How to Hire a Freelance Developer

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So your company is growing. Things are exciting. Everyone is motivated and ideas are coming in from left and right.

Then it happens.

You say something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could build [revolutionary idea here]? It would cut costs/generate a ton of new leads/change the way we operate.”

The team is rallying around the idea, the boss is giving you the wink and the gun, everything feels right in the world -- until the dread hits. Who’s going to build it?Click here to download our free guide to hiring and training a team of  all-stars.

Hiring your first freelance developer can seem difficult, but it doesn’t need to be. With the right plan in place and an understanding of your company’s needs, finding the right freelancer for the job can be a largely painless process.

I’ve worked on both sides of this equation as an independent, freelance web developer and as someone who’s run a large development team. Follow these steps to make the process smoother for both you and your new freelance partner.

How to Hire a Freelance Developer

First ask yourself: What do you need?

Before identifying a freelancer to work with, you should first know what you’re asking for. This should always be step number one. Are you looking to update some images on a web page? Do you need an entirely new site? Is it a mobile app? Is something wrong with your analytics? Do you need a new tool created?

The answer to any of these questions will set the tone for how you start your search, and who you ultimately hire.

Now that you’ve identified the type of project, it's time to think about the scope, and how your freelancer will fit into the equation. When you find that special someone, you’ll want to tell them exactly what you need. Is it five pages and two emails? What’s the content of those pages? Do you have a design? Is any of the content dynamic? And most importantly, what's the deadline?

Before you jump into the hiring process, make sure you can define everything up front. Don’t leave anything to chance or assumptions -- because we all know what happens when you assume, right?

Having all of this information ahead of time will help you identify the skill set you’re looking for in a developer (we’re not a one-size-fits-all solution), and ensure your project is completed to your expectations on schedule.

Another major benefit to scoping is that it will also help you avoid scope creep as your project progresses. Scope creep is bad. It’s bad for you and it’s bad for the freelancer. It’s bad for you because it will cost extra money and will (probably) force you to miss your deadline. It’s bad for the freelancer because they were working on a specific set of criteria that now is expanded upon or blown up. It will also (probably) prevent them from starting other projects on time which costs them money.

Let’s find someone!

Now that we know what exactly we’re hiring someone for, let’s go find your developer! Assuming you don’t already have someone in mind, there are a number of places online where you can find strong developers.

Check out websites like Upwork, Fiverr, or Freelancer.com for freelance help. You can search developers by reviews, location, and by skill set. Remember that little scoping exercise you did earlier? Well now you know if you’re looking for someone with CSS chops or if they need to know JavaScript.

Screenshot from upwork.com

Take a look at some previously completed projects. If you like what you’re seeing, reach out and ask questions, but be respectful. You haven’t hired this person yet, so the time they’re spending with you is time they’re not spending on another project. When you’re confident you’ve found your developer, it’s time to make a deal.

Let’s make a deal.

You’ve found your developer. You know what they’re building. Now it’s time to get it down on paper. Handshakes are cool, as are verbal agreements, but make sure you get it in writing. This isn’t to say that you’re going to get swindled. The reason you want a contract is so that you have your scope, your deliverables, and your timelines outlined. A contract will also give you the opportunity to build in check-ins,testing time, and a payment schedule (we’ll get back to this).

It’s also important to remember that this isn’t a one way street. Your freelancer will -- and should -- have a say about the timeline and scope of the project. Remember: you’re hiring them because they have expertise in a field that you do not.

While I wouldn’t say you should have implicit trust in someone you probably just met, you should respect their evaluation of the situation, and take it into account as you map out your project and the role they will play. If they tell you something isn’t possible within a certain timeframe, or provide alternative options to accomplish your goals, you should listen and evaluate those options in relation to your goals.

Now here comes the tricky part, right? The money! Freelancers traditionally work in two ways, hourly or per project. The definitions are just how they sound. Hourly freelancers get paid for the time they work so you negotiate an hourly rate (Rate x Hours Worked = Pay). Per project freelancers work on a, you guessed it, per project basis, meaning you pay them an agreed upon fee for the project in total.

Two things to consider here:

  1. You get what you pay for. This isn’t the place to skimp out. If you’re trying to save a buck, don’t be surprised if the final project doesn’t meet expectations or if the freelancer takes on a higher paying project in addition to yours. Before getting upset, put yourself in their shoes. You’d expect to be paid fairly for your work, the freelancer expects the same.
  2. Be honest about your budget. If you only have a certain amount of money available, let the freelancer know and see if you can’t work something out. Maybe the scope will have to change, maybe the fee will work after all. You don’t know until you ask.

No matter what payment structure you agree to, put together a payment schedule. This will keep things on track. Freelancers will have different expectations. For some it will be a 50/50 split between the start and finish of a project. For others they’ll split it up into three (33%) or four (25%) installments. No matter what you agree to, do not pay for your project in full before the work is completed and delivered. Once you’ve made a deal, it’s time to get to work.

This is where the magic happens.

You’ve hired your freelancer. They understand the ask. The final delivery date is agreed upon. It’s time to send emails and texts every five minutes, right? Wrong.

Development, design, video editing, writing, and others, are all highly technical skills that require time and concentration. Let your freelancer do the job you hired them for. It’s okay to reach out every once in a while if you haven’t heard anything, but this is probably a good time to refer to the check-in schedule you added to your contract.

With that said, it’s still important that you make yourself available in case they have any questions. And remember, this isn’t the time for scope creep or assumptions. This is the part where the work gets across the finish line.

What happens next?

The work has been delivered. It looks and functions great. Now what? Make sure you pay your freelancer. Whether this is where you part ways or before you start the conversation about your next project, please pay your freelancer.

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