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Mastering Freelancers

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Mastering Freelancers

This article is going to explain to you how to prepare work, choose the right person, and manage the project so both of you will end up as a winner.

· Agile Zone ·
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Imagine you are creating something. It might be your personal project or a product in a small startup company. Then you run into the situation when you just can’t make a certain task, or you want to spend your time differently. So you decide to give some of your hard-earned cash to someone who can do that particular thing for you. And that’s a freelancer. 

Freelancers can do any online task for you. For example build the websites, design work, proofreading, coding, data organization, and much more. And if you are not an expert in that particular area, then many times they can do a faster and better job than you. 

There is one catch. If you manage them badly, then you might end up disappointed, without any useful work being done, and shorter of money. And this article is going to explain to you in detail how to prepare work, choose the right person, and manage the project so both of you will end up as a winner.

Preparation

There are main 2 things to prepare – budget and scope of work (SOW). 

Regarding budget. Choose a number you are willing to spend. Remove sales tax (typically 10%). Remove 20% from the rest. This is to cover fees, possible up sales, and other costs you are not aware of yet. Convert the number to USD (many times) and the result is your budget. 

For example, if you are willing to spend $500. Then remove 10% to get $450. Remove another 20% to get $360. Since it’s already in USD, then $360 is your final budget. 

Now, let me give you a rough idea of what you can expect at certain price levels. This is coming out of my experience. 

Less than $100 – simple, fast, and non-perfect work. People at this level are usually trying to be as cheap as possible. They don’t have time to do work well, because they need to rush for another gig. You can ask for simple tasks like photo correction, little translation, quick sketches, or a few WordPress pages with a lot of placeholders. I usually don’t ask for any work at this level.

Lower hundreds $, roughly up to $500 – decent work under a standardized process. Here I found a lot of people specializing in a particular area. For example, creating fashion products, 3D models, building websites, proofreading, translations, designing logos, and so on. They can do a great job for you because they have a process in place and probably already did the same thing many times. You just have to make sure that your requirements are aligned with their framework. I like this level because it’s good, easy to reach, and I am not much worried about making mistakes.

Higher hundreds $, roughly up to $1000 – take the previous level + creativity or tedious work on top of that. For example, you can get a new blog + migrate the posts from the old one. Or get a unique graphics created just for you, can be pretty complex. Or a sophisticated piece of code. 

Thousand and more – the sky is the limit. Here you can expect very high quality, custom made stuff or a lot of work to be done.

Unfortunately, more players are appearing in this game. They are consultant companies and speculators. Many times they try to offer you significantly overpriced solutions. And sometimes they can give you a 60% discount if you point that out. I have never taken that (; Maybe they can do a great job as well, but I prefer to pay a fair price to a guy who is a real freelancer and honest from the beginning rather than sponsor such people.

Finally, if you are working with thousands of dollars (and have appropriate work for that), then it might make sense to start thinking differently. You might split work into smaller pieces and hire more people to do the job. And if your budget goes beyond thousands, then freelancers might not be the right choice at all.

Scope of Work

Now you have the money and a rough idea of what is realistic to ask for. The next piece is to prepare the scope of work (SOW). I will describe SOW for a fixed price project type, which is commonly used in a freelancer world. You specify what you want, and then negotiate a fixed price tag to get that. You can download and example SOW from the original article.

This is a real SOW I used to launch my other site – Tyracorn. You can use that as a template. Honestly, some training is required to create these. I made a terrible job several times. The most disaster was when I just had a single call and said something like ‘basically, eee I want something like…’. Taking that as a necessary scholarship. I want you to be better than me right from the start. Please write down at least some SOW. Anything in writing is better than nothing. Here are a few guidelines to make it easier. 

Study a topic. You need to have an overall knowledge of the topic. For example, if you want to build a webshop, then you need to decide what platform to use, what payment gateway to integrate with, knowing how the checkout process works, have an idea how you would like to manage your products, and so on. These are the decisions that only you can make. So start by research, open test accounts in various services, and play with that. Don’t worry that you can’t make it look pretty or fully working, that’s the part freelancer can help with. Learn what various options, constraints, and conditions you have. 

Write everything down in a plain language. If it’s not in writing it doesn’t exist. Your next freelancer might be from Indonesia, Egypt, or Mexico. These people don’t have a chance to speak in English daily. Therefore help them by using a simple and clear language.

Prepare a list of requirements. Ideally long list of small and simple requirements. Idea is that you can look to the work submitted by the freelancer, run it against this list, and easily say which points are satisfied and which are not. Then during reviews, you can either adjust problematic points or deal with them in some other way. 

Prepare supportive content. Anything like images, sketches, real data, content, and others is good. Put it into a place for sharing. This gives reality to the result. For example, freelancers normally won’t create the actual content for your web site. You either provide that, or end up with a web site which is full of ‘Lorem ipsum dolor sit…’. Happy cleaning then. 

Mention paid products and services. I found this interesting. Many freelancers are shy to recommend the paid product or service. Make the decision you want and write the note into SOW. 

Write down what you don’t want. For example, I don’t like, when someone is putting hacks into standard frameworks to satisfy 100% of the requirements. Therefore my SOW usually has a point that I am open to negotiate requirements down if they can’t be reached cleanly.

When You Should Avoid Freelancers

Freelancers are not always the right choice. Here are examples of when to avoid them. 

  • If you are a cheap ass and want to have everything for free
  • If you can’t write what you want on a piece of paper
  • If it takes you longer to write down what you want than do the job by yourself
  • If you are under a contract which prevents you to do so (e.g. NDA, or employment)
  • If you have secrets required for the job (e.g. you can’t show medical data to third parties)
  • If your project is too big

Selection

With budget and SOW is easy to start looking for people. You can find them on the specific portals, there plenty of them and each of them is a little bit specific. Let me share the ones I have personally used. 

  • 99designs.com – This site is for graphical work. Good point is that you post your project, and designers posts their sketches. You can then talk to them and choose whoever you like the best.
  • guru.com – Here you can post any type of project. Then freelancers are bidding to do the work. So far, I have a good experience with this site. You just need to be careful. Since there are no limits in terms of work standards and prices, then this is exactly the site where price speculators and consulting companies are very active. So take some time to review and compare the offers.
  • Elementor experts – Focused on work with WordPress and Elementor. If you are dealing with these technologies, then this is a perfect place. I was able to look through various portfolios, choose the guy I liked, contact him directly, and get the job done in better quality than what I would be ever able to do by myself.
  • Scribendi.com – Focusing on proofreading and editing jobs. You don’t choose a particular person here. Just submit the text and describe what you want to do with that. They give you the price and find the editor for you. I had a great experience with them during editing my Robust Java Standards book.

Register to the site which matches your project, post it there. You might need to do some copy-paste from your SOW, attach only thumbnails instead of high-res graphics, and so on. Also, don’t share your budget unless the site requires you to do that. It’s better when people come up with their numbers first. Once you post the project, then get away from the computer and go for a workout, or date, or whatever. 

Once you are done with your workout and date, then the next morning you can look at the offers. There will be plenty of them. If not, then you have posted something wrong, so get back to the preparation and try it again. Now it’s time to make the first screening. This is about answering three basic questions. Is this a scam? Did he read my post? Can he do a great job? And these are the indicators to look at. 

  • Personal portfolio. Even if that person is just starting, then having something to show is a must. It has to be related to whatever job you are posting. If you can’t find it, or you find something broken, then move on.
  • Prove that he read the SOW. Some people just put a generic bid to anything which appears on the portal. Luckily it’s easy to recognize. If someone truly reads the SOW, then usually react on it somehow. Many times, they write how they can approach the task into a bid. Sometimes they even make a little proof of concept without asking for anything. Or they constructively complain about a particular point in your SOW. Anything like that is a good sign.
  • Easy communication. Freelancer must be responsive to the messages (please be aware of time differences). Also, his language (usually English) must be good enough to understand. Willingness to make a video call is also counted, but not always necessary. A good test for this is to send a few messages and see.

The process above helps you to select a handful number of people with potential. Pretty much anyone can do the job. Now it’s about choosing the one and making the deal. Simply order them from who you think is the best and try to make a deal one by one, until it happens.

One important note here. Make sure everything is written, and if the deal is under some freelancer site, then use whatever chat is there. The most important points to have confirmed in writing are SOW and price for the 100% delivery. Even if you use video calls to agree on everything, make a written follow up, and ask for a written confirmation.

This is the process to make a deal. 

  • Agree on the SOW. Provide a copy, attach it to the system, and ask the candidate to read it first. Be open to questions, or a video call to explain the details. Answer all questions. Sometimes this might lead to a small change, which is ok as soon as it’s recorded. If there is too much friction in there, then it’s better to walk away to the next candidate. If you walk away like 3-4 times, then it’s likely something wrong with your SOW.
  • Agree on the total price. This is what you are going to pay once 100% is done. Every freelancer should be able to give you the number based on agreed SOW. At this point, SOW is fixed and you are not going to change that. You can negotiate as you like, or always walk away to the next candidate.
  • Agree on the payment and delivery schedule. This is usually pretty straightforward. Many times it ends up paying a deposit upfront and rest on delivery. The schedule is usually measured in weeks with expectation that once a week you can see the updates (some people even provide daily updates, but I don’t like to micro-manage).

Once you have completed an agreement with the required follow-ups, then the work starts. 

Management

I found this part to be the easiest. All the hard work has been already done and all you need to do is sit back and review whatever your freelancer gives to you. 

How to do a review? Take the proposal and compare it with the requirements in SOW. Write down the list of things that don’t match, or are missing. If you are working with things like design, then it’s completely ok to also include points which you just don’t like. People in these areas are used to pivot a little bit, so no one takes that badly. If you can include for example screenshots, or guidance how would you imagine that correctly, then even better. Send that back to the freelancer and wait. 

Next, you get a second review. Here you revisit all the points from the list to see whether they are resolved. If the point is resolved, then ok. If not, keep this open in the second review. Then make sure that there are no new points. The goal is to resolve all points on the list (sometimes it’s ok to relax on some of these). From experience, it usually takes me 2-3 reviews to get it right. 

Once your list is good enough, then Congratulations! Your project is done.

Failures

Unfortunately, not everything is easy in life. There are projects which fail. It happened to me several times, and there is a chance that some of my feature projects will fail as well. In nearly all cases, I can track the failure back to the point where I skipped or simplified something in preparation. Then it hit me back later. Let me share with you some of the stories. 

What to do when a project is done? So I made the SOW, hire the guy. He made an amazing job. I thought it’s cool. But… I didn’t have any idea what to do next. If you are hiring a freelancer, make sure to see beyond his work. 

Poor quality job. One time I hired one guy to do the particular coding job. I have to admit, that I skipped the point to verify his ability to deliver, and didn’t set up a proper review schedule. That was my mistake. He took forever, always busy in other projects. Then he delivered something which didn’t work and even the quality of the code was very bad. So I pointed this out and wanted to fix that. A few weeks later, the same problems. After about 2 months back and forth, I had to cut off the losses and did it by myself. And the deal wasn’t done under any freelancer platform, so the money was gone for good. 

These were valuable lessons. The first point I learned is that you can always walk away and find someone else. Don’t be shy to walk away. The second point is that the money you send is almost always gone. Doesn’t matter whether the transaction is done privately, or through some platform. So don’t put too much into a risk, until you see the results.

Conclusion

Freelancers can save your time and supply the skills you don’t have. You just need to give them money and manage them well to have a win-win deal. 

As a bonus, work with them gives you a real boss experience. If you pay them from your pocket, then each mistake hurts you directly. This is a great point to your resume for any leadership position.

So happy freelancing (^_^)

Topics:
agile, freelancers, leadership, management, tutorial

Published at DZone with permission of Radek Hecl , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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