In software development, hiring freelancers can deliver myriad benefits. Freelancers can help you sidestep many of the typical headaches associated with hiring full-time tech talent, including a lengthy onboarding process, a higher overall cost for salary, benefits, and taxes as well as a less-than-perfect skills fit for a project.
In a word, freelancers provide flexibility. The right freelancer is familiar with different types of clients and typically ready to begin working almost immediately after hiring. They take on the burden of the usual employee overhead (which is reflected in their rate). And you can hire them based on how well their specific skills fit the project at hand.
Hiring a freelancer can add specialty skills that your team may not possess for a new project while helping to help scale up a project faster and beat out the competition.
Hiring freelance developers, engineers, and programmers for your team is a process. You need to define the team’s needs, find top talent, quickly evaluate skills, build a strong working relationship, set achievable goals, and more.
This article will not only cover the basics of finding great freelance talent but also introduce tools for building and maintaining an effective working relationship. Let’s get started.
Freelance software developer skills
In software development, there are three categories of developer: front-end, back-end, and fullstack. Mobile app developers are a separate category and may be useful depending on the particular project.
Front-end developer: This category includes anyone whose work shows up front and center for the user. It’s what you interact with, rather than what’s behind the scenes. CSS/HTML developers, HTML5 developers, front-end SEO experts, and front-end web designers all fall under this umbrella.
Back-end developer: These devs handle everything behind the curtain. Back-end developers are steeped in the languages that keep servers, databases, and everything in between working smoothly. Node.js developers, SQL database developers, Python developers, and more all support the back-end.
Mobile app developer: These developers are skilled in Android or iOS to bring an app to market. Android developers typically use Kotlin, Java, and C++ languages while iOS developers generally use programming languages like Swift or Objective-C.
Note: The descriptions above refer specifically to the ‘developer’ role. There are more members of the development team and you may need their skills for your project. Developers typically involve themselves deeper in a specific project – they execute. Programmers, another potential fit for your freelance role, focus on the code executed. On top of developers and programmers, software engineers apply the principles of engineering to the design and plan for a project.
Pinning down non-software related traits to look for can also help when it comes to choosing between candidates all with ‘guru’ in their application materials. Beyond technical skills, it’s important to identify certain traits that correlate with a freelance candidate’s potential for success.
One trait you may not immediately associate with a role typically free from contracts and strong candidate buy-in is loyalty. A loyal freelancer is upfront about workload expectations. For example, that looks like disclosing their time commitment to other clients at the beginning and holding fast to the agreed-upon hours with you. Good freelancers respect boundaries and show they can maintain agreements even if they take on new clients. An excellent freelance hire also communicates clearly and openly, works independently, and has a personality compatible with the rest of the team.
Now that you understand the four basic types of freelance software developer candidates, let’s talk about how to find top-talent.
How to find a freelance software developer
IT managers and other leaders in charge of hiring can feel pressure to find the right fit the first time around. Remote and hybrid work’s expansion of the talent pool only adds to the desire to hire well.
Define the job
Before you can dive into talent platforms – or even write a job description – you need to pinpoint the problem or problems to solve. The ‘job to be done’ method can be especially useful in defining your needs. Swap yourself for the customer in this method to reflect and brainstorm on the job that you want done.
Do you want to increase capacity in the next sprint to ensure a superior product reaches the market? Is your product well-handled but it’s time to get serious about a website with user experience (UX) in mind? Do you need additional resources to maintain your relational database? Maybe you’re ready to add an e-commerce component to your established website?
Oftentimes, you know exactly the technical language to illustrate your needs, like needing a front-end web developer fluent in Python to implement what a web designer creates while involving programmers to assist. Other times, you may only have a simple idea, such as “Create a FAQ to answer questions about app design and development.” Bring whatever narration you come up with to your freelancer search – and consider spending some time on Stack Overflow to see if there are better ways to describe your needs.
Find a platform (or two)
With the job (or jobs) in mind, it’s time to decide on the platforms to find talent.
Seeking referrals from your network is an easy start to refining the talent pool. Reach out to your team for referrals as well as your larger industry network. Find social media accounts related to skills or fields for which you’re hiring. For hiring managers unsure of how to articulate exact needs, provide examples of work or outcomes you admire for your contacts. This helps relay the type of candidate desired.
A Harvard Business School survey of more than 600 executive leaders using digital platforms to hire talent showed that more than 40% of respondents said using new talent platforms boosted speed to market, productivity, and innovation.
Aside from referrals, online job boards offer typically low-cost options for finding candidates. Both avenues require time to find appropriate job boards and collect talent resources from Google searches, but can be useful for smaller teams with smaller budgets.
If you lack the time, consider freelance platforms such as Upwork or Toptal or even staffing agencies to meet your needs. Platforms will require your time, but often have pre-filled categories for hourly rate, timeline, and more to help you narrow down the set of potential candidates without having to spell out each requirement in a job description. You can also post to multiple platforms at once to cast your net wide. Staffing agencies can take your job(s) to be done and other factors like pay rates, time needs, etc. to handle the administrative work.
Refining your hiring process
After determining where you might look for talent, it’s time to look at what to share with your network, on hiring platforms, and with staffing agencies.
Start with a description for the job posting based on your needs, the amount of technical language you have to describe your needs, the timeline(s) for the project(s), budget constraints, and location details such as remote, hybrid, or in-person. Make sure to include whether the role is part-time or full-time, and determine any educational requirements. Don’t be afraid to include candidates without traditional college degrees in your search. Many talented programmers produce excellent work without a B.S. on their CV. If you intend to hire freelancers in the future, consider creating a template out of your first description to update for each hiring process.
While certain credentials can be superfluous, you still need a freelancer with skills related to the project or projects at hand. It’s crucial to identify a talent match through a skills test. This is where you determine how long your hiring process should be. Consider your own time constraints and the time it takes to make a hire. This could be as quickly as two weeks or as long as a month. Most people hire freelancers too slowly. Part of the appeal of hiring freelancers is the ease with which you can find someone else if someone isn’t working out.
In a competitive job market, you can stand out by offering to pay each candidate for their time completing any tests or homework. You can also use a platform like GitHub to better understand a candidate’s skills, but keep in mind not everyone uses the platform and an empty profile is not a sign of poor ability.
How to effectively work with a freelance software developer
To support a great freelancer, it’s important to provide them the tools and processes that will bring out their best work. To start, communication skills are vital to working effectively with a freelance software developer.
As part of the onboarding process – if not earlier – establish a communication protocol. Identify the asynchronous communication channels and determine synchronous communication windows, if desired. An email reply likely takes longer than a Slack direct message, but they both can take hours if expectations are fuzzy.
Establishing a set of hours or even a particular time of day (outside of daily scrum meetings) to catch up helps projects move forward rather than stall. As part of effective communication, remember that attitudes and sentiments don’t always translate. If you have feedback – positive or negative – you need to be upfront to avoid misunderstanding. Don’t miss an opportunity to praise great work and deliver constructive feedback to correct the course for a project.
Part of communication and the core of hitting milestones is the project management platform. Make sure your new hire has proper access to projects and corresponding tasks to do their work well. You can use your platform to also provide a connection to documentation needed for projects. Establish expectations for time tracking so a freelancer can plan accordingly.
Some of the best software developers can be found in a pool of freelance talent. They can help your team reach a new level – whether by building an entirely new mobile application or simply increasing capacity to build out a product faster. To support the addition of a valuable team member, spend time on your vetting process. Carefully consider where to look for your next freelancer and don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what you need from a candidate. Build off a strong hiring process with honest open communication of needs and expectations. Freelancers can make great additions to your in-house team, choose them wisely.