Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.com?

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tidalwave10
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Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.com?

Post by tidalwave10 » Sun Feb 23, 2014 5:55 am

If you've used bidding sites like Freelancer.com to outsource small programming tasks (and especially if you did so in the Startup phase of a self-funded, shoe-string micro business :

1) Which site did you use and what was your experience like? How did it meet, or not meet, your expectations?
2) Would you use this option again?
3) What are some things to guard against / any "gotchas"? One such thing would be that I would expect to own 100% of the rights to any work I pay for

Not interested in hearing reasons from Developers *not* to outsource very small programming tasks. Think I can guess what those reasons would be. Although for a non-programmer Startup business person with very little capital to expend, I'd be interested in hearing, if you researched this avenue, why you might have declined to outsource the coding. Again, very limited amount of coding for a tiny prototype.

Would also be interested in any possible "in-sourcing" avenues to consider, e.g. perhaps a paid summer internship for a CS student to do the work--or as part of a student project. I live in Central NC (Raleigh, NC area) if that helps any.

I don't have a lot of money to spend, so it would be a waste of my time and a Developer's time to hire someone. Nowhere near needing or wanting that.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by KyleAAA » Sun Feb 23, 2014 12:18 pm

Again, without knowing specifics it's impossible to give you decent advice. But one problem I see over and over again with outsourcing of any kind is that business owners who think they know exactly what they want and think their requirements are specific and straightforward tend to be anything but. You're usually best off discussing your solution collaboratively with whomever you hire and have them tell you what a reasonable solution might be rather than trying to give them a list of requirements upfront and thinking you'll get back something usable. I've never experienced a situation where just giving somebody a list of requirements worked out. In other words, problems tend to originate much more frequently on the business side than the developer side. That said, it's rarely a good idea to go with the lowest bidder. Good work isn't cheap and cheap work is rarely good.

In Raleigh you should be able to find a TON of cheap undergraduate labor. Maybe contact the computer science department at NC State and see if they can refer anybody to you? You'll probably get better quality from a site like freelancer.com or elance.com, though, because actual professionals tend to hang out there (although they aren't cheap). On the other hand, you could luck out and find a superstar undergrad.

To answer your question more directly:

1.) elance.com is consistenly pretty good, so far as those things go. It's easy to find bad people too, though.
2.) Yeah definitely IF what you need done is small, discrete, and not on-going.
3.) 99% of whether you have a good or bad experience depends on how you run the project. If you expect to own 100% of the rights, you'd better make sure they don't use any open-source code under certain licensing agreements in their solution. Some license agreements require any derivative works to also be open source. I'm not sure if this actually affects ownership of the code, but it does mean you'd have to make the source code freely available. I'm not a lawyer, though, so you should do your homework on this one.

tidalwave10
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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by tidalwave10 » Sun Feb 23, 2014 12:56 pm

Thanks Kyle. Great info and things to consider. Although I'm aware of various open source licenses like GPL and its variants (and the reciprocity / sharing required), I'm partial to BSD--seems like the least restrictive of any I'm familiar with. Agreed on not reflexively accepting the lowest bidder--I've seen what happens when Governments take this tack; it ain't pretty. Any specifications and tasks I'd outsource would as near to 100% deterministic as I can make them. And as limited and clear in Scope as I could make them.

When I say 100% ownership, what I chiefly mean is not being contractually, or otherwise, bound to the Developer when the work is done and paid for. So I may have misspoken. I have friends who've been held hostage by graphic designers, for example, refusing to release source AI Illustrator files when the work is complete and paid for. Sounds like Bad Actors and not a great practice. Hopefully rare. Low res "comps" are fine for early stage. But refusing to release full res vector and raster source files seems to me to border on Criminal.

Of course anyone running a small shop--I've worked in a tiny 3 man GIS services shop--knows that Customers can be deadbeats just as much as a Service Provider can be. Seems half of one's time in a small consultancy can be: 1) Getting customers to pay up when the work is complete and 2) Drumming up new business.

As far as Elance.com and similar operations, do they not have a Ranking and Ratings system for Developers similar to what eBay and Amazon provide for sellers? If not, sounds like a huge Business Opportunity waiting to be had. Unless there were lots of bogus Ratings, I'd hope you could find reliable coding talent by reading through reviews, etc.

Would also be interested in knowing what the fairest payment schedule would be--one that protects both me and anyone I work with. Perhaps 1/3 up front, 1/3 when 50% complete, and the final 1/3 when 100% complete and source code / files are delivered?
KyleAAA wrote:Again, without knowing specifics it's impossible to give you decent advice. But one problem I see over and over again with outsourcing of any kind is that business owners who think they know exactly what they want and think their requirements are specific and straightforward tend to be anything but. You're usually best off discussing your solution collaboratively with whomever you hire and have them tell you what a reasonable solution might be rather than trying to give them a list of requirements upfront and thinking you'll get back something usable. I've never experienced a situation where just giving somebody a list of requirements worked out. In other words, problems tend to originate much more frequently on the business side than the developer side. That said, it's rarely a good idea to go with the lowest bidder. Good work isn't cheap and cheap work is rarely good.

In Raleigh you should be able to find a TON of cheap undergraduate labor. Maybe contact the computer science department at NC State and see if they can refer anybody to you? You'll probably get better quality from a site like freelancer.com or elance.com, though, because actual professionals tend to hang out there (although they aren't cheap). On the other hand, you could luck out and find a superstar undergrad.

To answer your question more directly:

1.) elance.com is consistenly pretty good, so far as those things go. It's easy to find bad people too, though.
2.) Yeah definitely IF what you need done is small, discrete, and not on-going.
3.) 99% of whether you have a good or bad experience depends on how you run the project. If you expect to own 100% of the rights, you'd better make sure they don't use any open-source code under certain licensing agreements in their solution. Some license agreements require any derivative works to also be open source. I'm not sure if this actually affects ownership of the code, but it does mean you'd have to make the source code freely available. I'm not a lawyer, though, so you should do your homework on this one.

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ClevrChico
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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by ClevrChico » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:15 pm

Some colleges have field projects that pair up business people like you with senior students. Good experiences for everyone involved.

I will throw in that you do get what you pay for, like anything in life.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by rotkam » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:17 pm

I have used elance consistently (and exclusively) for the last three years. The site itself is good, and since it is one of the larger ones, they attract a lot of talent. Just like with everything that is technical, it helps if you understand the underpinnings atleast a little bit. That way you can ask for exactly what you need and elance can deliver.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by sunnyday » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:33 pm

I helped start a company that went on to get millions in funding. The company won a contest and got a $500 free credit to oDesk. The amount was extremely small, but the founder didn't want the credit to go waste so we tried to outsource a very small project to a company in India that had good reviews. It was a disaster. Their response was "Yes, we can and know how to do that" but they were in over their heads for everything. It would have taken much less of my time just to do the project myself. We pulled it from the company and requested a refund from oDesk (they gave it to us). I don't believe the founder ever used the credit though as he went on to raise money and hire a good size fulltime team.

YMMV, but I like the college intern for cheap idea. I also like the idea of releasing early and releasing often. If you're on a shoestring budget, build a beta version and if you can show growth -- don't be super tight on your budget and put what you can into the company

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by magellan » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:55 pm

tidalwave10 wrote:Again, very limited amount of coding for a tiny prototype.
When I think prototype, I think proof of concept code without error checking logic, perhaps some performance issues, serious functional limitations, and a very limited user interface. If the user does something unplanned, the result is unpredictable. Is that what it means to you?

'Tiny prototype' can mean very different things to different people. Before you hire someone, it's essential that it means the same thing to both of you.

Depending on how much functionality the program will have and how much transfer of domain expertise will be required from you to the developer to get the job done, it might make sense to break the task into two deliverables.

The first deliverable would be a refined functional specification for the project. You'd start with a rough draft and collaborate with the developer to flesh it out and talk it through. This might include a detailed mock-up of story boards for GUI stuff if the program has a GUI. It might include detailed descriptions of essential computing algorithms, if that's the meat of the project. If there's no GUI, it might include detailed input/output interfaces.

The key in this phase is to pay the developer some money to help you define the functional requirements and to let them gain whatever domain expertise they'll need to build out your program exactly the way you want it built.

With the completion of the the requirements phase of the project, you and the developer could then agree to proceed to the build phase of the project and the developer can price that out with a much better understanding of the task.

Jim

tidalwave10
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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by tidalwave10 » Mon Feb 24, 2014 7:15 am

Let's set Software Development aside as an outsourced activity. Has anyone here outsourced Data Entry? I hope that question offends no one. For what it's worth, I've worked many hours and weeks as a younger man doing data entry for companies via Temp agencies. Not to mention any other number of low end service jobs: dishwasher, grocery bagger, cashier, factory worker, etc--incidentally, cleaning toilets / small offices after hours during the evening isn't the worst job I've ever had--it was more pleasurable than many IT jobs I've had. At least for the former there is closure. :-) Point being, I'm not beneath performing any business activity myself if it makes good sense in terms of efficiency / cost / productivity.

One interesting story I read, seems like eons ago, was a company making U.S. phone books available on CD-ROM. Guess this was in the days before good OCR--Optical Character Recognition. Anyway, the Company outsourced all or most of its data entry to China. Ensuring each phone book's data was entered separately, e.g. by two people working independently. And then performing a simple "diff" / comparison. With the expectation, I suspect, that if each value's entry agrees with its corresponding other one, then it was highly likely entered correctly. But if there was a mismatch, that would be an indicator of error.

Thought it was a cool concept--not the outsourcing to China part, but the dual data entry as an error checking mechanism. Still GIGO issues--Garbage In, Garbage Out. The source data in the phone books has to be correct.

Also wondering if anyone has used these outsourcing sites for work other than Software Development. And if so, what your experience was like, what to watch for, and would you do it again based on your experience(s).

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by freddie » Mon Feb 24, 2014 8:56 am

At a previous company we outsourced marking up of data (think label of pictures to say things like 2 cows, red car,...) to an indian firm. It worked very well for all the things that were well defined.

The big thing with outsourcing is that you need to be very specific about what you want. You can't walk over to the desk and try and explain it. You need very detailed specs for pretty much anything. You also have to be realistic. Every now and then I go on elance you see people saying "I want an app to clone some famous app (snap chat, uber, facebook)" and then they have a budget of 5k. They are going to be disappointed no matter what.
tidalwave10 wrote:Let's set Software Development aside as an outsourced activity. Has anyone here outsourced Data Entry? I hope that question offends no one. For what it's worth, I've worked many hours and weeks as a younger man doing data entry for companies via Temp agencies. Not to mention any other number of low end service jobs: dishwasher, grocery bagger, cashier, factory worker, etc--incidentally, cleaning toilets / small offices after hours during the evening isn't the worst job I've ever had--it was more pleasurable than many IT jobs I've had. At least for the former there is closure. :-) Point being, I'm not beneath performing any business activity myself if it makes good sense in terms of efficiency / cost / productivity.

One interesting story I read, seems like eons ago, was a company making U.S. phone books available on CD-ROM. Guess this was in the days before good OCR--Optical Character Recognition. Anyway, the Company outsourced all or most of its data entry to China. Ensuring each phone book's data was entered separately, e.g. by two people working independently. And then performing a simple "diff" / comparison. With the expectation, I suspect, that if each value's entry agrees with its corresponding other one, then it was highly likely entered correctly. But if there was a mismatch, that would be an indicator of error.

Thought it was a cool concept--not the outsourcing to China part, but the dual data entry as an error checking mechanism. Still GIGO issues--Garbage In, Garbage Out. The source data in the phone books has to be correct.

Also wondering if anyone has used these outsourcing sites for work other than Software Development. And if so, what your experience was like, what to watch for, and would you do it again based on your experience(s).

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by Ged » Mon Feb 24, 2014 8:12 pm

tidalwave10 wrote:I have friends who've been held hostage by graphic designers, for example, refusing to release source AI Illustrator files when the work is complete and paid for. Sounds like Bad Actors and not a great practice. Hopefully rare. Low res "comps" are fine for early stage. But refusing to release full res vector and raster source files seems to me to border on Criminal.
Practices in fields tend to vary. Most graphic artists have been taught from day one to retain copyright on their work when they work on a freelance basis because of a history of abuses in the field, i.e. work modified and re-purposed and resold. If you want to own the copyright you will have to negotiate it up front in the contract.

http://www.formulis.com/blog/las-vegas- ... hts-review
http://www.sitepoint.com/retaining-the- ... t-hostage/

That practice is not particularly common in software development. Generally software is much harder to re-purpose and software developers work under contracts that are structured differently.

It's a distinction that you (and your friends!) should become familiar with if you are going to be running a business that uses these skills.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by Watty » Mon Feb 24, 2014 9:25 pm

Again, very limited amount of coding for a tiny prototype.
A big question if that is a core part of your startup, if it is then I would be very careful about who you outsource it to.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by ebeard » Mon Feb 24, 2014 9:40 pm

I own a small software firm. My recommendation is don't code anything. Mock up your user interface using power point or keynote. Shop it around or show this to potential customers. Once you have interest then spend the money. Typical freelancers will charge $100-150 per hour for tested code.

If I can be so bold, most people don't know what they really want when it comes to a working program until it is front of them where they can play with the interface and see output. Also programmers are usually not very good at UX (user experience).

We do our best to follow the agile process when developing applications. We test all code and let the customer make the business logic decisions.
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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by ourbrooks » Mon Feb 24, 2014 9:53 pm

It would be very, very unusual if the specifications you had in mind are tight enough so that a developer could write code without making lots of probably wrong assumptions on what you want. There are people who claim that the only specification that is adequate is one which can be proved mathematically correct.

Of course, individuals are not the only one who have this problem; it's an even worse problem for large companies. How do companies like IBM, which, these days, is primarily a contract programming company, solve it? The answer is, it's not easy and being able to carry out some of the methodologies is one reason why IBM is such a large business. There are, however, some tactics which even an individual can use. One of these more important of these is to use a two phase process; the first phase is development of the requirements; the second phase is execution.

What this means is that you spend your programming money in two phases, as Magellan suggests in his post. Hire someone just to read your specifications and elaborate them and to estimate the implementation time. You can tell that person that you've already got someone else in mind to do the actual coding - of course, if the first person turns out to be really good, you can change your mind later. The idea is to get down in writing all of those things all of those things that are needed to understand what you want. Depending on costs, you may even want to have two different people each do the task. If their results are very different, you know you have a specification problem.

Once you have a better set of requirements, then go and bid the coding part of the task or, now that you have a good idea of the quality of the work, just negotiate rates with whomever wrote the requirements.

Oh, and there's a phenomenon in the business called Biggerstaff's Law: the effort required to go from a demonstration or tiny prototype to a real prototype that can actually be used is an order of magnitude greater than for the tiny prototype/demo. The effort required to go from a real prototype to a product is another order of magnitude. There's also a widely held belief that Biggerstaff's Law is an underestimate.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by tidalwave10 » Wed Feb 26, 2014 6:27 am

So much good stuff here, thanks to all. I'm making a note to print this thread and review it carefully. I like getting away from the computer with hard copy and marking it up (another reason I prefer Dead Tree books to eBooks).

Anyway, thanks so much. Sounds like I should invest in learning more about Requirements Gathering / Specifications. And possibly some formal PM skills. But not so deep that I never Execute--again, huge personal peril given my Past Performance in trying to launch a venture. I'd rather be Agile and Lean and get something started rather than nothing. Focus is a challenge. Good ideas are cheap and plentiful. But worth nothing without Execution. If folks could recommend a single book that covers what I've mentioned in this particular paragraph, what would you suggest? Again, I'm not trying to become a Software Developer and grow a career in it--because that really is another career and lifetime. But I'd like to know how to work efficiently, effectively, and amicably with Software Developers and anyone else I might work with.

Still trying to wrap my head around Software Developers and Graphic Designers retaining Copyright to work produced as an Independent Contractor for someone else--unless rights are specifically granted in the contract. Setting aside any issues about Open Source code. Sounds bizarre to me, but it's evidently the Default. Any advice there, e.g. to secure all rights without pissing someone off?

Like with my graphic designer friend who wants to help me with WP, Social Media activities, web site design, etc. I'd rather not work with him than risk damaging a terrific and valued friendship. So, if I do work with my friend and his small company, should we have a Contract between us specifying who retains which rights? Sort of like being roomies with your best friend--that can turn into being ex-friends if said roomie has really bad habits you didn't know about--or you're just not compatible in a shared rental.

I'm eager to work with my friend, but I'm not sure if it's the best thing for either of us. Anyone here worked with close friends in a contracted business task capacity? If so, how did it work out? Would you do it again and/or what would you do differently?

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by Methedras » Wed Feb 26, 2014 6:52 am

tidalwave,

Good to see you still pushing forward. I just wanted to provide some food for thought on the first few days after my website launch.

Within the first hours of launch, I was getting word from site users that "X isn't displaying properly in Safari", or "Y doesn't appear right on mobile". These were a few technical errors which I just couldn't stress test for all configurations due to my limited budget. My users became my testers. :P Also, we immediately identified a few interface choices which users weren't quite in-sync with, and so after two days we made some structural changes and I pushed out the new version last night.

OK, so here's what I am getting at: I'm not here to suggest that you should program it all yourself. I programmed my entire website myself, and it resulted in complete exhaustion. However, my experience has shown me that no matter how hard you try, within the first hours/days of use, users will find problems with you site which you never saw. Thus, I think you need to be prepared for this eventuality when you release your initial product. You need to either gain enough familiarity with the website code that you could make modifications yourself if you need to, or you need to keep the original programmer on a short-term "retainer" to make any critical changes which you might need in the first couple of days.

Best of luck,

M

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by ebeard » Wed Feb 26, 2014 3:05 pm

ourbrooks wrote:It would be very, very unusual if the specifications you had in mind are tight enough so that a developer could write code without making lots of probably wrong assumptions on what you want. There are people who claim that the only specification that is adequate is one which can be proved mathematically correct.

Of course, individuals are not the only one who have this problem; it's an even worse problem for large companies. How do companies like IBM, which, these days, is primarily a contract programming company, solve it? The answer is, it's not easy and being able to carry out some of the methodologies is one reason why IBM is such a large business. There are, however, some tactics which even an individual can use. One of these more important of these is to use a two phase process; the first phase is development of the requirements; the second phase is execution.

What this means is that you spend your programming money in two phases, as Magellan suggests in his post. Hire someone just to read your specifications and elaborate them and to estimate the implementation time. You can tell that person that you've already got someone else in mind to do the actual coding - of course, if the first person turns out to be really good, you can change your mind later. The idea is to get down in writing all of those things all of those things that are needed to understand what you want. Depending on costs, you may even want to have two different people each do the task. If their results are very different, you know you have a specification problem.

Once you have a better set of requirements, then go and bid the coding part of the task or, now that you have a good idea of the quality of the work, just negotiate rates with whomever wrote the requirements.

Oh, and there's a phenomenon in the business called Biggerstaff's Law: the effort required to go from a demonstration or tiny prototype to a real prototype that can actually be used is an order of magnitude greater than for the tiny prototype/demo. The effort required to go from a real prototype to a product is another order of magnitude. There's also a widely held belief that Biggerstaff's Law is an underestimate.
This is the waterfall approach to software design and one I don't recommend. I do recommend the Agile approach to design which favors not trying to predict the future and working in small iterations until the stake holder is happy.

This is a debated topic amongst professionals but here is a nice overview of each with pros and cons.

http://www.base36.com/2012/12/agile-wat ... omparison/
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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by KyleAAA » Wed Feb 26, 2014 3:23 pm

ebeard wrote: This is the waterfall approach to software design and one I don't recommend. I do recommend the Agile approach to design which favors not trying to predict the future and working in small iterations until the stake holder is happy.

This is a debated topic amongst professionals but here is a nice overview of each with pros and cons.

http://www.base36.com/2012/12/agile-wat ... omparison/
I agree. In fact, I'll go one further and say it really isn't all that debated amongst professionals anymore. Agile has won and it's better.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by jbdiver » Wed Feb 26, 2014 3:33 pm

ebeard wrote:
This is the waterfall approach to software design and one I don't recommend. I do recommend the Agile approach to design which favors not trying to predict the future and working in small iterations until the stake holder is happy.
Completely agree. You might understand your goal, but you don't know the solution. While trying to figure out your solution, your goal will change. An iterative development process is best suited to the type of project you are considering.

Set a budget of something like 2 months. Slice the allotted time up into 2-week intervals (i.e., sprints). Your goal at the end of each two-week interval is a fully-functioning version of your prototype. Every interval after the first interval is focused on refining the prototype and adding additional functionality. Stop the process when you are comfortable with the prototype or have exhausted your initial development budget.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by Ged » Wed Feb 26, 2014 3:47 pm

tidalwave10 wrote:I'd rather not work with him than risk damaging a terrific and valued friendship. So, if I do work with my friend and his small company, should we have a Contract between us specifying who retains which rights? Sort of like being roomies with your best friend--that can turn into being ex-friends if said roomie has really bad habits you didn't know about--or you're just not compatible in a shared rental.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. It's very hard to predict.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by jcw » Wed Feb 26, 2014 4:00 pm

I have used these sites successfully and currently work at one of the companies in this space. The best way to be successful is to find a developer with great communication skills. Considering you're outsourcing, you are probably not doing a project that is technically super complicated. Thus most highly rated freelancers could probably do the job provided you communicate well. A few tips:

- The best developers are in Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe. I tend to avoid India/China developers.
- Pay a decent wage! Don't try to get rock bottom pricing as your project will turn out to be more expensive. You should expect to pay $20-30/hour for any good developer.
- Do a small test job to see if you work well and the developer is good.

feel free to PM me if you want.

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Re: Outsource programming to bidding sites like Freelancer.c

Post by tidalwave10 » Wed Mar 05, 2014 5:43 am

jcw wrote:I have used these sites successfully and currently work at one of the companies in this space. The best way to be successful is to find a developer with great communication skills. Considering you're outsourcing, you are probably not doing a project that is technically super complicated. Thus most highly rated freelancers could probably do the job provided you communicate well. A few tips:

- The best developers are in Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe. I tend to avoid India/China developers.
- Pay a decent wage! Don't try to get rock bottom pricing as your project will turn out to be more expensive. You should expect to pay $20-30/hour for any good developer.
- Do a small test job to see if you work well and the developer is good.

feel free to PM me if you want.
Thanks for your input and insights JCW.

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