There’s almost nothing more intimidating for the average person than wanting to make a simple web site, knowing how you want it to run, imagining an easy logo, and then trying to find someone to do it. The technical jargon alone is confusing for most people. It often sounds something like this:
Client: “I need to be able to, you know — log in and change stuff..”
Provider: “You mean a CMS.”
Client: “No, not really. Just something simple..”
Provider: “That’s right. A CMS. A content management system. You can usually get that done in P-H-P-n-My-Ess-q-eel, or –”
Provider: “That’ll be a zillion dollars.”
Or maybe you just want to have a quick look around Google. Unfortunately, for the past four years, the top results for “web design” or anything related — if it has anything to do with web design — doesn’t exactly help you know how to get a project started, get it done, and … probably more importantly … for much less than a zillion dollars. Possibly more in the range of $100. And if you know where to look, sometimes for little more than the cost of an installation.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to find sources and freelancer hiring pools (the easy way), hiring said freelancer, finishing the project, and getting your final result from said freelancer in 5 easy steps. Steps that you can rinse, repeat, and rinse again, if you really have the ‘projects’ for it. So let’s start:
STEP ONE: This is the easiest part.
Finding freelance providers for several years has been made easy because of the proliferation of new “freelance job auction sites”. These are websites that are basically full of freelancers from every discipline and every corner of the world, from PHP programmers and content writers in the United States, to data entry workers and ASP gurus in Turkey, to Marketing and SEO geniuses in Brazil, to Flash experts in the United Kingdom. These sites are often referred to as “Freelancer Sites”. Clients post jobs here, and within minutes the talent pool is furiously bidding against each other for the lowest price and the fastest time. And since these sites usually rely on a ratings and feedback system, the freelancers in these auctions will actually *meet* their arrangements and timelines. For you, this works great — you get the lowest price, the fastest work, and instead of clamoring after a website designer, it puts people like us in control of our own project! A Freelancer Site is often called a “Reverse Auction” site, mainly because the service providers are bidding on the money they earn, rather than on buying something from the poster. For the scope of this article, this is where we’re going to be finding our talent. There are many, many to choose from at the time of writing this article.
Here are some of the best and my reasons why:
1. TheSuperlancers :: This is a new and very promising site. It’s run by both ex-freelancers and current website developers, so they really know both sides of the game. They also offer no commission on opening projects (that means you start a project here for free and you don’t pay anyone anything except your freelancer — after the work is done, but we’ll get to that later). And aside from great features like payment escrow, they really seem to want to provide a lot of support and help where needed. Every time I’ve had to deal with service and support on this site I had a response within an hour … and it was actually *helpful*. They also have some of the cheapest and best rates in the business. Their talent pool is big enough to get the work done and have a decent selection of bidders for your project, but they are the newest site (probably less than a year old). To know more, you should read up on Canadian web hosting reviews.
2. Scriptlance :: This is probably the opposite of the site above. This site was founded several years ago, and while it isn’t the oldest, it certainly has the most reputation, good and bad. These guys have some good things going for them, though, including a huge talent pool. You can always guarantee some results by posting a project there. Posting a project at this site is free, too, but you are charged a commission when you close a project (usually 5-10% of your final accepted project bid). The support here is generally slow and not always useful, as it is with most older sites, but it’s always great to have options. I usually go here when I don’t get the results I want at the first place (which is free for me, the client/buyer).
3. GetAFreelancer / Freelancer :: The middle-brother of these two other sites. GAF (as it is dubbed) has been in business for several years, and has grown quite a bit recently. Often, I will end up here if I can’t find what I want at the other two.
Usually, it’s rarely necessary to go beyond the first site in my recent experience — but it’s always good to have options, isn’t it?
STEP TWO: Create your account at any (or all) of these sites.
Usually, you can start with one and get used to it first. You’ll need to confirm your email (standard), choose a username, and possibly flesh out your profile slightly, possibly by adding a business name and sometimes a picture. These “freelancer sites” are communities like eBay, so the more information you can provide the more freelancers know that you’re not somebody who may be out to scam them out of their work. Just being a real person is enough. Doing this is much faster than eBay, however. It usually takes only 2-3 minutes at most. When you open your account, you do not have to add any money yet. These three places above generally don’t require you to. You may, if choose, add enough funds to cover a “Featured” or otherwise special project, or if you get a bid from a programmer you like. We’ll get into this later, but for now there is NO need to deposit money unless you really feel like it.
STEP TWO-AND-A-HALF:Open your first project.
While this may sound intimidating to most people still, the signup process and getting your first project out there is probably easier than you think. It’s basically as easy as signing up for a forum and opening your first post/thread. Just confirm your email (since these are communities, they need to make sure everyone is a real person … including the freelancers *and* you), set up a profile (username, the usually) and then find one of the links that say something like “Post a Project”. Usually, these links are close at hand. Posting a project is like posting a message on a forum and waiting on replies, or putting up a classified ad, but more immediate and more inter-active. What you’ll want to do is post a project that purely explains what it is you want to do or need done. Offer examples where you can. Keep it short and to the point. don’t worry about them not ‘getting it’ (they will), and don’t try to tell them how “easy a project it is for someone who knows what they’re doing” (they hate that — easy projects are often harder than you think, and harder orders are often easier than you might believe). Just explain as much as you can and take it from there. Usually these places have Project Message Boards, and you can further explain to interested providers when they ask. Just post what you can — if you need a website built, provide some examples of similar-looking websites that you like. If you want a website that is supposed to do something (say, have users log in, upload photos, vote on a poll, cut and crop uploaded photos) then say that in your post. Most of what you’re asking for has been asked for before, so many providers know what you’re looking for immediately.
After typing in your project, you’ll need to choose a budget and some categories (at most sites). This is often pretty simple — for your budget, just be honest. Programmers and designers might start off bidding within your budget, but they’re going to ignore it just as quickly to start competing with each other. Be honest about your budget and let them work it out between themselves. For your categories, just choose up to five (5) that most closely fit what you said you wanted in your post. If you wanted just a website header, then choose things like “logo” and “graphic design”. If what you’re looking for is some marketing help, then choose those categories. Whatever categories you choose, every provider in the system for that category will be emailed a notice that your project is live, so choose carefully! (Perhaps that’s why they make you choose only five.)
NOTE: A website that has any sort of interactivity (logins, uploading/downloading, search, ability for you to change content) is probably a “coder” type job. That means the provider you’re looking for — while possibly being able to design brilliant websites — must also know how to code. The language that they code it (PHP, ASP, et al) is rarely very important unless your web server (your host) requires it. Most applications (coding) these days is done in PHP/MySQL. If you’re not sure, post your project to the coders and let them figure it out. Most coders do design, while most designers don’t do code.
ANOTHER NOTE:A website that has any nifty animation, or slick moving things with music and special effects is probably done in Flash. Make sure you choose the ‘Flash’ category if your idea sounds too nifty to be true.
Featuring and making projects “Urgent” is up to you. Rarely are they necessary, but are often useful if you are posting on a very busy site, want to draw attention to your project, or are truly in that much of a rush. Mostly, “Featured” means that your programmer won’t be paying commission on the final project bid, so they’ll lower than they’ll usually go on said project. If you have a high-budget project, “Featured” is usually the way to go. “Urgent”, is a great way to get last-minute bids, and “Private” is simply a way to keep your bids hidden — if you don’t want programmers competing amongst each other for your work. This can be helpful if you feel that providers are bidding too high on a very easy project. Otherwise, save your money to pay your programmer or web designer and hit “POST” on that project.
STEP THREE: Sorting out the bids.
Your project will almost ALWAYS draw a lot of bids. It’s up to you to cut through the bidding wars and find the best provider for your work.
A few things to look for are feedback ratings left by other clients, or project buyers like yourself. It’s important to read through these and get a feel for who the provider is. If the provider doesn’t have any feedback (which is sometimes the case), then try looking at profiles. Follow the links to the providers portfolio and personal websites. Try to get a feel for them and for what they do. Out of 10-20 bids, it’s usually pretty easy to find 2-5 that appeal to you. Sometimes, the person with the highest feedback (rating) isn’t the way to go. I have had many great projects done myself by providers with little or no feedback, and often they are willing to go lower than others to establish themselves on the site. For this, don’t simply rely on the bid postings — use the project message board to ask questions. Find the right person by looking for easy tip-offs, like:
*Good communication. I they don’t make sense now, they’ll make much less sense later, believe me.
*A good portfolio. Use your common sense and best judgment. The work may be incredible, but is it theirs? Also, is it the kind of work you need done?
*Someone who clearly understands what you need to do. Usually someone who is clear on the project will be able to tell you what YOU want in the first message or two, and will do this just to make sure that THEY understand.
Don’t answer programmers that try to get you off of the site or talk directly by phone, MSN, or otherwise. This is a problem because it strips you of the protection that the site itself offers. Stay ‘tuned in’ to the site, because once you’re off, you’re on your own again. If you communicate and manage through the site, it’s much easier for their support to come in and handle problems if you need them to.
When you’re sure you’ve found the right person, it’s time to close the auction. If you make a mistake, don’t worry yet. These websites can help you un-do a mistake and pick another provider (find one with great support, as mentioned), reverse an escrow payment (we’ll discuss what that is in the next step), or even un-write feedback. It’s a fairly forgiving system if you use it correctly. Besides, the programmer has to be notified that they won the project AND decide to accept the project in the system before starting work, so don’t sweat it. Yet.
STEP FOUR: Escrow payment and start work.
Now is a good time to pull out the old checkbook. Or, in this case, PayPal. Most sites work through PayPal (if you aren’t signed up, you should be — it’s free and it’s very common to use on websites for payments). Unless you have much more work you need finished, you’ll only need to deposit the amount of money you chose for the bid. Usually, you can do this through an account panel at the site. You’ll start at the panel, leave for PayPal, add funds of some sort, and then return. By the time you get back, your deposit should be visible in your account area at the site you’re at. Now find the “Escrow” button and send it to your provider.
What’s Escrow, you ask? And why?
Escrow — very much like the real-life escrow system — is a method of payment that both secures your money at the site as well as the payment for the programmer or designer. With the escrow system, you can pay to start the work *without* actually paying any money “up front”. This also tells the provider that you actually have the money to pay them. All in a manner that doesn’t quite pay them and doesn’ quite part you with your money just yet. With the escrow system (at the three sites above that I mentioned), this usually means that only YOU can complete it, and only THEY (the programmer, or designer, or writer) can cancel it. What that means is that power is evenly distributed — NO ONE wants money just left in limbo. Generally, the site’s support staff will be there to clear up any disputes, so they will step in and cancel an escrow when a provider won’t, or can’t. However rare dispute cases are, escrow is the safest way for everyone involved (much, much safer than you paying for work “up front”, or your designer starting to work on a “promise”! Use the site’s escrow system whenever possible — a good programmer or designer will even *demand* it. Be wary of those that don’t.
By this point, the provider has probably already emailed you, or communication has started. This is a good time to clear up any last-minute details and to give them any materials they might need to get started. Usually, you’ll give them FTP and web server information from your host, existing logos or web copy, or anything else they need. While it is very common for clients to create separate FTP accounts for programmers and designers when starting work, it is also very common to trust them with this info. Use your best judgment, and always take the route that is safest for you or your business. Make a backup before you start, or only allow access to what they need. In the end, most providers can, in fact, be trusted with what is often very sensitive information, as commonly as a valet is handed the keys to a prized automobile.
Many times, it is also common to speak with providers as they work through Yahoo, Skype, MSN, or ICQ. Staying connected and in good communication is easily 90% of most projects going the way that they should. Remember, you shouldn’t disappear for days at a time any more than they should — they’re often relying on you to be there when they’re done so they can move on to the next project. Stay in communication and expect the same from them. If you don’t (for whatever reason) hear from your programmer or designer (or writer) for more than three times what you expected (three days, when you only expected not to hear back for one) — then it may be time to talk to the site for support. Many times, the site will track them down for you and work out the problem with ease. If not, they can always help you choose another programmer and get you started again.
STEP FIVE: Work is completed and they’re asking for money / escrow. Now what?
It is important to check the work they give you. If you’ve been talking to them throughout, then you probably already know if you’re happy with the work or not. Just remember — if it’s a programming project, have them install it for you and make sure it runs. If it’s a writing project, proofread it. If it’s design, then be certain that you have all the elements you need for later, including FONTS, PSDs, Illustrator documents (if needed), FLASH FLA files, and anything else that might have been used to make the project. Get EVERYTHING, whether you think you’ll be needing it or not.
Once you’re settled and approve of the final outcome, it’s time to pay up. Often, this is as simple as releasing the escrow at the site you’re working on. Sometimes, you loved your provider so much that you offered a bonus for great (and fast) work. Maybe you’re even having them over for dinner. Just know that it’s time to pay the piper and let everyone in the community know how the project went by leaving feedback. Your provider will probably want this to happen right away, because as you may not use the site again for several weeks, months, or more — they’re going to be right back at the auction pool within a day of finishing your project.
Feedback, while consisting typically of ranges from 1-10 (10 being the greatest and 1 being the ‘worst’ of experiences), is most often left at the lowest and the highest range. It is very rare to leave an “average” rating (very much like ebay, or other auction sites). Just say that if a job was well done, it deserves a ’10’. If it was horrible, it deserves a ‘1’. If it was so-so, it deserves a ’10’. Maybe an ‘8’. Use your best judgment, but don’t bicker too much over an above-average rating. If everything goes as planned, your provider will be leaving you a ’10’, and probably expects you to do the same. I once made the mistake of giving a decent programmer a ‘7’ rating out of honesty, and it didn’t go to well. Just remember that the ratings are usually graded on a steep, steep curve, as usually with most sites.
That’s it! By this point, I hope that you’ve managed to build that site you’ve been wondering about and dreaming up, and I hope it all works like it should. You can always go back and hire more talent for more projects in the future — just remember the process and learn as you go. But be careful — for some clients (like me) it has become very easy to “decide” when I need freelance work. Some might call it an ‘addiction’! There’s something quite addictive about envisioning a project and seeing it done by a professional right before your eyes. You can even work on four, five, or more projects at a time, giving you space to dream about even more websites and ideas (at least it’s what I do). Enjoy yourself, and good luck on that new website. Meanwhile, I’ve got a few to finish myself…