I’m working on a new project at the moment, that requires me to find a new developer to outsource to. Over the years, I’ve found several good people on outsourcing sites, from countries around the world, who I’ll return to when I have a project that matches their skill set. Every now and then however, I’ll expand into a new area that requires new people with new skills, so that requires posting the project online and soliciting bids from interested developers.
There seem to be a lot of great companies out there, who all have great experience, who all have great ratings and who all bid on your project at similar prices. So how do you pick which one to go with? Here are a few tips I’ve developed that have worked well for me.
Initiate a conversation: At the end of the day, no matter how good the person looks like on paper, I want to talk to them to get a real feel for them. This is the same approach I have used when interviewing people for a real job. Their resumes may look great on paper, but I still want to get them talking during the interview just to see what they sound like. I may ask a question about one of their previous projects, or ask what their approach to a solution would be. Their answers will tell me a few things:
- Are they likable, approachable people? What kind of vibe do they give me? Trust your intuition – if you are getting a bad feeling, there may be an underlying reason.
- What is their level of English like? Poor English doesn’t necessarily translate into poor quality – many of my best people over their years are not native English speakers. However I want to make sure it’s good enough to communicate with, that they understand me, and I understand them.
- What is their response time? A good sign is when I ask a question and it gets responded to immediately, or fairly quickly. A bad sign is when it takes a day or two to get a response. If that is how long they take to respond during the “interview” process, then how long will they take when a deadline is approaching and I really need an answer from them?
- What communication tools do they use? I personally use Google Talk myself for text conversations, since it’s less intrusive, and doesn’t require me to have other software programs running. I also use Skype for video and audio calls where necessary. If the other party wants to use Yahoo, MSN or some other protocol that I’m not using, then that would make working with him less attractive than another person who was using the same tools as me. I’ve also worked with people who don’t use any communication tools other than email. Figure out what approach works best for you.
- What software platforms do they use? Depending on the nature of the project, you might prefer that the other party uses the same software tools that you’re familiar with. For example, if it’s a designer you’re working with, you might want him to send you the source images in a file your programmer can manipulate, or your local print shop can print from. I’ve worked with designers that used custom software, whose source files weren’t as useful to me as other ones. So this might be an area to confirj, if it applies to you.
- What payment methods do they prefer? Initially, you may choose to use the escrow function that your freelance website uses. If your relationship moves beyond the freelance website, then you will need a system to pay them directly. Paypal is far and away the most popular system, however not everyone uses it. Several companies in India for example, can’t accept payments from Paypal. It is also not supported in certain smaller countries. It is in your interest to confirm the payment method they use, and make sure it is one you’re comfortable with.
Get them to ask you the right questions. Sometimes in my project description, I may purposely leave out some crucial details. This forces them to ask me the right questions before they can submit a realistic bid. Doing so tells me that they have read my proposal, rather than blindly making a generic bid. It also indicates to me their level of competence.
Analyze their bid pricing. When analyzing bids, the lowest priced may not always be the best. If a bid is significantly lower than other bids, initiate a conversation or do some research to find out why. In some cases it may be legitimate. Individuals and companies without a lot of experience may submit attractive bids, in order to get consideration. If I initiate a conversation with them and have a good feel for them, I may be willing to try them out. This has worked well for me with projects that are more speculative in nature, with flexible deadlines. The upside here is that you can get work done for significantly cheaper than it would have cost to get someone with more experience. If your deadline is less flexible, then be willing to pay more for a company with more experience.
Match their experience with your project. Take a look at their portfolios and previous customer ratings to see whether their past experience matches what you’re looking for. Their 5 star reviews and positive reviews may not mean much if they were obtained in projects unrelated to yours.
In future posts, I’ll talk about other aspects of outsourcing, and tips I have learned that have been successful for me.