Topics on this page:

9 Things to Consider When Hiring a Freelance Developer

Female Freelance Developer Working on Project

Many companies, big and small, prefer to outsource their development needs to freelancers. This not only allows them to have reduced costs and improved efficiency, it also lets the business hire someone on a flexible, per-project basis.

You might be a PT who needs her patients to book appointments and make payments online. Or, you might be a real estate broker building a large brand website. Either way, you have a vision and you want to do it quickly – and properly. So, before you hire your freelance web developer, here are 9 key factors you’ll want to consider.

Factor #1: Their Skillset

One of the most important requirements is that the freelancer has the skillset that your project needs (and the portfolio to back it up). For example, if you want to sell things through a website powered by Shopify, you'll need to find a freelancer with Shopify experience.

You don’t personally need technical skills to hire a freelancer. Don’t worry! First, think about what you want. Next, look online for examples of what you’re looking to do. This can be a good starting point and will help you to explain to the freelancer what kind of project you want to do.

Next, it’s time to think about hiring your freelancer. Here are some tips for things to consider, whether you have technical expertise or not:

  • If You Have Some Technical Background: Start by identifying the skills your project requires. Create a list of the tech stacks your project will use.
  • If You Aren't Sure Where to Start: Niche freelance hiring platforms have hiring consultants who can help you decide which kind of developer to hire. The developer can help you decide on tech stacks for your project.

You may be wondering: what are “tech stacks”? Tech stacks are combinations of programming languages that work to take care of all three functions of your intended software:*

  • The Front End: What users see (e.g., inside your app)
  • The Back End: Operations that happen in the background that users don't see but that make your website or app work
  • The Database: Where your site or app stores and accesses user data

For example, Mark Zuckerberg initially built Facebook on an HTML, CSS, and JavaScript front end with a PHP back end and a MySQL database.

If you’re entirely new to hiring developers, the main thing to consider is selecting a senior developer. Someone with lots of skills and experience, particularly in guiding projects from start to completion, is most likely the best choice. Why? It’s likely they’re able to work more independently and to help you make decisions about the project.

Factor #2: Their Geographical Location

The growing popularity of mobile workforces and improved international connectivity has eliminated the limits of geographical boundaries. Businesses now have more access to the global market of contingent labor. As such, your project can benefit from a flexible and highly skilled workforce at affordable prices.

At the same time, you must make sure that the geographical area you choose fits your preferences. There are three critical factors to consider:

  • Cost of Labor: Outsourcing labor overseas is a proven way to minimize project costs. The only trick is that you have to identify the right developers who have the skills you need.
  • Access to Skilled Developers: The beauty of the online workforce economy is that you no longer have to restrict yourself to locally available talent. If you find better talent elsewhere, you can hire them at the click of a button. The world of developers is literally at your fingertips! (Remember: Employment laws and regulations vary by state and country, but employers are responsible for staying compliant, both for freelance and permanent hires. For more discussion on hiring internationally, click here.)
  • Time Zones: If working together in real time is not a priority, operating in different time zones could allow you “work around the clock” and have updates made while you’re sleeping. On the flip side, it could mean that you can’t fix a bug as quickly as you might like.

Factor #3: Your Budget & Timeline

Hiring skilled freelancers can ease the burden on the resources and time you spend on a project. However, before you start signing contracts, you need to establish a clear budget and timeline, and make sure you’re all on the same page with each.

Setting a Budget for Your Project

Establishing a budget for your project lets you determine your project costs in advance more accurately. The prices of hiring a freelance developer fluctuate depending on experience, timeline, and project demands. You also need to factor in that some freelancers will charge a set fee, while others will charge by the hour. By setting a budget at the beginning, you can narrow your field of search and home in on developers that better fit your budget's parameters.

As with any project, determining a budget at the start can be difficult. You can try googling for an approximate budget for a similar project, discussing with a freelance developer hiring consultant, or discussing with freelancers themselves. Some freelance developer hiring platforms also allow developers to pitch their services to you. But always remember that a very cheap freelance developer may not be a good choice in the long run, compared to one with more experience.

Setting a Timeline for Your Project

Setting a clear project timeline at the beginning ensures there are no misunderstandings between you and the developer. By breaking down each stage of the project, you can provide your prospective freelance hires with a clearly defined process. This enables them to see what you expect of them and how long they'll be part of your project.

If you’re unsure how long a project might take, again, a more senior developer will be able to help guide your expectations. Look for a freelancer who has experience in building a similar project from start to finish, as they will be able to more accurately predict how long the project should take.

Factor #4: Company Culture Fit

Though often overlooked, cultural fit is paramount when it comes to hiring freelance workers. Hiring the right freelancer for your project is about more than just their attitude and work ethic. Any developers you hire must still build a working relationship with your team — not to mention with you, too! As such, you need to gauge whether the freelancer shares the same values, goals, and ethos as your team to learn if they’re compatible.

Being very clear about your own culture is vital. Once you are clear, you can ask the right questions in the interview to determine if there's a fit.

Factor #5: Their Previous Clients' Testimonials

Another great way to get a sense of a freelance developer's technical and personal abilities is through client testimonials. Whether they're from someone you trust or a reputable company, recommendations can help you separate the good candidates from the great.

Bear in mind that developers often work on confidential projects and may not have access to client testimonials. If you find that you’re running into that problem frequently, another way to get a feel for freelancer quality is to use a developer hiring platform that extensively vets freelancers’ skills.

Factor #6: Their Communication Skills

Effective communication is one of the most crucial skills for freelance developers. It enables your team to share ideas and creative concepts efficiently. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute highlights a 20 to 25% productivity boost in companies that have established strong internal communication systems. As a result, employing a developer who can regularly update your team in a professional manner is fundamental to your project's success.

It's smart to have a video call with each of your freelance candidates before hiring one. That way, you can assess the depth of their knowledge as well as critical interpersonal skills. Your top applicants should be able to convey ideas and processes clearly. This includes communicating complex jargon to nontechnical people on your team.

Factor #7: Their Ability to Work Well With Others

Bringing good team workers on board can give your project that little edge to make a big difference to the results. A vital thing for freelance developers is to comment on their code so that it's easily understandable to other team members or even future developers that will work on it.

This also makes the code easy to modify and debug. Even if you change the developer later, you will be able to have another developer take over quickly. This means that when hiring your freelance developer, you’ll want to ask how they’ve set up platforms that future freelancers can ease into.

Factor #8: Interviews With the Top Candidates

During the interviews, you'll get a better picture of each freelancer's strengths and weaknesses. By asking the right questions, you'll also get more insight into how well they meet your requirements for your specific role. By carefully assessing their background, knowledge, technical skills, and communication skills during the interview, you can filter out applicants that fall short of your needs. And you can consider giving them a coding challenge to solve that requires the skills you're looking for, if their technical skills haven’t already been vetted elsewhere.

Again, if you don’t have much technical experience and aren’t sure how to check a freelance developer’s skills, hiring a more senior freelancer can be a good choice. This is because they have a longer track record of similar projects and are also more likely to be able to self-solve if they come across an issue. Looking for someone with strong communication skills — including a willingness to listen to your ideas and concerns — is also important.

At this stage, it's also also a good idea to go through former projects potential hires have referenced in their application. This will give you a clearer picture of their general working methods and the rationale behind their chosen processes. This will really start to shorten your list of candidates, bringing you closer to the best freelance developer for you.

Factor #9: Clear Contracts & Billing Schedules

Relationships with freelancers sometimes break down at the last hurdle due to contract disputes. Paying close attention during the drafting process is vital to avoid any misunderstanding. You need to clearly outline your freelance developers' responsibilities and define the exact terms of their contract.

Specify the time requirements, when (if at any specific hours) you want them to be available, and the payment terms. The same level of attention to detail also applies to billing. Ensure freelancer invoices are accurate, on time, and include relevant information on the completed work (e.g., project milestones, or hourly work descriptions). And for your part, remember to pay the invoices promptly.

If you’re using a developer hiring platform, it will often have a standard contract built into the hiring process. Make sure you both carefully read this contract and understand your responsibilities to each other. When hiring via a platform, be sure your intellectual property in the project is protected as part of the standard contract.

Feeling Ready?

Bringing a freelancer onboard can deliver significant benefits to your business. By building a strong network of skilled freelancers, you can have flexible access to the knowledge and experience of countless industry experts at your fingertips. If you’re ready to have your business seen online, it’s time to start thinking about your project!


Image courtesy of iStock.com/marcovdm


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

How we use your email address