5 Startup Steps to finding & working with freelancers

As there are just two of us (Simon Oxley – my co-founder and I) in our startup we need outside help. We’d love to employ full time permanent staff but without external funding or product traction it’s too risky. The challenge is to find high quality external resources and keeping them focused on the project. Find the right fit/match and your onto a winner. This takes time and a bit of luck.

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Finding a good freelancer takes effort, requires teamwork & can be risky

So far we found freelance and company resources through our friends, Elance, 99Designs and LinkedIn. My friend Martin Wright at the new Web2.0 Surgery has asked me to post on our experiences working with freelancers:

  1. Where to find help? – As a startup we don’t have a long list of trusted suppliers. Trust takes time and experience working together. The next best thing is to ask your friends or rely on marketplace reputation e.g. Elance. We’ve been making lots of new friends at networking events over the last year. Many of these contacts are now on our LinkedIn contacts. Through LinkedIn we identified 12 local freelancers for our front-end web design/dev work. In the end we chose Luc Pestille because he had the right skills and understood our needs.
  2. Choosing right person? Keegan is one of the best freelancers we’ve worked with. We found Keegan through 99Designs and used him for our logo, business cards, Launch page and a new blog for Bootstrapping. Why did it work so well? We’ve now experienced working with logo designers and Keegan is an experienced designer with flare. We explained succinctly what we wanted and he understood our needs accurately. A good freelancer really gets under the skin of the requirement and turns it into a great product.
  3. How much to pay? – The saying goes “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” – James Goldsmith. As a Bootstrappping startup costs need to be kept down but cut too much and the job maybe be badly done. The deal needs to be a Win/Win outcome for both customer and supplier. Also remember that money is not the only motivator. If the company/freelancer is genuinely interested in the project and passionate about the work they will do a good job.
  4. Rules of engagement – My co-founder Simon has done a fantastic job in the architecture and prototyping of our new website monitoring app. Unfortunately there is only one of Simon. So we’ve used an offshore company to do much of the bulky development work. All projects should have a job specification/scope in place including  project timescales, a payment schedule and copy write/IP transference.
  5. Keeping focus – It is always useful to meet the people you are working with. This brings a personal aspect to the relationship which helps to work problems through. However its not always possible to met face to face when off-shoring.  Positive feedback is vital to keeping freelancers motivated. A note of warning: don’t interfere with the creative process once work starts. If you have done your homework and found the right resource get out the way. Otherwise you may do more harm than good.

We’ve benefited using freelancer by finding expert resources and only paying for them when we’ve needed their help. Its important to get alternative quotes because costs vary a great deal and be prepared to pay the going rate. A word of warning: don’t loose too much internal knowledge of your product. This knowledge brings the flexibility required to rapidly respond to customer needs and the ability to innovate ahead of the competition.

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6 Responses to “5 Startup Steps to finding & working with freelancers”

  1. Ben Says:

    Interesting post!

    On the design side of things (logos, business cards, web design etc) how do you/anyone else feel about using students?

    Some seem to deliver to professional standards and their prices are much much lower.

  2. Nick Barker Says:

    Hey Ben

    Good to hear from you and thanks for the positive feedback. On our search we did look at using students. Kane Pickerill was one of the 12 Web design/dev’s we looked at, however unfortunately the fit was not quite right for us. We also identified Andrew Godwin (from Oxford Uni) for our backend dev who may help us in the future.

    There are considerations to make when using students as part of your startup team:

    What is the student’s priority – studies or freelance work? (This situation also applies to part-time freelancers who work evenings)? If the student is working hard for project deadlines or exams this may delay your project timings.

    How much customer engagement experience does the student have? This is important when setting expectations and dealing with mid project problem situations.

    As you say there are definite advantages for the startup: the students bring new/fresh ideas to the project; they are eager to learn; they often have spare capacity for outside work; and they need money to pay off their student loans.

    We would/will use students when we find the right person at the right time. As with many things its a matter of good timing and fit.

    Best

    Nick

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