skipping the need to find outside help.
We’ve heard this story a dozen times: “My freelancer decided to get a full-time job, and they were the only person who knows my application. Now I have this backlog looming and I have no idea how I’m going to get these things done.”
Flexibility is a big perk of being a freelance Rails developer. You get to choose your projects, and choose when you want to leave projects. But freelancing is tough, and the turnover rate is high. It takes a lot of work and self-discipline to make a solid income without getting overworked. If one freelancer builds and manages your application and then decides to move on, it’s a mad dash for you to find new development resources.
When our agency works with a client, 2-3 developers have a basic knowledge of the project at any time. Depending on the size of the retainer, sometimes more than one developer is active on the project at the same time. If a developer at an agency leaves, there will, of course, be a small transition period as a new one takes over their work. But there won’t be a big lapse in progress like there is if your freelancer or full-time developer decides to quit.
Is it beneficial for every company to hire an agency for their Rails development project? Of course not. There’s a reason that so many freelance Rails developers are able to be successful. And as long as you properly vet the freelancers you speak with, they can absolutely be a valuable addition to your web app development.
Your decision to use a development agency as opposed to hiring a full-time developer or freelancer entirely depends on your unique application, budget, and situation. But this information should give you more insight into any questions you had about working with an agency (specifically, “Why is it so much more expensive?”) and help you make the most informed decision.