What Should I be Paying for a Developer?

So you're building an app or website and want to hire a developer, or even several developers. You know your way around tech but you're not a wizard, I mean that's why you're hiring one, right? Well first you need to consider what kind of developer you want. Seems like a simple enough question, but hiring someone whose skills don't quite fit the project will lead you down a road of escalating costs and frustration. On the other hand, there are developers out there that will take on any task and have the flexibility of technical talent that will make them useful to you in a plethora of development tasks. These guys and gals are known as polyglots in the industry. If you want to find one of these then find out if they like to code in their spare time and look them up on GitHub.com to get a feel for what they’re doing.

Expectation vs Reality

Many entrepreneurs trying to hire a developer have a set of expectations that are misaligned with reality. They've done the basic research online, scouring freelancing websites and have come to the conclusion that they can get their app built for free, or next to it. While it may be true that you can get amazing things put together for next to nothing (so long as what you want built has been built a million times before), it's often not the case and this is where the most friction occurs. Often a project gets started with a fast and cheap generic solution and soon hits a wall of pain when they try to coax whatever solution they picked into performing some bespoke business requirement.


But you have to weigh that against whether what you're building is truly unique and will need to be built from the beginning, or something similar to other solutions out there. The most likely case is that your idea is not unique. Even if you're building something that you might imagine is unique, like an idea for a video game, chances are there's a framework out there to help accelerate the creation of what you’re trying to build. You might want to do the research to determine what these frameworks and technologies are, and let that be the guide in your hiring process. But don't get too obsessed with locking yourself into hiring people that have the particular skill in the chosen framework. You may filter out talented developers that could easily pick up the framework technology. This is a common pitfall for recruiters that see a resume as a cloud of keywords and can't spot the talent.


On the flip side of that coin, many entrepreneurs might find themselves in the opposite, but no less malevolent, trap of having a generic solution put together for them, being under the misconception that something amazing and bespoke was being built for them, and then paying an exorbitant fee for it.

There are a number of strategies that you can employ that will assist you in finding the right developer and paying the right price for them. First and foremost, know exactly what you want from them at the beginning. If you can't explain things clearly then this will have a number of detrimental effects on your project, but the primary problem is that you'll scare away the good developers. No developer worth his salt will go near an ill-defined project. On the other hand, you'll end up attracting the lower quality developers that are happy to drag the project through the mud and have you pay them along the way.


If you do manage to hire a good developer with a poorly defined set of requirements in place, then they are likely to spend a lot of time at the start assisting you with getting some rigour and structure into those requirements. If this happens then you've lucked out and you might want to think about keeping this developer interested in the project long-term.

Get Advice

One thing you might want to consider is having a technical advisor. This could be someone that you hire to work with you part time. They should be someone who's very technically savvy, to the extent that they could easily complete the work for you, but their fee is outside your budget. This individual would play a role in keeping you and the project on track.

  • Validating the people you hire, or even going as far as participating in the hiring process
  • Helping you and the team make the right decision when it comes to selecting the technology stack
  • Make sure you're not paying too much or your expectations about what to pay are not too low
  • Review work done by your team and provide feedback. In my view, this is the most important function a technical advisor can provide for his or her client. Too often entrepreneurs will pay for a project and get what they paid for, but unbeknownst to them that the implementation, while on the face of it seems to be ok, has been poorly built and will fail as soon as they try to scale.

What should I pay

So finally let's get into the meat of the topic. What exactly should you be paying? As much as I hate to just tell you outright, because every project is different, I've gone ahead and researched the numbers so here they are. Please use these as a general guide and don't wave them in front of the next developer you try to hire. Remember, hiring is an art.


The following figures are for one year salaries full time employment in USD.



Web developer

App developer

Full stack developer





































Hong Kong





















If you need someone short term then hiring someone on a contract is the option. As a rule of thumb, you’ll expect to pay an extra 25% for contractors. This additional cost covers them for the additional overhead and risk they take on.

Remote Developers

Based on my research and comparing jobs advertised as remote, compared to locally staffed jobs, remote jobs offer a package that is generally 20% less than comparable jobs in the same market. Again this doesn’t give you a license to pay someone less just because they are working remotely. You need to weigh that against the talent of the individual and how productive they are working remotely. A company in China discovered that its call center staff were more productive when working from home. The secret to making remote hiring a success is to have a reliable way of measuring productivity.


One good way of doing this when it comes to software development is to measure the number of tasks that your developer is getting through and either compare this to local staff, or having a technical reviewer give their assessment of whether the developer is productive or not. And look out for consistency in productivity. Inconsistent productivity can be a red flag that the developer is dividing their duties. If you have the luxury of time, then getting involved at some level with the delivery of the tasks is the best way to get a feel for the productivity of your developers. For example, make yourself responsible for testing that the delivery meets the requirements you laid out, or try to get your hands on a working version of the code as frequently as possible to personally review.