Modern business is powered by technology devices and software tools. But finding skilled and experienced software developers and designers on a limited budget or for individual tasks can be an overwhelming challenge. Because they are in high demand, local developers can be very expensive, have limited availability, and it can often be tough to determine the quality of their previous work. However, with the advent of online freelance services, the world is your oyster. These services let you shop your technical needs around the world to thousands of developers who are waiting to bid on your project. Follow this advice on how to navigate the arena of hiring and managing your own freelance developers.
- look at multiple online services
- verify the skills match to the task
- request an online chat to interview the candidate
- determine if your project is fixed price or hourly
- make a plan for ongoing support
- start with a smaller, less risky project
- assume US or European freelancers are always more expensive
- assume the person responding will always do the work
- use private payment methods
- forget about your own reputation
- be afraid to pull the plug on a project
- provide full access to IT systems
There are dozens of services available such as oDesk or Freelancer. Don't settle for the first service you find, but rather review a number of them to understand how they work and the type of talent they have available.
Each service will tend to have a deeper bench of freelancers who specialize in certain types of tasks and technologies over other services. When you begin your search, there isn’t anything stopping you from registering for a number of services and submitting your request across those services to examine the quality of the responders.
Closely review the payment policies, terms, and how a typical project is paid as the project progresses and in full at the end. Make sure you are comfortable with these terms before starting a project. You will inevitably hire a bad apple or a developer that is poorly aligned with the project and can’t deliver requiring you to end it prematurely. Most freelance services have a dispute process and support to help you along the way.
Look at the freelancer profile information that you will be using to review and interview prospects. Do they list previous projects and comments and ratings? How do they verify technical skills? Is there a list of public works the freelancer has done in the past that can be reviewed? This is their online resume so make sure its detailed enough and freelancers are filling out the profiles as the norm.
Some freelancers may overstate their skills and experience with a technology or platform. Ask for reference projects they have worked on that demonstrate their skill in the technology. Ask them when they did this work, how long it took, challenges they faced, and other probing questions to determine how experienced they really are.
Take advantage of online tools to chat or talk to candidates in order to further explore their abilities, experience, and communication skills. Many services have built-in collaboration tools available for you to use. You can also invite candidate freelancers to chat on Skype, Google Hangouts, or other services.
Most projects are either paid with a fixed, agreed price up front or an hourly rate. There are pros and cons to each approach.
A fixed price does generally cap the price you will pay for the project, but does have a couple of disadvantages. If the work is perceived to be ambiguous by the freelancer, they may bid the price up to a range that will cover them if it ends up consuming more of their time than is originally expected. Another downside to fixed price work is that it may limit the flexibility to change the scope of the work or take advantage of opportunities that are discovered in the course of the project. If this happens often you may be faced with going back to the freelancer and renegotiating the price multiple times.
In either case, make sure you agree on a timeframe in which the project will be completed. Some freelancers will fill their schedule up with multiple projects and those other projects may impact their availability to work on your own project.
Getting the work complete is great. But what happens when something goes wrong or you want to add just one more feature or change something you don’t like. When you work with your freelancer, ask him or her about their availability to provide ongoing support as needed into the future. If they aren’t able to commit to support, seek other online freelancers or local resources who are available to support your business technology.
Like any new business relationship, there isn’t a track record of delivery and quality. If possible, start with a smaller phase of the project or another unrelated technical task that you need done first. This is a great way to determine whether the freelancer has the skills and is someone you will want to give more and larger projects to in the future.
Cost of living and pay ranges for technical work vary greatly throughout the world. US and European freelancers generally cost more than those from other parts of the world. However, there are many freelancers that pick up work as a secondary income source or are breaking into a technical career path and willing to take on projects at below market rates.
There are many large development companies who monitor freelance services and bid on projects that are posted. Some of these have non-technical staff that will use other developer profiles that are not their own to sell you their services. Ensure that the person you are communicating with is the one who will actually be doing the work.
It may be tempting to ask the freelancer to accept payment outside of the freelance service in order to avoid paying the additional fees. However, similar to paying with a credit card, you might lose the benefits of a service provider helping with a dispute if it arises, and may also get you banned from using the service again. The fees are generally a small percentage of the overall project cost, and it is best to stay within the system and take advantage of the service that they offer.
Most freelancer services provide reputation information based on the previous work of the freelancer. These include rating, comments, dispute information, and reference work. As you may have seen on eBay, the buyer of the services builds a reputation as well. Freelancers may have the ability to rate and comment on the experience of working with you so that other freelancers will have this information when they choose to bid on one of your projects. Therefore, to ensure you have the broadest possible pool of freelancers willing to bid on your future projects, do you best to be professional and fair with the freelancers you hire.
Like any other business project or initiative you run, things can go wrong. The skills of the freelancer may end up not being a good match or their communication style or abilities may also prevent you from successfully completing the project. There are countless problems that can arise just as possible with a contractor working onsite. Attempt to communicate with the freelancer of the challenges you are seeing and attempt to resolve those. Take advantage of the support resources that the freelancer service offers, which may be a support staff member who wants you to have a good experience and come back with more projects. If these fail, don’t hesitate to halt the project and seek another freelancer.
Depending on the nature of the project, you may need to provide access to internal technical systems for the freelancer to develop, test, and deploy the solution. Ensure that the freelancer only has access to the necessary areas required for the project. Use test data and not actual customer or transaction data for development and testing.
Using freelance developers and designers can be a great way to get projects complete when you don’t have a large budget, need to get work done quickly using a worldwide pool of resources, and augment your own business staff in a very efficient way. Follow this advice to start on a small project and learn how to effectively utilize these services and the available talent pool to help manage and grow your business.