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The Secret of Getting Things Done When Working with Freelancers

The Secret of Getting Things Done When Working with Freelancers

This article will reveal you a secret, and a big one at that.

Anyone who ever hired a freelancer to realize a project knows that sometimes you get a great job done, while other times you only get one big headache. However, few people know what the result ultimately depends on — I do, and I’m going to tell you about that.

Why should you hire a freelancer instead of placing an order with a respectable company in the first place? In most cases, to save some money. No wonder that companies usually charge much more than freelancers for the same scope of services — they must cover their expenses, which are naturally higher than those involved in freelance jobs. Sometimes the difference in prices may be a few orders of magnitude. The irony is that in the end it might be the freelancer who actually does the job, being hired by the company that was contracted by the customer to perform that task. If so, you might think, why should I pay more for the same thing? And you go to some freelance exchange to test your luck…

Alas, it happens pretty often that you don’t get what you wanted — you scold the freelancer who not only failed to meet the deadline but also did everything in the wrong way; the freelancer curses you, saying that someone paying pennies should not expect a lot, and accuses you of insisting on changing things here and there too often. Seemingly, there is no end to this confrontation…

The situation is as bad as it can be, and all that because both the customer and the freelancer lack a very special, secret knowledge. Master it, and your business relations will be like a breeze, work processes will run as if by magic, and final products will be delivered exactly on schedule! Otherwise, you’ll be failing here and there.

Being one of the few people initiated into this mystery, I can open you the secret. Get ready… Here it is:

A freelancer is not a company, and will never be one!

Seen the lightning? Heard the thunder? What, nothing at all? I see… You are not ready to grasp the truth yet, so I’ll have to explain the details.

Almost all customers who have some problems with freelancers think that the main difference between a freelancer and a company is the price. Alas, they make a fundamental error, and their woes follow from that. When hiring a freelancer to do something, a customer expects the level of internal organization and management as if that freelancer were a company — smart self-presentation, efficient negotiations, high commitment to have the job done properly, and meeting the deadlines at that. What is missing from the picture is that in a company these functions are usually done by several persons: one employee negotiates, another sets the task and controls its fulfillment, and someone else performs that task.

While freelancers may be just great in doing their ultimate job (for example, in web design), you should not expect from them advanced skills in negotiations, in time management, and in making a requirements specification (especially if you don’t tell in detail what exactly you want).

As a result, problems arise. It doesn’t help that the freelancer was recommended as a guru and his portfolio is just excellent if the customer doesn’t get what he needs, and in the end, both are utterly disappointed in each other.

Surely, freelancers competent in communicating with customers and delivering great results in due time do exist. However, firstly, such people are few and far between; secondly, their prices are quite often even higher than those of companies; and, thirdly, their abilities in negotiating and in time management sometimes are better developed than their core skills. Therefore, I would think twice before entrusting a complex programming project to a programmer who is a smooth negotiator and otherwise shows high social competence — that’s simply because programming and negotiating are extremely different things, and very few people can handle both equally well!

Let’s say it again: A freelancer is not a company. Therefore, if you really want to get a job done you should never expect from him or her advanced business management skills. On the contrary, you must take over the non-core functions that in case of placing an order with a company would be done by extra employees. I suggest that you do it like that:

Describe the task in detail, as clearly as possible. It’s always advisable to assume that nobody is going to analyze your stream of consciousness and restate it to make it look more like technical specifications. Keep in mind that if you don’t set the task properly, the project is probably doomed to failure from the very beginning.

Lay out a well-defined budget. If the budget is very tight, it’s better to hire someone less expensive; trying to persuade a top-notch pro to do the job on the cheap is not recommended because of a high risk of the project being abandoned halfway.

Do your best to let the freelancer know everything he or she needs for implementing the project. While answering all project-related questions is a must, it’s not enough — try to second-guess all the issues that might have been forgotten. If you were dealing with a company, the project manager would do that. However, since you hired a freelancer, handling such matters is up to you.

Set deadlines wisely. Approve the deadline as suggested by the freelancer but always multiply it by 1.5–2 (you can do the math quietly and keep the result to yourself). Professionals tend to underestimate project timeframe because they calculate it using their past experience with similar projects, while various issues do always arise during project implementation, such as the customer suddenly deciding to change something, or the freelancer stumbling upon an interesting solution that must be carefully thought over. Strict compliance with deadlines is usually possible in very simple projects only, which take a few hours at most. Therefore, if the freelancer estimates the timeframe at three hours, it’s safe to assume the task will take a day.

Understand human limits. If someone boasts that he can build a major web portal in a couple of days and do it alone, don’t take his word for it. (Surely, it doesn’t hurt to ask the guy about the details, but most probably he just underestimates the complexity of the task.) If you are wise enough not to believe in such fairy tales, you can save yourself a lot of trouble.

Communicate with the freelancer and call the shots. It’s you who must track the progress, set checkpoints, and even make progress reports. Describe and regulate all phases of the project without leaving any “gray areas” (aspects that each party wrongly considers as “obvious” but may interpret differently).

When you understand the simple fact that hiring a freelancer means that you perform project management functions and are partially responsible for successful project implementation, you will enjoy working with freelancers and reap the benefits of such approach! Otherwise, you’d better look for simpler and more effortless alternatives.

  • Splashnology Editors,
  • January 30, 2010

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This post has been written by the team here at Splashnology.com

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