Hiring freelance developers

There must be a better way to do this. I’m not interested in going down the oDesk route as with our freelancers I like to build a relationship with someone. This has worked really well for designers, we have three designers who do different things for us at Perch (UI/illustration and web) all of who are great, reliable and we can rely on them to do what they have said they will do, when they said they will do it. In return we don’t quibble over money, pay invoices by return and try not to delay things from our end by being disorganised.

PHP developers are a different matter entirely. Even getting people to reply to an initial “are you available?” email is difficult. Are all developers so awash with work at the moment that they don’t need to be professional in their communications with prospective clients?

It’s frustrating as we are happy to pay market rates, don’t try and drive down prices and - as developers ourselves - are able to communicate accurately what we need doing. It should be pretty easy for someone to look over an email and think “yes I have time/interest for this” or “nope - no time/not my thing” and send back a quick email.

If anyone has any suggestions I’d love to hear them as my life at the moment seems to be a series of “did you get my email?” “could I have a status report?” communications.

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Taking a more general approach: This seems to be a very common problem, and fits the classical “find a pain point people are willing to pay to fix” that all bootstrappers are told to follow.

So why hasn’t anyone fixed it? Let me start. I thought of building a sort of a service that will match good programmers with prospective employers, till I realised I was starting a hiring agency, with all its hassles. The other problem still remains: How do you find good developers?

Seems to be a bit of an attitude problem. Which is strange, as you are paying the market rates, so it’s not like you are intentionally going for bad developers.

Is this a business problem that could be fixed? Could we build a productised service (or something similar) to help business owners find good engineers? I’d be interested to hear people’s opinions.

We used Folyo to find designers and it works really well. You post a project and budget and then people get in touch who want to do the work from an already vetted cohort of people.

I think the vetting is the key thing as I can post a job up on oDesk or whatever and I’ll just end up with people in a race to the bottom on price. I’d rather hear from 3 experienced people who might be interested in a long term freelance relationship if that job went well, than 30 people at next to nothing per hour that I’ll need to wade through code samples to see if they are any good.

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That’s interesting, Rachel.I wonder if something like that would work for programming. I know there are a few websites that claim to vet developers, but I don’t know how good they are. The problem is: With designers, you can see how good they are with a small portfolio. But can you do the same with programmers? Could you look at someone’s Github repo, for example, and decide they are good enough?

Then there are so many languages, how would you check someone who uses a different language?

Based on my experience, no, it is not always the case.

  1. You choose your target price range when you create the job. Select “I will pay high price for the right candidate” and you get people who respect their time
  2. You select your candidates by hand-picking them from the list. Just ignore the bottom-feeders (button “Hide” works wonders)

This might interest you: https://pickcrew.com

They don’t advertise a minimum budget, but based on their lead form it looks like they’re open to various things: https://pickcrew.com/projects/submit_new_project

Edit: I just looked at their blog with gross booking info - they’re doing really well.

As a freelance software developer, I see the other side of this issue.

Rachel, you sound like you would be a great client to work for. Unfortunately, my experience with getting new clients is just as painful as you have trying to find developers.

I have just as much trouble trying to get potential clients to respond to emails, as you do with your developers! The fact that they were the one who contacted me looking for a freelancer, you would think there would be some sense of urgency in trying to get the contract sorted and start work on the project.

But no… they’ll leave me waiting for literally weeks whilst because they’re all of a sudden so busy, or they spend weeks/months reviewing the design/spec when it should have only taken a day or two, leaving me in limbo.

I’ll have a client who is really excited for a project, huge plans for it, we’ll get the spec and design and everything sorted, I’ve cleared my schedule for the next couple of months so we can work on it… you put a contract/quote in front of them, and all of a sudden they get cold feet. Now I have to scramble to fill my schedule again.

General advice I have for people who would like to work with freelance software developers, is don’t contact them unless you’re serious about the job, and have a budget to do the work.

And yes, as a local developer, I’m going to cost more than the crazy rates you’ve heard overseas developers working for! Take that into consideration when budgeting your projects.

I can understand that there are some jobs where either I or the client won’t be a good fit for each other - fair enough. But there are so many time wasters, tire-kickers out there… it’s so frustrating.

Perhaps for Rachel, the advice I have would be see if you can get a referral for a good freelancer from someone else you know who has worked with them.

The best clients I get are one’s that I had referred from another client. Generally when a good client recommends me to their friends, their friends turn out to be good clients to work for too.

And from their perspective, I’m seen as someone worth working with because I’ve done good work for their friend. You’re just starting off the relationship on the right foot and much more likely to have a successful engagement.

My company was essentially a development agency from 2001 until we stopped doing client work a year and a half ago as our product became successful. So I am very aware of the difficulties of working with clients, and try to make sure we are not a problem client.

As I stated initially we pay invoices by return, ensure we present a good spec and pay market rates (we’re in the UK) so I’m not sure this rant is especially helpful!

I don’t think vetting their dev skills is the issue - more checking that they have a track record of happy clients. If they were unable to do what they said they did then they wouldn’t have the references.

All the clients I have had so far have been through my network of previous people I have worked with. I have never tried anything like oDesk because the rates on there just aren’t worth the effort to sign up ($100 for a mobile app!). As you say it’s nice to have a relationship with people you are working with than just being hired as a monkey.

I came across YunoJuno the other month which looks like it might be helpful for you. It’s kind of the same idea as oDesk, matching freelancers to clients but actually pays market rates and treats people like adults. I signed up, but I haven’t used it yet to find work. It seems to be targeted at onsite freelancers in London where as I usually work remotely, but mainly your other point that at the moment I’m awash with work :slight_smile:

Rachel -

You raise an interesting question. Personally, I always try to get back to people who reach out, even if I am busy. Sometimes, the reverse of your experience is also true – the person seeking a freelancer doesn’t reply. It seems like a common frustration.

As for ODesk/Elance, I avoid them for any sort of work – too much effort to weed through things and no point in playing the rush to the bottom. I typically have had a couple of long term clients per year.

I have also seen communication issues during an engagement lead to mismatched expectations. My only engagement that I consider a failed engagement came about during an investigative project that was quite open ended (working with a second freelancer). In this case, I backed off my commitment / hours because the path forward to providing value wasn’t clear and emails to the principal weren’t returned in a timely manner to clarify the engagement.

Communication is important and once the engagement is in place, continuing communication especially around expectations and deliverables.