I believe you can build startups with freelancers. It goes against all of Silicon Valley’s startup advice, but I believe it’s possible, because I have done it twice. I have been working with freelancers remotely for over a decade and I have seen the good, the bad and the ugliest of ugly. I have used freelancers coders in a 22 person consulting company and I have used them to build mobile (7 Min workout App) and web applications (https://linkedprospect.com/).
Our team currently consists of one Laravel Developer, two Node.js Developers and two full time virtual assistants assisting with support, content and SEO.
We used Upwork to find some of our developers (I have spent more than $250K on Upwork) and OnlineJobs.ph to find the virtual assistant. The other developers and virtual assistant was introduced to us via our network and people that already worked with us.
Tips/Tricks and Hacks
We use UpWork and our existing employees networks. If you have a great employee freelancer, they know great people like themselves. If they enjoy working with you, they will introduce you to other great talent.
- Write an amazing job spec. Put yourself in the developer’s shoes. Developers want to work on interesting projects, so tell them why your project is an interesting project.
- Freelancers and Agencies want long term work. So tell them you are hiring for a long term engagement, if you find the right person. (Be honest though and don’t say this if it’s not true.)
Here is my job spec example:
Headline: Laravel Expert/Agency Needed
I am looking to work with a brilliant developer/agency on a long term engagement.
I need a really good full stack developer or a front-end and back-end developer to work on this project. You must write clean and well tested code. I have only invited specific people and agencies to this job. I have carefully reviewed your profile and I am planning on making a decision in 2-3 day’s time.
Can you please carefully review the requirements here? <link to google doc with the technical specification, screenshots?
This project is a great opportunity to use some of the latest Laravel technology like Laravel Spark and Laravel Horizon.
The software we have built is a Saas solution that allows clients to automate LinkedIn by sending follow up messages and connection requests to people based on a search. The bot API has already been built, we only require development of the part the user interacts with.
My background is in .NET Development. I have been a developer/solution architect for over 10 years. I am also a digital marketer and business person that have outsourced several projects and built a few startups over time.
Please respond by answering the following questions:
1) Do you have experience with Laravel Spark?
2) Experience with Stripe?
3) When can you start?
4)What would the cost/budget be for this project?
5) When can you deliver the first version for testing?
I monitor responses to see how well people answer these questions. I normally start with a fixed price of $3,000 – $5,000 as a budget and then let them know that I am prepared to switch to hourly once the initial phase is complete. I try to make the initial phase what I think will be 2-3 weeks worth of work.
- Make the job posting private. I always make the job post private and then I look for 20-40 freelancers and invite them to the job. I always customize their name.
- Search for freelancers with high ratings by ordering number of starts and amount earned.
- Invite them to the job, customizing their name. It’s important to tell them that this is a private job and you are only inviting a few contractors
- Here is a brief video on how I set up the filters:
Here the the link to the video: https://vimeo.com/293030058
Job Invite Script:
I have reviewed your profile and I think you would be a great fit to bid on my Laravel project.
This is a private job and I have only invited a few people that I believe will be a good fit for my project.
I am looking for a developer or agency to assist with building a Laravel app for me using Laravel. This is an initial project, but I am looking to work with someone or an agency long term.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Freelancer Hiring Best Practices
Don’t treat people any different than you would in a real life hiring scenario. I don’t speak to people on Skype, but I email them and I ask them questions about their experience. I try and see how well they explain things and how well they communicate.
Fire fast: If someone is not responding to your questions, start looking for a new developer immediately using the methods I described above. All our code is in Github (source control) so a new team member can pick things up quickly. I regret not firing our last two developers 3-4 weeks earlier than I did. They both were bad developers and I knew something was wrong, but I just kept on
Agencies vs Freelancers
I have used both. Agencies are more expensive, but they often provide project management support, so all you need to do is agree on what needs to get done. They often have tools and processes like Trello or JIRA. They estimate work in spreadsheets and then do sprints of 1-2 weeks. Agencies often have designers, developers and QA people. I find that agencies sometimes start really good, but then swap out developers from more senior people to more junior people, which I don’t like. They also often start raising their prices for new features, once the project have been going for a few months, because you are locked in and they know your project well. Agencies will often want to speak on the phone or Skype. I prefer email, slack or upwork messenger in that order. I find that having things written down helps.
With freelancers the person is a different type of person. They are more driven than an employee. It’s often hard to communicate with these developers, because english is their second language. If you find a developer that communicates well, hold on to them. I also find that I often go with what a developer suggests. I have a development background and I know that good developers are proud of their work and they want to always create awesome solutions that solve problems.
In the past I supported: Romania, Canada, Ukraine, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Australia, UK, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka;
My recommendations (these are personal): Ukraine and Philippines. I have never had a good result from India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. I know they have over a billion people, but I have never been able to hire successfully and get a good results.
I have always used the Philippines for VAs hired off Upwork and more recently off Onlinejobs.ph The best success I have had was with these two countries (Ukraine and Philippines.)
Training people is essential. I use videos extensively and I talk. My teams love them and they are quick to make. I plug in my mike, record the screen and show people how to do things step by step. I then upload the video to Youtube as “unlisted” and drop it into our slack #training channel. The team then creates a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and links to the video in the SOP. Here is a link to our SOP on how to create an SOP.
Time-sheets, Payments/Salaries and Tools
Some of our staff are not through Upwork and I pay them with PayPal. I have user Payoneer in the past, but it depends if the contractor has a Payoneer card.
I started with spreadsheets for time tracking, but we recently switched to Timedoctor which records people’s screens and tracks time. Since using TimeDoctor our bills have gone down and I now use it myself, to see how much time I spend on activities. It has made me and the team more productive.
This has been a decade of learning for me. I have spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Upwork. The best advice I can give is that you will probably fail a few times, but keep on iterating. The results are amazing. I love my team, we get stuff done and everyone is working remotely. I look forward to meeting everyone in person one day in a tropical location.
With LinkedProspect, we have been through 3 sets of developers for web application portion of our system, which wasted 2-3 months, but we now have an amazing developer who has created a stable system that we can build and grow on. So expect to fail and keep going, until you find someone awesome. Once that happens you will look at what they build and it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling seeing your vision being built right in front of your eyes. Your customers will also be absolutely delighted with amazing support and a solid system.