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How to Use Online Freelancing Sites to Build Your Business – Part 2

Austin Church

by Austin Church

Nov 12, 2012


In last week's post, I wrote about how online freelancing sites like oDesk can help you grow your business but didn't get in to my actual hiring process. Let's get down to it, shall we?

When I was first starting to move uncertainly through the morass of thousands upon thousands of freelancers from around the world, I would put up a public job posting, choose certain criteria for proficiency in English and average ratings and reviews, and see who showed up.

I still do this on occasion when I'm hopping to find a needle (think: superb talent and professionalism) in a digital haystack, but screening applicants is time-consuming, and just doesn't make sense when I need a fast turnaround on a job or when a 7 out of 10 on the relative talent scale will suffice—for example, a data entry project—and the extra time investment required to vet candidates from a public posting won't pay dividends.

In those scenarios I began hunting for the kind of creative professionals I wanted rather than hoping they would stumble across my public posting. My preferred method involves using oDesk's robust search criteria to identify good people and then to invite them to interview for my private postings.

Let's say I wanted to build a new iOS app, and my senior developer was too busy. Here's how I might identify some pinch hitters:

  1. Go to and create an account. (Use or as a backup.)
  2. On the “Find Contractors,” click on whichever category best describes your need. Under "Software Development" I click "Mobile Apps."
  3. Now in the lefthand sidebar, you can set your search criteria:

· Category and Subcategories: These should already be checked: Software Development (Sub-Category > Mobile Development).
· Feedback Score: 4.5 - 5.0 Stars
· Location: Any Location (unless you already have a preference)
· Hourly Rate: This obviously depends on your budget, but I think that you usually get what you pay for. Paying $2.13/hour—and yes, you will see that—probably won't get the best outcome. If you finish this process and don't have enough quality contractors to interview, I recommend raising the ceiling on the hourly rate. I usually don’t set the minimum hourly for less than $10.

Under "More Options":

· Hours Billed: 100 (I go back and forth on this one. People with fewer hours will almost always charge you less while they are building their reputations, but hiring someone with an established reputation and lots of positive feedback from past clients is a safer bet. Why not try both? Start with 100 hours and if you don't find any potential hires, then reset this criterion to 1.)
· Last Activity: 2 weeks
· Location: This one is your call. I've had bad experiences with certain places in the world, and stolen code always seems to come out of the same two or three countries. When in doubt, hire from a country that speaks your same language.
· English Level: 5 Stars (Unfortunately, oDesk iPhone developers assess themselves, so the stars sometimes don’t tell you much.)
· Contractor Type: Both Individuals and Agencies have their strengths and weaknesses, though I usually prefer to work with individuals.
· Tests: I usually ignore these. When I do pay attention to them, I usually set "Top 10%" and check those tests that show core competencies associated with the project.
· oDesk Readiness: I check this box, but don’t think it matters much.

You'll notice that I skipped "Title" and "Skills." They can be helpful for further narrowing the field if you work through the criteria that we just covered and still have too many options left. For example, I might type “iPhone” in the title field and refresh the search. I’ve found that typing in specific Skills isn’t all that helpful because oDesk uses several synonyms, such as “ios-development,” “iphone-development,” and “iphone-app-development.” Please note: you can potentially miss out on strong candidates if you use only one of the synonyms because most contractors don’t include all of them.

Next, begin evaluating the portfolios of specific developers. Never hire a fisherman with an empty creel. Download some of the developers' apps and play with them. Assess the developer’s skills based on past projects, tests, reviews, and experience, and pick 3-5 of the best candidates.

Here is how I handle the actual hiring process:

  1. Create a simple job posting for your project, but don’t divulge too many details. Start out with a flat rate for the project.
  2. Send an invitation to interview to each candidate with enough details about the job to pique his interest.
  3. Interview on Skype. If the candidate isn’t interested in talking on Skype, he’s out. Just like that. You’re the boss, and you set the parameters. Once you're on Skype, however, ask straightforward questions about experience, past projects, time zone differences and working hours, scheduling, and pricing. Don’t be afraid to also show some personality. You will, after all, spend time managing the project and collaborating with this person. You may as well have some fun along the way.
  4. Ask for and check references. Talk to one or two past clients. (I'd skip this step on smaller projects and tasks that don't require tons of expertise, such as data entry or content scraping.)
  5. Conduct a second interview on Skype. Disclose the full details of your app project, and provide links to similar apps. Even better, storyboard your app in advance, and send the developer drawings of what you have in mind so that the two of you can discuss each feature in depth. Trust your gut. And don’t sit through sales pitches.

After you've made your decision, pull the trigger and immediately send your new hire a test project with a hard deadline. This will test the contractor's ability to follow directions, work quickly, and meet deadlines. If he or she passes this first test, go ahead and plan out the entire project, establishing a clear timeline with milestones and deliverables. You might also consider offering a bonus if the developer hits milestones.

Now you’re off to the races. If the project takes a tumble, fire your contractor and find a new one. That is one of my favorite features on oDesk: Saved Contractors. I always keep a backup, just in case my first hire doesn't work out. My friend Trey shared this piece of advice with me: hire slowly; fire quickly.

I suggest that you put it into practice, and I hope that utilizing online freelancing sites will help your business as much as it has helped mine.

Categories: Business, Complete Elephant, Growing | Tags: online freelancing sites

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