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The Secret to Growing Your Startup? Hire Freelance Developers

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Long gone are the days when “hiring freelance developers” meant being cheap or exercising a poor judgment.

In the world of ever-evolving tech and never-ending innovation (and hence limited resources), freelancing for startups has proven to be a precious asset. It’s wise, it’s efficient, and it’s fiscally responsible as it allows teams to deliver projects faster without the need for making commitments that keep founders up at night.

We’ve all heard statements like, “I don’t want to hire freelancers because…..” [Fill in the bank]:

  • Their dependability/accountability is questionable;
  • They don’t keep deadlines
  • I don’t want to look like a ‘cheap bastard’
  • It’s bad for company culture

…and the list goes on and on.

I believe that many founders have a distorted view of freelancing simply because they confuse the term “freelancing” with “offshoring” (which, for the record, does not have to be that bad anyways).

So let’s start by differentiating those two terms and setting the record straight using Dictionary.com:

Freelancing (verb):

to act or work as a freelance

Freelance (noun):

Also, freelancer. a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer.

Looking to improve your skills? Discover 8 Tips to Become an Effective Remote Developer

And here comes its opponent:

Offshoring (noun):

the practice of moving employees or certain business activities to foreign countries as a way to lower costs, avoid taxes, etc.

As you can see in the implications above, the definition of freelancing does not include questionable business practices and motives, paying as little as possible, or outsourcing anything out of the country. Freelancing simply means “selling time and services by the hour, day or project”, as opposed to “in exchange for a salary”.

In fact, freelancing is quite awesome. If you are prepping for your next big project, or are feeling like you have fallen behind on your deliverables and your dev team is spread out too thin, here are four reasons why you should seriously consider hiring freelance developers for your startup.

1. Working with freelancers is a solution that can easily be scaled up and down, allowing a ton of flexibility

Every founder, VP of Engineering, and Engineering Manager is familiar with the all-too-common, end-of-the-world fire drills at the office when projects are supposed to be delivered by the end of the month/week/release cycle, but it’s just not feasible. There is no way that the deadline can be met—yet somehow, PMs refuse to recognize it.

Engineering teams are spread too thin, unforeseen delays appear, urgent client demos pop-up. Oh, and what did that PM want again? Gee, this will make [insert the name of the founder] unhappy.

Not to mention this kind of well-known situation:

freelance developers

What do those development teams need to ace their benchmarks and not go crazy while at it?

More engineers. Quickly. Now. Today. Wait… Yesterday, actually.

However hiring is such a daunting task. With developers in high demand, finding “the one” takes a ton of time and effort (which might not currently be a commodity at your disposal).

But if you think hiring is difficult and no fun, wait till you try firing :(

Sometimes all you need is temporary help for a couple of weeks or months.

And once your team has dealt with a backlog of tickets and deliverables, you’ll find yourself in an uncomfortable situation where that extra hire or two become redundant. Very little things are more frustrating for managers (and developers themselves) than lacking the purpose in a development team.

Sure you can come up with an extra side project or put them in charge of maintaining the smallest chunk of code, but are you sure it will prove beneficial for you and your team?

Is it going to keep your employees satisfied?

Lack of meaningful work is one of the most commonly cited reasons for employees’ deep dissatisfaction with their current employers.

And you know the saying- all it takes is ONE bad apple…

If you have a gut feeling that after the projects at hand are completed you might be just fine with the team you currently have, don’t commit just yet. Spending your energy on worrying about what are you going to do with the extra guys in three months after that crazy project has been delivered is just not worth it.

Stay light on your feet- scale your team up and down as needed without premature commitments.

2. …and it’s fiscally responsible.

No matter the size of your business, the bottom line is always a concern.

For many startups, cash flow is variable. Thin quarters follow solid ones until big deals go through and things are in the green again.

freelance developers

When things are going well, you decide it’s the perfect time to build that native mobile app you have always wanted and since you don’t have a mobile guy on your team, you put together a hot job description.

Think again!

Once that app is ready, are you confident it will take a full-time person to keep it in shape?

Do you have a rock-solid mobile strategy? Do you even have a plan past the 3 months ahead?

It’s never a good idea to hire an extra developer and hope “things will work out”. It’s not fair to your potential employees and it’s not fair on you either.

Too many fixed costs tend to not end well for startups.

The same rules apply to all other aspects of a startup’s operations. Let’s look at marketing for example. Do you REALLY need a “VP of Marketing” on your team, or do you actually just need a PRO to help you create a bulletproof marketing strategy?

Do you need to hire full-time Social Media Analyst, or do you need somebody to spend an hour a day staying on top of your Twitter account and to occasionally put together a piece of unique content?

Is a full-time junior sales rep necessary to deal with follow-up calls from a one-off successful marketing campaign?

Really think about it and be honest with yourself. There is no shame in recognizing things for what they actually are. So what if your friend’s startup scaled from 3 to 20 employees in three months? Hiring too quickly just for the sake of it killed one in every three startups that have ever failed.

3. Freelancing gives you access to great talent that otherwise wouldn’t be available

How awesome would it be if that one amazing Google data scientist could work on your Hadoop project? Or this one amazing engineer who single-handedly built that Ruby on Rails platform in a week? That would be AMAZING.

But guess what.

They are just not in a market for a new job.

Maybe they have an amazing six figures salary plus breathtaking equity. Maybe they just LOVE their company/team. Maybe they need that extra job security that startups lack. Or maybe, they simply have a serious aversion to startups. Or they live across the country.

Whatever their personal reasons, they are not available to commit full-time. However, they almost always have a couple of extra hours where they would be open to committing on a project they feel passionate about.

Freelancing gives you access to some of the world’s top talents, that’s otherwise not available to hire. It’s an unmatched opportunity to work with the best of the best giving you that extra edge and piece of mind.

4. Freelance hiring can actually be more dependable than full-time hiring

Hiring a new full-time employee is always a bit unpredictable. Yeah, they did well on your technical challenge, they said they are experts in Node.js, they love “team work”, and their former manager said he would work with them again. But how much of it is actually true, you will find out in months to come.

Hiring a freelancer via a reliable source takes most of those unknowns out of the equation. For example, on Codementor you can see freelancers’ ratings and comments about their work right at your fingertips. Hiring a developer with 26 5-star reviews surely means that they must be doing something right.

You can also reach out to the authors of those reviews to get a bit more of a back-door reference check for an even fuller picture, a piece of mind, and an extra safety net.

And if working together turns out to be a “match made in heaven” for both parties, offering a full-time job with the team at the end of a contract might just be that “happily ever after” finish of the project.

One thing to keep in mind, though—do not expect the so called “99 cents miracles”.

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you found this amazing San Francisco-based, do-it-all full-stack developer with an additional expertise in native iOS apps and 12+ years of experience who charges $15 an hour, stay away.

Great work takes time, and complex projects require expertise. Outstanding individuals with impressive skill-sets know their worth and would never sell themselves short (unless it’s a charity/good cause project they are personally invested into). Think about it—if they could be making $300 an hour, why would they accept $15/ hour work? Would you?

Exercising reasonable caution is an important factor in any type of hiring—full-time and freelance alike.

As you can see, hiring freelancers won’t make a “cheap bastard” out of you. In fact, it’s quite the opposite—it demonstrates wisdom, forward thinking, and ability to distribute resources appropriately and reasonably.

Considering freelancing for your next project might open up many opportunities and lead to amazing projects being delivered. So why not give it a shot?

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