Outsourcing for developers: when and where?

For a long, long time I was hardily against the idea of outsourcing. I wanted to be everything behind the site for a client — the mind, the creative, the worker — everything. Outsourcing felt wrong. It felt like cheating and I wanted no part of it.

Not until the time when I decided to bite off more than I could chew. There were about four open projects I had going and probably two others that I was putting the finishing touches on — and let’s be honest, we all know how clients can be nearing the end of a project (see: annoying). At any rate, I was in over my head for a single-person agency and I was slowly losing grip on many of my projects. I had no choice. I had to get help and it had to be outsourced.

When should we outsource?

There are two huge reasons for when we should outsource. The first is obviously when you need an extra hand. Your workload is too heavy, or you’re going on vacation soon or you just don’t have the time to get it done by deadline. An extra pair of hands won’t hurt. Secondly, you’ll want to hire some folks if something is outside of your knowledge or skillset or you just don’t want to do it. For example, you may know how to code a site, but you don’t know or don’t want to do the jQuery. I like to think of it as temporarily hiring someone to work for you.

In both circumstances, you always want to be as clear as possible on the details of your project. Not just that, but you want to make sure lots of these prospective hirees understand your brand, your processes and the level of quality you associate with.

There are also several different ways you can go about getting people to help you out. It doesn’t just have to be development help, it can be administrative as well. You have to figure out what you need and where your time is best spent. But before you start all that, you have to figure out where you want to hire these people from.

Where should we outsource?

You can really have your pick of where and how you want to choose the people that essentially work for you. You have to keep in mind your limitations when looking for help, such as timing and deadlines as well as how much of a budget you have to work with. Always keep in mind that in most cases, you get what you pay for and patience is a virtue. Rushing to find help isn’t a great idea, but sometimes you may be able to strike gold. Here are some places to find people:

Freelance work sites

Even if you’re a freelancer yourself, you can hop on a site like this to find other freelancers to connect with. Now, I’m not going to break down which one is which and which one is better. I will tell you that I use Upwork to hire and have used many others like GetACoder, and Freelancer to get work. Each one has their own set of features that makes it unique.

What you’ll want to do, is try to browse around the site to see how much people are charging for their work. Most sites allow you to look through different profiles and many people will have profiles and prices. Most likely if you sign up as a contractor, you’ll be able to formally ask anyone you find if they’d be interested in a job. Most times, it’s best to just post a job or project and see what you get. That way, you get to see everyone’s potential, not just the favorites that have been around forever and you also get to name your price. Some people may counter, but it’s really a great tool to see what’s out there.

Make sure you’re not too informal with prospective subcontractors. I’m not big on formalities (i.e., lots of people will address you as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’) and I like them feel like it’s a partnership, but I try to be no nonsense when it comes to what I’m looking for and deadlines. These sites are definitely more helpful when you’re working on a strict, quickly approaching deadline. I’ve posted jobs before at midnight and have gotten 20-30 applicants in about an hour. The benefit of these sites is they’re global, so someone is always up.

Job Boards

There are many blogs and websites that have job boards for freelancers. Some of our favorite sites have them and they can be pretty costly. That’s why I’d suggest job boards as a way to connect with someone in more like a partnership rather than just a freelancer to do a project.

Job boards tend to have a different type of freelancer than the one you’d find on a site such as oDesk. Many freelancers who browse job boards are about quality over quantity, which the reverse is what you’d typically find on freelance work sites. Because of this, most times you’ll have applicants who will often quote higher prices. So again, you have to think about your budget because you’ll have to pay the job board and the worker a pretty penny.

There are some free job boards out there I have used. One is FreelanceSwitch, which makes the applicant pay to apply for jobs. It’s not a bad idea because instead of just taking stabs in the dark, the subcontractor has to actually decide of he or she would like to work on the job. Because of this, again, you’ll want to be as specific as you can be on job boards. You never want to waste someone’s time and get a bunch of submissions from people you’d never want to work with.

Job boards are great if you’re looking for a partner of have a long-term project that’s not necessarily pressing up against deadline anytime soon. You still get a decent amount of applicants and depending on the job board, you may find a larger representation in one group than another, however, job boards are still essentially worldwide.

Local Craigslist

If you’d like to work with someone closer to home, perhaps Craigslist is the resource for you. Before I jump in this one, I’m going to openly say you never know what you will get on Craigslist. Just hope for the best!

I’ve used Craigslist before and most times you get a good amount of people inquiring for more information. Most times, these people are so desperate for work, they tend to do lots of copying and pasting generic messages to you. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t, but it absolutely lets you know that person is interested in the money moreso than anything. Also, you’ll find people who aren’t local, but are just looking for jobs by hopping to different cities’ Craigslist.

It’s best to ask for links to previous works and you’ll want to do a lot of brain picking. Most people on freelance sites and job boards understand the process and can catch on quick. Craigslist has so many posers and such, I find that I always have to take special care when considering someone from Craigslist. Please be thorough on every site, but especially Craigslist!

Also, make sure you post your ad in the right section, or you’ll be flagged and the post will be taken down. Most Craigslist local gigs allow you to post for free, but some high volume cities may require fees. You’ll get many locals and people from surrounding areas interested in your gig and they tend to respond pretty quickly in low to mid-volume cities. Be prepared to get a lot of students and newbies who are interested — just be prepared to share your process.

Phone a friend

This one may seem obvious. You’re a developer with tons of friends, you can just ask one of them right? Well, not so fast. First, you have to make sure, like any other applicant, your friend understands exactly what you do and how you do it.

You also have to make sure your friend understands they are being hired by you and you expect them to act professionally. That’s the problem with many friendly hires, is many people don’t know how to draw the line between friendship and business.

If you don’t have many developer friends, there are many ways to meet some. Check out some events in your area to see where all the creatives hangout and start hanging with them. Working with people oftentimes creates a better bond between people because they trust you and will start recommending you to others. If there’s any way you can do this, not just to find people to help, but to network, then you should.

Again, this is a slower process and something you should do if you are looking for more of a partner between things. But most importantly, make sure they understand the business side of things.


In any case there are things you have to remember and consider. Do you feel more comfortable giving your work to a stranger or someone you may know or have the opportunity to see face to face? Do you desire more of a partnership or a subcontracting? Are you okay with working through language and time barriers? Once you do that, think about your budget and weight your options.

No one can do anything alone and work is always easiest when split down the middle. Outsourcing is a great way to find that help and build relationships to further your business.

Kendra Gaines is a freelance designer from Virginia, USA. Connect with her. More articles by Kendra Gaines
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