There is lots of freelance help available on the internet, from writers, editors, proofreaders and other professionals in the writing industry to software developers, graphic designers, web designers and all manner of other technical and business specialists.
Thanks to the increasingly popular outsourcing exchanges, such as Elance.com, SmarterWork.com and ContractedWork.com, it is now very easy to find and hire the right contractor for your project at the right price. If you need help with a technical project, such as software development or web programming, there are even exchanges like RentACoder.com that specialize in these disciplines and organize their participants according to their individual skills.
Using an outsourcing exchange is quick and easy. You simply post a description of your project requirements (in sufficient detail to allow a contractor to estimate its cost) and within hours you will receive proposals from a number of freelance specialists, each one eager to win your business.
You can even use an outsourcing exchange as a research tool, to get an idea of the likely cost of a development project that you may be considering. However, you should beware of posting repeatedly without awarding a contract, as this will earn you the reputation of a time-waster and may adversely affect the response you receive to future postings. As a buyer of freelance services, posting your requirements is usually free. It is the contractor that pays for access to the service, either as a monthly subscription or as a percentage commission on the value of contracts awarded.
If you decide to award a contract in response to a posting, you can protect yourself (and the contractor) using escrow payments. You simply pre-pay the contract value into an escrow account (an interim bank account provided by the exchange operator) knowing that it will only be released to the contractor when you confirm that the work has been completed to your satisfaction. Likewise, the contractor benefits from the reassurance that funds have been reserved to pay for his services. For complex projects, it is even possible to administer phased payments via the escrow account and, in the event of a dispute, take advantage of an arbitration service.
One of the benefits of online outsourcing exchanges is that they provide access to contractors from all over the world. Several countries (such as India and parts of Eastern Europe) have very low labor rates but a highly skilled and professional workforce, making it possible to buy high-quality services very economically. Most of these professionals also speak and write English to a very high standard, making formal communication no more difficult that with a local contractor. The instantaneous nature of internet communication means that it is no longer necessary to collaborate face-to-face.
Of course, the use of freelance contractors is not without its risks. To ensure that your project delivers the results you’re expecting, you should follow a few simple guidelines:
- Create a budget for your entire project so that you know how much each aspect should cost. This will enable you to assess the overall feasibility before you start spending money on contractors.
- Write a detailed specification for each of your freelance requirements.
- If appropriate, use a non-disclosure agreement before sending out the specification to bidders. If so, it will be necessary to post a project overview in the freelance exchange and to operate a closed bidding process.
- Get a fixed price quotation before assigning work to any freelancer. If a freelancer is unable to provide a fixed-price quotation, it may be an indication that your requirement specification is not sufficiently clear or detailed – a warning sign of trouble ahead.
- Administer your freelance assignment using a written legal contract that clearly specifies time limits, fees, dispute procedures, confidentiality, ownership and other contractual terms.
- If possible, use the exchange’s escrow payment service to protect yourself and the contractor.
If you take the freelance route, it is important to ensure that all rights to profit from the final product, or any materials produced in its creation, remain yours. If you do not, it is possible that a contractor employed to contribute to your project could claim the result as his own and use or sell it independently when it is completed.
You should keep a paper trail linking yourself to anyone with whom you discuss your project, including emails, letters, faxes, and even written records of telephone conversations. This will establish the relationship between you and your contractors, and will prove the source of any confidential details. Although this paper trail may never be needed, if problems arise you’ll be glad you made that little extra effort.